Ted Talks – “District 18” (Final 2018 LSB Contest Wrap-up)

Another building contest hosted by the LEGO Speederbikes group on Flickr has come and gone, and the winners are now posted.  It’s the second time that I’ve been involved with hosting the contest, and from my perspective it was another successful year.  Last year’s contest was always going to be tough act to follow with 336 total entries.  That said, the number of total entry photos still topped out at 268 (2nd highest ever amount).

 

Since contest formats are what dictate the quantity of entries, I went back to determine the count of actual builders that participated in each contest.  Here is my best estimation… and I spent way too much time trying to figure this out:

 

2009: 92 participants / 207 entries (2.25 epp; entries per participant)

2010: 88 participants / 146 entries (1.66 epp)

2011: 75 participants / 122 entries (1.63 epp)

2016: 67 participants / 67 entries (1.00 epp)

2017: 116 participants / 336 entries (2.90 epp)

2018: 105 participants / 268 entries (2.55 epp)

 

The 2018 contest still comes in 2nd place in both participants and entries.  I was surprised that the number of participants was that high this year, based on the entry count and having a fairly similar format to last year’s contest (although it wasn’t required for “District 18” entrants to also enter the individual categories).  It appears that a lot of people only entered 1 or 2 bike categories, and then bailed out on the “District” category.  Perhaps a diorama was a little too ambitious for most people.  Still, to those 34 people that still stepped up to the challenge we salute you!

 

Overall Perception:

I know some Manifesto readers had expressed that the builds didn’t excite them as much as last year, but I saw some interesting and encouraging things on a couple fronts:

  • At the top of this list were the great critiques and collaboration that occurred from all around. It was good to see the community take another step-forward in bringing back “critique culture” to MOC sharing.  We can’t thank Keith and Rutherford enough for spearheading that effort, and Werewolff, Hoffmann and the rest of the Manifesto readership who chimed in as well.  Kudos to all.
  • As a whole, I thought the speederbikes were built more compactly than in years past. There was a noticeable reduction in the number of entries that seemed way too big, or looked more like a hovercar.  Many repeat contest participants also built their bikes smaller this time around.
  • NPU continued to impress, especially with the larger variety of new parts that have come out year after year. Speed Champions, Mixel joints, and Constraction Fig panels FTW!!! Some speederbike silhouettes may have felt the same as in years past (“boiler-plate?”), but the ways they are getting constructed is getting further and further refined.  There were so many impressive brick-built bikes, and impressive usage of the pre-fab bike chassis too.

 

Even though determining the total number of participants from past contests took up a lot of time, I was able to see some other interesting before-and-after trends from some repeat participants…

 

Stepping their game up

Some contest participants have definitely evolved their personal building style and have improved skills year-over-year.  Some examples:

Intentor

 

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From 2016

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From 2017

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From 2018

 

Zen Thorga

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From 2017

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From 2018

 

“The more things change, the more they stay the same…”

Then I also noticed there were some builders whose style gave me the feeling of having “déjà vu all over again.”

EliteGuard01

JM-500 Long Ranger

From 2017

JM-LR800 MP-HSAB (Revised)

From 2018

 

captainsmog

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From 2011

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From 2018

 

“Great Swap-out, Dude!”

Everyone should know I’m a big fan of the well-executed entry swap-out (since I did it myself during my 2016 contest win). Of all the entrants this year, Pico made the most significant move.  His original Space Police bike entry was solid, but it was a little “too solid” and on the larger side.  His replacement was a classic Space Police design that was one of the most compact speederbikes in the contest, packed with wonderful greebles and well placed stickers.  It is one of those builds where everything seemed perfectly placed to me.  That Fabuland Bunny Bike was also a solid entry for Abide too, which replaced his Tequila Delivery Service bike:

 

Pico’s Enforce

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The Original

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The Swap

 

Pico’s Abide

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The Original

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The Swap

 

“NPU? Don’t mind if I do!”

There was a lot of Nice Part Usage (NPU) this year, and called out by a lot of you in your comments and critiques.  These pics below call out some NPU solutions that I am personally planning to “steal with pride” for my future MOC’s.

 

I really liked the way James Zhan used the Friends handlebar as a kickstand (on the other hand, the windshield is kind of comical when you think of the practicality of it…)

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This back array of engine exhaust pipes (beneath the backpacks) from Jon Lie was the perfect solution to a project I’m currently working on for Brickworld Chicago 2018…

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I’m always a fan of spoiler part usages, so this paired configuration by GeekPerson naturally caught my eye.  I’m sure I this configuration could come in handy.

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“Walk the plank!”

The use of 1×4 and 1×6 tiles also caught my attention… but I guess it would have been harder not to notice those big planks of plastic strapped to the sides of a speederbike.  Using that part never crosses my mind when I’m building a speederbike … just like it never crosses my mind to get those soggy chickpeas and beets that are placed on salad bars.  Who eats those?  I guess as in all things it is a matter of personal taste, and these gents integrated them better than I would have imagined.

 

Fabz

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ff

LEGO7

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Carter

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… and Carter

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… and Carter again…

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Category Action:

ENFORCE:

For me, this category had 3 different speederbike building strategies fighting it out at the top; oOger building with large figure panels, Pico building up a motorcycle frame, and Guy Smiley building and shaping his bike with system parts.  They all had thoughtful part placement, sticker placement, and image presentation.  When oOger posted his bike, I felt that was the moment the “gauntlet was thrown down” in Enforce.  Pico went back and swapped out his entry some time later, and I remembered thinking “I didn’t think anyone could catch up to oOger’s bike, but this classic Space Police bike is wicked!”  Of course the final weekend always has some surprises in store, and Guy Smiley didn’t disappoint with his SWAT inspired speederbike.  The only gripe was how dark that photo was.  After adjusting my monitor a bit, I could see all of the wonderful details.  Those white “hover pads” were delicious.  oOger’s bike was in the top 3 for all four judges (no small feat), and that sealed his victory.

Winner – oOger

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ABIDE:

Abide was by far the toughest category to judge, due to all of the diversity of designs and themes.  Abide set itself up to be an “anything goes” category (that is, apart from added weaponry).  There were two definite strategies at play; building bikes that were job specific, and those that were “everyday” bikes.  Each of the judges’ final “Top-10” lists seemed equally split along those lines, so both approaches were appreciated.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a water-world vibe from many entries… and speaking of water, those turd references were definitely sinkers and not floaters.

 

To me, it felt like Halfbeak’s messenger bike was the one that “threw down the gauntlet” in this category, and perhaps in the overall contest as well.  It was such a unique speederbike design that caught a lot of early attention.   The other one that caught my attention as it was entered was Sean Mayo’s steampunk bike, having a lot to do with the unique parts usage and the presentation.  Otherwise, I went over every single bike entry a couple times over in this category to determine who else would be included in my Top-10 list. I think it was just the nature of the category.  In the end, it was “P.B.”, known by some as Delatassius, who carried the day… (watch out, all you DA3 players… better get to know your enemy)

Winner – P.B. (Deltassius)

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REBEL:

The original thought for creating the Rebel category was “wouldn’t it be cool to build some roving speederbike gangs?”, and that evolved into the whole “District 18” concept.  That said, we still wanted to see anyone’s interpretations of the “Rebel” category beyond that initial “gangs” idea.  Leading the pack were the bikes that were intimidators, and the bikes that represented the “larger than life” personalities of their riders.  No matter the interpretation, Rebels want to be noticed (… it’s just that they don’t want to be caught).

 

F@bz, Carter, and Djokson had some of the notable entries for me fighting it out at the top of my list.  Early in the contest F@bz delivered a NPU laden bike, which is his proclivity.  I haven’t seen those flexible spike parts actually flexed in many MOC’s.  Then Djokson’s bike delivered with his signature style of Bionicle parts integration, and its alien vibe.  Finally, Carter’s signature hands-in-tubes construction was brought back once again, with the added touch of throw-bot visors.  For me, his Rebel bike was his most successful out of his 3 entries, and successful in integrating that 1×6 tile.  The deft placement of a well-built “assassin droid” that could straddle the back end was a very smart play. Tim Schwalfenberg also got his sleek bike entered just in time during the post-deadline grace period (Tim also had grace in his acceptance of the missing the deadline; however others opted to petition _zenn, who made the call to extend, as he felt sympathetic to the poster confusion).  This category was decided by a single point, which edged Djokson across the finish line first by a claw tip…

Winner – Djokson

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DISTRICT 18:

The districts were so much fun to take in, and very tough to judge.  These are the thoughts that were going through my mind when judging the dioramas (and not in any order of priority or weighting).

  • Quality of the speederbikes (and were all 3 types present in the scene)
  • Quality of the District (overall design, and building skill/techniques)
  • Was their any action?
  • Were the speederbikes clearly the focus of the action? Were they easy to see?

If any District scored lower than expected, it was likely due to missing the mark a little on one of those areas.  On the other hand, overcompensation in one category could also carry a District higher up the rankings.  It wasn’t an easy decision.

Winner – W. Navarre

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All of the entries we were impressive, considering that the contest entry period only ran for 33 days.  We knew that was going to be a challenge for many, with both time and available parts supply, and why we decided to allow digital entries.  Not too many people took advantage of that, but it was still good to see that there were digital entries posted in all categories.  In the end, including digital entries really felt like a non-issue.

 

For me the story of “District 18” was one of unrealized potential.  There was so much anticipation based on the bikes people already posted, only for their dioramas to never materialize.

 

Felipe Avelar came out of the gates very strong, teasing us all with a tempting array of speederbikes just waiting to be swooshed.  I thought for certain we would see something from him in the “District 18” category, but it never came to pass.  Perhaps his daughter was having too much fun playing with them, and he didn’t have the heart to take them away.

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More districts that I was hoping to see:

  • I really wanted to see one from LEGO 7, based on his aquatic themes speederbikes (like his Lantern Taxi that I’ve already linked). I think combining his speederbikes into Shmail’s apocalyptic water-world could have made a winning combo.
  • Klikstyle had some spectacular vignettes that I thought for sure were building up to becoming a district.
  • Per_ig delivered some speederbikes that could have been right out of a colorful version of the Ma.K universe.
  • Spac13 had me thinking that he might deliver on a Jurassic World diorama.

 

Closing Thoughts:

My mission statement for the contest, if forced to write one, would have been “to inspire lots of people to build cool things, and have fun doing it”.  The number of participants indicated that we did inspire lots of people to build once again.  I know that the contest also delivered on the “build cool things” part of the mission too.  I hope it was enjoyable for both the participants and spectators alike, but that is not for me to decide.

 

What I enjoyed most was whenever someone was told that their entries were their “best MOC yet!”  Contests are at their best when they can be the unexpected spark for a person to build something new, as well as a pushing them into building something they wouldn’t otherwise have considered.  I’m glad that the contest could be the catalyst for many such builds this year.  Keep on building!

 

Bricks LA Update (Part 1)

It’s been two weeks and a day since I committed to attending Bricks LA, and as I mentioned in this self congratulatory post, I’ve begun work on a diorama to share with my fellow attendees and the great unwashed masses who will pack the Pasadena Convention center in desperate search of a Lego fix.  I can hear the familiar questions now…is this Star Wars?  Is this Halo?  How long did it take?, How many bricks?, Do you live in your parent’s basement?,  are you sure this isn’t Star Wars?  As I mentioned in the first article, I’m planning on taking advantage of my SHIPtember offering from earlier this year, the BSL Marcus Garvey and use it as the centerpiece of the diorama.  I don’t typically keep models assembled for any length of time and one of the downsides of that policy is that I don’t have a catalogue of creations to draw from in an “emergency”.  I have managed to amass a decent sized collection of models by a rogues gallery of fellow builders, but I’m hesitant to use them for several reasons.  The most obvious one is that with very few exceptions the models in question have been previously posted and unlike Rutherford I don’t really dig trotting out a reliquary of greatest hits.   And of course, most of them don’t really fit the vibe of this current project. The Garvey is only a couple of months old and it’s never traveled to a convention so I figured it’s fair game.

Because experience has taught me that people are not really into my smaller builds (for better or worse they expect me to show up with the big action), I’m planning on a 4’x8′ layout that encompasses the entirety of my Legoratory table.  It’s the same footprint as Bucharest, Logan’s Run and Zero Hour but this new effort will certainly lack the vertical impact of those dioramas.   When your starting point is a 132 long ship, you need a large background to give it any sense of scale and perspective.

As of the time of this posting, I have a barely adequate 37 days and 35 minutes remaining to accomplish this task and for that…I must unfortunately embrace the boilerplate wholeheartedly.  That means there is no time for fussing about trying to come up with a new fancy technique or waiting patiently for artistic inspiration to strike…like lightning!  There is no time to conjure the muse, she’s a capricious wench at the best of times.  No, building under the guillotine of a hard deadline means reaching into the back-catalog of ideas and hopefully rearranging them into something that at least vaguely resembles a new build.  If something truly creative or original happens along the way, so much the better but the fundamental approach is different without the luxury of unlimited time.

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When building a diorama for a SHIP, you basically have two options for the setting, rural or urban.  Sure you can mix the two but in my experience one style is usually dominant.  I’m kind of burned out on the classic futuristic hangar approach or some kind of techno-ziggurat so I opted for a more natural setting.  I’ve amassed a decent quantity of dark blue tile over the past few years and I was itching to put them into use.  It made sense to start from the lowest point and build my way up (unlike my usual random approach to building things) so I tried to work in a subtle curve into the flow and break things up with little islands of mud.  Normally I’d at least try to break the grid and float some terrain at odd angles but in this particular instance, the baseplate is my friend. Things can get alarmingly jostled during interstate travel and I want to give the layout the best possible chance of survival on it’s way to the venue.

I wish I had enough dark brown to line the lower banks with, but looking at what I have on hand, a combination of old/new brown was the most logical choice.  I’m not ruling out a Cracklink order but I’d like to avoid it if I can, to save money for other things like SWAG and on-site refreshments.  After the mud went down, it was time to get a little elevation into the mix, so I began work on a rocky terrace.  I’m not a huge fan of your standard issue rock-vomit that features slopes going every which direction so I opted for this simpler one-direction technique I’ve used a couple of times in the past to good effect.  it’s not very inventive and certainly not state o’ the art, but I enjoy the look and it has the benefit of allowing me to gain elevation quickly.  As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be happy just to cover the entire footprint and I’m not terribly worried about the vertical aspect of the diorama.  In a normal situation, planning for an eye-block would be of primary importance in these early stages, but I’m just going to let it emerge on it’s own as the project advances.  I did begin an olive green retaining wall in the background, with small gaps between the slats, but I’m not convinced yet that it will still be around by the time the building is complete.  I might take advantage of the gaps by putting some indirect lighting behind the wall, but it’s just a vague notion for now.

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There has been one alarming development, in laying all that brown plate for the terraforming, I was amazed at how many 1×2 plates snapped like the bones of a brittle old man with osteoporosis.  The photo below is just a small sample of the carnage, I’d conservatively estimate that I lost 25-30 of these basic parts over the course of decidedly routine usage.  They were all of the newer reddish brown variety, I don’t think I lost a single example of the older color.  It’s disappointing, not because of the cost (they go for about 2 cents a pop), but rather because I expect a higher quality standard from our benevolent Danish overlords.

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The biggest challenge I face with this project is a familiar one for me; the lack of an overriding creative vision to guide me.  Simply put, I have no freaking idea what this thing will, or should look like when all is said and done.  I know I want to use the bulk of the SHIP to divide the scene into two separate areas, each with it’s own character.  I know I want a largely rural setting, and some lights and motion…but what the final form will look like is a largely a mystery and so is the story that will go along with it.  Instead of planning like a normal person, I started laying brick without a guiding blueprint.  This isn’t unusual for me, I typically start blazing away in the heat of inspiration and worry about the details later, safe in the knowledge that I have the luxury of time for a re-start or two along the way to get things right.  I have no such luxury for Bricks LA, the reset button is broken and I have to push past indecision and uncertainty to make the deadline.

When I started building I didn’t envision this project as a collaboration, it seemed rude to ask people to spend time and effort building something in a creative vacuum, without a clear picture of the target to inform their work.  Building for a convention is a unique monster though and it has been my experience that involving cronies in the mix is essential to the collective onsite experience.  Things are always better with like minded idiots.  With that in mind, I’ve asked friends of the blog and WackLUG members Jeff Cross and Andrew Lee to come along for the ride if this WIP shot looks at all compelling to them. I’m also hoping Zach Clapsaddle will defy the odds and show up, bringing along  his special brand of magic, but that seems to be up in the air for now.  As for rowntRee, he’s (of course) invited to participate but he’s got his own kettle o’ fish to deal with, working on a racing pit for his engorged Victor Viper.  I hope it all fits in the van, buddy.

If, by chance, you find yourself planning on attending Bricks LA, let me know and I’m sure I can find some pace on this bloated layout for your contribution as well.   I’ll update you on the progress in the coming weeks.  Any advice or constructive criticism you have is welcome in the comments, but if your words of wisdom require a massive revision or restart, don’t expect to see them implemented.

 

Friday Night Fights [Round 22]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another Indiana-hook edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is all about making a scene, with the customary bragging rights and a discount coupon to the Pancake House on the line.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the other side of midnight, it’s the always dangerous “Fabulous” Fabio Maiorana and “The Red Room”.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from an abandoned oil rig in the north Atlantic, it’s “Relentless” Revan New and his “Abandoned Factory.

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As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner before announcing the next bout.

Last week, on Friday Night Fights….

It was a little girl tag-team death-match, with the Intercontinental Champtionship belt on the line.  In the end,  “Madman” Moko and his Love Laika scored a 7-3 victory over “Lightning bolt” LegoWyrm and his “Ladybug & Chat Noir”.  Mr. Moko records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while Mr. Legowyrm falls to (0-1)

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Omnibus: “There is no spoon.”

That low rumble you can feel in your chest cavity can only mean one thing constant reader, the Omnibus is pulling back into Manifesto station to take you on another guided exploration of a single building theme.  In the past you’ve enjoyed tours devoted to board games, Captain America, Owls and an exhaustive (some say torturous) look at float-planes and the men who love them.  In this latest edition we’ll be gawking appreciatively at models inspired by the 1999 ground breaking sci-fi extravaganza, The Matrix and it’s two unfortunate sequels, “Reloaded” and Revolutions“.  It’s the movie that brought us bullet-time, a soundtrack for the ages and Laurence Fishburne in tiny legless sunglasses.  So call for an operator, it’s time to see what the Matrix has to offer.

Just like the opening scenes of the film, I’d like to get things started with a bang.  Let’s begin our examination of Neo’s Lego journey with my favorite offering in this rogues gallery of great Matrix models.  “…See your enemy…” is the single most impactful mosaic I’ve encountered to date and that includes a slew of more technically complex lenticular examples that are out there.  As with most great Lego creations, seeing the mosaic in person adds a whole new level of appreciation, the trans orange has the power to draw spectators from across a convention floor.  Simply put the mosaic is stunning and I’d be willing to wager that builder Brandon Griffith has been offered some serious cash for the piece since it’s posting in 2009.  On more than one occasion I’ve been tempted to copy it for my Legoratory wall, since my multiple efforts to abscond with it have not gone as planned.3219830255_a57d13e37f_o.jpg

Perhaps the most obvious and popular choice for the Lego treatment is the tunnel-running hover-ships that populate all three movies.  Although it is my assertion that we have not yet seen the definitive Lego-built Nebuchadnezzar, some might argue that Adrian Drake got the closest way back in 2002.  While his version was certainly very popular at the time of release and featured a full interior, it hasn’t aged well, the available photos are tiny and The Drake such an overbearing lurch in person that I don’t want to promote his stuff beyond a link for historical value.

The Nebuchadnezzar-inspired hover-ship on the left is called “Novalis”, and it was designed by the criminally underrated Paul Meissner along with the “Cerberus” on the right.  For my money “Novalis” is the best model in this very specific hover-ship sub-category.  The angles are just right, the hover-pads are plentiful and it looks ready to fight off  a swarm of robotic Sentinels.  I even dig the blunt nose, it looks both mean purposeful.  The “Cerberus” is a strong effort as well, but I don’t particularly care for the trans-yellow bits and the lines feel more choppy and almost pixellated to me.  I’m also not a fan of the tiled-over dorsal section, I think there was a missed opportunity for more shaping or texture.  Both vehicles are fine examples though and it would be interesting to see Paul revisit the form.

 

Chris White took a shot at the Nebuchadnezzar and while I don’t particularly like the undersized hover-pads, I do like the decision to go with trans blue and I think he nailed the challenging shape of the fuselage better than most.  If imitation is a form of success, Chris was successfully selling reproductions for several years, at a time when such an endeavor wasn’t as common as it is today with everyone and their mother pitching designs for Lego Ideas and selling models on Bricklink or Ebay.1308088562m_DISPLAY.jpg

Friend of the blog and long time crony Andrew Lee also had the Matrix fever back in the day and his “Ganesha” definitely makes the cut for the Omnibus.  I like how he changed up the color scheme and the nose holds up quite well in the intervening 9 years.  It’s also got a bitchin’ ramp right under the cockpit and a detailed (if sort of stunted) interior.  As with everything Lee builds, it somehow looks infused with heavy metal, booze and a hard to quantify “fuck it” attitude.  3017071476_880a7157bb_o.jpg

The once and future “Porn King of Utah”, Ryan Wood tried his hand at a hover-ship with pretty good results considering it is 13 years old.  Ryan pioneered this particularly effective style of hover-pad which elicited more than a few exclamations of “NPU!” back in the day.  It’s kind of a chibi-version of the Nebuchadnezzar called “The Nacon“, with distorted proportions, but it is important because it inspired quite a few builders to take a shot at their own hovership and that minifig visor technique was widely copied in a number of sci-fi applications.  Unfortunately we’ve pretty much lost Ryan Wood the builder to the Merlin entertainment group, where he presides over the construction of massive projects for the many Lego theme parks around the world and that’s a shame because I miss his creativity and boundless enthusiasm for the action.  He’s is one more example of how that job basically kills a person’s desire to build for fun.

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Unfortunately only a tiny photo remains of the “Logos” hover-ship from former wunderkind Bruce Lowell but you can still make out the enticing curves and unique shape.  I’m pretty sure this a microscale creation but I can’t tell for certain.

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This 2012 microscale version of the Neb is easy on the eyes, and greatly enhanced by the minimalist background diorama and typically impeccable photography.  It was constructed 5 years ago by the always reliable SPARKART! and it almost seems to float with a View-Master quality to the image.  It’s no mean trick to make a dark gray model pop against a dark gray background but the builder manages the task in style.

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Staying small for the moment, enjoy this 2009 microscale Neb from Frankus!.  The proportions might be a little wonky and the tail section seems a little thick, but some people like big butst, and they cannot lie.  It’s too bad Frankus! (I love any screen name with an exclamation mark) stopped building after a short but promising run, he was just hitting his stride when he wandered off.

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Continue reading “Omnibus: “There is no spoon.””

Constructive Criticism: Gil Shaw in the 25th Century

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s regular feature where I provide a builder with some feedback that is hopefully both entertaining and helpful.  The format is simple: a reader submits a model for evaluation, I come up with at least one good thing about it, at least one bad thing and one random observation that falls outside the first two categories.

Today’s volunteer victim on the rotisserie spit is constant reader and friend of the blog Toradoch (a.k.a. Gil Shaw).  You may remember him from such interesting and popular builds as: Tomahawk MkII, Space Police HQ and the critically acclaimed IP 3000 Hover Response Team.  While I typically review a designated builder’s most recent effort, Gil specifically requested that I apply my critical scalpel to an older model, Ice Base Gamma, from the fall of 2008.  It should be obvious by now that the diorama is my drug of choice, so I was motivated to dive head-first into this deceptively intricate layout.  It may look at first blush like a typical LUGNET.space era offering but there is more here than meets the eye and I hope to convince you that I’m not writing this critique while under that most dangerous of influences…nostalgia.  So get small with me, constant reader and let’s talk about the “Ice Base Gamma“, what went right, what went wrong and which celebrities most closely resemble the builder.

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I like to think that my ability to appreciate and critique Lego models has developed over the years and one thing I’ve learned to admire is playability.  When I first started building and posting I thought playability was for “losers and Canadians” as I once exclaimed on LUGNET to the delight of the crowd.  Although I do enjoy a good swoosh from time to time (I have a soul after all) and I like to push cars round dioramas I was never one for interiors.  I resented the added layer of difficulty and cursed the unfortunate proportions of the minifigs that fucked with scale by turning a mighty-starships into a modest WW2 era diesel submarines.  I also didn’t have kids back then and now that I do have a couple, I find  that  get a lot more enjoyment out of the inside of a model.  All of that is a long way of saying that I love how Gil put just as much (if not more) care and thought into the interior of this mode than the exterior.  The buildings have working doors and coffee machines (a classic of the genre) and science stations and fork-lifts and air tanks and all manner of objects for the minifig employees to interact with.  The moving elevator is the kind of working detail I always want to include but never do and refueling station is the good kind of boilerplate.  This base reminds me of a Lego set in the best possible way.  As I kid I would have killed for something like this and it would have provided hours of play.  And as we know, playtime really is funtime.

Hand in hand with the idea of playability, some of my favorite dioramas are one that convey a process or chain of events.  In this case I love how Gil shows how a cargo container is brought in on a ship, unloaded with a futuristic forklift and placed inside the building in a storage bay.  It’s not glamorous or violent or sexy in a conventional sense but it’s a great way of showing off the features of the diorama in a way that makes logical sense.  I wish more builders would consider this kind of approach, I find it to be much more engaging when looking through dozens of photos and it forces you to catch details that might otherwise be lost.  Since this paragraph is a little terse I’ll also throw in some love for the buildings here.  This isn’t the time or place (a frozen hell-hole) to be getting clever with fancy architecture or overbuilt, byzantine art installations, this is a place where utility is king.  Gil manages to respect that notion while simultaneously giving the viewer something interesting to look at.  I love the gently sloping shape and the dimple roofing.  It would have been easy to do too much here and I admire Gil’s restraint.

I also enjoyed two of the three vehicles, the land rover and the little VTOL fighter.  While Gil may be a crony of the highest order, I’m not going to sit here in my avocado-colored barcalounger and try to convince you these are state-of-the-art, Nick-Trotta obsessive builds, because obviously they are not.  This is mostly studs-up construction with a very conservative approach to the building, but it’s also almost a decade old and I think it’s important to keep that in mind while looking at them.  I may be rightfully accuse of having my nostalgic glasses on here but when I hit the scene this style was the big noise and part of me will always think it’s cool.  The use of a consistent color scheme on all three vehicles is great and really ties into the building well, they look like they belong to the same company/organization that operates the base.  The little fighter is delightful and I would very much enjoy a good low swoosh over the rooftops, and I also really dig the tie-downs Gil uses on the pad to protect it from the harsh arctic winds.  The turned-down wingtips and the double tails are a classic look, well executed on a small model.  The ground-vehicle is fun too, I like the offset cab, fat tires and ambiguous techno-thingies in the back.  I think Gil might have missed an opportunity to have the hauler capable of carrying the previously mentioned blue container, like he did with his classic Kyphon Cargo Outpost, but it doesn’t diminish my appreciation of the model.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time out of the gate and I think these vehicles are a nice accent to the project and provide value without overwhelming the model or fucking with the scale.

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I feel compelled to admit that I never have understood the appeal or utility of the beloved, classic Crater Plate from 1979.  Although I’ve managed to accumulate a half-dozen of them over the years I find them surprisingly difficult to use and I can’t recall seeing a single model over the years that used them effectively or memorably.  Because of their regularity even using them for microscale has limited appeal. In this particular case I find that they manage to clash in terms of scale and style when compared to the brick-built rock formation that forms the foundation of the large landing pad.  The shape of the crater plates are just unlike anything else LEGO manufactures and I find their presence here jarring although Gil did a nice job socking them in with angled plates.  I’m not really a fan of the scratch-built topography either, the technique is your typical rock-vomit boilerplate…competently built, but there just isn’t enough of it to make it seem natural to the environment.  It looks like an odd hollow fence made out of rocks.  Perhaps if the entire base was on a hilltop constructed with the same technique I’d like it better, it might allow for some interesting elevation changes and separate levels of action, but as it stands  the combination of the molded crater plates and the sloping rock leaves me colder than a pimp’s heart.

I’m not a big fan of the cargo ship on the large landing pad, which is a bummer because it feels like the most important of the group.  From the jump it doesn’t jibe with my somewhat arbitrary idea of what I think a cargo ship should look like.  This thinkg looks more like a scout ship or a fighter or some kind of pleasure-craft, it’s almost too pretty to be a cargo hauler.  If it were pretty…which it’s not.  Where the other vehicles come across as clean if perhaps spartan in design, this one appears low-resolution and simplistic.  Specifically the relatively large expanse of studs on the red plates of the wings draws my eye in a bad way.  I don’t mind an exposed stud or two and Gil manages to capture that magic and elusive ratio of studs to smooth on the other two vehicles just fine.  I also don’t like the way the blue cargo module sticks so far off the back unprotected.  It looks back-heavy like it might topple the ship in inclement weather or easily come dislodged.  The shape recalls the kick ass Raptor from the Battlestar Galactica reboot, but it seems underdeveloped here like it needed another nose-to-engine layer of detail.  It also reminds me of an official Lego set in it’s sort of generic, in the box thinking.  What the diorama needed was AC/DC to play on it’s biggest landing pad, not Dokken.  To wrap it up, the wings are too stubby, the engines are too small and the canopy is too easy.  You might say I question this ships very heritage.

This falls pretty obviously in the realm of the nit-picky, but the secondary landing pad, for the vehicle that I do like, is way too close to the building.  I understand that in the future the technology in these crazy machines will allow for more precision landings that are possible now, but man there is exactly zero margin for error here.  Once wrong move and an inexperienced pilot could take out a quarter of the base.  This place is supposed to be situated on the windswept, ice-encrusted frontier right?  Why would your risk all the effort it took to establish the base with a such a dangerous landing pad?  To make matters worse, the surface isn’t even flat, the pilot has to put that bitch down in what amounts to a cradle.  Yes I fully realize nobody cares about that kind of stuff, and it’s the future so anything goes, but a little separation might have been nice, and a larger surface area on the pad for minifigs to get into shenanigans.

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I’m not going to knock Old Gil for his presentation techniques for the long-shots of the base, I’m not here to offer constructive criticism on anything except the build itself.  Not everyone has the time/bricks/mental instability to have a Lego-pure image, and not everyone has the time/skill/motivation to Photoshop their stuff either.  With the irregular shape I imagine it would be a bit of a nightmare to process for anyone that didn’t like the process of photo-editing to begin with.  So I don’t hold any of that against the builder, although I think it is incumbent upon me to mention the chains…they brings an unexpected BDSM vibe to the model that you just don’t see every day.  I was tempted to chastise Gil to keep his fetishes to himself but I’m always going on about mecha-feet so that seemed hypocritical.  What I will recommend to Gil or anyone else who is challenged by presenting a large diorama is to photograph the model against a painted wall.  I know not everyone has that luxury or circumstance but the technique served me well over the years, because bed sheets or paper always look distracting.  No matter how well you iron the sheets there are folds and wrinkles and it’ difficult to find a single sheet of paper in the right size and even then it can develop little dimples or scratches that are distracting.  For some idiotic reason that still escapes me I started off with a color called Stinger Yellow, but I think the Gunsmoke Blue I switched to later looked much better.  The current specifics of my Legoratory don’t allow for me to use this technique any longer, and it’s a shame because it’s low-cost, low-tech and usually yields good results.

One more thing…whenever I think of this long-time crony, my thoughts often turn to TV’s Gil Gerard and Robert Shaw, because Gil Shaw is like a hybrid of these two master thespians.  He possesses the luxurious chest hair and fashion swagger of Gil Gerard, paired with the understated gravitas and barely restrained violence of Robert Shaw.

So the bottom line is that I dig this retro-space base and I’d love to spend an hour with a beer and some minifigs to really explore it’s nooks and crannies.

I will close with this boilerplate reminder…if you’d like to have one of your models get the (good/bad/whatever) treatment, just sign up in the comments below.  I have a builder slated for the next edition of Constructive Criticism, but the subsequent slots are wide open.

Constructive Criticism:”Don’t believe in Goldman, his type like a curse. Instant karma’s gonna get him, if I don’t get him first”

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s regular feature where I provide a builder with some feedback that is hopefully both entertaining and helpful.  The format is simple: a reader submits a MOC for evaluation, I come up with at least one good thing about it, at least one bad thing and one random observation that falls outside the first two categories. Today’s volunteer victim on the rotisserie spit is…me.  As promised, since nobody signed up in the comment section of last week’s edition, I will critique my own work.

My name is Keith Goldman (formerly Don Quixote 2×4), you may remember me from such popular models as: Logan’s Run, The Dragon Wall and my most popular model of all time with over 70 thousand views… HUB-14 Swag: part 1.  As per standard operating procedures in this column, I will be reviewing my latest model from June of this year, A Bus Stop in Bucharest.  The diorama took me six months to build and it’s my first build of any kind in over a year.  The layout is 4ft x 8ft (the size of my table) and it is the 5th time I’ve covered the entire build surface, the time I went for it was 2014’s critically panned Spirit’s Rise.  Although Bucharest was not conceived as a convention model, it turned into one about 2/3rds of the way through the building process.  The diorama was a collaborative effort and it eventually displayed at the BrickSlopes fan event in Orem Utah, where it took home a handful of trophies.  It should be noted that none of the vehicles are mine, as usual I don’t have the patience or energy to fill these bloated dioramas so I recruited 12 studs and one idiot (Rutherford) to help me breathe life into the dull gray landscape.  Instead we’ll be examining the stage, which is entirely my contribution, and not the actors.  So let’s talk about “A Bus Stop in Bucharest“, what went right, what went wrong and the ghost of an old diorama.

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If I had to point to one single detail that went really well, it would be the transition where the curved towers emerge from the arches built into the slanted wall.  It’s an easy technique, a cheap technique even, but it works perfectly.  When I paired it with the staircases that cut into those slanted walls, it made for a background that was visually interesting but not so complex that it distracted from the vehicles.  When you have so many smaller, colorful, amazing subjects, the background benefits by being a little less detailed.  As I’ve said before, I’m a big believer that the eye needs a place to rest and the bigger the project gets the more I find it to be true.  That single transition from tower to wall makes the whole thing work, and I’m very pleased with the effect.

Bucharest started with the islands in the street, with the canopy-built overhang for the seats.  At that point I had no idea what I direction I was going to take the project, how big it would be or anything beyond, but it all came out of that relatively small section and I’d put that in the ‘good’ column.  Again, the curb technique isn’t reinventing the wheel, but sometimes the simplest answers are the best.  The sloping ramps were intended for wheelchairs that never made it into the final staging, but I was really proud of them at the time and I think the almost mundane simplicity of it will look good for years to come.

In a more general sense, I did a pretty good job providing platforms for action to take place on multiple levels, which I regard as one of the keys to building large-scale dioramas.  I have street-level, bridge-level, train-level and roof-level, with a couple of spots in between that don’t fall into easily labeled categories.  Each terrace had a specific function that allowed different elements to shine: the trucks, minifigs, aircraft, trains, etc.  All of them were well-integrated and didn’t seem tacked on and they were all pretty unique in terms of style, while still being tied together as a whole with certain common design elements like the blue chairs on both the main road and the roof.

Lastly, I think I did a good job with the spectacle of minifig action.  The crowd scene looks great and I think I came up with just enough interesting vignettes to maintain interest without it becoming overkill.  My favorite of these minifig driven setups Simon’s garbage truck running over the dog.  I love dogs, but let’s face it all the best dogs in books and movies get killed, usually in gut wrenching fashion, and I wanted to insert that notion into the model.  The setting is so vast, and a scene like that really takes it down to the “human” level. So I give myself high marks for set-dressing with the minifigs.

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Speaking of levels, Cole Blaq challenged me very early in the process to create a subterranean level that might hold a parking garage or visible infrastructure of some kind.  He envisioned the road ramping downward, with exposed pipes and a HAZMAT spill that would have looked much better with his rig.  At the time I was just far enough along in the process that I didn’t want to take a big step backward to re-work the foundation of the project, and I wasn’t sure I had the resources to create a sub-level and still achieve my other big-picture goals.  In retrospect, I think it was a bad decision and I should have taken his advice and gone the more difficult path.  I think it would have added some much-needed interest to the flat road layout and it would have allowed his central contribution to shine even more than it did.  I think iso would have helped with comparisons to Highway 44, but whatever, we’ll talk about that later.

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Although it’s a relatively small detail when you consider the scope of Bucharest, I definitely dropped the ball with the light-posts.  Although they were one of the first details I worked on, I tinkered with the design during the entire six months of the project and I still wasn’t satisfied at the end.  I tried endless variants but either it looked worse, or it was too prone to sagging, or a number of other issues.  I don’t think they really match the surroundings, they look like they belong in another diorama entirely.  They are basic and chunky, like a mall-girl from the 80’s.  I originally envisioned them with a lot of stuff attached to them like signs and little pieces of technology, like you see in Japan for example, but because of the round bricks I just wasn’t satisfied with any of the attachment points.  In retrospect I wish I’d used rubber bands and figured out a way to make them more interesting…or just ditched the round bricks.  Also, for constructs of that size, I should have at least tried to work in some functioning lights.  I would expand this criticism to include my decision not to make some kind of futuristic stoplight or large-scale road sign or billboard.  sometimes I get really lazy when the fine details matter the most, and I think I could have done a little better with the set-dressing on this one.  A 10 year old could have designed better lights.

The bridge to nowhere on the extreme right hand side of the scene is the single biggest thing that bugs me about the diorama, when I step back and examine the thing as a whole.  I should have figured out a way to have something more satisfying in the foreground for it to connect to, like a tower or a platform…something.  Just having it end looks unfinished and sort of sloppy.  The design itself is fine, but it was supposed to be just one part of a large side-wall that would merge with the eye-block that runs the length of the project.  The intent was to create a corner that would allow me a wider range of camera angles without non-Lego elements in the background.  Ultimately I ran out of gray brick and I was forced to reduce the side wall to just the bridge.  It wasn’t ideal, but on projects the size of Bucharest there are always compromises to be suffered, especially when the deadline of a convention is involved.

I wish I could have a re-do on the train station.  At that point of the process it was the frantic last few weeks where it seems like every sub-section of the project still had a serious issue to deal with.  I’ve got the ticket kiosks, and they are ok…and the chairs are a nice echo of the chairs on street level, but the whole stretch just lacks panache.  It’s just “ok”, and that’s not good enough when you have aspirations to do your best work.  There is utilitarian, and then there is boring, and the train station is boring.  I was fortunate that Rutherford’s bizarro-triangle-trains were there to distract from the mediocrity.

And finally, a gripe about the presentation side of things.  I posted way too many photos and I diluted the impact of the project, which is a shame for all the talent involved.  Less is more sometimes and I was so proud of the project after a year layoff that I went overboard.  None of the photos did particularly well in terms of metrics, although the 89 shots have racked up over 100k views combined.  It was the lack of comments that put me off, and I think it was directly related to the number and quality of the photos.  I also dropped the ball with the photos in general.  I kind of resent the fact that to be seen as a good builder, you have to be a good photographer too because one doesn’t have anything to do with the other.  Photography has always disinterested me, I find it to be a tedious and difficult skill to master and I’ve got no Photoshop skills either.  So this year I decided to use my “smart” phone for the first time and the results were mixed to say the least.  On the one hand, it saved me a lot of time and effort, it was much easier than using a camera and some of the photos are good, but I’m not thrilled with the focus and lighting on many of the shots.  The biggest fail was not getting a good pullback shot that showed the model in its entirety.  Some of that was because I have an extreme aversion to having non-Lego elements in the photos (and that requires serious cropping), but some of it was just that I could not get a good pullback shot to save my life. Having the deadline of the convention didn’t help matters either, it didn’t give me much time to experiment before I had to get it ready for transport.

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throughout the process of building Bucharest, I was obsessing over an older project that would not let me rest.  2008’s Zero Hour on Highway 44 is one of my favorite builds and as soon as I committed to building another 8 feet of roadway I couldn’t stop comparing the two and often unfavorably.  I was determined to make them sufficiently different from each other but I’m not sure I succeeded, I’d be very interested to get your take on this issue in the comments, constant reader.  In the end I tried to embrace the similarities and I’m determined to create the third in the series, with a new cast of characters in the next few years.  This feels like a road trilogy to me, although promise not to split the final installment into separate projects like the current trend in Hollywood.

We’ll conclude with the song quoted in the title.  When he sings about “Goldman”, Bono is referencing an author who wrote an unflattering biography about his hero John Lennon.  Apparently Bono didn’t like reading about Lennon occasionally feeling the need to beat his wives.  How often do you hear your last name in a song though…it’s kind of cool, and I dig the thought of Bono trying to “get me first”.  Who wouldn’t love a chance to kick Bono’s ass?  Even if I lost the fight it would make for a great story.

Just a reminder, if you’d like to have one of your models get the (good/bad/whatever) treatment, just sign up in the comments below.

Two for Tuesday: Angka Utama

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Good evening constant reader, its happy hour and our bartender Lloyd is setting them up neat, just the way you like it. Tonight’s V.I.P. in the Manifesto lounge is Indonesian builder Angka Utama, whose stable of fine automobiles have been burning up the streets of Micropolis since 2010.  I think I appreciate Angka’s work so much because as a kid we were too poor to do the LEGO thing so my go-to toy was cheap-ass  Hot Wheels, purchased from the local grocery store…and if I’m being honest, sometimes shoplifted from the local grocery store (I was a terrible kid).  So every time I see one of Mr. Utama’s models it brings me back to those pumpkin-orange track segments that also made for great weapons to duel away the afternoon with my jackassy friends.  The sound of a well places slap on the thigh or upper arm was a thing of beauty.  See…I can be nostalgic too.

Enough of the old “slap & tickle”, you’re not here to read about my stupid childhood habits, so let’s get on with the sweet Lego action.  First up is Angka’s brilliant Rally Kit, which is a sort of generic truck platform that can be customized with any number of modules.  Although the racing variant is shown here I can imagine it roving the moon with scientific equipment, carrying troops to the battlefield or transporting sensitive cargo in the urban core.  I’ve built one myself and it is a delight to roll around the table.  I don’t often replicate another person’s build unless it is for a specific project, but since the time and resource investment was so low, I couldn’t resist.  It is going to be very difficult to restrain myself for building more trucks and an environment for said truck to roll around in, but that’s a dark road of ever-escalating ambition that can end up taking months instead of days. It is about the highest praise I can give a builder though and it’s not limited to this model, many of his cars have me reaching for the bin full of fenders.  I’m not sure what special ju-ju Anga wields, but there is an ocean of these little 4 wide and 6 wide cars out there and typically they don’t move the needle for me in the slightest.  Just like nnenn with his Vic Vipers or Jon Hall with his warbirds, the V.O.A.T. thing just never gets old with Angka’s models.  Maybe it is the accessibility of both designs, they seem very attainable to even casual builders.  Unlike The Chairman with his uber-rare and expensive parts, or Tyler Clites with his complexity, most people with a modest collection and skill level can play ball.

Unlike most people I feature in this series, I have not had the good fortune to meet Angka.  As much as I’d love to explore Republik Indonesia (especially the Prambanan Temple) it ain’t gonna happen and there is nothing in Angka’s photostream that would indicate a trip to Vegas is on his list of things to do.  I can share an anecdote though, the year was 2010 and I was perusing The models for sale on Chairman’s Zhang’s laudable holiday tradition, Creations for Charity. I was a little cash-strapped as people tend to get during the holiday season, so I couldn’t throw down on a big model or even a small model by a high-vis builder.  You can imagine my excitement when I came across the very reasonably priced Mitsubishi HSR, that had been generously donated by Mr. Utama.  It remains one of my favorite models to this day that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to acquire from my fellow Lego-nerds.  I was so impressed by the car that I was immediately inspired to construct a suitable background for the sports-car, that like many of Angka’s builds, looks very futuristic.  I even saved the box, because how cool is it to get mail from Indonesia?

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After scouring the usual sources for a photo of Angka, this is the Bookface avatar was the best image I was able to come up with.  If you know of a better one, constant reader, please don’t hesitate to mention it in the always lusty comment section.

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Frankly, I can’t tell much here, he might be a cyborg of some kind?  Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder.  In this case Angka is sporting a T-shirt of indeterminate color, possibly gray and I can’t tell if he’s wearing pants of any kind.  In the absence of further evidence, I cannot ask Rupaul for a verdict on this one so we’ll let it slide.  Until next time,  anda mengontrol tindakan.