Building A Scene

As part of an English assignment, I had the chance to create an art project (translation: goof around with Lego) as an alternative to a conventional essay. As much as I enjoy writing, building was definitely a more palatable option than yet another essay.
The topic: Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend. The assignment had to be relevant to the current point in the novel and demonstrate both an understanding of the work and a sense of craftsmanship.
Challenge accepted.
I chose to build a vignette based on a scene in which Bradley Headstone, the schoolmaster, confronts Lizzie Hexam in a graveyard. For those of you who have not read Our Mutual Friend, I may not be able to convince you to take on the impressive 800-page novel, but rest easy; most of this post will be about the visual design of the vignette.
And if you have read it (and in particular if you're a stickler for details), I'm well aware that the churchyard in the novel is paved, not overgrown. This is what's called "artistic license." Because in my book, all cemeteries should be overgrown. They're more awesome that way.
But enough talk--how about some pictures?

There we go, first picture out of the way. As you can likely tell, the vignette is built on a standard green 16x16 baseplate, but I went to great lengths to make sure the overbearing green color didn't show through. In fact, basically the entire ground is coated in at least two plates' thickness of dirt and foliage.

If any of you are serious nerds, you might look at the center gravestone and say "hey, you didn't build that!" And you'd be right. That one was taken from the Halloween Accessory Set (850487) because I needed a lot of gravestones and I wasn't going to turn down a perfectly good design. But I did have to change it to get it to mount properly, so it's not totally cheating.

Basically every single one of the headstones is mounted at a really strange angle to give it a lopsided, neglected feel. In fact, all of them are hinged on two separate axes to grant the angles I wanted. The problem is, this means they don't attach directly to the baseplate, and hinges take up space, so I hid them on the backs of the stones, where they remain unseen from the intended viewing angle. The most difficult one was the cross, which is exposed rather than leaning against the tree. If you look closely in the previous picture you'll see how I had to attach it to the bright green sprig, which sticks into the larger undergrowth pieces.

This project was a great opportunity to experiment with vignette style and more natural, organic and unorthodox structures, which are things I don't normally work with. All the fun was in the details, like the mushrooms, the bat hanging from the tree and the extreme quantities of plant and vine pieces. The best part is that without the minifigures it has no firm connection to Our Mutual Friend, and yet I was still able to justify this as homework. Everyone wins!

Challenge: build yourself a self-contained scene (vignette). Packing as much detail as possible into a small space can really help hone your building skills, and it's a lot of fun.
Happy Building!

Infinite Stormtrooper March

Having recently learned how to use Adobe Flash (which is changing to Adobe Animate this year, so I'm already outdated), I created a relatively simple frame-based animation of a Stormtrooper walking endlessly down a lonely corridor, clearly on his way to somewhere. 

Because I could, of course. Why else?

Now I'd love to make the Imperial March play endlessly behind him, but unfortunately the GIF file format does not support sound, so you'll have to handle that part yourself. Just click on this to open the song in YouTube in another tab. You won't be sorry.

Just don't wait for him to get to wherever he's going, because you'll be waiting, um... forever. However, you might find yourself watching for a very long time anyway.

Happy Building!

Redesigning the Logo

I sat staring at my logo, the same one that was on our robotics t-shirts way back in the ancient past of 2012, and thought to myself "Yeah, it needs an upgrade." Not that there was anything inherently wrong with it, but being my improvement-obsessed self, I was tired of looking at the same design for four years.

Actually, the old design has plenty of things going for it--it's simple, clean, and I am very fond of its shape. I almost talked myself out of changing it, but I then realized why just have one? I could make as many as I wanted, and rotate them all through. Seeing this as a golden opportunity to flex the Photoshop and Illustrator muscles I've gained in the past year, I set out make something awesome.

I ran into my first problem in about thirty seconds: I couldn't find the high-resolution version of the original, and Illustrator couldn't make a decent image trace out of the smaller one. Therefore, I spent the afternoon manually tracing over it with the Pen and Ellipse tools. Note to Self: the Pen tool is simultaneously your best friend and worst nightmare.

Once I finished the vectorized version of the logo shape, it was smooth sailing. For my first new version, I used a metal texture and beveled the edges for a three-dimensional look, with an outer glow for added effect. I found that the color of the glow really changed the personality of the logo, as you can see below, so I ended up saving at least a half-dozen differently colored iterations.
Side-by-side of two glow colors. I'm still not sure which I like better, but
the purpose was to show how the color alters the attitude of the graphic.

So where are the rest? Well, I can tell you that wasn't all I came up with, nor am I finished. The reality is that I only really need one at a time, so I have added a little feature box in the upper right corner of the page (yep, you found it), where I will change the logo at undetermined time intervals (I know, how very specific of me). In the meantime, you can read all my other posts! (just kidding.)
But seriously, go ahead and read them. You might stumble on something you like!

As always, feedback and input are appreciated as I explore the realms of digital graphics, and I look forward to making many more logos in the future. If you've never tried Adobe software, you might want to look into it. I've had fun, and you can, too. So good luck and Happy Building!

A Brief Introduction

Hello! If you're reading this, it is either because it came out recently and you saw it on the home page, or you clicked a link because you wanted to know a bit more about who I am and what I do. Bear with me if I give you more information than you needed to know, but you may find it interesting.

Who We Are
In most cases, "we" will refer to only me, since the majority of posts are my own. The name of this blog is derived from our FLL robotics team, which is the reason for starting it. Now that the competition is a thing of the past, I use it for my own projects, sometimes collaborating with my original team members.
My name is Will, and I am a proud TFOL and devoted builder.

What We're All About
If you haven't already figured it out, I live in a family of complete Lego nerds, of which I am undoubtedly the nerdiest.
I enjoy building my own models, modifying and upgrading existing sets and working on robotics projects, as well as other mechanical projects and exploits. If anything on here is not directly Lego-related, it probably has something to do with technology, projectiles, weapons or explosions. (I don't think I've had any explosions yet, but all in good time).
I am a major fan of Space sets, especially the classics. I'm also a devoted Star Wars geek, which may become evident from time to time.
The logic I live by is that if it's broken, it can be fixed, and if it works fine, it can be made better.

Terminology and Syntax
I frequently use terms that are common in the Lego fan community. If you are unfamiliar with anything I say, it will probably be defined in this list:

AFOL: Adult Fan of Lego. See also TFOL (Teenage Fan of Lego, that's me) or KFOL (Kid Fan of Lego; seldom used because frankly most fans of Lego are kids).

MOC: My Own Creation. This is a generic term referring to any model you build on your own, with no instructions.

LEGO vs. Lego vs. "legos:" This is an issue all its own. to prevent me from going off on a tangent, I'll refer you to a more in-depth explanation here.

Basic Terms: I found a great post here that discusses the use of commonplace terms like Bricks, Studs, Baseplates, Tiles and so forth. These types of terms are the bread and butter of anyone wanting to talk about Lego.

Advanced Terms: There are too many to cover right here, but there's another nice reference here, which has most of the terms you will hear and plenty that you probably will never hear. Regardless, I'll put down a few of my favorites and most commonly used ones:
BURP: Big Ugly Rock Piece-- a single, large element made to look like a section of rock face.
TLG: The LEGO Group.
Brick-Built: Composed of multiple Lego elements
Cheese Slope: A 33-degree 1x1 slope that is two plates high.
Half-Stud Offset: a technique in which elements are mounted between normal stud dimensions, as with a Jumper Plate
Jumper Plate: A 1x2 plate with a single stud in the middle.
SNOT: A technique characterized by the absence of studs on top of a model, either due to a coating of tiles or sideways building.

That was almost undoubtedly more than you needed to know, but I hope you found it interesting or at least helpful. Happy Building!

OYLC Part IV: STORING Your Lego Collection

Welcome to Part IV of OYLC (Organizing Your Lego Collection). Links to other sections can be found at the end of this post.

This section may be long, but there's plenty of material to cover. This is the Big One. The one that causes the most trouble of them all. That's because no matter how well you sort and subdivide, your collection will still take up space, and the eternal question remains: Where do I put it?

Well, ultimately it's up to you. Every individual person will have different needs and desires. Devoted MOC builders may break everything into finely divided high-rises of compartmentalized trays, while parents of young builders might pull everything into a single box of "organized chaos." (P.S. don't do that; I'll explain why later).

The fact of the matter is that you need to envision what you want your collection to look like, and work from there. Those who like to keep sets built will need display space, those who don't care about sets don't need to sort them all out, and so on. The bottom line, however, is that it needs to be organized. I found some interesting points from a conversation with former designer Megan Rothrock, whose philosophy is identical to mine.
I’ve found that highly creative children will find sorting to be especially painful because they can look at a single brick as having so much potential. Categorizing them is like prematurely deciding that brick’s future and kids hate that. I told Megan Rothrock, former designer at the LEGO Group and author of the LEGO Adventure Book 1 and Book 2 about this problem and she shared this piece of advice: She usually asks the children about the size of their collection, and kids then describe the size of the large bins that contain their mixed pieces. She then asks them if they know what they could build out of it. “They all say no,” Rothrock said. Next, she asks them to picture what it could be like to pull out certain colors and the kids change their tune about the possibilities. “They say, ‘oh yeah, because I got these blue slopes, and these red ones’.” Rothrock says that once the kids start thinking about color, they’ll take off.

The original post is here if you're interested.
What I'm leading up to, however, is that it is possible to maintain a creative building environment without letting everything wind up in a single mass of jumbled pieces. My system allows me to keep all my sets sorted, stored and out of the way, while also allowing me to pull any pieces I need in order to build my latest creation. It's the best of both worlds.

So say you have a set. It's complete now, but you don't know exactly how to pack it away or where to put it. Unless you plan to keep it on display (I rotate a few through now and then), you'll need to store it, and the best way to do that is to dismantle it. From there, it all depends on the set--let's get started!

 In the last decade or so, I've arrived at the conclusion that the plastic bag is basically the king of all storage devices. It's cheap, dependable, easily replaceable if necessary and it takes up virtually zero space when empty. Moreover, they come in many different sizes, so you can find one to suit your needs on a set-by-set basis. I keep most smaller sets in a single bag, with the name of the set written on it in permanent marker. This isn't so much for finding the set, but for putting it away when you're done with it; if you take out multiple sets at a time, labels make it much easier to put the right set back in the right bag.

While they can wear out over time, the plastic bag has numerous advantages. They're light, easy to find and most importantly flexible. You can put bagged sets into any large container you want to (such as a big box or cabinet) and they will mold to the surrounding border, allowing you to greatly maximize your space. You probably won't be able to fit the instructions in with a bagged set, but we'll solve that problem soon, so hang tight.

Boxes are great. They come in all different shapes and sizes, plastic and cardboard, and they generally stack really well in cabinets or closets, thanks to their rectangular shape.
Boxes work very well for mid-range to large sets that you wish to store as a single section (or divided, but more on that later). Here are two sets that I keep in individual boxes, namely the Mistlands Tower (8823) and Republic Fighter Tank (7679).

Boxes are wonderful because they are easy to label, store and transport. The downside, however, is that they are usually only easy to find in sizes similar to shoeboxes or larger (unless we're talking about Tupperware or Rubbermaid, in which case all bets are off). An added benefit of boxes is that you can often fit the instruction books inside them with the bricks, making a convenient package deal. Boxes by themselves normally work best for medium-sized sets, but they work miracles when combined with further subdivision, as I will discuss next.

This is the ultimate storage strategy. I'm not kidding. It has all the space-saving qualities of a bag, plus the versatility, durability and stackability of a box.
Most large sets (and even small ones, nowadays), come subdivided into multiple sections (which I refer to as bags for convenience; sorry if it's confusing, but I think it's convenient) for greater building speed. The smaller the chunks the set is broken into, the smaller the pool of pieces is and the faster you build.
The point is, you can break the set back into these sections as you dismantle it, and bag each one individually. Then, find a box of the right size to fit all of the bags, and Voila! It's clean, compartmentalized and self-contained. You can't go wrong. Below is the Ewok Village (10236), just one of many sets I store with this method.

This one is by far my favorite, because it can be adapted to multiple sizes of set. Most sets above around $80 (USD) fit great in shoeboxes, but what if your set breaks down into multiple sections and isn't big enough to fit well in a box? Well, no worries--a variation of this strategy is the Bag-In-Bag approach, where you simply put the small bags inside a bigger bag, such as a gallon or bread bag (the kind with the wire twist-ties). You still get virtually all of the benefits of Bag-In-Box, but with the added ability to further group the set in a larger container, as you will see next.

Perhaps you have a lot of sets that are small enough for a single bag or Bag-In-Bag, but they all belong to the same theme, like Star Wars, City, or something else? You probably want to keep them close to each other! Never fear, you can put all of those grouped sets into a single, large box, just like the Bag-In-Box approach, but bumped up to a higher scale. I do this with my Mars Mission sets because I have most of them (ten or eleven sets), as well as other large themes like Star Wars and Bionicle. (I actually have five large boxes devoted to Bionicle--I was a fan).

This system has plenty of benefits. First of all, you can keep similar and related sets together, so you can get them out at the same time without hunting them down individually. Second of all, they all stay separate and complete while in storage, so they don't become jumbled as long as you remember to dismantle them when you're done. Lastly, large boxes offer the option to keep all the instructions for the theme within the box, which is a major plus.

Instructions are important for building the set and keeping tabs on all the pieces that should be in it, which is useful when borrowing pieces to build a MOC. However, some of the containment methods I use, such as bags, mean that the container for the set is actually smaller than the instruction book, so it has to be kept separately. For storing instructions, magazine racks work just fine. They're cheap and easy to find, and sometimes they can stack on top of one another. Here are some of mine:

In the future, I plan to upgrade to a subdivided bookcase system, to keep instructions for themes separate. Until then, magazine racks get the job done.

It's true, some sets don't lend themselves well to being stored as a single, combined unit, especially sets that don't even have instructions. Platforms like Mindstorms are designed to foster creation, and the easiest way to use them effectively is to know where all your pieces are at all times. Enter the Tacklebox.

Tackleboxes are great for fishing gear, but awesome for organizing different types of Technic pieces. There are plenty of compartments of customizable size, and the whole thing closes down to a single container--with a handle to carry it with! I keep both my NXT 2.0 and my EV3 in identical boxes, labeled to tell them apart. The boxes cost about $10 each.

Contrary to my normal color-based part sorting strategy, Technic pieces within a Mindstorms set need to be organized by type first, then size. Disregard color this time; you'll be happier in the end. As you can see above, I have made plenty of tiny labels for the tacklebox trays, making distinctions between types, shapes and sizes of beams, axles, gears and so forth. You can break it down however you like, but this works the best for me.

You can use whatever you want, really. You might have compartmentalized storage cases (which I use for extremely small sets), or you may find some type of container I haven't even thought of. Anything that will fit the set is fair game. I've even used frosting tubs before. It doesn't matter. Just break it down so it makes sense to you.

Now that your sets are packed and ready to go, you need to put them somewhere. The beauty of Theme Grouping is that similar sets are combined into large boxes, which are easy to stack in a corner, against a wall, in a closet or wherever you think is a good spot. Smaller containers such as boxes for individual sets or bins full of individually bagged, unrelated sets are most effectively stored in cabinets, such as the ones pictured below.

Cabinets allow you to further organize bags and boxes in a way that makes sense (mine are kind of messy still, but it's a work in progress). In the end, everything should have a home in a tidy, out-of-the-way place where you can keep track of it, and you can pull out any set or piece when you want it.

That isn't the end, though. There's much more to learn in order to truly master your collection, and it will be forthcoming in other parts of the series.
Until then, Good luck and Happy Building!

Part I: Sorting Bricks
Part II: Sorting Sets
Part III: Sorting More Sets (Special Cases)

The Annihilator Suit

Upon searching for something to build, I happened to stumble on my old Exo-Force sets from a number of years ago. While Exo-Force was never really my favorite theme, it offered an excellent array of new, strange and fantastic parts, which immediately drew me in. Many of these pieces lent themselves well to large robotic structures (that being the premise of the theme,) so I used them to construct my own attack mech. Personally, I think it turned out quite well, but I'll let you see for yourself.
And here it is: The Annihilator! This monstrosity uses mainly pieces from
the Thunder Fury (7702) but includes parts from a solid eight other sets.

The legs and hips of the model are joined to the torso and shoulders by a rotating
drum, allowing the robot to turn at the waist as well as at standard limb joints.
The bank of guns on the right arm are mounted on two axes of hinges, allowing it
to move quite freely around the underside of the forearm and making for excellent

The fuel drums attached to the shoulders are likewise mounted on two hinges, allowing
them to stick out at the desired angle no matter where the shoulder is positioned.

Yes, there is also a pilot! This shot shows the cockpit with only the top panel
hinged up, and the next one shows it fully opened. Note that I mounted the 1x2x3
slope bricks at unusual angles to achieve full closure of the cockpit.
Here is our fearless mech pilot fully revealed. In total, there are six separate cockpit
panels which must be opened individually in order to fully open the pilot's seat.
WARNING: I think this one might be photoshopped.... *might*
But it provides a great picture of the mech as it would appear on duty on an alien planet.
In closing, this one was fun to build, even though it was extremely challenging to get the cockpit panels shaped the way I liked them. I hope that through sharing this model I have provided inspiration or even merely enjoyment; since I like how it turned out, I hope you do as well. Happy Building!

The Lego Americana Roadshow - Totally Awesome!

This past month I had the opportunity to visit Fashion Place Mall in Utah, one of the locations for the traveling Lego Americana Roadshow exhibition. The Roadshow features a dozen massive, highly detailed scale models of some of the most iconic buildings in the United States, including the White House, the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials and many more. The Roadshow will continue traveling until November of this year, to locations which I will list later. But first, some pictures for your viewing pleasure!
Independence Hall, complete with clocks

The Capitol Building--This one is a monster! It measures over twenty feet wide and six tall,
and detailed down to the window sills. Very Impressive.

Though simple in shape, the Washington Monument is unique in that it measures
over fourteen feet tall, by far the tallest model in the exhibit.

The Liberty Bell--ACTUAL SIZE! It reminded me very much of the time I saw the real thing,
and it's even backlit and therefore very hard to photograph, just like the real thing.

The Supreme Court Building, with myself provided for scale

The Statue of Liberty-- not as tall as the Washington monument,
but incredibly detailed. The brickwork on the pedestal is astounding.

A statue detail on the Supreme Court Building

Notice those same statues in proportion to the rest of the building

The White House--surprisingly complete with all of the extensions and out-buildings, thereby making it an impressive
feat of construction.
Throughout the exhibit I took the time to study the buildings up close, finding many interesting details and unusual pieces.
Detail from the Supreme Court--Yes, those are croissants. In white. I have no idea how long it took to
round up 200 already-rare white croissants, but somehow they did. Job well done.

Fabric detail from the Statue of Liberty-- it is extremely difficult to make rectangular bricks
look like smooth, flowing fabric, but these master builders definitely delivered!

This is a wall detail from the Old North Church, which is built almost entirely
out of rare dark-tan bricks. Masonry bricks are evenly spaced to look like peeling
paint over brickwork, and a very nice use of a radar dish as a window!
Along with the many famous buildings, there were several tiny displays of seemingly randomly themed scenes involving high quantities of minifigures wreaking havoc on one another.
This is a miniaturized version of the mall where the exhibition was held-- just
look at the tiny Capitol Building in the center!

This one was a space-mining operation. A personal point of
interest is the days-without-accident sign.

This one was a winter scene with a ski lift and a massive snowman construction project.

As stated previously, the Roadshow runs until November, traveling to various locations throughout the United States. The schedule for the remainder of the year is as follows:

Mall Locations:
Stonebriar Mall, Frisco, TX:  May 23 – June 7
Mayfair Mall, Wauwatosa, WI:  June 12 -28
Kenwood Town Center, Cincinnati, OH:  July 3-19
Riverchase Galleria, Hoover, AL:  August 20 – September 7
Northpoint Mall, Alpharetta, GA:  September 17 – October 4
Christiana Mall, Newark, DE:  October 15 – November 1

If you have a chance to get to any of these locations during the exhibition, I highly recommend doing so! These titanic models put a playful and innovative Lego twist on historical icons, and it's almost like touring the East Coast without even going far. Happy Building!