Friday Night Fights [Round 24]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for a special Veteran’s Day edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is the battle of the wild blue yonder, waged between two USAF veterans with global air supremacy on the line.  Both entries were first posted in 2006 (continuing this week’s unofficial theme of decade old models), and illustrate the “whimsical” side of the valiant Airmen.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from an unmarked hangar at the Skunk Works, it’s Derek “The Action Figure” Schin and his “Aero Pirates“.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from the DARPA wind tunnels, it’s Justin “Henry” Vaughn and his “Crater Express Moonbase Taxi”

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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.

Last time, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the battle of the pumpkin patch with a bag full o’ children’s souls on the line.  In the end, Anthony “The Wolverine” Wilson and his “The Wanderer“ smashed Andrew “Chrome” Lee and his “Happy Halloween“ to the tune of a 9-6 victory.  Anthony Wilson scores his first victory (1-0) while Andrew Lee runs his record to (0-1).

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I’d like to end with a shout-out to another valued Airman, Dave Manhire, who designed the banner of this august blog, and a raised glass to the vets.

The Life Modular, with Sean Edmison

Modular terrain is certainly not a new concept in our shared hobby, but it’s always interesting to see it done well.  Although I couldn’t pin down the origin of the technique to a specific date or single builder, the Classic Castle City Standard from 2003 was certainly one of the first attempts to codify a standard.  A group of enterprising builders (Medinets, Sava, Hoffman etc.) started with an easy to replicate modular castle wall system and later expanded to terrain, water and buildings.  You may also be familiar with the MILS system or Base8 or any number of offerings by individual builders like Magnus Lauglo who have experimented with the concept over the years.  The core technique inspired by the official line of 1980’s castle sets like the beloved 6040 Blacksmith Shop, and involved wall segments with a common design that could be connected via Technic pins and recombined with other sets or original builds.  It’s probably also worth mentioning the influence of 2002’s Moonbase project which used a similar methodology for building large collaborative displays at conventions.

Fast-forward 14 years and people are still refining the familiar modular terrain concept, with all the updated parts, colors and techniques that you would expect.  The big knock on previous iterations was that the final product often seemed generic or low resolution, sacrificing detail for sheer coverage.  The photos I’m about to show you clearly demonstrate that in the last decade things have progressed to a point where that criticism is no longer necessarily valid.  Builder and frequent convention-goer Sean Edmison says he was inspired by a discussion on Classic Castle Forums to “reimagine” the standard and I think he did a fine job adding value with both the appearance and the structure.  These models are actually about four years old, but I’d say they still classify as new-school building and if they popped up in your Flickrstream tomorrow they likely wouldn’t seem out-of-place or anachronistic.  You may remember Mr. Edmison from such memorable models as Peloponnesian War and Rivendell, or Seattle’s BrickCon where he often collaborates with fellow castle-heads.

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One of Sean’s innovations that I appreciate from my own struggles with the modular lifestyle is the use of short axles instead of Technic pins to connect the modules.  Once you get too many of the standard pins involved in the process it can become very difficult to separate the modules without a good deal of force, damaged pins and flying ABS shrapnel.  It can also be equally as difficult to connect large modules especially if your surface is less than perfectly flat (like your average folding plastic convention table).  Once you fill an entire baseplate with brick and/or plate, it has a tendency to bow or warp in a decidedly unfriendly manner that is the enemy of uniformity and smooth transitions between sections.  When Mike and I took Isla Guadalupe to Texas a few years ago, we had to abandon the notion of actually connecting the modules together because they just wouldn’t line up like they did at home where my table was decidedly flatter.

I’m not sure if Sean came up with this tweak on his own or if he was inspired by another builder, but after playing with it briefly I find it to be a big improvement.  Even though the technique does require double the number of bricks to make it work, those 1×2 bricks with the + shaped void don’t seem to be terribly expensive if you’re not picky about the color and most builders I know have more axles than they will ever be able to use in a single model.  Sean also uses more connection points than you typically see with modular terrain and I suspect cutting down on the total number would save parts/money without compromising stability.

Sean also developed what he calls a “Tank-rutted” road that looks great, especially the visible tracks under the puddle of water.  I’ve never seen this specific type of decorative approach to a modular system and it should get the often-maligned military builders excited about the collaborative possibilities.  Even if you’re not planning on assembling a 64 square foot diorama of the battle of Kursk with a dozen of your closest homies, this kind of modularity comes in handy when breaking down and packing any sized diorama for travel to a convention or LUG meeting.

Two for Tuesday: Jon Palmer

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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 my personal Lego spirit-animal, and O.G. Spacer, Jon Palmer.  Like too many of the builders featured in this column, Jon has drifted out of the scene, but you won’t find a person who had a bigger impact on the hobby in it’s formative years.  Jon had a hand in all of the sci-fi boilerplate we take for granted now From Moonbase to geodesic domes to the SHIPyard (an early pre-Flickr archive of SHIPS).  In the age of LUGNET, when things could be a little stuffy and insular, Jon was always super friendly and above all, funny.  Sometimes we tend to take the hobby way too seriously, myself included, but never Jon, he could find humor in almost any situation.  It’s a cliché, but he really did have a talent for bringing people together in a positive and creative way.  I had the great pleasure of hanging out with Jon on a half-dozen occasions,  even at my homestead here in Vegas, and that’s really the acid test for my fellow nerds, would I want them in my home?  Jon is one of the few people I’ve met who could move in, if he needed to.  Hands down my best convention experiences were the BrickCons in Seattle where Jon and I had a chance to hang out, it was the first time I appreciated offsite activities more than those of the convention hall. As a builder, very few people were as personally inspiring to me, his 2002 spaceship Bison, for instance, was just as important and influential to me as the Dragonstar. It may look dated by today’s standards but it was a breath of fresh air ten+ years ago in an unusual color scheme.  Outside of Rutherford and Rubino, my two cronies since high-school, nobody had a bigger impact on me in the hobby than Jon.

For tonight’s first shot, we’ll be examining Jon’s often duplicated geodesic dome from 2006.  I can’t stress enough how popular this model once when he first posted it online, people were blown away.  As a fan of 70’s Sci-Fi, it certainly made a lasting impression on me.  My build table is not ideal to make one, but I have one of those ‘some day’ projects in mind that involves about 5 domes of varying sizes.  Because he was a community minded kind of dude, Jon thoughtfully shared the building process in a series of photos.  Check out the link and maybe you’ll be inspired to make your own.  The cost may be a little steep but the result is magnificent and sturdy.  I still see this design pop up every now and then at a convention and it always looks fresh, but I don’t think anyone (including Jon) has really done much with the interior space.  I have a small section of the structure built to keep me inspired and I’ve been slowly accumulating the parts over the years.  I’d like to see how much of the dome can be closed off without annoying gaps or sag.  The dome is one of those rare models that captures your attention, even from across a crowded convention hall, surrounded by other amazing things.

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For our second shot, we will take a brief look at one of the biggest building fads the hobby has ever seen, rather than a single model.  Most of Jon’s stuff has been lost to the digital ether, the photos available on Flickr only represent a fraction of his output.  In 2002 Jon was in important part of a small group of Spacers who created and developed the Moonbase concept, the very popular first attempt at a modular, collaborative, convention-based standard.  The ghost of Moonbase can still be spotted now and then, but it’s a shadow of it’s former glory.  At it’s height, every major convention had a sprawling layout with monorails, giant towers, moon-track and smoking volcanoes.  Like every fad, Moonbase eventually jumped the shark and became a kind of parody of itself, but it’s importance in the history of the hobby and conventions cannot be understated.  As with the geodesic dome, Jon thoughtfully compiled the instructions and examples first on his personal site Zemi.net (now defunct) and later on Flickr, so that anyone can easily get in on the action.  Whether it was minifig scale or microscale, Moonbase united builders from across the planet and that’s pretty cool.  The possibilities were endless and the standard was scaled to be very attainable, even for new builders with relatively small connections.  You could make just a corridor or an end-cap, and still feel like you were a part of the display.  When I think of Palmer, I think of inclusion and innovation.

Probably the biggest build-related regret I have in the hobby was the failure of the Lord Mandrake Memorial Sea Tower, a collaborative project involving myself, Palmer and Ryan Rubino back in 2008.  Ryan and I were fresh off the Omicron Weekend and we were fired up to work with Jon, who we both considered to be a mad genius.  Ryan’s famous Leviathans model was originally intended for the this ambitious undersea diorama, with Jon building the tower itself and yours truly providing the canyon and seafloor terrain.  We were a couple of months into building and things were really shaping up, when Jon abruptly moved from Seattle to Tulsa and subsequently lost all interest in building.  There is no dramatic story or unsolved mystery, like many builders space to build was an issue and other real life considerations got in the way.  I blame it on the geography, I have a deep and abiding hatred of Tulsa and all things Tulsa related to this day.  It’s the city that ate Jon Palmer and it should be razed to the ground and salted to make sure nothing grows there again.  If I could wave a magic wand and bring one single builder back to the hobby it would be Jon, for me the hobby is a worse place without him and I’ll certainly never enjoy BrickCon in the same way again.  Well, truth be told I guess I’d bring nnenn back because he’s dead and I’m sure his family would be thrilled to have him back, but second would be Jon.

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For this particular feature on the Manifesto I like to conclude the proceedings with a photo of the builder in question. I do this to help you put a face to the name and sometimes with the express intent to take the piss out of the builder. This is one of those times. Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder.

Jon is actually a pretty stylish dude, often without really trying, so I had to go the extra mile to find just the right photo.  Anyone who knows me is aware of my extreme aversion to ‘cosplay’ and more specifically ‘cosplayers’.  Most people like attention in some way or another but cosplayers take it to a whole new attention-whoring level.  The entire core of the hobby is based on the premise “look at me!   No, really, look at me!“, and it may be the one group of nerds who has a higher concentration of special snowflakes than Lego people.  The most insufferable in-law I have is a cos-player, so I’ve seen them up close and personal and it’s nothing but narcissism all day long.  I love Halloween as much as the next person, and costume parties are great, but I’m sick of cosplayers invading other hobbies and I really hate when they try to insert themselves into ours.  The only time I’ve been tempted to violence at a convention was with a dickhead cosplayer who looked like a kabuki-jedi who would run his mouth about the models without having brought anything of his own.  I think it was less about the quality of the models and more about his need to feel superior.  Just go away…I don’t care how cleverly made your gender-swapped Ant-Man X-wing pilot costume is, you’re annoying and you should leave. The same with steam punk people, save it for your own convention, nobody cares how many brass buttons you can fit on your codpiece.  Go push your tchotchkes somplace else.

Getting back to Jon though, this is the rare kind of cosplay I can appreciate.  Jon was the Space Coordinator for the BrickCon the year this photo was snapped and it was his job to handle the Moonbase layout.  This vibrant one-piece certainly looks like a suitable Moonbase uniform, without being derivative of a specific franchise and it’s orange!  Having your rank spelled out on your sleeve may not be as cool as a mission-patch but it rocks in a very 1970’s kind of way.  As you can imagine Jon was easy to find on setup day, which made it easier for newcomers to figure out who was in charge and join in the Moonbase fun…a frequent problem at conventions…most coordinators suck at their jobs.  This one is an easy decision.

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The Life Modular, with Paul Hartzog

The Manifesto has featured quite a few O.G. “Spacers” in its brief history and the next builder in the spotlight is no exception.  Unlike many of that first generation of sci-fi builders who ruled the ivy covered halls of LUGNET, Paul Hartzog is still producing thought-provoking work today.  In the past few years Paul has been focusing on modular dioramas that incorporate a flexible design system that can be customized to reflect your favorite Sci-Fi franchises. Paul was one of the unsung developers of the first great community experiment in modularity, Moonbase.  More than just a building standard, Moonbase was a full-blown mania that helped Spacers from around the world connect and collaborate as never before and it became a convention staple. Paul applied some of the same concepts to the interior design of Sci-Fi settings and while not yet as popular, they are no less striking.  Whether you prefer Star Trek or Star Wars, Paul’s system is perfect.27903663283_3891f6d5c8_o

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The builder also has variations based on the video game Star Citizen and his own home-brew designs, but the concept remains the same.  The walls and floors are detachable panels that can be easily swapped out to suit your individual taste.  It allows you to play with combinations to get just the right look and makes it very easy for other builders to replicate the designs to allow for more ambitious layouts.  The design also makes it easy to modify as new parts or techniques become available.

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I’d love to see a big collaborative effort using the standard Paul has developed, an expansive Moonbase-style layout but with a focus on interior spaces.  As you can see in the mosaic of photos below, Paul took a sample diorama to North Carolina’s BrickMagic convention where it hopefully gained a few advocates.  The small accessories that go with these scenes are delightful and worthy of their own post.  Fortunately you can find isolated shots of the furniture and equipment in the builder’s photostream.  Paul is a fascinating guy who I hope to meet in person one of these years and I can’t encourage you enough to check out his website if you’d like to learn more about the multi-talented builder.  One of those talents is music, I’m lucky enough to have one of his CD’s but you can check out his music through the site.  If you’d like more information on Paul’s modular building standard, head over to the Flickr Group dedicated to the topic and talk to the man himself.  That’s one of the great things about this hobby, you can reach out and connect with just about everyone.  More often than not, LEGO nerds are very helpful if you approach them in the right way.

Tyler Clites, one of the most accomplished builders our hobby has to offer, put a very similar idea into play for the interiors of his Magellan Modular Starship from 2014.  The frame dimensions are slightly different but the concept is the same and it opens up a wide variety of possibilities.  Tyler went the extra step of making the entire ship modular and the results were spectacular to say the least.  All of the variations look great.

Modularity is not the sole purview of the Spacer crowd, there is also a castle building standard, a micro-scale city standard, LEGO’s official modular building standard, a landscaping standard and a host of others standards too long to catalogue at this time.  I hope you’ve enjoyed our examination of the life modular with Paul Hartzog, goodnight constant reader.