Military builder Andreas proudly presents: “At the Edge of the Future”, a diorama that showcases the nice lines of his M3A1 “Atlanta” Main Battle Tank. Andreas has some crazy rhetoric about America annexing Canada, but I will leave the fine print for your careful inspection. If you have the time, take a look at his other atmospheric scenes like Operation Big Apple or Neon Nights.
World of Tanks fans will recognize these as the first tank in the French Tech Tree. Adam’s design is very true to the original and is a great build. But of course we expect greatness from Adam, so this is no surprise.
Before anyone gets all excited about the olive green parts, both tanks sport custom paint jobs. The olive green version is completely painted and the tan tank has a custom-painted turret. I’m really liking these awesome little tanks!
I’m always a bit of a sucker for a well-built tank, though I admit to not keeping up specifically with who’s currently got the most accurate LEGO tank and whatnot. I do know a nice-looking tank when I see one, though, and flickr user DutchLego has a hardy-looking M4A3. Before everyone screams it, yes, it does have some aftermarket parts and some modified bits, but the effect works well here. (If only LEGO actually made narrow treads like that!)
Immediately after the start of the Normandy invasion on D-Day, Allied forces began a battle for the strategic port city of Cherbourg that lasted more than three weeks. My diorama highlights the aftermath of the battle, when townspeople begin emerging from the rubble, while Free French partisans hoist the Tricolour above their safe house.
The diorama features an updated version of my M4 Sherman tank:
Like many LEGO builders, I spent the first decades of my life building in isolation, lucky to get suggestions or critique from a sibling or rare friend who also played with LEGO. But in the last 10 years — particularly the last 5 — the LEGO fan community has grown to include a critical mass of people who build in just about every possible genre.
People with shared interests who spend time together online will inevitably run out of solely positive things to say, and as a result, a culture of constructive criticism has emerged among LEGO fans. Balanced against this impetus to critique everything are the planning and research that individual builders put into what they create. In contrast to the solo building those of us in our 30s did 20 years ago, builders today have a wealth of sources right at our fingertips.
What effects do research, critique, and discussion among community members ultimately have on the quality of the LEGO creations we build and share? Since I’ve been on a bit of a building spree lately (amazing what you can do when your LEGO collection is sorted), I thought I’d step back and share my experience.
Read on, and share your own thoughts in the comments…
Before I set out to create a Dodge WC54 ambulance from World War II, I spent a couple hours finding the best pictures and determining where and when they were actually used during the war. Given that many World War II photos were taken by service personnel and are therefore in the public domain, Wikimedia Commons is a great place to find historical photos.
Historical re-enactors and scale modelers also run dozens of sites that pull together vast amounts of careful research. For both my ambulance and later battalion aid station diorama, I turned frequently to the WW2 US Medical Research Centre.
Targeting 1/35 scale, I translating the real vehicle’s length, height, and width into studs and bricks. Remembering what I’d learned from my wildland fire engine, I built from the top down. I struggled with the front, since I had to combine half-stud offset for the three/five-wide hood with SNOT for the grill and bumper, plus tiles (with no studs to sturdy connections on top) for the fenders.
I figured it out, though, and pleased with my results posted pictures to Flickr:
Checking back a while later, I saw a stream of notes from our very own Tim, whose windscreen I’d reverse-engineered for the original ambulance. I gritted my teeth and clicked through. (Honestly, I hate taking criticism, especially when it’s wrong. I’d vented a week earlier that too many of the suggestions to “improve” my M4 Sherman tank took it in more interesting but less historically accurate directions. That’s just plain annoying.)
Tim had seen the mini-rant I’d posted in a Flickr group we both frequent, and his critique was spot on. He made specific suggestions based on the source material I’d used myself, providing solutions where I hadn’t thought the model could be improved. The result is the version I included in my diorama, posted separately below:
The story arc (if you will) started with research, moved through community discussion and critique of the creation itself, and ended with a substantially improved LEGO model. This same story plays out every day in the LEGO fan community today — something that would have been nearly impossible 20 years ago and highly unlikely 10 years ago.
Side note: Looking to future World War II vehicles I might build, I’ll be relying on a copy of World War II AFV Plans: American Armored Fighting Vehicles by George Bradford. I was pleased to discover that I ended up almost 100% to scale (1/35) for my M3 Half-track, even without the book.
Nearly all of the book’s schematics are printed at 1/35 scale, which avoids eyestrain from the WIP-held-against-computer-screen method I’d been using before the book arrived in the mail.
So, what’s your experience with the balance between research or sources of inspiration and constructive criticism?
I’ve shared in the past my ambivalence toward violent LEGO, but there’s something unique about World War II that has fascinated me ever since I was little. My grandfather and great uncle served in the US Army during the war, and I grew up in one of the countries that both inflicted a great deal of suffering and suffered deeply themselves before losing the war to the Allies.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve really started enjoying the unique challenges presented by building a LEGO model based on something “real.” LEGO has interesting scale challenges, and I think too many LEGO vehicles are too tall or too wide.
My M3A1 Half-track has a three/five/seven-wide hood, with an eight-wide cab and crew compartment. It’s my favorite so far (even though the tracks should have four road wheels, not three).
I’m less happy with my M4A3 (76)W Sherman tank, which has to be far too tall to capture the right details in the suspension, and I missed the shape of the rear section behind the turret. Because it was my first tank, I spent a lot of time looking at tanks built by other builders — especially BrickMania’s M4A2, Phima’s M4A3E8, and Milan CMadge’s M4A3E8.
Because I come from a family of pacifist non-combatants and conscientious objectors, my convoy of military hardware wouldn’t be complete without a US Army Medical Corps Dodge WC54 ambulance. Like the half-track, the ambulance’s hood is three/five/seven-wide, with a six-wide cab. The recessed spare tire seems impossible at this scale, unfortunately, and getting the shape right means it does not fit a fig.
Now to build some sort of massive World War II diorama to put these in…
Milan CMadge has been building LEGO versions of the Normandy Invasion for nearly a year now, culminating in his latest diorama featuring a German bunker built into the cliff (complete with interior), a pair of LCVP “Higgins Boat” landing craft (one more fortunate than the other), and even an amphibious Sherman tank.
See detail shots on Flickr.
Dan Siskind of BrickMania has just announced that his next custom kit is available for pre-order — the M4A3(76)W VVSS Sherman Tank.
I’d never bought any custom LEGO kits from somebody else, but I bought two of Dan’s kits a few months ago.
I couldn’t have been more pleased. They’re well-designed, interesting to build (well, except maybe the tank treads, heh heh), and a lot of fun to see how another LEGO builder solves interior structure problems you’d never see in a photo.
Though the printed instructions for the two kits I ordered were $10 more expensive, I found them harder to read than the electronic version on a CD.
If you’re reading this, you probably have a computer, so I recommend taking the cheaper, more legible route.
You can pre-order your own Sherman from BrickMania.com.