Bricks LA Update (Part 2)

The master life clock (no, not that life clock) is counting down to Bricks LA and there will be no extension, there will be no mercy for the tardy. If I don’t finish the diorama in time for the convention those microscopic charges lodged in my neck are going to blow, and open up both of my arteries.  At the time of this posting my watch is reading 27:18:40:19 and I’m starting to experience the horrible tyranny of the clock.  While I have no doubt that I’ll be able to achieve my primary goal of covering the table in an interesting way for the cronies to decorate, the jury is still out concerning how good it will actually be.   I started a list of things that I’d like to revise but quickly trashed it because it contained every major feature of the diorama.  The only way is forward, at least for now, I’ll look back later with a critical eye if I have the luxury of time for revision.   27 days and change may seem like a decent interval to work with, but once you mix in the business of the holidays and a little traveling there is not much time for building at all.


As you can see in the photo below, the cliff-line has doubled in height since the last update and now features a narrow staircase in the back.  The scene really needed a transition between the layers and it creates another interesting space for to give the minifigs a sense of motion.   While I like the idea of two distinct zones within the layout, I don’t want them to be completely isolated either. I considered building a ramp or small road instead of the stairs to accommodate small vehicles but it changed the frontier vibe too much.

I’m not sure I made the right call with the placement of the staircase and if I have time for one of those major revisions I mentioned earlier, I might relocate the whole thing closer to the viewer.  Where it sits now it’s actually very difficult to see from the front of the table.   Most of the attendees on public days are kids and as much as I’d like to say I don’t care about the audience, it would be cool if the kids could actually see what’s going on.  It doesn’t help matters that the table I’m bringing with me is a good bit taller than the standard convention folding variety.  That’s not going to change though, I’ve grown quite fond of my setup and it’s ease of transport. I guess the stairs will be a bonus detail for the cronies who end up hanging out behind the project as they inevitably do in these situations.  Experience tells me that there will be at lest two or three guys sitting back there eating sandwiches and consuming various beverages at any given moment.


I’ve just recently borrowed more of those sweet corner tiles that you see in use near the base of the staircase, so I’ll go back and add those along with some jumper plates so the minifigs don’t slide around so much.  I’m also not completely sold on using dark gray for the steps of the staircase, it might benefit from a contrasting color to make things a little more visible.   I considered using the same sand-green 1×2 plates you see at the top of the plateau, or maybe more dark tan if I have enough.

In the dozen or so conventions I’ve attended over the years I’ve never seen a MOC card design that I liked, they always seem intrusive where dioramas are concerned and just too flimsy.  I think they work best with small stand-alone models but even then they can look odd, out of scale or distracting and sometimes because of sloppy placement they don’t communicate the information effectively either.  Why spend time and effort to create a scene just to drop a folded piece of paper on top? With that in mind I decided to build the MOC card into the left hand corner of the cliff.  As of now we don’t have even a working title for the project so I left the top lines blank.  The provisional focus of the action is going to be a sort of back-woods sci-fi wedding, where  a myriad of human and alien contingents converge on this desolate frontier location to witness the secret nuptials.  If you have any suggestions for a suitable title don’t hesitate to express yourself in the comments.

As you can see I’ve moved the Garvey to the back corner of the plateau, where I intend to use it as an eye-block for the minifig wedding action in the fore-ground.  To further serve the narrative I’m going to switch the hatch & ramp feature to the opposite side of the ship and have the bride and her father walking down said ramp to the assembled throng of alien tribes waiting for the ceremony.  I could leave it the way it is now and simply turn the ship around, but I also want the flag of Ghana to be visible to the viewer because it’s one of the ships best features. If nothing else it’s a good opportunity to take advantage of the ship’s modularity, and the switch-out shouldn’t take too long (fingers crossed).  This is likely not the Garvey’s final position either, I may straighten it out completely and have it run along the back edge, it all depends on how Zach’s new freighter will fit into the picture, and how much space is left over.  I don’t want to create too much unusable land behind the Garvey, as whatever I put in that awkward triangular space will be largely invisible to the viewer unless I make something rather deliberately tall.  While envisioned as a solo venture, this project has morphed into a collabo and as a result the focus has shifted away from the Garvey and it’s ultimate placement will reflect that.

And finally there is the matter of the cave.  I’m not sure what’s going on there yet, how far back it will ultimately go or what the minifig action will be.  For now it is slowly developing at it’s own pace along with the rest of the model.  I tend to work on it when I’m bored of the repetitive plate and slope stacking.  There is certainly enough potential room down there for a good sized tunnel or additional chambers, or maybe even a road or railway.  Because the roof of the cave is so low, it’s difficult to see back very far, so I’m hesitant to put too much effort into that area which (like the staircase) will likely not be seen by most viewers. Just like the cliff wall, it seems intuitive that there should be some transition to the surface, so I’d imagine another rough hewn staircase would be in order.  I’m also not sure about the color of the cave floor, something with better contrast might be in order.  This area also seems like the best opportunity to include some lighting elements.  No matter what the final look and function of the cave is, at least the kids will have the best view for this particular detail.  With that in mind it might be a good chance to inject some comedy into the proceedings.

I’m not authorized yet to show the pictures, but Jeff is working on a sort of flat-bed hover tow-truck thing and Andrew Lee is working on a biker gang.  Brendan Mauro has jumped in on the action to contribute a cool parabolic satellite dish and hopefully some other details if he has the time. As for rowntRee, he has his own fish to fry but I’m still hopeful he’ll come up with something for the party before all is said and done.  And Rutherford….well he’s more worried about crafting a presentation for the convention than contributing to the diorama. But that’s to be expected really, Mike is more into talking about building than actually building.

Unrelated, I just noticed that Miro Dudas is attending the con so there is a decent chance of having 4 SHIPtember offerings in the house, which I’m sure you’ll agree is pretty damn cool.

I’ll close with yet another invitation for you, constant reader, to join us at Bricks LA when the master life clock reaches zero.  If you find yourself in the greater Los Angeles area the weekend of January 5th, 2018, you should swing by the Pasadena convention center and introduce yourself.  We’ll have SWAG and beverages and you can tell Rutherford in person what a terrible gas-bag he is.

SHIPrites Vol 1: The Journey

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



Keith asked me to jump in and write some commentary during this rite of passage for Space builders. I might not be the best SHIPwright, but I know a few things about building ships right.

I already had a series of articles prepared for this month, a semi useful series of guides and discussions on tackling the SHIPBUILDING conundrum, especially in the tight confines that is SHIPtember, so I was very willing to join. But Keith pointed out, that an article about SHIP building is kinda obvious, the standard blog fodder, and he wanted to hear about me, and my stories. The Manifesto , in my eyes, is about story telling, commentary,criticism, and most importantly: meaningful  discussion between builders.


Next week, I don’t know what I’m going to talk about, you tell me in the comment section. You control the action. History of SHIPtember? Trends and current happenings? My favorite SHIPtember success/failures? How I probably fucked up SHIPs for the whole community? The lunacy that was battleSHIP?


The reason why I choose the story of the FK Antrotta is because it’s the truest to what I intended SHIPtember to be.  It’s not my favorite SHIP, nor the one I think is my best. But I followed the purest form of SHIPtember: Fly by the seat of your pants, zero planning building action as controlled by you: the commentators.

I actually feel less that it was ‘my‘ SHIP, but ‘OUR‘ SHIP. I may have physically put the pieces together, but it was a bit of a community effort to lead me to where it ended up to.

I’ve always imagined SHIPtember as a kind of community collab, posting WIPs for feedback and direction of where to go. The first year I had a general plan. Year three I based my SHIP off an image, but year two I had zero planning.

The only thing I did prior to SHIPtember was settle on a colour scheme. Skip back to 2014, and easily my favorite build I saw that year, was Forest King’sKingfisher“.


Here was a SHIP like none other. Forget the sleek ships of Star Trek, the colourful ships of Homeworld, and the greeble-ladened ships of Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars.

Kingfisher was a beast, it came out of the Bro-LUG cyberpoc ethos in a cacophony of dilapidated paneling. I was actually fortunate enough to witness the primordial sketch that lead to this monstrosity, in a little hotel room on Seattle (now there’s a whole new topic worthy of discussion: the crazy creative concepts that gets thrown around and conceived during or immediately after a convention.)

Suffice it to say the KingFisher left an impression on me, specifically the patches of old gray. I came into to the community with this new bley beauty as the norm, and hoarded the pretty new colour like Nutella. But when I saw how the grey-bleyadients played, I was hooked and vowed my next SHIP would follow suit and I’d order a bunch of old gray.

In fact, I partially named the SHIP after it’s builder, FK = Forest King

But you might be calling bullshit: how could I order parts in a specific colour if I didn’t know what I was building? Half points! I had no clue of what pieces I needed or how much…. so I overcompensated and just ordered a cap ton of plates in 1×4, 1×2 and 1x1s.  It should be noted that this decision on what to order (plates) dictated the final design of the ship to some degree: a lot of different paneling and flat surfaces.

So how to start building a SHIP?

I’ve seen several different approaches to this over the years, and each as their own merits.  For me though, it’ll always be like how the pros do it: start with framing and build out.  It wasn’t until I started writing this article that I realized there actually is a standard methodology of SHIPbuilding: the design spiral:


For a LEGO SHIP the process boils down quickly to: concept, structure, functions and details. There are lots of great resources in the main SHIPyard group on Flickr, just pursue each year’s SHIPtember WIP photos for inspiration and technique. Though this is probably the most useful infomatic on strong frames and here’s a great group with examples of how to add some greeble detail to your ships.

But for the purpose of this diatribe, I’m going to focus on Concept.

Most builders have a concept in mind before SHIPtember, and even post their intended builds in a tantalizing appetizer for what is to come. Some don’t post their concepts at all, instead leaving a breadcrumb of how is that even a SHIP?!?  which ultimately leads to a Hitchcockian twist. For year two, I started with no concept in mind. I treated SHIPtember as a pure month-long free flow’n jam session with my buds. Looking back, I realize it’s the most horrific example of the Agile Software design methodology:Short sprints of work, followed by user feedback and testing, then start another round of development.

I basically did this. Every day was a sprint. I did my building, I posted it and you, the clients, provided invaluable feedback on what worked and what didn’t, some even helping solve technical problems (best clients! ) and I took the feedback and iterated the design.

And that was one of my main goals of this SHIP, to go and iterate. In most cases, my builds are basically a first draft, rarely do I refine the build unless it’s going to be mass-produced or handled by others. The year prior to this build I met the great TardisBlue (Nick Trotta) and just like Forest and the Kingfisher, it had a lasting impact on me. His approach could not have been more diametrically opposed to mine: his typical starfighter building method involved hours spent finding the perfect connection and angle. Then he would iterate and try to build it better. I normally try one thing if it works, great! Move on to the next element. But Nick’s constant refinement is what makes his models so immaculate. While some might think he doesn’t really build fast, or much, I think the opposite is true.  In terms of the number of iterative sprints he must go through, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a monster of productivity.

So based on Nick’s build style, I knew that SHIPtember was probably never going to be something he would be comfortable partaking of, due to the time constraints.  So I stepped in and basically tried to build a SHIP like Nick would… and actively tried to iterate and rebuild sections over and over again incorporating feedback and experimentation.

This cycle of feedback to drive the concept and design worked amazingly well. Yeah I know, I was surprised too.

A good example was this:


It was pointed that I should add something to balance it out, and the black part was neat and I should expand on it. They weren’t sure where, but they suggested more black. As

well the lines were a bit disjointed and pointless …. Okay then!  next update:


The power of feedback and criticism.

This may not be arguably my best SHIP, but certainly the most refined. The collaborative nature of this build and the multiple cycles of (Build. Present. Gather Feedback. Repeat)  paid off time and time again, as the critical feedback or sometimes even crowd sourcing solutions kept making each iteration that much better.

Which was really one of the tenants of SHIPtember in the first place! I didn’t want another month where people hid and built and unveiled their masterpiece in 30 days. The real drive behind SHIPtember wasn’t the SHIPs.

But the journey.

As we all set upon this journey  (or some have already finished and it’s day 3?!?) I implore you not to forget to live in the moment. This collective creative process is what makes SHIPtember special. So post those WIPs, comment on others, take criticism  to heart and don’t be afraid to change it up.

Because after the journey all you’re left with is just a pile of LEGO pieces: HINKLE SMASH!

Oh, and Antrotta –  Named after Adelle and Nick Trotta, who not only did I try to impersonate, but also had the clutch answer to my striping problem.