Monday, November 30, 2009

It's Just Like The Movies

For those of you who have not yet discovered the expansive world of stop motion animation using LEGO minifigures and parts, known as "brick films," I'm envious of you. You can still experience the joy of discovering a whole new world of procrastination and entertainment.

And since I've been trying to act as a guide heretofore, I shall not stop now. So, consider me your Internet sherpa, and these the bricks films you should take the time to watch.

"Trinity Help," is a short by Trevor Boyd and Steve Ilett that recreates bullet-time in an accurate frame-by-frame recreation of the classic scene from The Matrix. The creators have included an extensive explanation on the process behind the 440 hours it took to create the 90-second short.

"Little Guys," is the signature work of David Pagano -- one of the most respected voices in the brick film world. It was his video that helped launch the "Go Miniman Go," campaign last year.

"Don't Be a Jerk, It's Christmas," shows what happens when LEGO Sponge Bob is given a chance to sing. It's made by Garrett Barati -- the 2008 winner of the Built By Me Movie Contest sponsored by LEGO and Nickelodeon.

"Robota," is the first example of a brickfilm that I saw, which displayed how LEGO bricks can be as transformative as claymation or other forms of animation. Marc Beurteaux offers up a suprisingly moving story of a panhandling robot trying to make his way in a city of the future.

If you feel compelled to strike out on your own, Brickfilms is a good place to start, both for those who want to create and those who just want to watch.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Everybody should befriend a Master Model Builder

If you get the chance, you should always talk to a LEGO master model builder because like Santa -- they always have toys on them.

Wired attended the recent Kidsfest in Hartford, CT, and had the chance to talk with model builders Dan and Chris Steineger -- a father-and-son team based out of the build shop at LEGO's U.S. headquarters in Enfield, CT. I met Dan while researching the book and he's one of the few people in the world that genuinely loves their job.

Master Model Builders work on large-scale projects for in-store displays and promotional tie-ins. That's why there's a life-size Indiana Jones made of LEGO bricks in the employee cafeteria. So the next time you buy a LEGO set, think of it as business expense, because building doesn't have to be just a hobby, it can be your career.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Collector v. Fan

It's a fine line between collector and fan. In one case, the goal is to complete a set or accumulate all of a given line. In the other, your purchasing habits might be the same, you just end up tearing open the boxes and clam shell packaging.

As LEGO-infused products slowly take over our house, I'm wondering if I'm essentially becoming some sort of collector-fan hybrid. When it comes to bricks, those are taken out of the box and used for building. But the video games, clothing, and kitchen items feel a bit like collector's items, even if they're in the rotation as well.

LEGO bricks feel like they were never meant to be collected, more like they are something to amass and then put to work in your latest creation. It's one of the few holdovers from my childhood beliefs that comes into play as an adult. You play with LEGO bricks, and you play well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A peek inside the editing process

Big goings on at the book factory here in the Bender household. The copy edits came back to me and the books has the beginnings of how it will be formatted. This is the next major step towards the publication of LEGO: A Love Story.

For those of you just joining us, especially you man or woman in the Czech Republic -- I love your colorful fashion and moderately priced hostels, by the way -- this book covers the year I spent building alongside Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOLs), in an attempt to learn what it is about LEGO bricks that makes it so some of us just can't put them down.

The copy edits are a group of questions, grammatical changes, and reordering of text, that helps the book become tighter and draws out the questions the average reader with no knowledge of AFOLs might have. On one level it's exciting because the total number of people who have read the book has skyrocketed to six, on another level, it's wonderful to get feedback.

Best of all, in order to check some of my writing, I was forced to reconstruct what I had built -- which meant that I, once again, had to play with LEGO bricks for work.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Do You Want For Christmas?

When you get older and/or married -- suddenly it seems imperative that your Christmas lists be done well in advance of Christmas. And so I'm attempting to contribute to the Excel spreadsheet that determines what will be under the tree this year for relatives and friends.

Two years ago, there was not a single LEGO purchase (the horror! the horror!) on the list. Today, I look to the Santa minifig on my keychain for guidance, 'nuff said. And so I find myself trying to figure out exactly how to get everybody some form of LEGO paraphernalia or set. However it becomes exceedingly difficult to separate out what I want from what I believe somebody else would want.

It feels a bit like buying somebody a grill, with the knowledge that you can't have one on the fire escape of your apartment, and then showing up the next week with steaks, whether they're home or not. I guess I will just have to restrain myself from tearing open other people's gifts come Christmas morning, I believe I still have enough Christmas spirit to accomplish that bit of civility.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Shoemaker Had Elves, BMW Has Children

It's that time of year when elves scurry madly to finish the toys that children want for Christmas. And when elves aren't available -- times are admittedly tough -- sometimes you need to use children in order to build the toys that adults want for Christmas (when children are unavailable, I assume you use centaurs or whichever mythical creature has opposable thumbs).

At the BMW Welt (a product showroom/distribution center/event space hybrid) in Munich, Germany, 800 children helped build a full-size replica of the BMW X1 -- an urban crossover vehicle that looks like a Z3 and Ford Edge had a baby. In the span of four days, the children helped put together the 165,000 LEGO bricks needed to replicate the car.

These are the kind of group builds we need in America. In the interim, I know what I'll be asking Santa (or the centaurs) for this Christmas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Papercraft and LEGO Toy Hybrid

The bloodfeud between papercrafters and adult fans of LEGO can finally come to an end, thanks to the introduction of "Playing with paper and LEGO." (Via jollygoo)

A collaboration between Muji and LEGO has yielded four boxed sets -- each of which includes 120 LEGO pieces, 10 sheets of paper, and a special hole-punch that creates holes in the shape of LEGO studs. The Web site shows papercraft animals with LEGO eyes or buttons, as well as LEGO bricks being used as stands for cut out creations.

It seems like it could lead to some really neat LEGO-paper combinations, but cutting paper feels like a completely different skill set than stacking bricks. Although it's interesting to think of LEGO elements as accessories or connectors.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Geocaching and LEGO pods

What happens when geocaching meets viral marketing? It's the invasion of the LEGO pods.

The Bradford Rant Institute of Cosmic Kinesis holds the key to discovering where the pods will land and just what the LEGO minifig pilots want with Earth. The first was discovered at LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark and the second is said to be somewhere in North America.

Kotaku suggests that it is a promotion of LEGO Universe and that sounds like a good bet as the MMO is slated to be released in 2010 and the news of an "Alien LEGO landing," is on the front page of the Web site.

There is also a Facebook page (via Sterling) where people are attempting to crack the codes hidden in the first message (where's Tom Hanks when you need him?) and find the location of the second pod. Good hunting and play well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Girls Are Totally Allowed In The Club

There is joy and then there is the moment when your spouse walks into the office and says, "I haven't built anything in a while, I want to build something."

It must be like this when your kid asks you to play -- how could I turn down such a sweet face. In short, I can't. So this weekend comes with the excitement that a set will be built or a bucket of LEGO bricks will be dumped on the ottoman in an effort to find something to build. And just to be sure that we have enough, I wonder if I'll be able to convince her that we should stop at a toy store or Target to pick up a new set.

There is a camper city set that I think could be a good way of testing on the waters on whether we should buy an RV (a hobby that could make LEGO purchases seem small in comparison). It's a pretty sweet thing when you have a LEGO playdate with your wife.

If you're in search of a playdate, you could always build a LEGO girlfriend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Music To My Ears

Sometimes you have to buck the trend to go smaller because who needs an iPod Nano when you can have a LEGO MP3 Player.

Although the actual player doesn't lend itself to much customization, the top and bottom are fair game, apparently composed of regulation size studs (the nubs on top) and tubes (the holes on bottom that the studs snap into). Thus, it would seem like once you had the LEGO MP3 Player, you would have to build a LEGO belt case, in order to keep in on your hip while you were mowing the lawn.

You could also build a version of an Ipod-type dock -- for when said player is not hanging precariously from your belt. It's time we went back to the days when technology added a bit of danger to our wardrobe, threatening to break lose at any time or force us to wear something on the other side for counterbalance. Because the only thing cooler than one MP3 player is a second one on your belt.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

J is for...

Sometimes dictionaries are like cliffhangers because when you stop in the middle of a definition, you never know what you're going to find when it you open up the book the next time.

And so it is like that with the Brick Encyclopedia. I know that you have been dying to see what J words are out there, waiting to be defined. Well, the wait is over and just as John Lithgow was revealed to be evil to Sylvester Stallone, here's what J is for...

J is for...Jack Stone -- a minifigure responsible for rescuing the city in a series of themed sets from 2001-2004. The sets were notable because they featured oversize bricks and the most beautiful feathered hair since Brendan Walsh.

J is for...Jorgen Vig Knudstorp -- the current CEO of the LEGO Group -- who is credited with turning around the fortunes of the toymaker.

J is for...Juniorization -- a complaint heard on occasion from adult fans of LEGO that the sets have moved away from buildable elements towards large brick pieces in an effort to appeal to more children, inadvertently losing their appeal for older builders.

J is for...Johnny Thunder, or who would I would be if I could grow a proper mustache and owned the right kind of kerchief. An open-shirted explorer who battled Dr. Sinister in the Adventure and Orient Express lines -- he's as cool as Indiana Jones without the trademark issues.

Monday, November 9, 2009

All Out of Sorts

I've written in this space many times before about the challenges of sorting and organizing your LEGO collection once it begins to expand. It's a necessary evil -- the brick equivalent of making sure you've hit the restroom and filled up on snacks before you set out on a long road trip. The less stops you have to make, the sooner you'll get there. Thankfully, I have not yet gotten to the point where I have to build with an empty Gatorade bottle below the desk, but who knows what the future may bring.

Over on The Brothers Brick -- there is a terrific essay on all of the competing factors when it comes to sorting LEGO bricks. It's a question of patience, time, and the reason you're sorting in the first place. I believe that most builders just want to get to a point where they can easily find parts, in order to interrupt their flow of building as little as possible.

Photo by ltwp.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nintendo Power

The original 8-bit Nintendo is hard to give up -- for my generation -- it is the classic video game system, just as Oregon Trail is our defining computer game. And now, it's been immortalized in brick by AFOL Dave Sterling, who put together a television displaying a Tetris game, NES controllers, game cartridge, and system with a working loading mechanism.

The pixelated game was a natural for LEGO-ization and Dave nailed it. His build secured him a spot in the finals of the MOCOlympics on -- a build competition that inspires some amazing creations. Between Dave and his wife Stacy -- who was recently selected a LEGO Ambassador -- there's a powerhouse AFOL couple in Wisconsin. I'm always excited to see the next build that is coming out of their basement/LEGO Lair.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A LEGO language barrier?

It's easy to feel frustrated when you can't communicate with somebody else. Add to that an inability to find the right LEGO brick in a pile of thousands, and you're close to seeing what an adult looks like when he has a temper tantrum.

There is a language to playing with LEGO pieces -- you develop names in your family for the bricks that you need someone else to hand to you or keep an eye out for in the jumbled assortment before you. In a spot on article for The Morning News, writer Giles Turnbull wanted to see what different kids called various parts in what he terms, "LEGO nomenclature." So he set up an experiment at a LEGO retail store asking the children to name the pieces that they were shown. The result is a fascinating chart as to how the kids, who range in age from five to seven years old, refer to slopes, plates, and tiles.

The names for various parts was one of the most intimidating aspects of getting back into playing with LEGO as an adult. My names for parts are not the accepted or at least, more universal, names. It would be like going to work in an engine room and referring to everything as doo-hickeys and whats-its.

Perhaps more challenging was that once I learned one name for a part, I would invariably discover that other terms were used interchangeably. Although it also presents hope that the word you've invented will catch on as the descriptor and you will have named a part just like the scientist who is granted the naming rights to a new species. Bender seems to be a logical name for many pieces of LEGO, but as of yet, none has stuck.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On the air: I'm a guest on LAML Radio

To those of you who are not visual learners, I offer up a link to a LEGO Talk podcast that I appeared on earlier this week to talk about the latest news in the brick world -- LAML Radio.

LAML (LEGO and more LEGO) Radio is hosted by James Wadsworth, who is often joined by prolific builder Aaron Andrews. It's my second appearance on the podcast, which means I am now officially ahead of both Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as guest hosts. And I've only got a few more to go to catch Tom Hanks.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, we touched on how LEGO sets could be important in the event of an apocalypse, the boxes I'm squirreling away in my home, and what a LEGO live action movie might mean for fans and the world in general.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

LEGOLAND Hotel is Timed Just Right

It's nice when the world chooses to accommodate your family -- it's a bit Truman Show-esque, but you'll take it.

LEGOLAND California just received approval to build a hotel adjacent to the theme park in Carlsbad, California. Construction is expected to take 18 months, but the project is not likely to move forward until the economy picks up slightly. So that means around the time my daughter is in the middle of LEGOLAND's stated demographic of two to 12 years old, the hotel should be ready to open. Not too shabby.

Kate and I stayed at the LEGOLAND Hotel in Billund, which is bursting at the seams with LEGO bricks and attached to the park via an elevated walkway. It featured free kiosks with LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones video games, circular pits piled high with LEGO pieces and surrounded with cushions to build on, and you walked on LEGO-patterned carpet beneath LEGO-filled acrylic lamps as a LEGO mosaic of Mona Lisa hung on the walls. It was kind of like the average adult fan of LEGO home.

So, here's to another LEGO construction project, it's just a bit bigger than the buildings that most of us are trying to tackle right now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Lottery Ticket Purchase

Everybody plays the game of lottery winner on occasion, debating what you'd purchase if a million-dollar ticket suddenly appeared in your pocket. The key is to pick unnecessary and delightfully expensive luxuries.

For you LEGOphiles in the crowd, I've found what you should buy after the requisite trip to LEGO headquarters and LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark. It's a pair of BrickSpeak speakers from ToysPeriod. At $647, they are apparently a set of high-end speakers encased in over 1,000 LEGO bricks. Although at that price, you could 12,940 bricks on BrickLink and just fill it with Sony guts.

But until that ticket appears, you can make do with a set of mini-Ipod speakers ($19.75) or an Ipod dock ($45).