Monthly Archives: March 2010

Community, Innovation, MOCathalon.

Lego building contests hosted by fans over the years have pushed the building skills and creativity of the individual to the limit, but never has any major contest emphasized cooperation of teams. Recently, MOCpages hosted a team-oriented contest called the MOCathalon that challenged teams of 5 builders to make creations from 30 categories. 18 teams submitted over 450 entries, making this the largest online contest run by Lego fans. The article below by Keith Goldman, one of the four judges, nicely recaps this epic event.

Most of you faithful Bros Brick readers have no doubt either seen or participated in an online building contest of one form or another. Typically these competitions of skill and imagination are theme-specific and require the contestant to build a single model to the best of his or her ability. It has been my pleasure (mostly) to judge a contest that just wrapped up called The MOCathalon, that broke most of the boilerplate contest conventions that I’ve seen and perpetuated over the years. So walk with me won’t you, past the neon lights of Flickr, TBB and Eurobricks, down back alleys and across the railroad tracks to a part of town called MOCpages. Yes, yes, I know many of you think of it as a reservation for violent and unskilled delinquents, but in the best ‘post apoc’ tradition there is an intrepid community of survivors who merit some attention.

The MOCathalon was created by mannkinder Chris Phipson, MOCpages moderator and the guy who brought you such community based events as The MOCie Awards and the MOColympics. The epic struggle featured 4 judges and 90 players from around the globe who were organized into 18 teams that were required to include at least one TFOL and one YFOL. The teams were given a hastily written list of 30 categories ranging from ‘Amalgam’ (mixing of any two LEGO themes) to ‘Xerox’ (scale down a famous model), and given 30 days to build their way through this list. 456 models were ultimately presented for judgment each scoring up to 5 points from each judge. The MOCathalon featured the largest contest turnout I’ve ever seen and required one of the shortest windows to compete. Chris Phipson is proud of his baby, and wants the world to know that it was about a great deal more than prizes:

“The MOCathalon was designed as a way to not only get the community involved as a whole, but also to get the kids and teens working together with the adults. For the most part, Lego contests are one person building one creation, one time. This game attempted to break out of that singular concept and made people come together and work as a team towards the common goal. I’ve always been about building community and that’s what I tried to promote here. By getting the adults to work with the kids, it not only gave the AFOLS a new respect for their teen counterparts, but also helped the kids to feel that the “high and mighty” AFOLS weren’t as far out of reach as they thought.”

The most obvious evidence of the contest’s success is the models themselves. With no specific mention of the contest, 8 entries were blogged over the thirty day period by the Brothers Brick. While these models represent a small percentage of the total entries, they are great examples of the ingenuity and technique employed by the participants. 32 entries in the contest received perfect scores of 20, which is truly an accomplishment considering the unique scoring philosophy of the four judges (Dave Kaleta, Yuri Fassio, Lee Jones and myself) . The winning team of this spirited throw-down called themselves Quinqueviri (Quinqueviri is Latin and can be defined as a council of five men: quinque ‘five’ and ‘viri’ men) and consisted of Kevin Walter, Sven Junga, Ian McDonald, Justin ‘000 000’, and Stefan ‘2×4’. Team Quinqueviri survived an early disqualification resulting in a week long suspension of one of their players, and rallied as a team to finish the contest with 693 points scored from 44 MOCs. A full 25 points higher than their nearest competitor, these five builders proved they can build quickly, in a wide variety of themes, with a consistently high level of quality. Unlike some other teams, there was no dead-weight on Team Quinqueviri; each member contributed important models to the victory. This allied group of Americans and Europeans were far too humble to select their favorite contest entries, so I did it for them. Enjoy the smooth taste of victory:

Stefan: Lego Wear
Justin (000 000): Golf Cart
Kevin Walter: Atlantis
Sven Junga: Olympus C730 Ultra Zoom
Ian McDonald: P-SquidBot

When asked about the MOCathalon experience, Sven Junga remarked: “Another aspect is the conversation. You get to know new people and work with them. People you wouldn’t have met otherwise.” This sentiment was echoed not only by his own team but by most of the competitors.
Beyond the winning team Although it was very difficult to choose a favorite from the landslide of entries, if you put a gun to my head I’d probably have to choose The Mouse and the Moon by Barney Main. This single creation best represents the spirit of the MOCathalon: it is clever, imaginative, and has great technique. The last scene reminds me of Maurice Sendak. Barney should be well known to most faithful Bro’s Brick readers and competed with the hard-charging Team Eurobricks, who might have taken the top spot if given another week.

Beyond the great models, the contest seems to have actually attained some of the lofty goals set by Chris Phipson. When writing this article I posted an open request for comments and received over 50 overwhelmingly positive responses. Contestant “Leda Kat” had this to say about MOCathalon:

“This has been a month of my life I would not change for anything. I learned so much! I’ve only been building for a few months and I am overwhelmed by how much confidence I gained during this contest, that now I feel I can do just about anything! To be forced to step outside my comfort zone and build things I would never have thought of building and succeeding where I was sure I would fail has just opened my eyes to a whole new world where I finally feel at ease and with a family who finally speak my language!”

These sentiments were echoed by many of her fellow contestants, who also raved about the team aspect of the competition, and the chance for old and young builders to interact and learn from each other. Another high-scoring participant was Philip Stark, and he sums up the contest in this way:

“This contest was extremely fun for a variety of reasons. My favorite part was simply being part of a team of people I really enjoy working with. They’re a great group of people, and it was so much fun sharing our creations with one another, and helping each other out from time to time. It was also helpful to me, because the contest challenged me to build some things I would normally never build, like a comic for the 5 Man Team category, or a miniscale building for LEGO Architecture.”

As a judge, I can also say that I benefited from the MOCathalon by being introduced to dozens of new builders, hundreds of new creations, and being forced to examine some of my own attitudes and prejudices about building. Like the players, I was a part of a great team of judges, and enjoyed the camaraderie. All contests have problems and MOCathalon had its share: quarreling judges, poorly written categories, inconsistent judging, dropout players, and conflict of interest when Phipson decided to compete in his own games. All of these challenges were overcome with a combination of communication, effort and above all teamwork. So if you want to experience a truly innovative building contest, and think you’ve got the chops, keep your eye on MOCpages, the other white-meat.

Klingon Bird of Prey, made from 274,350 virtual bricks

We’ve hardly blogged digitally constructed and rendered creations, but Kevin Walter‘s Klingon Bird of Prey needs no explanation to be featured. This 13’5″ X 11′ X 5’1″ mega sculpture is the culmination of two years of work. You should check out the large image on Flickr, on which it is still difficult to identify a recognizable brick. I can only imagine what this thing would look like in real life.

Pete Reid: Pop his eye like a grape – Boilerplate & Beyond Vol. 5 [Interview]

In our fifth installment of interviews with LEGO luminaries, Keith Goldman crosses the Atlantic. Take it away, Keith!

LEGO space hangar bayThis week’s builder is one turtle-neck away from being the Carl Sagan of the Classic Space Crowd, Peter “Legoloverman” Reid.

Pete is known for his fine detail work, impeccable presentation and disarming smile. When I was recruiting heavy-hitters for my Zero Hour on Highway 44 project, Pete Reid was at the top of the list.

I sat down with Pete in his favourite booth at Old Pink Dog Bar on the lower south side of Han Dold City. We drank Nutrimatic beer and talked about Supermarine Spitfires, Benny Hill and the war of 1812. We also talked about LEGO.

The Build

Keith Goldman: What percentage of your builds never makes it to Flickr? Give us an example of a time you’ve failed with an idea or model.

Pete Reid: I’d guess around half the things I start don’t make it online. I feel duty bound to maintain a certain level of quality. A poorly-finished, half-assed model would reflect badly on my existing stuff. I can’t produce magic every time – sometimes it’s safer to destroy things than risk my reputation. I can’t build in that quick, instant gratification way anymore. These days, every move needs to be carefully considered (and preferably agonised over) before I’ll let it be part of the finished product. I fail all the time – there are just as many misses as hits.

I’d love to be able to build a big, beautiful Neo-Classic Space SHIP, with an insane level of interior detail and an exterior form to make a man weep. But I’ve had bad experiences building large models, and I’m daunted by the amount of time, money and effort I’d have to invest. I just don’t know if I could see it through.

KG: Sometimes I end up building things top-down, which isn’t terribly practical when building a structure. Do you have an order you build in, or a direction? Does it vary according to the type of model you are attempting?

PR: Totally. When I’m building ships I generally start with the cockpit, and let the model evolve and flow out naturally from there. With robots I usually start in the middle of the chest and work outwards (just like real robot builders do). Can I just ask – why would you start building a model from the top down, Keith?

KG: I’ve frequently read criticism of other old-school builders that goes something like: “Yeah, he’s ok, but he basically builds the same thing over and over.” I don’t read that or hear that about you. What do you think of that critique in general, and why have you beaten the rap over the years.

PR: I can’t believe I’m not accused of repeating myself more often. I remember when I first read the word ‘boilerplate’ on a LEGO forum (I think it was you who wrote it, actually). I felt a terrible guilt – you were talking about me, clearly. At every phase during my life as a builder I’ve developed things in tiny, mind-numbingly dull increments.

LEGO Neo-Classic Space ships

Could it be that nobody’s noticed I’m only capable of building four things, slightly differently, over and over? There’s infinite diversity to play with, of course, but I still feel like a charlatan sometimes.

More of Keith’s interview with Pete after the jump: Continue reading