I just need a bit of Space [Down the retro rabbit hole, with Set 918]

There is no doubt that Space exploration captures our imaginations. It can be real or imagined – the hours I spent as a kid poring over the ‘S’ issue of the Encyclopaedia of Nature and Science. Indeed LEGO® has had a reasonable amount of success with space exploration oriented sets, both based on the real world works of NASA, and in the realm of speculative works – particularly when Space, along with Castle and Town became one of the founding LEGO minifigure themes. The ongoing success of LEGO Ideas submissions based on real world space exploration is also testament to its enduring appeal.

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LEGO Worlds has let me build that space base I couldn’t build in 1979

A couple of months ago, I started to play LEGO Worlds: the not so new video game, on the Nintendo Switch.  One of the things that really taught my imagination was the Classic Space Down Loadable Content. It brought back memories of my childhood: playing with the neighbour who had all the cool sets: he had the 497 Galaxy Explorer.  I had the 885 Space Scooter and the 886 Space Buggy. We even drilled holes in his landing pad plate to accommodate LEDs.  It looked great until we melted a great big hole in it with the soldering iron.

But playing LEGO Worlds made me start to covet some of those sets that I had never had the opportunity to have as a child.  It is one thing to fly them around on a video game screen, but quite another to hold it in your hands and say ‘voosh.’ I found a copy of 918 One Man Space Ship on eBay.  I probably paid more than I should have. The trans yellow plate on the roof was cracked along one edge. But the rest was intact, along with the original instructions.

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Oldschool instructions: more pieces per step BUT easier to scan back over previous steps to see what you missed, without flicking through lots of pages

I had been trying to work out what I liked about the old instructions compared to the contemporary design. It isn’t the opportunity to miss five of the twelve elements placed in a given step. It isn’t the suggested layout distracting you the whole way as you see as you continue to build. It is the lack of page turning. Modern instructions are simple and unambiguous. But page turn heavy. I suspect this build might have had up to 50 pages. Every time I let go of the book, it would attempt to close. If things aren’t quite right here, it is easy to scan back over the last 8 steps to see what went wrong, rather than go back page by page, discovering you had a couple of pages stuck together and missed the critical element. On the third reading. I’m glad I have sorted that out with myself. It gives me a level of inner peace.

Assembling it involved 86 pieces of pure joy.  The gray was a little different to that which we are now used to. The construction techniques are relatively simple. but this is an extremely swooshable ship.  From the tilting roof on the cabin, to the aft storage compartment, construction was simple, and rapid. The red spaceman just sat and smiled. (For the record, 4.5 out of 5 Arbitrary Praise Units)

I ran around the living room with it, swooshing it from side to side, an idiot grin spreading from cheek to cheek. I was amazed at how much joy this simple set provided me with.  And I decided to take a couple of pictures. Not many, but I wanted to capture the spirit of ’79.  So I considered the old product shots on the box: black back drop with starfield, and perhaps a tan surface.  The full space base was going to be impractical to reconstruct. Today, I have a few other things that need to get done.

So I took some black card, and punched holes in it.  I placed it inside my lightbox, so that the light shone through the perforations like starlight.  A little fill in light, and the vision was complete. No Photoshop, no compositing. Old school physical effects. OK, perhaps I used photoshop to darken the blacks, to disguise the pedestal. I hope you like it.

It still feels as if it is missing something however, for that extra level of realism

Time to think about that.

Until next time,

Play Well.

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Women of NASA: unsung heroes of one generation, inspiration for the next!

Untitled 8.pngThe Announcement last year that the Women of NASA ideas submission from Maia Weinstock was to be developed into a set seemed to be greeted with a combination of excitement and disappointment, from different parties. There were complaints of it just being a collection of minifigures,  only appealing to girls, not having as many elements as a UCS Millennium Falcon and being yet another NASA related Ideas set! But it is so much more than that.

Certainly with only 231 elements, it is the second smallest Ideas set to hit the market, next to the 21110 Research Institute, which was released in 2014. After the Old fishing store, however, I don’t need to have another set with a high piece count on display.

The set features several women who are notable in their contribution to the US space program in varied ways: I will discuss each of them in turn with their vignette.

This set was released on November 1st, and took a few weeks to make its way from Denmark to Melbourne. The box, like many of the Ideas  sets is robust, and designed to be kept. It is a similar design to many of the other ideas sets, as well as the boxes for the Architecture series.

The instruction manual provides a background on each of the people portrayed in the set, as well as both the fan designer and the set designers from the LEGO Group.

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Brickography: On show this weekend only!

Last night I attended the opening of Kale Frost’s Brickography, an exhibition of LEGO based images and MOCs at the Artboy Callery in Greville St, Prahran.

IMG_8473Kale (@frostbricks on Instagram) is a Melbourne based brickartist and photographer who began his Instagram 365 day challenge a couple of years ago and forgot to stop after twelve months. With a keen eye for whimsy, coupled with fantastic building skills, Kale’s MOCs have previously been featured on the Brothers Brick, Blocks Magazine and as inspirational images featured in the LEGO® Life App.

For this weekend only, he has filled the walls of the ArtBoy Gallery with both his own impressive body of images, as well as images from some of the notable LEGO Instagrammers around the world including Brett Willson (@brett_wilson), CJ Simmons (@harleyquin), Luigi Priori (priovit70), Phil Korn (@phil_korn), Arvin Coloma (@nivrana), Andrew Morrey (@cheepjokes) and others.

 

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Sand Green September II: Green Ninja Mech Dragon

In which I am confronted with another set that is predominantly sand green in appearance; I need to reconsider ‘Sand Green September’ as a concept and take cues from Lord Business and the Australian Football League. I go to the movies and have mixed feelings but a predominantly positive experience about the LEGO Ninjago Movie.  I build a set and am amazed at the number of relatively uncommon/recently released elements. If you thought you had never seen anything quite like the Green Ninja Dragon Mech before, it might just be because 25% of the 516 elements are fairly new! Now read on…

IMG_7642I recently spoke about the three sets which I am in the process of building, with sand green as a dominant colour.  Sand Green September.  A lofty idea, and I suspect almost unachievable, unless I take a cue from both Wyldstyle in the LEGO Movie (Freedom Friday, but still on a Tuesday), and the Australian Football League.

For those without a classical Victorian Education, the AFL (and Previously VFL) Grand Final is  traditionally played on the last Saturday in September. Today in fact. This ‘One Day in September’ was immortalised in song by Mike Brady  in the early 1980’s in the theme song for Channel 7’s Big League.  Of course, occasionally, this one day in September occurs in October ( I am looking at you 2011, 2015 and 2016.  I could look at 2010 in accusatory tones as well, except the Grand Final in October was a replay of the drawn match from the previous weekend. The AFL have taken steps to ensure this does not ever happen again…)

Yes… we are looking at the final instalment of Sand Green September being released in October.  But I digress.

And I shall again.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

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Sand Green September I: What I learned from 10228 Monster Fighters Haunted House.

FullSizeRender 83Five years ago, I was on holiday with my family in the UK.  This was years before any talk of LEGO® Certified stores or LEGO Land Discovery Centres opening up in Australia.  And Australian prices for large LEGO sets were quite outrageous, when compared with those in Europe. At least it felt that way.  Anyway, in early September 2012, the LEGO Monster Fighters Haunted House 10228 first went on sale.  A couple of weeks later we made it to the LEGO Brand Retail Store in Cardiff.  We were in Cardiff for various reasons. Many of these reasons may have involved members of our family being fans of Doctor Who. I was probably (and still am) one of them. But this is irrelevant for today’s story.

On the shelves, we found the Haunted house: it evoked so many great memories: the Addams Family, the Munsters – both after school and Saturday morning television staples as I grew up, as well as Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi movies.  A quick check of the exchange rate made me feel that it was an offer too good to refuse, so we bought it.  Unfortunately, the box did not survive the trip home in our luggage, and the numbered bags have been sitting in a yellow and red LEGO Store bag , in a drawer, in our LEGO room. And then, for five years, nothing happened.  Until this week.

I was prompted to think about this set because a couple of new sets released recently had also entered by possession: The Old Fishing Store (21310) and Lloyd’s Green Mech, from the LEGO Ninjago Movie. Both of these sets have a significant proportion of sand green elements. (Is it wrong to start obsessing over a new colour, so recently after I looked at Spring Yellowish Green? I hope not.) In researching the haunted house, I discover the designer video.  And then things started to reach a nexus: The LEGO designer (as opposed to the fan creator) of the Old Fishing Store is Adam Grabowski, who also had a hand in designing many of the Monster Fighter sets. In particular, however, he designed the Haunted house, with the first sketches existing back in 2008-2009 or so.

At this point, I am yet to build The Old Fishing Store, so I thought I would start with the Haunted House.  Like the Fishing Store, it also has just over 2000 pieces, is also an old building, and also features a significant amount of sand green. As I put it together, I found myself thinking about the next building I am planning to design.  The exact details of that build are not important right now.  However, I found myself noticing the features of this set that made it look like a nifty, dilapidated building which, while conforming to the requirements for using the building techniques approved for the use in sets, give us handy design cues for our own such buildings.

What the Haunted House 10228 Taught Me About Building an Old House:

Foundations – regardless of the material used for building, almost always the bottom layers are a different colour and/or material. Here we have a few layers of light stone grey, before we start layering up with the sand green walls. i am imagining the sand green being more likely to represent weatherboard, or some form of render over boards. I have difficulty reconciling this with the possible use of stone for the foundations.  To enhance the old, ruined look, and avoid the great flat wall syndrome, three gestures of light stop grey are used: flat bricks, the palisade brick, and the 1×2 profile brick, with the ‘brick profile’ exposed.  Occasionally a 1×1 cylinder brick is used next to the palisade tor a 1×3 effect. this combination of ‘stone bricks’ works quite well for the chimney as well.  While is may not have the same level ramshackle construction as some of the more detailed MOCs  by castle builders such as Dermal Cardem, it still conveys the same effect, with a parts count that we can deal with.  And our fingers won’t start to bleed as we continue to build it!IMG_7643

Incorporate the flight of stairs into the wall: The wall adjacent to the stairs starts off two studs thick.  As we add steps to the staircase, it reverts to one stud thick.  The result is a flight of stairs that is steady, and robust, incorporated as a firm part of the building.IMG_7648

Incorporate the chimney build into the interior wall: this happens in real life: the structure of the chimney will run up the internal wall of a house. By using 2×2 corner bricks in the build, crossing from the internal wall to the external stone chimney, the chimney is ‘part of the house’ not just loosely attached to the out side.

Nothing will break or wear out exactly the same way:

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Every main window , down stairs and on the first floor is wearing out in a different way to every other: the wooden plank boring the window up may be light reddish brown, and printed as a board, or a dark brown plain tile.  The plank may go up or down, over the top or bottom window pane. There may or may not be shutter as well.  The window may have a curtain sticker on the upper pane, or a cobweb stuck onto the lower pane of glass.  This variety is as likely in real life as it is in LEGO sets.

Chipped plaster/render reveals the boards underneath. The profile brick (design ID 98283) has a different profile design on each sides: the obvious one has the effect of a layers of brick laid offset on each other.  The other side is a simpler design, and it was only while building this set that I realised that it works very successfully to represent exposed boards on the external walls.  The use of the contrasting dark tan/brick yellow next to  the sand green bricks makes it look like a different material is underneath the render/ paint, and enhances the ruined old house effect significantly. I am disappointed in myself for taking this long to realise that the profile brick has a ‘plank side’ as well as the ‘brick side!’

The  ground floor – a scattering of tiles on the ground floor allows the building to feel as if the stone floor has been chipped or worn away over the years.  placing a few of the 1×1 tiles diagonally – off the grid as it were – greatly enhances the experience.IMG_7662

Windows are present on each wall of the house, but shelves or other furniture inside the house prevent windows being placed evenly, all the way around.  Again, the lack of symmetry is useful to enhance the realism of the house design.

The use of the ‘stick with 3.2mm holder’ – element 4289538 – all the way around the roof, clipping onto the bars,  allows for uneven spacing, as well as uneven angles, signs of wear on the building. In real life however, I think we should still try to place them evenly, as they will not slide away in real life.

The steps to the front door are uneven, thanks to the use of cheese slopes, and the boards on the porch have different textures: plates and tiles used together, in a staggered fashion.IMG_7664

Also near the porch is the vegetation: dark tan shrubs suggests that they haven’t been kept living as vibrantly as they might have. And some magic seems to have stopped the house from being overrun by ivy.IMG_7666

 

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Zombie heads on the verandah: nothing says ‘old and decaying’ quite like a zombie head.  I am afraid to consider just how these heads came to be here.  Are they still ‘functioning’ as it were – serving as an alarm system by groaning overtime somebody approaches the from door?  Or are they just the mortal remains of previous…guests? and did the Zombie chef cook up the rest of them?

Great Big Iron Gates.  Nothing says ‘Old house’ quite like big, wrought iron gates.  The fact that these are a separate build to most of the house allows the house to be placed on a small hill, back from the fence, perhaps with a small family graveyard off to the side? I might incorporate the haunted house into a larger layout, with the house elevated, but having the fence crossing the front of the block…perhaps with a pond incorporating a swamp creature from the lagoon of an abnormal dark shade…IMG_7667

This house is designed as a fold open ‘playset’ type of house, rather than a ‘remove the roof and the top floor’ type of building, similar to the modular buildings.  One of the implications of this is that if it is displayed in a closed position, it becomes almost essential to consider lighting the inside of the building, so that the details inside the house can be viewed through the windows.

Fun Fact: while this set contains 56 sand green 1×6 bricks, the element number (4155053) is different to that used for the 61 sand green 1×6 brick in the recently released 31136 Minecraft- The Ocean Monument set (6177081). If you are looking at sourcing elements for this build for yourself, it is currently cheaper to source these parts through bricks and pieces on the LEGO website ($AUD0.43) compared to bricklink prices (starting at $AUD0.57 each). (september 2017).  The much rarer element 1x1x5 brick, with a solid stud (2453b), only appeared in this set.  Considering this, it is reasonably priced on Bricklink (~30-50c each), BUT not available in this colour at all. from LEGO.

Well, I will say that this is a fun build: the detailed furniture and decorations constructed separately to the rest of the house.  The design does not afford itself to a shared building experience,  because although there are 3 instruction books, the floors are not constructed separately, unlike the modular houses.   The minifigure selection is great, especially with the new glow in the dark ghosts, which are limited to some of the Monster fighter sets, the Scooby Doo Haunted Mansion, and recent Halloween offerings.

The design offers itself for installation of lighting, and it looks suitably forbidding. There is also a good collection of creepy critters: spider, snake and bat! I would have preferred the floors being able to be removed seperately, like the modulars, however the opening up feature allows the house to be used more as a playset.

I give it four out of five Arbitrary Praise Units.

What do you think of this set? Did you build it? What did you learn from it?

Come back in a few days when I will review another  set for Sand Green September.

Until then,

Play Well!

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Edit Oct 29 :I’m pretty sure I published this a month ago… but it vanished. Hopefully the text is mostly accurate, and not a draft…

 

 

Alternative Display Techniques II: Sticking with it or “Yes… I’ve heard about the LEGO compatible tape!”

In which I fall victim to an insidious viral marketing campaign back in February, and have it come back to visit me in August.  I test clutch power along multiple axes and find myself surprised at just what I discover.  Of course, a completely different question relates to the benefit that this knowledge may bring to human kind…

FullSizeRender 75There are perils with being an AFOL. One such peril is the response to your nonLEGO friends to viral videos for vaguely LEGO® related applications. At its peak in February, I suspect the marketing video for Nimuno Loops brand tape had crossed my screen several hundred times. It had a wide level of casual viewer reach, just judging by the number of non-AFOLS who tagged me on Facebook. I succumbed to the hype, and ordered 2 rolls (1 meter each, red and blue) through the Indigogo campaign.
This was in February. A fulfillment date of August was given at the time. My package arrived in the first week of the advertised month. So far, so good.

Claims  for the product on the box include:

  • binds to smooth surfaces
  • Reusable and washable
  • Compatible with popular building bricks.
  • ‘The Indiegogo smash hit!’

What follows is a review of the product I purchased.  I cannot speak for other brands or presentations of tape, including the Mayka Tape, which appears to be produced by the same company, and has hit local toy shop shelves recently. There may or may not have been changes in production processes – initial comments I have seen regarding this product seem to not be consistent with my personal experience.

 

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Grossed out by Goblin Green? Let’s take the colour wheel out for a spin…

In which I try to reconcile a colour that produces a disturbing personal reaction with some of my favorite sets of the year so far! Along the way we take a history lesson, explore the wonderful world of colour wheels, build a Wyvern and hopefully prepare to enjoy some frozen yoghurt…

IMG_7388It’s been a little while since my last post because I have been trying to reconcile something that has been troubling me.  Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we have just seen the start of spring.  A time that the weather starts to turn for the better, we feel the days getting a little longer and the grass starts to grow and trees start to bud.  It is of course still jolly cold. My problem comes from trying to reconcile springtime, with its new growth, hope and optimism with the name of Spring Yellowish Green. A light, bright colour whose name shouts optimism, but whose shade, to me, shouts sinister thoughts, nasty infections and recollections of a bad night at work.

Of course, not everyone has the perceives colours in the same way as other people.  I personally spent 5 years vigourously debating the colour of some towels with my wife.  I eventually conceded defeat and accepted that I was wrong. But not because discretion is the greater part of valour,  but because it became apparent that I experience a mild form of colour blindness . The junction of green, grey, blue is not a clear, well discriminated area of my colour perception. Rather, it is a hazy, muddy thing, where some colours stand out, and others blur together with imperceptible difference to myself, but to great embarrassment to my children, or frustration for my wife.  Whilst I only experience this lack of colour vision, the rest of my family suffer because of it!

But what does this have to do with LEGO Bricks? LEGO elements have appeared in almost one hundred distinct opaque colours over the years, to say nothing of the transparent, translucent, speckled and glow in the dark colours.  Well, distinct for some. For others they just blur together. You can find Ryan Howeter’s most excellent colour chart documenting LEGO colours, and their appearance over time, here. Much of the information regarding appearance dates for colours, as well as hex codes for colour pickers has been derived from this. The current colours in the LEGO Colour palette can be seen here:

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Current colours in the LEGO moulding palette. Image sourced from brickiest.com, courtesy of the LEGO Group.

In 2012, we saw elements produced in six new colours, and another was released shortly after: Aqua, Dark Azur, Olive Green, Medium Azur, Medium Lavender, Lavender and Spring Yellowish Green.  Olive green is the only one of these opaque colours that has been introduced after the Friends theme was released. Only one of these colours has ever evoked a visceral response in me, just by looking at it. And that is the colour I would like to talk about today. Continue reading