Bricks LA Update (Part 3)

ENY81_00_25_46_00023.jpg

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.

39180016862_946e99eb2f_o.jpg

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.

And the Winner of SHIPtember 2017 is…

Brama!, by Mr. Zac Lowing, who also took the top spot in 2016.  The rest of you losers can go home now, try harder next year!

brama-jpg_display

I would love to tell you who won the SHIPtember People’s Choice award for this year but as usual, Simon Liu has wandered off to the next shiny thing and probably won’t think about it until just before next year’s contest.  I thought about tallying up the votes myself but that sounded too much like work and it’s a useless exercise because Zac was clearly going to win the challenge anyway. Sure the BASILISK seemed to be leading the way and it was an exciting and worthy SHIP…but we’ll never know because Simon is awesome at starting things but not so awesome at finishing them.  Maybe he’s busy with the Canadian branch of C4C, that would be a pretty good excuse.  I’m probably in the tiny minority of people who are bothered by his inability to close out the proceedings, but I’m old and cranky so why are you still standing on my lawn?

23818715138_23819e1c40_o.jpg

For you SHIPtember enthusiasts it is worth noting that creator of the BASILISK and  friend of the blog Pico van Grootveld completed the official poster of last year’s offerings.

So a heartfelt congratulations from the Manifesto to Zac Lowing and all praise to Brama.

And the Winner of SHIPtember 2016 is…

Brama!, by Mr. Zac Lowing.  The rest of you losers can go home now, try harder next year!

brama-jpg_display

Believe it or not, this is the 100th post in the brief history of the Manifesto.  Thank you for all your views and comments, constant reader!

 

 

SHIPrites Vol 4: Play-sets or Display pieces?

The Manifesto is proud to present the fourth installment of a month-long series by friend of the blog and creator of SHIPtember, Simon Liu.

29405927476_53970a719a_o

Hey everyone,

Welcome to volume 4 of SHIPrites, the Super Sunday SHIPtember spectacular!

So far we have talked about the Journey and the path that is SHIPtember, we talked about some of the history of SHIPs and the question of Interiors.

There was some good debate among the commentators last week regarding interiors.  While my original thought was that a lack of interiors meant a significant break from the ‘old school’ style of SHIP building  it was aptly pointed out that many of the SHIPtember era SHIPs have extremely complicated shapes and cladding which necessitated a lot of internal structure, thus preventing the inclusion of an interior. This effectively asked a new question, which is ‘better’: Play-sets or Display pieces?

Let’s take a look back, shall we, to the short history that is SHIPtember?  Here are the first three SHIPs to win SHIPtember:

2013: Nathan Proudlove – Arrested Development

10010202803_6a5fd2cacf_o

2014: Tim Schwalfenberg – Hurricane Battlecruiser

15076547670_7a5a1e5706_o

2015: LEGOLIZE IT MAN – muulla – This SHIP also I believe has the notable privilege of the most FAV’d SHIP of all SHIPtembers with 422 (Happy Keith? NUMBERS!)

21194218603_a5a6110f35_o

With the exception of Nathan’s first year entry, the collective judges all choose Micro SHIPs, and even the special judges from Homeworld Dev team’s top picks from last year were microscale. Looking back at the first year, there were quite a few minifig scale SHIPs with interiors, and part of me wonders if that was a hold-over from the old Era of SHIP building – the pre-SHIPtember era. But what we saw that first wonderful SHIPtember was a lot of MicroSHIPs, and a definite shift towards crazy and hyper detailed SHIPs.

Even with the behavioral engineering effect of naming a Minifig Scaled Interior SHIP as the inaugural Best SHIP in 2013, the flood of Micro SHIPs seems to be unabated. The gene bottle was smashed opened so to speak, as people saw the amazing Micro SHIPs that came out of that first SHIPtember. Factor in the time constraints and the extra design requirements and structural hotdoggary required for some of the more complex textures and designs, it’s easy to see why MicroSHIPs seem to achieved prominence.

Even old school spacers are getting into the action: zachmoe in the first SHIPtember was in my mind as the one that really pushed me to start thinking of SHIPs more as display pieces and less like play-sets (though I don’t think I realized it at the time). His mundane sounding entry of a Octan Fuel Transport is just simply technically brilliant and makes even the most micro builders giddy with his details:

10043419404_eef9aa758a_o.jpg

But it’s just not the judges that were swayed by the Micro-side, arguably the most important trophy (cause I can win it!) is People’s Choice, the award that the builders and community votes on. This, to me is the real litmus test of how epic your SHIP is. Judges can be swayed to box in SHIPs by this and that, and have potential agendas and soft spots, but the people, they’re brutally honest in voting on the coolest SHIP – which actually isn’t a bad criteria.

In fact, this is so important, that People’s choice comes first. To me, it means more to have the community proclaim their favorite than a secret cabal of judges appointed by a few.  So let’s see what the people liked in terms of SHIPs:

2013: Jacob Unterreiner – Phoenix (with possibly the best SWOOSH! ever.

10027037575_69a6aa0025_o

2014: Damien Labrousse – untitled

15404570585_729a81a396_o

2015: Tim Schwalfenberg – Vaygr Battlecruiser (Again! – will he three-peat in the best SHIP/People’s choice?)

So let’s take a closer look, again it looks like it’s a Micro-sweep, so not only have the Judges and builders shifted radically away from the Play-sets and into Display pieces, but also the community at large.

But wait! Look closer at Damien’s SHIP  I tricked you! That’s not actually MicroScale, it’s MINIFIG scale – you can see the little red pilot. But it LOOKS like it’s microscale, doesn’t it?

And maybe really that’s the point – scale isn’t the determining factor of cool or not. It’s the so-called micro-detailing that is wide-spread on MicroSHIPs (cause you kinda have to have micro details on microSHIP – duh) that is really the new trend. And microSHIPs tend to be smaller than Minifig Scale equivalents – which means the extra parts required for such detail to be far less than to build with a minifig Scale equivalent – But that’s not to say it can’t be achieve, Damien and Nathan are great examples. Another blast from the past, and one of my all time SHIPtember fav builds from 2014 is [Stijn Oom] with his absolutely drop dead dropship (Keith is totally right, everyone loves a good VTOL dropship…everyone):

15276395236_30ae35e355_o.jpg

(and I stand corrected, this appears to be the highest Fav count at 722 and counting…. … yeah)

So what now? The super detailing trend will continue and I’m sure we’ll see many amazing minifig and micro scaled SHIPs this year and subsequent years. For me, I think I’m hatching a plan for next year already, after so many hours pondering for SHIPrite fodder, it really kept making me really want to build NEXT year’s SHIP. Not that I don’t like this year’s (I do have serious issues with it) , but I’ve had so many ideas while trying to review the past few SHIPtembers and honestly some realizations I never had till I had to really had to think about it … SHIPtember 2016 … I want to do a micro-scale-detailed-minifig-interior-SHIP.

… tune in next year to see how that goes.

 

Cheers,

Simon

 

 

The Siren Song of SHIPtember 2016 [Volume 4 of 4]

It’s the last Matango in Paris, constant reader, the dream of SHIPtember is over for this year.  I realize there is still about a week left on the calendar but it will not be enough time to make any meaningful progress.  I spent the last week hammering on the build, trying to adopt one of Pico’s designs, but it just lead to greater frustration.  I can’t really blame the failure on lack of parts availability in orange, the challenging subject matter, or even the divided time between building and blogging.  At the end of the day I simply lost interest and became ambivalent about the model and that is the death of any creative project.  The comments both on the Manifesto and Flickr gave me a boost of energy last week, but it quickly went south when I couldn’t find the right way to push the design forward.  Sometimes models just don’t work out, and you have to know when to cut your losses.

Many of you suggested I abandon the time restrictions of the contest and proceed at my own pace, to value the ‘art’ over the collective experience.  That’s a reasonable take on things and normally I’d be on board with that course of action, but SHIPtember is all about embracing restrictions and going through the same pressure-cooker as everyone else. What I’m not willing to do, however, is push forward a piece of crap just meet a deadline.  I chose what Simon calls “the hard road” but my orange Ford Pinto couldn’t handle the action and it sits broken down on the side of that hard road.  Matango definitely had potential and I’ve saved the legs with an eye towards revisiting the concept some day, but for now it’s back to the bin and back to the blog.

29231578324_138a955dff_o.jpg

So in the end I chose the Manifesto over the Matango, and that has me thinking about the future of both activities as it relates to my free time.  There is no way I could consider another project the size of say Bucharest and remain committed to this place.  Right now I don’t have a strong urge to build, so running the blog is a nice way to stay connected to the hobby and indulge my interest in writing.  Long term though, I’m not so sure how to strike the right balance.

Best of luck to the rest of the SHIPwrights who are still in the fight!  I applaud your perseverance and I now I’ll have the time to encourage you from the sidelines.

SHIPrites Vol 3: The Childhood Spaceship Dream

The Manifesto is proud to present the third installment of a month-long series by friend of the blog and creator of SHIPtember, Simon Liu.

29405927476_53970a719a_o

Welcome to volume 3 of SHIPrites, the SHIPtember Sunday spectacular. The Last two weeks I went on and on about the Journey.

This week we talk about the obvious: SHIPs.

SHIPtember is frankly the most obvious theme month and it was a just a matter of time before someone took the usual theme month concept and said, let’s focus on the thing most builders aspire to create in all of Sci-Fi/Space-dom.

But why is a SHIP so special? Let’s start with the definition of a SHIP.  Despite what some claim, SHIP stands for: Seriously Huge Investment in Parts. And I can prove it. I asked some OG spacers for help and we actually found this original LUGNET post concerning the coining of the phrase. In 2002, James Brown first proposed SHIP acronym: Seriously Huge Interstellar Plastic, and it was the great Jon Palmer who was first to christen the phrase:  Seriously Huge Investment in Parts. And ever since then it’s been some what of a communal aspiration to create a SHIP.

A great builder, Mark Kelso once said: “You’re not a man (or woman) until you’ve built a SHIP.” And judging from his latest, he is da MAN.

12245874513_c42b0a96f1_o

But what makes SHIPS so special to Space builders? We have said it’s a rite of passage. Heck, this whole series is dedicated to the idea of building this milestone, in a month none the less!

If you look at all the other themes there isn’t really a comparison. Sure in castle you build.. well a castle. And trains you build… trains. That’s like saying space builds space.

No other group seems to be so obsessed with defined categories of builds. There are some strict limitations in say train – to build on the LEGO based train chassis but that’s because it’s effectively defined by LEGO. In town, in recent years there’s a pretty big shift to build on the Cafe Corner ‘modular’ standard – but do town builders aspire to build their ‘dream modular’?

Maybe there is, and please let me know, as I’m a primarily sci-fi or space builder. I like to think that I’m a well-rounded builder and know all the various facets of the community, but really I don’t, I’m heavily biased towards the groups that I tend to build in, and even going to the ‘big three’ conventions in the United States, that’s still a drop in the proverbial bucket of LEGO builders out there.

It’s kinda interesting if you think about it, sci-fi and space themes are all about exploring the new and different, strange new world and civilizations and such. Where anything can happen. And Space builders are encouraged to build weird and funky designs of the impossibilities.

Yet the Space/Sci-fi theme tends to have the most constrained rules to build the most unconstrained imaginative builds. Look at the plethora of Sci-fi theme months:

SHIPtember

MA.kTober

Novvember

Dronurary

FebRovery

Marchikoma

That’s 1/2 the year right there! And yet each one of these so-called open construction months have a very specific requirement and/or aesthetic.

I’m not actually sure why this is the case, or why that Sci-Fi has a disproportionate number of yearly theme months. There are definitely some others out there, but these are the established ones that almost run themselves. I believe the first true theme month would be Novvember, started by the late, great NNENN:

3084771457_f63256404a_o

With this first theme month he created the standard which we have all seemed to have prescribed to, define an objective – in his case a specific type of starfighter – two forward prongs, two rear fins and a big ass vertical stabilizer.And there it was, magic. Everyone bought into this seemingly simple criteria and built a slew of some of the best styled starfighters in LEGO form.  And others started repeating the pattern, creating a simple set of criteria and letting the imagination run wild. But again, mainly in space.

I look at the Classic Castle Contest – which has been running longer than all these theme months and their approach is slightly different, the categories usually state ‘what’ to build but not ‘how’ to build it. For instance build a ‘battering ram’ not ‘build a battering ram with 4 wheels and a skull head’ – when placed in context of the castle theme, these rigid design criteria seem totally draconian!

Yet in the sci-fi months – this is what happens time and again, and builders thrive on it, flexing and building around the rigid constraints! I don’t get it – Someone please explain!

Though the most hallowed design criteria of all sci-fi/spacers is the SHIP – the 100 stud long golden yardstick. How did this happen? The LUGNET thread isn’t exactly specific how the 100 stud marked was chosen, though it’s probably safe to surmise that it’s simply a nice round number. But it’s interesting that this number is extremely arbitrary to most builders, many SHIPtember vets don’t really aim for 100, just aim to be MORE than 100. I think this relates directly to the fundamental childhood dream of building a big spaceship. And it is just that, a spaceship, it’s not defined by 100 studs when we were younger. SHIPtember facilitates a bit of that dream – and there have been some builders that used the theme-month as their first time to finally build that bucket list item, not just spacers, but all sorts of builders.

But I think we’re missing a critical element that defines a SHIP.  I don’t know about you constant reader, but when I was a kid, and was dreaming about building a big spaceship it had an interior. Note that for all the restrictions in theme months SHIPtember is pretty lax in terms of design criteria, interiors are encouraged but not mandatory. And that’s MY mistake and shame to bare. SHIPtember has almost come to redefine what SHIPs are, and it was an unfortunate choice that interiors or minifig-scale wasn’t more of a defining design criteria for SHIPtember. But if you ask enough of those same OG space builders – it WAS.

In an effort to accommodate builders with various collection sizes and styles, this one design criteria was purposefully de-prioritized. Andrew Lee eloquently pointed out how I basically screwed over the definition of SHIP. Over the years definitions do change as do building styles and capabilities,  a decade ago  a SHIP used to be such a huge deal to get to the 100 studs mark, now with LUGbulk, Bricklink, PAB walls, 100 studs is actually pretty easy for most people. But with a full interior ?  …

Even 4 years later, and after some deep thought over this article I still debate that off the cuff decision. It was a pretty fundamental design criteria from the ‘childhood’ spaceship dream. But if we had added that to SHIPtember, would it have made the challenge too difficult?  We’ve talked in the past about how SHIPtember is only as hard as you want to make it, but if minifig scale with interior was such a requirement, would that make it simply too hard?

The reasons I think SHIPtember is so popular is that it’s fun. It’s probably only the only ‘collaborative’ theme month and people latched on and worked towards building in this month. For the most part most people are able to accomplish what they set off to do. Those more ‘advanced’ builders choose to build harder builds, with more advanced techniques, or even stupidly brick intensive designs. But would this still be what it is today if we had made it much harder to start off with?

At the same time there’s been a huge resurgence in giant SHIP building these last few years. At BrickCon 2015, one of the higher SHIP nexuses in the United States, we counted I believe 15 SHIPs on display, 12 of which were built just the month before in SHIPtember. We may have gained a new era in SHIPs by burying one of the key designs of the old era.

So I now sit here staring at my hull pieces and I ask myself, and in turn you constant reader, what’s does a SHIP mean to you?

Cheers,

Simon

 

The Siren Song of SHIPtember 2016 [Volume 3 of 4]

Matango! is in trouble, constant reader, the fight against the clock is not going well and the local Teamsters seem to be spending more time riding motorcycles and writing blog entries than actually building the ship.  Several issues should be readily apparent from the photo below, but I’ll go through them anyway, that’s the whole point of the exercise.

29433013480_7837e8f6b7_o

I kept the concept art in the photo for reference, but from this point on, the model will look less and less like it’s inspiration.  With days ticking past, I decided to abandon any notion of accuracy to the source material.  I wasted far too much time trying to figure out both the crew cabin and the nose, without any real success. I’m gonna take a second and complain about the shitty availability of parts in orange, but only a second because I think a more skilled builder could have figured out a better solution for both areas.  And…I should probably have figured that out ahead of time when I selected an all orange piece of concept-art.  So, ultimately I went the easy route and plugged in the 1-piece helicopter nose.  I dig it, I’ve always liked that window pattern but I admit that it’s a bit of a cop-out, a brick-built solution would have been ideal.  The biggest downside of the canopy is that it’s not as wide as I would have liked.  Simon is right, when he says the hard road is the better road through SHIPtember, but I need an easier route from this point forward, if I have any chance to make the end of the month deadline.

I flipped the cargo pods on their sides, to give the whole thing a slightly lower profile.  I’m still not completely happy with the look, but I’m not ready to redesign them either.  With so much left to do, and so little time to do it, going backwards would be a mistake.  I may switch them back to their original orientation, this is by no means final.  Nothing is.  In case you’re wondering, the legs are still in the game-plan but I didn’t want to crowd the update photo with them.  The legs are just waiting for a frame.

I included the SHIPruler in the photo so you can see how far off I am at this point.  The wings are going to push out further to the left and right but I’m not sure that they will get to 100 studs.  Front to back is even worse right now.  This is the two-headed tyranny of the calendar and the ruler.

All that said, the greater threat to Matango’s chance of completion is my growing apathy towards the project.  I’m not excited to look at it anymore, now it’s entered the realm of obligation or on especially bad days, a chore.  I’m frustrated with my inability to translate the subject matter and I don’t have a clear vision of where to go with the design.  I’m going to keep building until the end of the month and see what happens, and perhaps beyond the deadline if I still think it’s a concept worth developing.  I have one more BrickLink order on the way and that might re-energize me.  The bottom line is that the Manifesto is taking up more of my free time than I thought, and I just don’t have the time to write and build with the same level of investment.  Tune in for the exciting final volume in this SHIPtember series to see what happens!

Oh, and feel free to provide building suggestions in the comments.  Flickr has been zero help in that department, but it’s not just me, I don’t see a lot of good critique going on, just encouragement.  Encouragement is cool, and I’ve received my share and more on this project, but I get some really useless comments too.  When you boil it down, people generally have only 3 thoughts on Matango!

  1. That’s a lot of orange / you’re gonna need a lot more orange.
  2. That’s huge!
  3. The legs won’t support it.

None of those statements are particularly helpful or insightful, but at least they too the time to leave their thoughts?  Here’s a thought for you…

Matango!

UPDATE:  Friend of the blog and crazy-good builder Pico van Grootveld was generous enough to work up a few sketches to help me find a way forward with Mantango!  His treatment of the legs is both daunting and delightful, and the little motorcycle is completely rad!  Thanks Pico!  I’m both flattered and grateful that you took the time to assist this less-than-humble SHIPwright in his time of need.