When you look amongst AFOL blogs and flickr galleries, there is no doubt that in recent years the landscaping has been getting more and more advanced. This trend was initially obvious as a theme group amongst Castle builders, although recently it has moved into the realms of Space and City building as well. ‘Natural landscaping’ is not something that has been a focus of attention in Lego City or Space sets. Earl examples were seen in Castle (especially Woodmen, and ‘Carriage ambush’ type sets) as well as pirates sets, especially desert island type environments. More recently, landscaping has been part of a feature of the Middle Earth sets, as the environment played such an important part in the story. Often however, it may be limited to the edge of a cave, a tree or a ruined castle.
Castle and Pirate sets are on hiatus, although we have Nexo Knights, with their emphasis on vehicles and buildings, and Ninjago – this year focusing on Sky Pirates – there have been some interesting landscape elements in Ninjago and other adventure lines over the years
Being more a story driven line, with an emphasis on story telling and role play, the Friends and Elves sets have been prone to feature landscape elements in recent times, when not hanging out at the mall. Some of these have been an excellent shorthand summary of what natural landscape should consist of: so, once again we embark on ‘What I learned about ******** from Set *****’Or… What does the Fire Dragon’s Lava Cave show us about Landscaping.
So 41175 is The Fire Dragon’s Lava Cave, 441 pieces, retailing for $AU59.99. It is the second largest set of this third wave of Elves sets to be released
When I first saw this set, I was pretty indifferent to the dragon involved. I initially regarded the set as a flame orange and lime green parts pack: The moulded head and wings didn’t appeal to me immensely. However, I believe I am not part of the target demographic for this set (as a man on the verge of leaving his mid forties) and as such will not let that serve as a negative. I might attempt to brick build a head when I have the opportunity. The body builds up well, with plenty of small towball based joints (as featured in the Mixel sets) for maximal
posability. The combination of the saddle, and the pearl gold technic pieces does make this look slightly more steam punk in places than the new Ninjago sets do. Lots of curved slopes mean the creature has nice smooth curves and doesn’t look too blocky. And I don’t scream as loud when I step on a piece that has been left on the floor…
After building the dragon, the remaining pieces are predominantly ‘normal’ green, lime green and dark stone grey (dark blueish gray), as well as some small pieces for foliage and other landscape ‘greebling’. Landscape parts. Well, magical landscape parts at any rate. This leads me to what I would like to talk about: what this set teaches about natural landscaping.
By natural landscaping, I am particularly talking about making a natural looking landscape out of lego. In the real world, most landscape doesn’t follow a perfect grid: grass never grows in a perfectly flat rectangle except in when people make it! In this set, the 3 landscape modules are each on a different shaped base: one is the Enigmatic Shadow Fountain, another has a small campfire and the other features the lava cave, and surrounding environs.
As these modules are independent, that can easily be positioned off the grid relatively easily:
Vegetation clings to the side of cliffs -sure it may look like the badly decaying teeth of a lime green mixel – BUT it also highlights that vegetation is rarely a perfectly straight line.
Grass is rarely perfectly level: combining plates and curved slopes, at at split level is very similar to the shape a ‘flat’ piece of ground may take on.
Rocks aren’t square, but they tend to have straight edges. Over years, bits break off/ get worn off the sides of them. Not only that, but they may have lighter or darker rock mixed with them. Admittedly lilac is not a colour often encountered in contemporary geology. Often light blueish gray may be used. But: Lego, Elves, Magic. Enough Said.
Small bits of moss can be found on the sides of rock, and/or small plants may hang down – again with the mixel teeth. Also, small branches may grow out from the dirt walls:
Small features can be different sizes: rocks and plants aren’t all the same size – they grow, or they get eroded/ broken with time: this is shown with mushrooms and rocks here. The smaller ones tend to have their centres closer to the rock wall.
Geology often goes ‘off the grid’. Not just north/south/east/west, but also from side to side. The layered crystals here are particularly effective.
Gravity guides flow: it’s done with lava here, but also features with water in the Water Dragon Adventure (41172) as well as the baby Wind Dragon (41171)
Other important landscaping details included in these other sets (as well as 41173, School of Dragons) include ‘Trees are not just the one colour, either within their foliage or their bark’ and ‘Most tree trunks aren’t perfectly straight.’ and: not all ground has grass on it – sometimes it’s patchy and pale, and surrounded by dirt.
And finally, not quite a landscaping lesson, but a play feature: Sliding doors can be pretty simple but effective!
If you are just starting out with building your own landscapes, these ideas may help you stretch your building to give your MOC a more realistic look and feel. These are just the ideas I see used by designers in the LEGO Elves models this year.
Do you have other rules, ideas, patterns or resources for improving your landscape construction? Why not share them in the comments below.
As for the Set itself:
The dragon has grown on me. I will aim to brick build a head some day. The selection of parts is fantastic for crafting a magical rocky landscape – you would need to extend your parts to be able to create a good tree.
What I liked:
- the landscape piece selection
- wide variety of light orange
- the demonstration of nifty landscape elements in the set
- great character and posability with the dragon
- sliding lava cave door looks great.
What I didn’t like:
- the moulded dragon’s head
I would happily use this set to boost my landscaping elements, but would probably look out for a sale, rather than pay the full $AU 60 for it.
4/5 using my person arbitrary scoring system.