Thursday, July 31, 2008

A zombie farmer

Vignettes are a popular and growing form of MOC (my own creation). Placing minifigs in strange situations or recreating a movie or historically famous scene has its own unique bit of charm.

Today, for you I've offered up a zombie farmer and his crop of brains. With coveralls and an axe, as well as a skeleton head, how could he be anything else? He's heading over to cut back a plant that has grown a bit of out of control, sprouting arms and a torso. See, even zombies are getting into the whole grow local, eat local movement.

I'm experimenting with different methods of photography, in an attempt to improve the final product. This was shot outdoors with the help of a new Joby Gorillapod stand. (For someone, who is admittedly poor at photography, I'm amassing an impressive collection of photographic tools and feeling a bit like the amateur car enthusiast who doesn't know how to drive stick).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Spontaneous play

After dinner the other night, I was talking with my wife and father-in-law about what I've been researching lately- the marketing of LEGO to adults and the world of LEGO mosaics. As we started talking about the different kinds of elements and parts, I realized it would be easier for me to explain what I was talking about if I could actually demonstrate using real pieces.

I brought out a few Tupperware bins and suddenly instead of just talking about LEGO bricks, all three of us were playing with them. There was no discussion of play; it was just once the bricks, plates, and tiles came out; we felt compelled to start building something. I'm not sure that could happen with any other game or toy. Apples to Apples is always a group request, while the Nintendo Wii is usually the scheduled entertainment for the evening.

The picture above is the red, white, and blue space ship I put together. Simple, parallel construction, 12 studs wide and unintentionally patriotic.

Monday, July 28, 2008

B is for...

Today's blog post entry is the second in a wildly popular feature on BrickBender- the brick-based encyclopedia. If you're just catching up, don't freak out. We're only on "B" and you can catch up within a minute, two minutes at the most.

Okay, we waited for you. Ready? Good. Today's letter is "B," and it's brought to you by Paul Hamm.

B is for...the deformed bumble bee you see in the left-hand corner. It's a bit of a genetic combination between a bee and a bull, but I can assure you one thing- it definitely flies. It went straight and true on the way into my design garbage can.

B is for...brick. This is the most basic unit of LEGO. It is the standard square or rectangular piece you are likely picturing right now.

B is for...Brickshelf. This is an online collection of LEGO creations, an adult fan site wherein users post what they have built in folders. It's very similar to Flickr- essentially online photo storage.

B is for...Bricklink. The online marketplace for used and new LEGO sets where collectors and sellers can find rare and every day pieces. Avoid late night purchasing at all costs.

Friday, July 25, 2008

That Stands for Monorail

I couldn't let this week end without a bang and so, in the spirit of Imagineering, I bring you....(electronic drum roll, please)...the monorail. 12 studs long, a robust 2 studs and a plate high, this MOC (my own creation) is a behemoth. It barely fits on a post-it-note.

I used toolboxes for the ends of the monorail and a collection of 1x2 bricks and translucent bricks to form the cars. The track is just an inverted plate, attached to supports from a Life on Mars set. The plate has the studs point down, which resemble track ties and the exposed tubes give a railroad feel.

I actually built the lead car of the monorail using technic bricks, thinking I could attach the cars via technic pins. I ended up leaving them separate, the small amount of space gave a cleaner look. But the option is there to attach the cars and then use a rubber band system to "propel" the monorail around a track.

Now the question you have to ask yourself is...was that first photo slightly blurry or is the monorail just moving too fast for ordinary human photographers to capture?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Flatbed

Simple. Classic. Boxy. The flatbed truck was a cheapie- easy to build and fairly recognizable. A 2x2 plate provided the sheen and flatness required by a flatbed with a grate (unsure of the terminology) covering the translucent bricks of the cab. At it's highest point, excluding the wheels, this truck is only two studs tall and two studs wide.

For scale purposes, it is about the size of half of a grown man's lips- which is the standard unit of measurement in Finland. Kindly pay no attention to the poor shaving abilities of the model displaying the truck.

With just one vehicle to go, the last being posted tomorrow, are there any diehard truckers or auto enthusiasts out there looking for a specific model?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Italian Dump Truck

What? You're not familiar with the Italian Dump Truck? Well, that's my latest creation, at least according to my wife. If you were to ask me what the vehicle to the left (Tower of Pisa sculpture provided for scale at three inches) is...I would tell you it's either a dump truck (of undetermined ethnicity) or a yard waste removal truck.

The back of the truck is just two 2x2 LEGO bricks and two slopes, one regular, one inverted. The cab consists of four 1x2 bricks in green, clear, and safety orange. I'm primarily building trucks because I have very few small elements, 1x1 headlights or plates, that appear to be better suited to the contours of cars.

I'm starting to think I'm going to need a town where I can place all of these vehicles or at least a relevant vignette. A note for the purists among you, the sculpture is not a LEGO piece and is merely included for measuring purposes. What type of vehicle do you see?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dump Truck or Garbage Truck?

Today is a version of a dump truck or possibly a garbage truck. The best way for you to decide is to let your vision relax and look slightly sideways, similar to the Magic Eye posters of the late 90's.

I couldn't decide and I think the model reflects that. A 2x4 grey plate provided the base, a spaceship chair is the back portion and two 1x2 hinged bricks make up the body. A trio of 1x2 translucent bricks are the windshield (courtesy of a Pick a Brick cup) and the wheels have been grabbed from a Creator set.

For scale purposes, it has been photographed alongside a monster finger puppet. And lest you are just starting to read this blog entry halfway down, I want to avoid a War of the Worlds-type situation. Rest easy, the city is not under attack. The finger puppet was subdued and is now sitting comfortably on top of a Sharpie. As for me, I'm like Shane Falco.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Building with just a few ingredients

This is the week of building small cars. First up, a construction vehicle of sorts. I'm not sure of it's real-life equivalent, I just liked the final look.

It's only 10 pieces total, one of my favorite constructions to date. It also heralds one of the breakthroughs in building. Like cooking, at times, simplicity can be best. In talking to a fellow AFOL recently, he told me that he starts everything by searching for the most salient feature of a given project, whether it is the glasses worn by Groucho Marx or the arch of a Volkswagen Beetle. If you can boil a building or car or sculpture down to a series of small, recognizable pieces, then you can create something that is dramatically better than you expected when you start.

I am the Gordon Ramsay of LEGO enthusiasts, turning just a few ingredients into a culinary masterpiece. Well, not quite. I am not currently possessed of world-renowned skill, but I do have a propensity for swearing and referring to things as "donkeys."

If you need something fun playing in the background the next time you build, try The Moth Podcasts- a series of live stories told on stage.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fording the Rubicon

We have reached the Rubicon. Now the only question is do we ford the river and risk losing an oxen or one of the children, or do we waste a few days to build a raft, which could lead to a broken axle. Any time you can work together a Caesar reference with an Oregon Trail joke, you know this is going to be a cracking blog entry.

The other night I found myself describing the book I'm working on while engaged in polite cocktail conversations (sans cocktails). When I didn't get a strong response, I continued talking, trying to paint a more vivid picture of the types of creations I'm hoping to build and what I want to learn. It was then that I began to wonder if the folks I was talking to were seeing me as a crazy person. They already knew that I work from home, which to some people suggests that I am only employed in the loosest sense of the term or possibly agoraphobic. But do I have to come up with a shorthand for the book in order to attempt to stay on the regular side of the mainstream line?

And so, here at the Rubicon, we begin my slow descent into hermithood. At least I will be a friendly hermit, the kind that gives out candy on Halloween and gets lots of toys from Amazon. I can't help wondering if your reputation matters as much as your building prowess in the Adult Fan of LEGO community.
Photo Credit: Mister007.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

LEGO Star Wars- The video game

I fired up the old Playstation 2 (for you children out there, this was the video game system that existed before the PS3) in an effort to experience one of the most popular LEGO releases in the past decade- the video game "LEGO Star Wars."

The first game, paradoxically, is tied into the more recent Star Wars trilogy. You control, Qui-Gon Jinn, the Jedi prominently featured in "The Phantom Menace," mentor to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. The plot follows the movie as you smash through spaceships with your lightsaber and ability to use the force.

After only 5 minutes, I was a bonafide Jedi- although I still have a disturbing tendency to strike out at Obi-Wan instead of droids shooting at us. This game is quite simply addictive. It's cartoony and silly and repetitive- and yet, I'm sure I'll get in a few minutes today as well. Plus, I've got to beat the game, so I can tackle LEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Batman in September.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Today, I built at a six-year-old level

It is difficult to find benchmarks in the world of LEGO building. It is not like you can build at a fourth-grade level or emerge with a certificate of completion. There are no formal schools for training or lesson plans.

So, at times, I rely on the age range recommended by the LEGO set. I've taken to building while watching television. I am as committed to multi-tasking as any of today's teenagers who are determined to text in any location, at any cost. Last night, I whipped through a Creator set- a tiny travel kit that allows you to create three vehicles from a small plastic bag of parts. My favorite is the racer and tow-truck.

"You are getting better," said my wife Kate.

"Well, not really. This set is rated for kids age 6 to 12," I admitted.

"Well, you build really well for a 12-year-old."

I'm not sure that I believe her, but I could probably out build a six-year-old today if I had a proper head start and he had a hand behind his back.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Frequently asked questions

How many? How long? How much? Those three questions dominate the public days at LEGO conventions. It is the Holy Trinity of LEGO questions. They are repeated on an almost endless loop by visitors as the oogle the sculptures and Town & Train displays. I watch as Adult Fans of LEGO gracefully deal with repetition.

As the crowd shuffles past, many will often stop and their first instinct is to touch a display. After that, the questions usually follow... How many pieces are in what you built? How many pieces are in your collection? How long did it take you to build? How long have you been collecting LEGO pieces? How much does all of this cost? How much have you spent on LEGO in your life?

Brian Darrow, who has built the 34-foot-long Blacktron Intelligence Agency, apparently uses a FAQ (frequently asked questions) to try and let people know how long it took to build his expansive space vignette. For the other AFOLs, it's an exercise in patience and a chance to talk about what they have constructed.

Monday, July 14, 2008

When dinosaurs ruled the earth

I am glad that I don't have children yet and those historical moments that must be captured on video camera. As I have learned in just a few short sessions with my hand-held FLIP video camera- my filming skills leave something to be desired. The good news is that I'm slowly improving, the bad news is I will be experimenting on you.

That said, here's my cinematographic take on Kevin Lauer's "Jurassic Park" MOC (my own creation) from Brickworld2008. This prehistoric LEGO playland stretches 10 feet long by 8 feet wide. It is artfully adapted from the 1993 movie with clever details like a minifig reenactment of the shocking electric fence climb by the boy protagonist Timmy. Unlike Dr. Grant, I have decided to endorse Mr. Lauer's park- it is outstanding.

Sadly, you'll have to provide your own soundtrack. "Do-doo, do-doo doo, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, do."

Friday, July 11, 2008

James Lipton or a police officer?

At a charity auction held at Brickworld2008, I bought a LEGO advent calendar for $30. That night, I brought it up upstairs to unwrap with my wife Kate. We sat on a hotel bed in the North Shore Westin in our pajamas as eager as any children to open an unexpected gift. I am excited to see the eight minifigures inside. Kate just likes opening gifts.

"Oh man, we have to wait until Christmas," she exclaims upon seeing that it was an advent calendar.

"Nope, it's from 2007," and with that I begin to open window #10.

"Wait," she stops me, "You have to open them in order."

I'll admit to not having much experience with advent calendars, having only celebrated Christmas for the past seven years.

"How many numbers are there?"

"Well, dear. How many days are there before Christmas?" asks Kate. I stop asking questions.

"This one looks like been eating a lot of chocolate. He might be a policeman or an airport manager," she says after popping a minifgure out of window #6.

"This is the municipal set, that's what he would be," I reply.

"Nope, he's a luggage handler. There's little suitcases." She opens #8.

"That makes sense. What little kid is going to be like, yeah, I finally got an airport manager?"

"What little kid is going to be like, yeah, I got a luggage handler?"

"Some kid who has a dad for a luggage handler." She is not impressed by this retort.

Another minifigure appears in window #10. "This guy looks like a miner or a policeman. At least he doesn't have a scary chocolate mouth. But he does have weird hair," she tells me.

"He's a plumber."

"Oh, look, another airport manager. I have to say, facial hair and LEGO guys- not so much. This one kind of looks like that critic..."

"James Lipton?" I suggest.

"Yeah. James Lipton as an airport manager." Another minifig with a broom."Oh, this look like old James Lipton."

"Do you think he's fallen on hard times?"

In box #22 is the final minifigure. "He's a submarine operator," Kate says confidently.

"How many municipalities own submarines?" I ask my wife, who works in city government.

"Oh, that's a bullhorn. He's a police officer. There's the police officer."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A multi-colored skyline

I've been looking at the shape of cars, buildings, almost everything I see, recently in an attempt to discern how I might build everyday objects and structures out of plastic bricks. I settled on beginning with a small version of a skyline to try and see how different elements might mimic architectural features.

While this looks like the nightmare for a city planner or architect, it was actually fairly useful to me. It showed me how spacing and the choice of different pieces could drastically alter the picture I was trying to create. Wonkavision colors aside, I like some of the structures that came out of this. The yellow archways offer the easy possibility of a bridge while translucent bricks add something interesting to what was a black rectangle (on the left-hand side).

I'm beginning to see that the challenge for builders looking to create a scene is to integrate the individual constructions within a larger context. This is a three-dimension Sim City, where scale matters and I've got a wider color palette. Sadly, I was always compelled to destroy what I had spent so many hours building on the computer. But since I have yet to build a LEGO Godzilla, the residents of New Benderville are safe for now.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The MEGA BLOKS debate

I'm beginning to understand why LEGO purists hate MEGA BLOKS. The popular plastic rival from a Canadian toymaker is generally dismissed by Adult Fans of LEGO as either of inferior quality or just a poor substitute for their true passion.

But I think it extends from something much simpler. In the process of sorting, there is almost always MEGA BLOKS inside a random collection of LEGO pieces. Children and parents, much like courts worldwide, don't differentiate between the two brands. But AFOLS do. I think for some it is akin to a prospector discovering pyrite instead of gold. While for others, it's merely a nuisance.

Today, I discovered 26 MEGA BLOKS in a Sterilite tub and I found myself irrationally annoyed at their presence among LEGO pieces. Most of that stems from the fact that they couldn't be categorized or sorted. Although they interlock with LEGO elements, the fit isn't quite perfect.

That is not to say MEGA BLOKS lacks fans. MEGA Brands, Inc., the parent company, is a powerhouse. They've secured licenses for the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Carribean. The publicly-traded company had sales of $79.1 million in the first quarter of this year. Ultimately, this is the Coke-Pepsi debate of the interlocking plastic brick world. It's simply a matter of taste.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Book Review: The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide

When you set out to build with LEGO, there aren't many printed guides to walk you through the process. That is likely, in part, because one of the most attractive features of building with the plastic bricks on your own is that nobody is telling you what you have to construct.

The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide by Allan Bedford is one of the rare guides that exists. It offers a solid balance of technical description and pictures to underscore the concepts it is attempting to explain. In providing the basic principles behind building from a structural strength perspective, Bedford lets the reader understand how to create structures that can be transported.

This book has been immensely helpful to me as a new adult builder. My mind keeps grasping for some order or at least a foundation for my knowledge- at times the prospect of building is too daunting because I don't have a history of building to fall back upon. Rather than potential, I just see the daunting challenge of meeting expectations. The guide has been invaluable in offering me a general introduction. If you're new to the game, go out and get a copy- it will help solve a lot of your initial questions and mistakes- although the mistakes continue to be fun to make.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A day at the beach

You always bring some of the beach home with you. Sand has a way of hiding in your suitcase, your shoes, and everything else you own. It turns out the same can be said of LEGO bricks.

Minifigs have turned up in my briefcase, 2x2 bricks are hiding in the corners of my suitcase, and I found a bunch of 1x1 headlights in my car. It's a little scary because I'm fairly certain I haven't purposely stored LEGO pieces in, at least two, of those places. Perhaps this is what it is like to have kids- toys turning up in unexplained places. It certainly suggests that it may be time for me to turn a bedroom into a play room. Tupperware is taking over one half of my L-shaped desk and LEGO creations are slowly filling our living room.

I'm thinking about hosing off my feet, it would seem to be the only way I can make sure I don't have any miscellaneous bricks stuck to the bottom.

Photo Credit: Plymography

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy 4th of July

Happy Fourth of July. It's amazing what you can build with spare bricks and a little-bit-of-know how. It should be interesting next year with a lot of bricks and a little-bit-more-know how.

A is for...

Welcome to the first in a (likely) 26-part series here on BrickBender. Each installment will feature a letter of the alphabet as part of a brick-based encyclopedia covering terminology related to building and parts. Today's letter is "A," and it's brought to you by Charro.

A is for...Adult Fan of LEGO (such as the handsome gentleman to the left). AFOL, pronounced like the Canadian eh plus fall, is the term used for those fans of the plastic bricks who just happen to be adults.

A is for...Accessories. Whether it is a hat, hairpiece, brush, weapon, or other implement- accessories are how you spice up a minifigure's outfit. A change of torso can totally make the man.

A is for...Adventurers. This is a theme for a series of LEGO sets and a lead character named Johnny Thunder, that involved the desert in Egypt, Amazon jungle, and Dinosaur Island. Rest assured, it had me at Dinosaur Island.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tupperware and gainful employment

If you ever want to feel unemployed, just get caught sorting LEGO bricks in your shorts and t-shirt while watching Law & Order by your air conditioner repairman. It's one of those delightful situations where you feel the need to explain what's happening, rather than just ignore the fact that it's 11 a.m. and I need both a shave and a haircut.

In terms of believability, you can put "this is for a book I'm working on..." right alongside, "I'm a talent scout looking for models," and "No, but I play one on T.V." Let's just move away from that vignette and focus on what's more important- Tupperware.

The Glad family and I are getting well acquainted today as I sort through the leftover piles of LEGO bricks from BrickWorld, break down the pieces of an advent calendar, and continue to sort through my brother-in-law's childhood collection. Sorting is not only tedious, it feels pointless as I'm certain that I will go through several systems of organization before this is all done.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Prototype- vending machine

I've got my first big idea and I'm ready to jump in with my VISA card and a mock blueprint. It's time the world had a LEGO vending machine for minifigs. Ideally, I can figure out how to program it in order for the minifigs to be vended. In the very likely event that this proves to be beyond my limited programming and wiring skills, a static LEGO vending machine would be no less awesome.

At left, you see the prototype, it's definitively too boxy and the individual details are not articulated. However, it was built primarily from the Pick A Brick cup that I bought at the LEGO retail store while at Brickworld. Which, considering I didn't have a clue as to what I would do with that $15 cup of parts yesterday, makes me feel pretty good about how it turned out.

I built the prototype fairly quickly and in essentially two parts. The frame and left half are a single piece, while the windows and green base for the "vending display" portion of the machine was slotted into open space where it is held in place by the red border.

I think the next step is measuring vending machines and figuring out how to translate those measurements into a scale sculpture that feels right for vending minifigs. I'm excited by the potential for this project, although I could certainly use suggestions for parts.

Anybody have any ideas for dollar bill acceptors, change slots, and an alphabetized ordering system?