I love immersive builds, where everywhere you look there is LEGO, except the sky (I don’t like brick-built skies, due to the brick pattern). It’s like I’m one of the minifigures, standing in the scene, seeing the sights. It is my preferred building style, at least when buildings and rooms are involved, and one that I (Benjamin Stenlund) used in my latest creation. Set in the Guilds of Historica’s fifth guild, Varlyrio, in the Venice-like capital of Illaryian, it depicts a slice of daily life, with gondoliers poling, shopkeepers selling, families visiting, soldiers guarding, sailors lounging, and rogues prowling.
I tried to vary up the action of the figs to make it lively without being cluttered, and to vary the patterns of the houses to make it homogeneous without being monotonous. All of the buildings have the same roof style, with tiles pressed down on just one end, but three colors are used (you can barely see the lone dark grey roof on the right) to mix it up. Varying the patterns and heights of the buildings helps to make it visually interesting, but basic patterns get repeated. It’s like a block of modular buildings, if LEGO made modular buildings that were just rickety facades with no interiors. I don’t build interiors, unless it’s going to be visible in the shot, since it won’t be seen. That’s just wasted effort for my purposes. Another secret is that the water ends just around the corner under the bridge, where it stops being visible. It’s all about the camera shot, for me. And yet, it looks so nice, I’d like to visit the place myself. If only I were about 1.5 inches tall…
Although castles are some of the coolest things you can design with LEGO bricks, there’s one reason they will never be cooler than mechs and vehicles; they are immovable. Spencer Winson adds just a handful of ball hinges to one of his towers and — voila! — who needs royal carriages anymore? And it’s not only the concept of the mech-tower itself that makes the build outstanding, but also the iconic yellow/red/blue color range. The design of the tower was undoubtedly inspired by the legendary 375 Castle set, but have you noticed that the tower in the background is built of Duplo bricks? I must admit I have never seen this double arch Duplo piece before. It is more than 40 years old but still looks stunning in new creations.
The recent trend in the LEGO-sphere community has all been about magical floating compression structures, better known as a tensegrity – a portmanteau of “tensional integrity”. The fad started with a very rudimentary build on a Reddit and soon spawned many more creative iterations. We pick a few of the more outstanding ones that we’ve seen that has impressed us. A couple of them come with build videos and instruction guides for you to build your very own.
One of the hottest LEGO fads right now is tensegrity sculptures. These builds use tricky physics to create models with sections suspended in mid-air with no obvious means of support. I’ve seen a lot of different approaches, but captainsmog has come up with one of the best. Invocation features a giant flying dragon, suspended in the air by taut lengths of LEGO chain. There’s no Photoshop trickery here. It’s just science. But I’m willing to admit there’s just a bit of magic, too.
Even if there wasn’t mind-bending suspension going on, this would be a great build to look at. The dragon’s belly is constructed of minifigure arms, creating an eerie organic feel to that armor. And the invocation platform is pretty swanky, too. I like the use of minifigure beards to create different versions of drippy candle wax, and the use of glow-in-the-dark tile for lines of mystic power is inspired. There are even tiny little touches, like the candle flames all blowing outward from the downdraft from the dragon’s wings. I love that attention to detail.
Not all hobbits lived in snug little tunnels under the rolling hills of the Shire. Some of them made their homes in the trees. These adventurous souls were probably Brandybucks or Tooks mind you, and the sensible folks around Hobbiton always suspected they were a little odd in the head. This fantastical LEGO treehouse home built by Mountain Hobbit is a cracker. The tree itself is wonderful, all gnarled and ancient with some serious root action going on, and the house set into the trunk is an interesting selection of angles. But it’s the little details which make this model pop — the vines wrapping around the tree’s branches, the window and the lantern, the hanging bunting, and the little basket of possessions. Lovely stuff.
I hear it all the time from would-be builders that they just don’t have enough pieces in their collections. “I can’t make anything cool,” they bemoan, as if having a billion LEGO elements at their disposal would make building easier. Now, in some respects, that is true; having more parts does expand the horizons of what you can build. But more importantly, building cool things comes from an eye for how to use the parts one has, rather than the parts one wishes one had, and a small collection is as good as a large one in that respect. Take this windmill by Inthert, for example. It’s not huge. It didn’t take a lot of parts. Granted, there are some specialty parts like the green palettes and the green feathers, but most of what is in the build could come from the collection of anyone who has a few sets. It’s in the art of arrangement, the way the parts are used, that the coolness comes. And that comes not from having a ton of bricks, but from using them a ton and getting familiar with them.
For example, who, having the fence piece, thinks to put it into the bottom of a jumper plate? Not I. And the tiny round tower, the artfully placed foliage of all sorts, the grille tile fence…the list of clever constructions goes on. And the little Heroica figures are just the cherry on top. And it did not take a billion bricks! So what are you waiting for? Go get your collection out and start building something, if you aren’t already. With this quarantine, I know you have time.
“Eventually it shall be reclaimed by the sands. But until then, it stands there still — empty and abandoned. A warning to us all.” I love when a LEGO model begs the observer to create a story, when narration springs into the mind as you look over the builder’s work. This excellent microscale castle by Eli Willsea somehow demands the creation of a backstory — its formidable walls and soaring towers seem to require an epic history to explain its emptiness and sense of decay. The model is well put-together, with a nice depth of texture despite a relatively limited selection of bricks and a monochrome colour palette. And its that colour selection which is key to the scene’s appeal, immediately placing the model in a desert environment and conjuring up an atmosphere of decay and mystery and romance.
I have just one question for Martijn Valkenburg; how do I sign up for Springvale Watch? I mean, this LEGO diorama has it all; beautiful scenery, peace, and quiet, and a few friends in shiny helmets to talk to. It’s like he tapped into all my good dreams right there. I’m loving the repetitive use of ingots adding texture along the wall and edges of the tower. Curved tiles make for excellent arches over the windows. The use of masonry bricks in the crumbling section at the base of the tower leads me to believe that not all was peaceful at Springvale. But on this clear, beautiful day there is nary a catapult or impending army in sight. For now, the biggest enemy at Springvale just might be allergies.
I love The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Like, really, really love it. I have more than a whole shelf in my library (yes, I have a library, filled with many leather-bound books) devoted just to the book and its ancillary volumes (The Hobbit, Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, etc.). Tolkien is my favorite author, by far, and I’ve read his major work at least twelve times. So when I see really well done LEGO builds based on the stories, like this one by Simon Hundsbichler, it gets the warm fuzzies going inside. Even if it is based on the movies, I still love it; after all, for whatever butcheries they did to the characters (e.g. Faramir), Peter Jackson et al. did a phenomenal job of representing the material cultures of Middle Earth. This particular build is inspired by the second volume of the work, The Two Towers, and features many towers, from the horn tower of Helm’s Deep to Orthanc to Minas Morgul to Cirith Ungol.
Microscale is notoriously tricky to pull off, but Simon is a master among masters at it. Some features that need to be pointed out include using the tiny hole in the bar holder with clip as the window at the top of Cirith Ungol. Genius. But it is all amazing. Helm’s Deep bears repeated looks, with the absurd number of unconventional pieces in the rockwork, from grey hawks and frogs to saddles. But then there’s my favorite stair technique with a grille brick leading up to Meduseld. And a stud shooter in Cirith Ungol. And rockets in the towers of both Minas Morgul and Helm’s Deep. And a spider as Shelob, a giant spider. Brilliant. And there’s a Treebeard, too! Add in the book base, and the water flowing through it, and you have one of my favorite LEGO creations ever.
If you missed Simon’s masterful representation of the first volume of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, check it out here. I can’t wait to see the third installment!
When I was a kid, one of my absolute favourite LEGO sets was Forestmen’s Crossing, and while those old sets were cool, building techniques have greatly evolved in the last 30 years. Patrick B exemplifies this with his updated version of the classic set. The most noticeable difference is the greater level of texture that’s possible now. All of the large pieces from the original set, like the baseplate or bridge, are instead brick built in this creation, giving both of them greater detail.
The walls of the tower are much more textured, using a mix of various bricks, plates, slopes, tiles, and even light gray briefcases! There are other amazing parts usage throughout, from the red Technic gear as a flower or the brown pneumatic t’s as fence. I love use of Hero Factory rock armour as a rock – simple but brilliant. The thing that really ties it all together though, is how he’s managed to incorporate some of classic pieces like the Forestmen shield or their original minifigure parts, so seamlessly with new elements.
“If you must know more, his name is Beorn. He is very strong, and he is a skin-changer.” So Gandalf the Grey describes their host to Bilbo and the band of Dwarves, when Beorn takes them in and offers them shelter. Mountain Hobbit and Cole Blood collaborated on this LEGO version of Beorn’s house — a wonderfully rough stone cottage topped with an impressive thatched roof. The surrounding landscaping is nicely done, with a collection of livestock which reflects the descriptions of Beorn’s home in The Hobbit. But it’s the building which dominates the scene, pulling the eye in to feast on the details — the stonework, the triangular windows, and thatroof. It’s good to see a scene featuring Beorn which concentrates on his domestic arrangements and the gentler side of his nature, rather than focusing on him in rampant bear form.
We see lots of LEGO buildings and battles, from sci-fi through to fantasy scenes. What we don’t see as often are brick-built “special effects” which capture the dynamism and danger of an explosion as well as in Joseph Zawada‘s siege scene. Chunks of masonry and minifigures go flying in different directions, and trans-red and yellow projectile bars effectively create a feeling of energy and heat as the blast tears the castle wall to pieces. The wall and castle gate sport a gnarly level of texture and some smart arches to break up the expanse of grey, and the wider landscaping provides an effective backdrop for the combat action. But it’s the explosion which catches the eye and makes this feel like a still from some epic movie. I feel sorry for the castle’s defenders — it looks like there’s another boom coming with that trebuchet unleashing the next bombardment.