Monthly Archives: May 2008

Case study #3: “But I don’t build like you say I should!”

If you’ve been following the series of posts where we’re analyzing LEGO models as communication, chances are you’ve not quite agreed with me – perhaps you don’t recognize your own building style in what I write. That’s to be expected. But today I’m going to show you that regardless if you follow the model I’ve been building up or not (which you most likely don’t), your MOCs can be analyzed with it, which is what the model is meant to do.

The very talented Ralph Savelsberg (who is no stranger to TBB) left the following comment on Tuesday’s case study:

Interesting. I’ve been following these posts for a few weeks now and have thought about a few things. I’m not sure how much of this is applicable to the way I go about building.

I don’t fiddle around with pieces not knowing what to make with them in advance. I may look at a particular new piece and recognise it as something that I can use for one of the many projects that I always have in mind.

I don’t know what message I try to convey with my MOCs. I don’t think I am normally addressing anybody in particular with any of them, except when I build something with a public display in mind or for a competition. I’m mainly enjoying myself. I’ve been building with LEGO since the time I first could put two bricks together and I don’t go about building any differently now that I happen to share pictures of my models with the rest of the world, although I of course do enjoy it when people like my models and incorporate people’s suggestions.

I’m not sure whether it was Peter Gabriel who said that he makes the music that he likes and if other people happen to like it too, that’s a bonus.

Based on this comment, what I know of you and your models and through your interview on Gizmodo, I’d like to try to place your building in the model I’ve been describing. You actually follow it quite clearly – and even pointed it out in your interview quite well. I hope you don’t mind, Ralph. I greatly admire you as a builder.

To refresh our memories: Ralph is most known as a master at building real-world aircraft with great detail. Here’s part of his collection:

Wicked, right?

Here’s what I’ve been saying we all do:

  1. We work in a context. That means we send out a message to an audience. This is the most important thing we can know about our work, as it dictates…
  2. Our design. I argued that shape and colour was two of our most important factors, and that they must correlate to the contextual information we have. All of this tells us…
  3. Which techniques we use.

And that’s the story so far – at least until next week when we’ll look at presentation. More on that on Monday.

  1. Ralph, your message is the easiest thing to decipher. You don’t build vague images from your imagination – you try to create a scale model of an aircraft. This gives you a very clear set of rules to obey. When you say that you don’t build for an audience, I’d disagree. It may feel odd to consider it, but you can be your own audience. That might make the building easier or harder depending on what standards you hold yourself to. A two-year old who builds for himself might be happy to slap two 2×6 plates on the side of a 2×8 brick and call that an airplane, but you obviously wouldn’t settle for that.
  2. Based on this information you create your design. In order to get the shapes proportioned correctly – which is an important requirement to convey your message, and I suspect, to satisfy yourself – you put it on paper. Deciding on shapes and colours is pretty easy since you’re trying to re-visualize something that already exists.
  3. This decides what techniques you use. I know you’ve gotten comments by some that think your models have too many studs showing. Indeed, the prevalent design tendencies in the LEGO community goes towards making LEGO models not look like made by LEGO, however ironic. But you don’t do that because a) you can capture your intended shape and proportions better with a studs-up construction, and b) you, as your primary audience, don’t mind the studs.

By using the model we can get a basic picture of why you built your crafts the way you did. And by using this analysis on one’s own model we can see flaws with a build-in-progress. We all do this. The thing is that most of us do it without knowing so. Our mind is beautiful in the sense that once you put words on an abstract concept it’s easier to think about that concept.


It’s rare that I find trains with photographs I really consider blogworthy (which is a shame because there’s so many out there that are excellent and I’d love to blog but can’t). Today I’ve found two.

Anthony Sava provides the second great locomotive of the day with his rendition of the BM&R #425. The blue design is very striking and the detailing is top-notch. Perhaps most worthy of note, is the boiler design featuring the ubiquitous cheese slopes with a single tile between them.

Anthony Sava's BM&R #425

PS. Excuse the repeated bad pun.

Reminder: Testimonials needed for LEGO Ambassador nominees

As the LEGO Ambassadors nomination process winds down between now and Saturday night, one of the last steps in the process is to collect at least three testimonials from fellow community members about each nominee.

In online LEGO communities all over the ‘net, meeting this requirement is proving harder than anticipated. We all made our voices heard with our suggestions and votes, but with less than 48 hours to go, it’s time to take that next step and say something nice about your potential LEGO Ambassadors. :-)

Flickr | Nominees:

  • Aaron “DARKspawn” Andrews
  • Andrew “Dunechaser” Becraft
  • Nannan “Nannan Z” Zhang

Builders Lounge (requires membership) | Nominees:

  • Aaron Andrews
  • Don Wilson
  • Nannan Zhang

The Brothers Brick | Nominees (links go to bio posts, where you can post your testimonials): | Nominees:

  • Aaron Andrews
  • Andrew Becraft
  • Anthony Sava | Nominee discussion taking place concurrently with testimonials. | Nominees:

  • Aaron Sneary
  • Ley Ward

Eurobricks | Nominees (voting still ongoing):

  • Steve “Athos” Bishop
  • “Captain Green Hair”
  • “Jinzoningen”
  • Mark “Hinckley” Larson
  • Sam89
  • “Sinner”

FBTB Forums | Nominees:

  • Adrian Florea
  • Mike Crowley
  • Nannan Zhang

LUGNET Nominees:

  • Doug Eaton
  • Teddy Welsh
  • Tim Gould


  • Keith Goldman
  • Nannan Zhang
  • Aaron Andrews

I’m off to follow my own advice and write a bunch of testimonials now. ;-)


German builder Bambi has many excellent creations in his Brickshelf gallery. His latest is a delightful seven stud wide steam locomotive from the Deutschen Bundesbahn: a BR64. The model has many painstaking details and I particularly like the comparison shot with a blueprint. He also includes images of the wheelset is useful as it is a hard part to get working in LEGO steam trains.

Bambi's BR64

PS. Please excuse my bad pun in the title.

If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst forth at once in the sky...

Jerac‘s latest microscale ship sports enough missile tubes to lay waste to a dozen worlds.

When the missile cruiser Muisek takes up geosynchronous orbit over your city, it’s time to throw your kids in the astrovan and thank the stars you sprung for the long-range hyperdrive upgrade.

The world has moved on. The mountain remains.

Justin Vaughn continues the story he began with “Autumn Solitude” in his latest post-apocalyptic diorama, “Tedious Descent”:

Here’s a bit of the story to whet your appetite:

16 October, 2017 – Day 154
Well, day one of my trek back to town is coming to an end. It snowed a tad this morning, but not enough to really make problems…

Read more on Flickr.

The desert fortress of the Calrissians

In Rocko‘s desert landscape there stands a fortress defended by a band of people known as … (wait for it) … Calrissians:

Click the pic for Flickr, or check out lots more in Rocko’s Brickshelf gallery, where you’ll find the usual jokes and Easter eggs.

Not content to take a crack at just one world religion, Rocko takes on at least one more with his trademark irreverence, reminding everyone, “When the Rapture comes, don’t forget your monkey.”

No matter your religious affiliation, you gotta admire the sun, the floating figs, and sense of perspective from the microscale buildings below.

Case study #2: Does technique always come last?

Back in the previous case study, I made the point that techniques always come late in the design process. When you build models to make an impact – as a message – techniques should always be dictated by your overall goal. If you build your model to be very LEGO-like, why should you care to get rid of the studs?

Mainman and Memory cleverly pointed out to me that within our medium, this order can seem paradoxal. Many of us create models “by accident” when we stumble upon a cool piece combination. And I admit: I do so myself.

When I fiddled around with the new speed racer windscreens (image courtesy of Legovaughan), I tried different combinations in order to create an interestingly shaped canopy. I came a long way – I managed to build a structure that kept them mirrored on top of each other, so as to create a convex window. However, the structure was too fragile, and didn’t hold. It broke.

And in the pieces on the table I saw a new shape.

I quickly readjusted the structure I had built, added some new pieces, fiddled a bit more, and wound up with a giant eye. Not knowing what to use it for, I kept it around for a few days. And I had an epiphany when I saw a movie with a very inspiring phrase – and then I instantly knew in what model the eye was meant to be.

Sometimes techniques do comes first. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go back and think about context later to make sure your techniques fit your goal. If there’s something wrong – adjust one of them to the other.