Ted Talks – “Brickworld 2018: A Con Odyssey”

Hey Kentucky! Welcome back to the Manifesto and more importantly to our regular feature Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes shares his wit and wisdom on a wide variety of topics.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

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The monolith

Evolution

In the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a large black slab of extraterrestrial technology is discovered by our presumed hominid ancestors, causing a considerable shift in their evolution and marking the dawn of mankind.  Thousands of years later at Brickworld 2017, another significant discovery was made; a number of “White Brick” monoliths had been placed around the display hall, sometime during the dawn of Sunday morning.  Sure enough, they appeared yet again at Brickworld 2018.  Perhaps they are the harbinger of another shift in our evolution… an evolution in both the LEGO convention experience and in the community of builders at large.

The White Brick

“I think that white brick is really the heart of what we all want the community to be and represent, rather than the manufactured recognition that pretty much all awards have disappointingly come to be.” – Matt rowntRee

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The “White Brick” monoliths are the same size and shape as the red, brick-built trophies given to the winners of each Brickworld awards category.  As with the monoliths in “2001: A Space Odyssey” these “White Bricks” also contain many mysteries.  One of which is that these bricks are actually hollow boxes that contain a surprise MOC inside, many times personalized to the receiver.  So where did they come from? Why did they start showing up?

Since the “White Bricks” closely resemble Brickworld trophies, the easiest explanation for their appearance is to recognize noteworthy displays that had been passed over for a nomination.  If you haven’t attended Brickworld Chicago, the award nominations are doled out in predetermined categories; Best Vehicle, Best Spacecraft, Best Mech, Best Building, etc.  People certainly build MOC’s to purposefully fit them into these categories, while others consider the categories after the fact (and some even make them fit on a lark).

For those people who just want to “build something cool”, many times they don’t know what awards category their builds should go into, if any at all (…and I’m not sure why it is up to the builder to decide that for themselves).  As a result, many epic builds fall through the cracks when it comes to award nominations. They either don’t fit well into any category, get lost in the sheer number of displayers… or perhaps for other reasons?  Like “so-and-so never gets nominated, so let’s throw them a bone this year”, or “so-and-so always gets nominated, so let’s nominate a different builder instead.”  Rather than merit alone determine the nominations, politics and popularity creeps in (there was one such dubious nomination in “Best Spacecraft” this year).  You can play the game, but as you live by the sword, you die by the sword too.

The “White Brick” started appearing last year on such un-nominated builds. In 2017, Andrew Mollmann and Cecilie Fritzvold were two recipients of the “White Bricks”.  Andrew had built a most excellent “Grand Budapest” façade that year.  I’m not sure which of Cecilie’s builds that her white brick was placed in front of (perhaps for her “Goomba”?), but she did have a banner year in 2017.  She had received a Brickworld award nomination for best vignette, and was also part of yet another “Best Group Layout” win for the Eurobricks collective (they won this year too – 3 years in a row!).  She even defeated Chris Maddison in “Iron Builder” earlier that year, which was no small feat.

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Cecilie Fritzvold’s “Goomba” – so what’s in the box?

This year, however, the “White Bricks” weren’t only placed in front of un-nominated builds. Learning who else received them has led to an important discovery regarding their true meaning; The “White Bricks” recognizes those people who make the Brickworld experience special in some way, not only through creating displays but also through meaningful engagement within the community.

One such “White Brick” was given to Victor at Eclipse Graphx.  At first he had thought a customer accidentally left it behind.  When he opened the box, however, he discovered his Eclipse Grafx logo placed inside. Victor has always been a great supporter of the building community.  He definitely stepped up in a major way for us during the speederbike contest, by creating those custom printed tiles that we distributed to worthy participants. Victor receiving a “White Brick” was great recognition and well deserved, and I know receiving it meant a great deal to them.

Our friend Simon Liu received a “White Brick”, although technically it wasn’t actually white.  It had been built using trans-clear and trans-red bricks, and integrated into it was “The Heart of Brickworld”.  There is no doubt that this brick belongs on his shelf.  From my very first Brickworld, and probably from his first, he has set a positive paradigm for others to follow; inclusiveness, generosity, kindness, always build something new and fun, etc..  I was happy that I could extend some of that hospitality back to him prior to Brickworld this year.  Simon was so taken in by the charms of Louisville, KY during his 2017 “Pub Scouting” trip that he made a return trip.  We got the chance to hang out the weekend before Brickworld, along with Alec, Caleb, and Evan who joined him on this year’s “Brickworld or Bust 2018” tour.  I guided them to rockin’ local distilleries, hot-chicken joints, brick stores, escape rooms, and a meet up with John Klapheke too.  Good times.

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Simon Liu: The “Heart” of Brickworld

The rowntRee received one too, with his containing a dick with crabs inside… Wait, what!?! … I haven’t seen any pictures, but maybe I don’t want to. I guess that makes him the “STD of Brickworld”?  On the surface it definitely sounded insulting, but leave it to rowntRee to see the deeper symbolism in all things. He declared it the “Dick of Brickworld” brick and a badge of honor, showing that he doesn’t care about preconceived notions or anyone else’s perceptions. It is recognition that people in the community who “call it like they see it” are a necessity, however bluntly they put it, and he will own it and wear it with pride…  Honestly though, anyone who thinks rowntRee is a dick is way off base (or he’s merely reflecting back what you are projecting). I shared a room with rowntRee this year, upon Keith’s unwavering endorsement, and I concur that the main is worth his weight in gold.

Lords of Acid: Crablouse (lyrics are NSFW, but the beat is a rager… )

Lastly, I myself was honored to receive a “White Brick” placed in front of “The Shadowlands” collaboration.  We didn’t receive a Brickworld award nomination, but I wasn’t really expecting one… although I definitely hoped we would for our contributors’ sakes (I was happy to at least see Barbara Hoel get a nod for Brickworld Master Builder). I simply wanted to put on “one great show” this year, and the “White Brick” was a great recognition for all our efforts, creativity, and innovation…

However, the ever-insightful rowntRee saw that it was actually recognition for much more than that.  Inside the brick-box contained a cool little Portal MOC.  I hadn’t thought that deeply about why that was the MOC inside, but rowntRee saw it as a metaphor to how I opened up the way for so many others to join in on the fun.  It’s true that I could have done a solo layout, but what’s the fun in that?  It’s so much better to “open it up”, to be inclusive, and share in the experience.

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I do strive to recruit at least one new person to Brickworld each year.  In both of my first two Brickworlds I successfully inspired, or convinced, at least one new person to come to their first LEGO con; Christopher Hoffmann and I shared our first in 2016, then it was Jen Spencer last year.  This year I thought I could get Jake RF to cross that threshold, but it was not to be.  But the streak is technically still alive.  Saturday evening an old friend that I used to work with, Jina, happened to be in the area.  Seeing a Facebook I made for the collab, she decided to check it out.  Special thanks to Barbara for providing one of their family’s unused full-registrant badges so that Jina could stick around and walk the floors with me after public hours (and it turns out that she and Barbara are neighbors!).

Those thoughtful touches are what make the “White Bricks” all the more thoughtful and impressive.  You have to look beyond the surface and see the deeper meaning inside of them.  I admit that I was originally a cynic when they first showed up last year, and judged these books by their cover.  I was blind, but now I see … It also makes you wonder how many of them were premeditated (like Victor’s and Simon’s), and how many were created on the spot. For example, was rowntRee always destined to receive the “dick with crabs”, or was it pre-built and looking for a worthy recipient? Looking back at the MOC that Cecilie received in 2017, perhaps that random “ant” wasn’t so random either.  It could be recognizing her quiet unassuming demeanor, yet you can’t help but notice all of the things she ended up dutifully building, carrying a building load 100 times more than expected.  To date, I don’t think the interior MOC’s have ever been repeated… Questions abound…

 So far as I know, the mysterious distributor(s?) has yet to be identified or step forward. Noticing how personalized the “insides” of the bricks were this year to the receiver, is the distributor someone that all of the recipients know?  Is there a “White Brick Illuminati” watching over us?  Being that I’d prefer that the anonymous distributor(s) remain anonymous, these are questions best left unanswered.  The mystery is what makes it even more special (and because if they do get unmasked, the locusts of nomination seekers will certainly descend upon them).

I think non-official trophies like this are the way of the future. We all need to show better appreciation of each other’s creativity and contributions, rather than fall into the self-centered trap of an awards competition. These types of awards also reward creativity and innovation more than those boilerplate, predetermined nomination categories are capable of doing.  To the innovators should go the spoils!

“The Race at Shadowlands”:

 “Damn, this is cool. The concept has come a long way from the butcher paper 2 years ago.” – Christopher Hoffmann

Video by Dennis Price

Indeed the speeder-race concept has come a long way from the butcher paper deserts of the Tech West.  Although my 2016 speederbike rally collaboration was cool, especially having pulled it all together in only single month, I just had to revisit the speeder race concept and set it to motion.

For each of my Brickworld collabs, I try to recruit a new person to join in the fun. It is putting into practice Keith’s boiler plate interview question, “Name 3 builders whom you would like to meet and build with someday”.  It was really awesome to get Barbara Hoel involved this year, with her alien botany, and I am so glad she joined in.  I had learned that she always considered her plant sculptures as “space” creations, so it was serendipity. I also learned some of her techniques in how she lays out her landscaping, which I can now use to hone my aesthetic eye (clusters of odds and creating visual triangles, among other things).

A huge thanks also goes out to all of the other “Orphans & Outliers” who contributed to the project; Dan Church, Gil Glomshire (aka Dennis Deathdog1), and Michael Frost (Kingdomviewbricks) played major roles in bringing this display to life (and Micah Beideman who was on the ready to fill in any last-minute landscaping needs). A huge thanks also goes out to Rowntree, Adam Myers, Noel Peterson, Paul Wolfe, Noah McDonell, Matt De Lanoy, Sean Mayo, and Simon who all helped round out the display with a crowd of fun spectators. Everyone’s efforts and support really turned this display into a crowd favorite.

James Burrows also deserves a huge shout-out. He has a tremendous Jurassic Park themed rollercoaster layout also using the CDX system, and he helped us out EMMENSLY by giving us a ton of pointers in troubleshooting.  It really gave us the confidence that we would get the race track operational.  I learned a TON about getting this system working, and in return I showed how the system could be used in ways that had yet to be explored (or at least publicly).

It was great driving up and back to Brickworld with Dennis too.  Having a great traveling companion always makes the long drive go by so much faster.  Dennis really stepped it up on the Shadowlands collab, and was my right hand man during the entire set up (even during those times when I didn’t know which end of the coaster was up).  Thank you again, sir knight of Glomshire.

Meeting New Faces:

Overall it felt like I really didn’t get to socialize with everyone nearly as much as I had wanted to, due to how much time I spent working on getting the speeder-coaster going (and keeping it running during public hours). It was worth the effort, but I definitely had less time to appreciate everyone else’s creativity than at past Brickworlds.  I didn’t even get to attend any of the sessions.  “Sorry” to all of you that I didn’t get to meet up with or talk with more

That said, I did finally meet quite a few people that I had yet to meet in person.  Notably to readers of the Manifesto I got to meet up  Cameron, our resident “Barnacle” Builder Extraordinaire who delivered quite a few compelling Bionicle articles to us during “Blog or Die!”.  It’s a good thing he was wearing his Manifesto T-shirt during registration so that I could pick him out from the crowd.  His funky chicken even got a nomination for “Best Creature”.  Represent!

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“Do the funky chicken!”

One entirely new face for me was meeting David Slater.  Holy crap, did he build some awesome cars!  His lime green Dodge Charger (or was it a Challenger?) deservedly won for “Best Vehicle”.

I also finally got to meet Shane; I’ve been a big fan of his artwork for some time, and in turn he has been a consistent fan of my builds. He was there for the live demo of “1×5 Games” new strategy game “Clunkers”, and share some of his artwork for a new card game called “Nutpunch!”  If those sound like game names that “rowntRee & Flor” might come up with, you’re absolutely right.

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“Ain’t that a punch in the nuts…”

Improvement ideas and closing thoughts:

In closing, here are just some things that crossed my mind this year…

 “MEDIC!!!” So my lower back was a total disaster after being hunched over the display tables for almost 3 days strait trying to get that coaster working.  I could hardly get any sleep because of it.  I propose that every Con should have an area with those people that give reversed chair back-massages.  I promise that us builders that fall into that over-40 age bracket will pay up, and handsomely.

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Google Images

“MORE (or LESS) BOOZE, STAT!!!” I think a breathalyzer is a necessary addition to any evening of drunken builder activities.  I don’t know the full story, but our good friend Rowntree had to restrain an angry drunk (or at least a badly behaving drunk) that thought “drunk build hopping” was a good idea.  Blood alcohol level thresholds should be set for both “drunk enough” and “too drunk” to participate.  Trust me, passed out and/or puking is no way to spend the aftermath of a drunk build. People pushing themselves towards the thresholds of alcohol poisoning should be discouraged.

“MALÖRT!” … the only needed improvement here is that we need to come up with some Brickworld themed slogans to go along with it:

“MALÖRT! – The rocket fuel that gave birth to Blacktron!”

“MALÖRT! – Tonight is the night you dry hump Captain Marvel!”

“MALÖRT! – Better that chewing on unclean playbrick!”

“MALÖRT! – The real reason why Tyler Halliwell ran away to Scotland!”

“MALÖRT! – Heath made me do it!”

 So that’s a wrap on this Brickworld 2018 wrap-up.  Feel free to chime in with whatever I missed in the comments below, or share your own stories.  Until next time…

“MALÖRT! – It’s like getting a nutpunch to your mouth!!!”

After Action Review: Bricks LA 2018

Mike Rutherford  returns to blogging, with his unique observations concerning the recent Bricks LA convention. Without further ado, take it away, Rutherford!

I love After Action Reviews.  They are one of the first things any U.S. soldier experience.  You practice some task over and over.  Then you execute that task under stressful conditions, usually involving a lack of sleep, a lack of information, and a lack of time.  You execute this task while another group of people pretend to be your mortal enemy (an opposing force, or OPFOR), harassing you, disrupting your efforts, and exploiting your laziness or your lack of attention to detail… steeling unguarded equipment… kidnapping hapless team members who wander off to pee behind a tree… engaging in all manner of mischievous behavior (oh, and also “killing you” in accordance with the rules of the training event).  All this goes on while dispassionate “Observer Controllers” (evaluators) watch, check the time, and scribble in their notebooks.  By the end of the event, your entire team is ragged, sleepy, cranky, and often smelly.

With the exception of that dam OPFOR, the whole deal resembles what a Lego Convention staff goes through.   At least at the several conventions I have attended…

Well, in a training event, the end of the event is the precise moment when a well-run After Action Review is crucial.     An AAR is a semiformal discussion here all the participants discuss the event.  The guys who executed the task, the pretend bad guys (OPFOR), and of course the Observer Controllers.  And in a good AAR, it really is EVERYBODY who participates.  From the lowest ranking soldiers to the commanders.   If you were there… and you did a thing, or saw a thing, or are responsible for a thing… you better be ready to discuss the event.   Because the harsh crucible of experience has taught us all that “even the little guy” might be the one to see that one crucial detail that resulted in success of failure.

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It also has to happen quickly.  Right after the training event.  Before you change into dry cloths, or pack up your gear, or get back to the unit headquarters.  Before you get a good night’s sleep.  Before your memory fades, and before your mind replaces uncomfortable knowledge with more pleasing versions of what went down.  With a good AAR, you need to strike while the iron is hot.  While people are still stinging from the errors that were made, or still glowing from the satisfaction of getting it right.  Quick, clear, concise.   Because in a week… most of these lessons will be forgotten.  The important lessons must be captured in writing quickly, and organized for detailed review in the weeks and months before the NEXT training event.  THAT is how improvement occurs.  Shit.  Guess I should have written faster…

Continue reading “After Action Review: Bricks LA 2018”

A Conversation with Dan Kees (Blog or Die! Entry #19)

Accepted entry for the “Interview” category.

Author: LettuceBrick (Nice Try)

Word Count: 1,906

Judge’s Note:

* This entry was submitted before the deadline (Mon, Jan 15, 2018 10:10 pm), but I didn’t have a chance to post it until today.  The entry is valid and accepted for final consideration.

A Conversation with Dan Kees

 

With whom? I’m glad you asked. Dan Kees is the owner of PromoTec Specialty Printing, purveyors of, well, specialty printing. Oh, and he also prints custom designs on all manner of Lego for all manner of clients. And to top it all off, he builds! So without further ado, enough blather and on to the interview.

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The Standard Questions

LB: How did you get into Lego as a child and/or adult? What keeps you interested?

DK: I probably had some type of building blocks since birth.  I had DUPLO as a baby and never remember a time without LEGO. I got my first standard LEGO set when I was five, and it’s all I ever wanted after that. I probably entered my dark ages around age 16 or so. I actually brought all my LEGO to college but only pulled it out a couple times. When LEGO joined the force with Star Wars in 1999, I was drawn back in big time, and have been building ever since. I stay interested as an AFOL because of the high stress job I have owning my own business.  LEGO works as a great stress reducer. It’s just plain fun! Another major aspect of the hobby for me now is the community. I’ve made some great friends through LEGO clubs and conventions.

LB: What are your main areas of focus when it comes to building?

DK: My wife and I put on a large LEGOWEEN display every year, so that takes up a lot of my building. I always like to make at least one large “Wow” MOC each year. Those have included a working roller coaster, a large castle, and 55 Central Park West…otherwise known as Dana’s apartment building from Ghostbusters. I don’t really have a favorite theme. I’m often inspired by a single piece and just go from there.

LB: Describe your acquisitive process and how it relates to your building.

DK: I always try to avoid buying a lot of sets, though LEGO makes that very difficult. They keep releasing such cool sets that really appeal to the AFOL community. My main budget goes to Bricklink where I buy thousands of parts for our Halloween display every year.

LB: Do you use your own printed items in creations? Other third party products?

DK: Yes and Yes. When I first started printing, I made a lot of woodgrain tiles. I use these extensively in my MOCs. However, I rarely print anything new for builds. I use a lot of custom minifigs and accessories from companies like BrickArms and BrickForge.

The Printing Questions

LB: You run a printing business which also involves Lego pieces. How did you get into printing onto Lego? Is there an engraving component as well?

DK: I’ve worked in the printing business for almost 30 years. When I first joined BayLUG, I printed some LEGO business cards for fun. I went to my first convention that same year and was really introduced to the concept of custom printed bricks. I instantly thought…hey, I could that!  I got the word out and had multiple customers overnight. I do not do any engraving, just digital and pad printing.

LB: Are there any specific challenges that Lego presents that other materials do not? Or is printing on Lego easier?

DK: Printing on LEGO is actually pretty easy. They are made from ABS plastic which accepts ink very well. They are also very consistent, which makes them easy to print in bulk…especially when printing bricks. We can interlock them in stacks and print a large quantity very quickly.  The challenge comes from running a large variety of elements. Bricks and tiles are easy, but we also print all the way around minifigs. That can get a little tricky.

LB: I assume the customer provides the design and the materials. What challenges do you face in reconciling the two and what is the most challenging Lego printing job that you’ve faced?

DK: Fortunately, we deal mostly with large custom brick resellers. They typically send artwork that is accurate and well laid out. They also understand the limitations of the process. Some less experienced customers will draw extremely detailed designs that look great on screen. However, when you shrink them down to a 16mm wide minifig torso…they don’t work so well.  Minifigures are by far the trickiest jobs. As the industry develops, people want more and more detail as well as full wrap printing. Keeping things lined up over large runs is very difficult.

LB: I know you participated as a vendor for at least one Lego convention. How did that experience compare with your more usual method of sale?

DK: Vending at a convention was tricky, because I missed so much of the convention. I quickly realized I was not cut out for retail. I really enjoy printing more than selling individual parts.

LB: What is the future of custom Lego printing for you and the market in general?

DK: The future of custom LEGO printing is really in the digital process. There are a few of us pad printing parts, which is the process that LEGO uses. Pad is great if you want your custom parts to look like LEGO made them. However digital opens up a whole new realm of possibilities with raised effects, unlimited color options, and filling in nooks and crannies that pad printing cannot accommodate. Our ratio of digital orders to pad is probably 50:1. I don’t see any end in sight for custom printing. As 3D printing and desktop UV inkjet printers come down in price, I think we’ll see a lot more people getting into custom parts and printing. I’m excited to see what the next generation comes up with.

LB: To what extent and with what rigor do you separate “hobby Lego” and “work Lego”?

DK: There is a hard and fast rule that my work and personal stock shall not mix! On the rare occasion that I supply parts for a client, I always buy them “New” from Bricklink or LEGO PAB. Some parts are inevitably ruined when used at work.

 

The Community Questions

LB: How important is the Lego community both online and more locally to you as a printer and a builder? Do you sell to AFOLs only or just conventions or also the general public?

DK: The online community is much more important to me as a builder.  I like browsing the many Facebook, fan, and other community pages. It’s fun to see what people are building around the world. I feel like I could travel to just about any country and find some AFOLs to hang out with. I don’t use the online community much for business. Many of my favorite sites do not allow commercial posts…which I totally agree with and respect insistently. I have a pretty good set of regular clients that keep me plenty busy. I mostly sell to larger resellers. I get occasional requests from other AFOLs, but our order minimums usually don’t fit their projects. I no longer sell any of my own designs.

LB: Do you have an online Lego presence, business or otherwise?

DK: Not really.  I am involved with a few Facebook pages, but that’s about it. Most of my business comes from word of mouth and repeat clients.

LB: You have of late also taken part in Bricks by the Bay convention planning. (For a while now I think.) I believe you supply the brick badges and other printed items. Could you describe some of the planning that goes into that and other aspects of the convention?

DK: Yes, BBTB is one of the biggest highlights of the year for me. I love being involved with the organization. I print the badges, and any other custom parts needed for minifigs, event kits, etc. I donate a large portion of the printing. It’s a great way to give back to the community that I’ve enjoyed for so long. Recently, my company has also taken on some of the kitting for the con. It can be surprisingly complicated, but it falls right in line with our business. It takes an exhausting amount of planning to pull off the CON each year. I tried doing too much when I first joined, so now I make sure to only take on responsibilities that I have time to do well. I’m not nearly as involved in the overall planning as I once was. I mostly focus on any custom printing needs and kit planning for the badge, event kit, and workshops.

LB: Have you participated in collaborations?

DK: Yes, mostly with BayLUG.  I love helping set up large displays. It’s something I always wanted to do as a kid but never had enough stuff.  Now we have an unlimited arsenal of builds to create huge layouts…super fun.

LB: What is the Lego community’s greatest strength? What about its greatest failings and/or weaknesses?

DK: Hmmm…interesting question. I think the community’s greatest strength is the product itself. I strongly believe that LEGO is one of the most enduring and inspiring products ever produced. I would not be in a technical/manufacturing field today without it. Our greatest weakness? I’d say we expect too much from LEGO. We oftentimes forget that this is, at its core, a toy meant for kids. The AFOL community is a large demographic, but let’s not try to fool ourselves. LEGO is a toy company and needs to be run like one. They cannot cater to our every whim…and there are a lot of them 😊

LB: Do you have any thoughts on TLG itself and its relationship with fans, both of adult and long-term variety and of the more general customer?

DK: I think TLG goes above and beyond its core responsibilities when dealing with the fan community. They have been extremely generous with their support for BBTB and BayLUG. I’m sure it’s a constant struggle within the company to balance the fan relationship with core business values. LEGO Ideas was a huge bridge over that gap. I think they’re on the right path with the level of support they offer us big kids.

LB: And at long last, what do you think the future holds?

DK: More awesome sets and new parts! I often hear people say that LEGO has lost its way with all the new parts. They would prefer we only had 2×4 bricks. Those well-meaning folks just don’t get it. With every new part, LEGO opens our building palette to new possibilities. My favorite part of viewing other people’s builds are seeing the endless creative uses of new parts.

I do hold a bit of fear towards how LEGO will compete with the digital distractions kids now face.  LEGO struggles in the digital realm, with good reason. I feel the core of LEGO is the physical, tactile relationship between the user and the medium. I’ve used LDD a bit, but nothing compares with that satisfying “click” and having a great model to show for your efforts.  Emerging markets will help keep the company strong for years to come. Hopefully, future generations don’t get too lost in screens, and will still appreciate good old fashion playing with their friends.

Thanks!

LB: Thank you very much for your perspectives on general tomFOLery and your insights into the printing side of what you do. All the best for this still relatively new year!

Bricks LA 2018: The Long Winded Tales of a Jaded Lego Nerd

They say that Lego blog readers don’t care about convention coverage, they say that unless you were present to join in the action personally it is impossible to appreciate the experience fully.  They even claim that people are resentful of parties they are not invited to.  While I don’t necessarily debate this sage and long-standing wisdom, I’m throwing caution to the wind to provide you with the unvarnished truth of my time in the city of angels.  It took me almost a full week to process everything that went down in order to compose my thoughts in a way that didn’t read like an embittered rant and even allowing for the interval I’m not sure I succeeded.  But I am confident you’ll let me know in the comments.  -Spoiler Alert!-  Bricks LA 2018 was in turns awkward, uninspiring and mostly boring, which is the greatest sin any convention can commit.

I journeyed to America’s second largest city in search of big-city adventure and excitement but found only regional boilerplate and the only fun was the fun we brought with us or had nothing to do with the convention itself.  For the T.L.D.R. crowd you can check out now, go back to your video game and jumbo-sized bowl of paste, but the rest of you should gird your loins and prepare for a deep dive into….mediocrity.  We’ll get into it later but this was the convention that made me realize I’ve become terribly jaded, almost incapable of enjoying the conventional traditions of our people. So if you were there and you think I’m being terribly unfair, take solace in the fact that this review may have more to do with my growing disenchantment with the very concept of conventions than the event itself.

This was Bricks LA, 2018.

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Continue reading “Bricks LA 2018: The Long Winded Tales of a Jaded Lego Nerd”

Bricks LA Update (Part 4)

2 days, 21 hours, 53 minutes and 37 seconds is all that’s remains before the beginning of my Bricks LA convention experience.  I’ll officially be able to add Los Angeles to a slowly growing list of cities that I’ve visited in search of a Lego fix and fellowship with my fellow nerds.  I know have brick-badges from San Diego California, Washington DC, Portland Oregon, Seattle Washington, Chicago Illinois, Houston Texas, and Orem Utah.  That list is certainly not as impressive as say Abner Finley, who has visited every notable convention in the world, but considering I’ve hit a few of those cities twice I think I’m relatively well traveled at least within the confines of the US.  What a long strange trip it’s been over the last decade plus, and I’m counting on even more strangeness in LA. I started this process with cautious optimism and a 6 week window and with just a couple of days to go I’m happy to report that things couldn’t be looking much better.

I’m not going to bore you with more shots of the diorama, as nothing has been changed substantially and I’m knee deep in the process of packing and rounding up all those last second items that I”m sure to need on site: an extension cord for the Halloween light, extra batteries for the small lights, a mallet to get the table assembled, a skirt for said table and of course all the SWAG.  Sure I probably could have been more ambitious and gone for a second swipe at the landscaping or a reworking of the cave but the demands on my time prevented most of that.  No, I’m pretty satisfied to be where I am, those microscopic charges in my neck will not explode, opening up both of my arteries and causing my death in seconds.  In fact, I’ve still got enough time to create some minifigs to bolster the Marcus Garvey crew, and some wedding-related accessories to set the scene.

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Instead of pimping my own stuff, for this final update I’ll be showing you guys the mostly finished contributions of my WackLUG cronies, the sparkling ornaments to hang on my Charlie Brown Christmas tree of a diorama.  Somewhat to my surprise Rutherford and rountRee ultimately decided to focus their time and attention on their own stuff, maybe they were able to smell a turd from a great enough distance to keep out of it. After the triumph of displaying Bucharest (it’s the time of your life) in lovely Orem Utah, it does feel weird not to have anything from those most excellent dudes, but at least I have a kick ass crew to replace them.  As I mentioned in previous updates, they will be bringing their SHIPs (Demeter and Bushmaster) from SHIPtember and in Rutherford’s case he’ll be focusing more on the two presentations he’s signed up for.  The first topic should sound familiar to many of you, “Unique is not Special“:

Why don’t AFOLs embrace critique, and why should we? Painters, sculptors, dancers, actors, directors, musicians and all other artists know that critique is a valuable tool which often illuminates the path to improvement… but not AFOLs! We will examine the difference between critique an criticism, and we will look at how critique can contributes to not only individual improvement, but can improve the entire hobby and the state of Lego Art!

Mike’s second presentation is actually new material (thank god it’s not ‘collaboration’) and if I’m fortunate it will be the only one I have to sit through.  Titled “LEGO Violence and Authority“, here is how Rutherford describes the content:

An examination of some surprising themes in Lego that are often overlooked by consumers. Lego is the most successful building toy brand in the world. Lego has always taken great pride in its role as a constructive and educational play system that encourages children to explore mechanical, technical, social, and artistic possibilities. While the notions of violence and authority are almost totally absent from Legos public rhetoric, these themes have exerted a powerful influence throughout the products history.”

The best thing about Rutherford’s presentations is that just like Forest Gump’s famous box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.  In years past I’ve been subjected to unsuspecting audience members getting pelted with SWAG (Rutherford throws like a spastic special needs kid), off color remarks about the coolness of using atomic weapons, and even surprise porn!  So if you happen to find yourself at the convention this weekend, you should check out Mike’s presentations.

Now for the good stuff, we’ll start out brief examination of the Wedding Party contributions with a bang, courtesy of renowned bricksmith Zach Claspasadle, who brings the noize with not one but two excellent starships.  I’m sure you’ll agree that the engine effects on the VTOL are pretty spectacular and should integrate with the muddy river nicely, although it will no doubt require some work onsite to get things blended just right.  Part of the fun of a convention collaboration is doing a little onsite building with the boys and I look forward to the cronies descending upon the table. The diorama was in dire need of some dramatic impact and Zach made damn sure the kids on public day will have something to shout about and point enthusiastically towards.  The cool orange and blue freighter will occupy the lower terrace and transport the groom and his party to the ceremony.

Next up is Andrew Lee, of Bricks&Beer fame, who managed to carve out some time and models from the hellscape that is his life currently.  I think Andrew will be happy just to make it to the convention and not have to deal with work or family nonsense for a few days.  As usual, he brought his trademark swagger to the mix with a lime green alien biker gang, complete with a sick off-road van.  What’s a biker gang doing at a wedding?  That should be a rhetorical question but when you throw a clandestine wedding party on a far-flung planet you never know who will show up.

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The quiet killer of WackLUG is Brendan Mauro, who came into the action a little late but is providing a bunch of the scene-setting stuff that may not win him any glory or trophies at the convention, but his contributions are every bit as essential to the success of the scene.  A fun wedding requires a giant sound system for dancing and a satellite dish to broadcast the festivities to the friends and relatives who were not able to attend in person.  Brendan also took a stab at some alien trees and foliage that should no doubt make the barren diorama look a little friendlier for the impending nuptials.

And batting cleanup for WackLUG is Jeff Cross, better known as Octopunk.  In addition to a cool floating salvage loader, he also picked up the slack for me by creating a cast of colorful alien minifig characters to populate the layout and and liven things up a bit.  He’s got a real knack for assembling characters, especially the futuristic variety.  Jeff also made a suitably strange beast to roast over the fire-pit and some really interesting tent/pods for the more upscale guests to enjoy after the revels.

I hope you guys enjoyed reading about the Bricks LA WIP process, I know it was a little tedious at times but hopefully it provided some insight into how this style of “just wing it” last-minute collaboration comes together.  I’ll post some shots of the finished project along with some quotes from the relevant cronies when I get back on Monday or more likely Tuesday.  If I have the time and the technical ability I might post something live from the convention floor this weekend, but don’t count on it.  Once the liquor starts flowing, the best laid plans of mice and men go right out the window. I’ve got a Friday Night Fights in the oven with the timer set, but except for some action in the comments section this is likely the last new post on the blog until the LA party is over.  That is unless some new contest entries come in, I might have the time to make that available. Until we meet again constant reader…

Bricks LA Update (Part 3)

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According to the the Master Life Clock I’m down to just 13:23:49:37 to complete my portion of a collaborative diorama for the Bricks LA convention, and in a surprising turn of events I’m feeling pretty good about the situation.  With just under two weeks to go, the bones of the layout are finished, the lighting has been installed and the minifigs have been selected.  I’m confident that I’ve achieved my basic goal of creating an interesting environment to highlight both the Marcus Garvey and the models of my WackLUG cronies in attendance.  There will be no substantive changes from this point forward and this will likely be the last update before rowntRee and I load it into an unmarked van and rocket down the I-15 towards good Mexican food, tense situations and Lego glory.

So what’s new?  Well, since we last examined the project I’ve added the second and final plateau where the Garvey will perch, a glowing fire pit, two more rough-hewn staircases and the cave o’ mystery has been lit and extended.  I’m relatively happy with all of these developments with the possible exception of the upper cliff wall, which turned into more of a straight line that I would have liked.  My original intent was to add some small rock formations out in the muddy area but I’ve just about exhausted my once considerable supply of dark grey/bley slopes of every size.

In case you’re curious the cave’s illumination is provided by one of those boilerplate outdoor LED Halloween lights that swirls around, creating an enticing effect for younger viewers and mankinder alike.  It’s so bright that I had to experiment quite a bit with the orientation to make sure that little Johnny and Jenny don’t get blinded by the dancing lights while still providing the desired effect. The light in the fire pit is a cheap Ikea Ramsta that is convenient for this particular application because it is battery operated and you can turn it on or off by easily by pressing on the dome.  Initially I wanted to add some movement to the diorama (maybe a rotating radar dish), but that goal fell by the wayside due to a lack of access, time and budget.  I don’t have any working Lego motors in my bloated collection, it’s a part of the hobby that I’ve studiously ignored over the years but one that I’d like to embrace in the future.  Incorporating motion into a model seems dicey to me unless you’re talking about a train or monorail. I think it’s all too easy to venture into that sad, ratchety tin-toy in a retail store window territory.  Mindstorms and Power Functions have always seemed prohibitively expensive when I’m standing in the Lego store examining the box. When it comes time to open my wallet, guilt inevitably sets in and I immediately think of better or more practical things to do with that kind of money, but it might be time to make the investment in 2018.   I know builders are doing some really amazing things with the products but I’ve never really seen them applied to a sci-fi diorama so I think there is room there for some innovation.

Of course there is still some work to be done, but I no longer feel the oppressive ticking of the clock.  So much so that it makes me wonder if I should have been more ambitious in my thinking from the outset.  Even though I’ve got the better part of two weeks left, between Christmas and various obligations I’m probably better off finishing early than stressing bout being late.  The repetitive and often tedious landscaping work is finally done and now I can have fun adding the little details that gives life to a scene.   The short list includes reworking the cave to have some kind of focused activity, adding plants, developing small minifig accessories for the wedding party (benches, tables, outdoor kitchen etc.) and reconfiguring the Garvey so that the loading ramp is on the side of the ship that faces the viewer.  If I’m still feeling energized I might mess with the cliff line and see if I can add a little more variation.

I wish I could wrap up this WIP process with some examples of what my co-conspirators are working on but they haven’t been terribly forthcoming with the action or interested in these WIP articles.  The cronies are under the gun too and struggling to finish their own contributions to both the diorama and the convention in general, without worrying about my self-important nonsense.  With a project like this I typically form a Flickr group for the participants and take a more formal approach with the collaboration but this time seems unique in a way that’s difficult to define.  Instead of one stop shopping at FLickr, the WIP action and converstation has been spread out over video chat, group texts, emails and even messenger pigeon when it comes to Rutherford.  This form of communication is far from ideal and kind of fragmented in a way that is probably the enemy of artistic excellence.  I don’t know if it is the result of the short time window or the mix of people involved but this venture has always seemed less fixed and more fly by the seat of the pants.  The lack of formal structure can be a little frustrating at times but the fault lies entirely with me and my Laissez-faire approach to leadership. From the very beginning I didn’t really want to slip into the familiar and often frustrating role of project leader, so I simply didn’t.  Instead I doled out some intentionally vague guidelines and left the builders alone to create.  As far as I’m concerned the worst part of the gig is telling people no…telling them that their creative vision doesn’t jibe with mine and I’ve been more reluctant than ever to do so with this group.  Instead I’ve been content  to get my piece of the story built on time and to a level of quality that I’m happy with.  Fortunately I’ve got a great deal of faith in the cronies I’m working with so I’m confident things will turn out well, even in a vacuum of leadership.  So if you’re looking for the rest of the details that will no doubt make this diorama sing (Zach’s spaceships, Andrew’s bikes, Jeff’s robot hand), you’ll have to wait for the photos to come out of LA in a couple of weeks.  At least you won’t have long to wait.

What I can include has nothing to do with the project, but is cool nonetheless.  Your old uncle rowtRee has been feverishly working in his basement Legoratory on his own SHIPtember inspired diorama and he has recently posted evidence of his progress.  Using his renown questionable judgement, rowntRee put the photo in the comment section of the last update.  So I’ve included it here because I very much doubt anyone went back and looked at it, as interest in this WIP process has been scant at best.  In fact, the numbers indicate that most of you don’t actually give a rip, which is sort of understandable.  When I briefly wrote for TBB they always told us that statisically speaking, people don’t like convention coverage whether it’s pre-convention buildup or post-convention wrap-up.  The editor’s theory was that it was a form a jealousy that people don’t care about a party they are not invited to…but I’m not so sure.  If you have a theory, let me know in the comments.

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For you trivia fans, there will be 4 SHIPs on display in LA from this year’s SHIPtember challenge.  Along with the Garvey we’ll also have the Bushmaster, the Demeter and even the Juno 2.0 Orbiter.  So I’ll end the proceedings with one finial invitation for you to join us for some Bricks LA antics, SWAG and the first round is on me.  Thanks for hanging in there during the WIP process, even if I didn’t incorporate your specific suggestions I do appreciate the feedback.