Monday, April 30, 2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Last from Blake - Amon Hen

One last Tolkien MOC from Blake (until he makes more). This was a collaborative build with Jack Bittner and was first shown last year at Brickfest (I think): Amon Hen.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More from Blake - Hobbiton

Okay, that rounds out Blake's series of CCC entries, but that's not all of the Tolkien stuff he's done. I've previously blogged his great fell beast, and here let's take a look at his Hobbiton.

The Clouds Burst

Blake made a warg for the 'mythical creature' category of the CCC with The Clouds Burst.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Gathering of the Clouds

For the 'siege weapon' category of the CCC, Blake made a trebuchet in the Gathering of the Clouds.

Fire and Water

The people of Laketown suffer Smaug's wrath in Blake's 'wooden fortress' entry for the CCC: Fire and Water.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!

Blake Baer's 'hidden treasure' entry for the CCC takes Bilbo through the back door into Smaug's lair to find some Inside Information.

Warm Welcome

Blake's 'medieval holiday' entry for the CCC was Warm Welcome, where Torin and company arrive at Laketown. His justification for the category was that he said this was at the time of the Yule feast, but Bilbo actually celebrated Yule at Beorn's house on his way home. They arrived at Laketown in late September. BTW, this site does a great job of pulling together all of the suggestions from the Hobbit (which, unlike the Lord of the Rings, does not have an official canon chronology) to give a calendar consistent with the few dates given and other clues.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Barrels out of Bond

Blake Baer made Barrels out of Bond as the third piece in his 'knight's quest' CCC entry.

Old Tomnoddy, all big body, Old Tomnoddy can't spy me!

Blake Baer made Flies and Spiders as part of his 'knight's quest' entry for the CCC. This may well have been my favorite build of the whole contest. That spider solution is amazing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Queer Lodgings

For the 'hermit's hovel' category of the CCC, Blake Baer made Beorn's home. Some great details here like the wolf's head over the door and the beehive.

What has roots as nobody sees, Is taller than trees Up, up it goes, And yet never grows?

Next in Blake Baer's Hobbit series is Riddles in the Dark. As a contest entry, I thought it missed the mark, as this was included with two other scenes in the 'knight's quest' category, and it's really hard to call Bilbo a knight. As a build I really like all of the unique combinations for the rocks, and the black water is striking.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Dawn take you all, and be stone to you!

I'll follow book order in our exploration of Blake Baer's award winning Hobbit series is Roast Mutton. This was entered in the 'bandit's raid' category of the Colossal Castle Contest and is particularly apt for the category, since the trolls are bandits, but also this is when Bilbo first sets out to prove himself a burglar. Some great builds here on the trolls and the vegetation. I particularly liked how he captured them in the process of turning to stone. The solution for the sacked dwarves is great. I see Bilbo hiding in the bushes, but not Gandalf, so that is a small oversight (or maybe he's behind those trees in the back and doesn't show up at this camera angle).

Baer and Back Again

I didn't post these when they went up since they were entries in a contest I was judging. But now that the results of that contest have been long announce, I've been remiss in not posting here that Blake Baer/Blego7 won the Classic-Castle Master Builder title for his series of MOCs based on the Hobbit. Our first image wasn't even an entry, just a teaser. I love the perspective here showing the road that goes ever on, down from the door where it began.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Helm's Deep set - the wall does blow up

I previously noted that I would have expected an action feature in set 9474, Battle of Helm's Deep. It seems obvious to include some sort of mechanism to make the wall explode, but it had not been mentioned in some of the Toy Fair coverage that I'd seen. On the Brick Show they included a video from Toy Fair that shows that there is indeed such a feature. At 11 minutes 46 seconds into the video this is described. BTW, is the person at Toy Fair Steven Combs of the old Bricks in my Pocket podcast? The voice sounds very familiar. Anyway, it's nice to get confirmation of this feature. BTW, I ran across the link to the Brick Show feature at Lord of the Brick, where today Will is featuring another video you should watch, TXsamwise's great Battle for Helm's Deep brickfilm.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Missed opportunity, Hobbit legs

In my last couple of posts I looked at what might have been in terms of official sets. One other missed opportunity I see lies in the figs. Yes, there are many characters missing, but we may yet see Saruman, Eowyn, Arwen, Elrond or others in future sets (I'm certain we'll at the very least see an Eowyn vs the Witch King set in the presumed upcoming Return of the King wave). That said, my biggest disappointment with this line is that we did not get articulated short legs. This license was the most obvious argument for LEGO to create a new leg element, given the prominence of hobbits and dwarves (especially when you consider that the Hobbit movies will have almost exclusively short-legged main characters aside from Gandalf). Official licenses have long been the impetus for LEGO to come up with new molds. For example, look at all of the molded heads in the Star Wars line. This is especially surprising given that LEGO has come up with one-time-use leg elements for other things, like the Genie in the Collectible Fig line, where articulated short legs would be generally useful for children across all themes, Gringotts Goblins or House Elves if they did additional Harry Potter sets, dwarves in non-license sets (see the Collectible Figs and the Fantasy Era Castle line), etc.

Short legs have been a long dilemma when making Tolkien themed MOCs. Back before 2002, we had to come up with our own options. I've seen people use something as simple as a 1x2 brick, as in this by exo-pilot, but that's pretty unsatisfactory.

When I started my own Tolkien project, I chose to use headlight bricks, because I liked how the little projection at the bottom suggested toes, but of course these have holes in the kneecaps.

I also briefly tried using 1x2 hinges, since these would allow for some articulation (see the hobbit in grey seated by the fire).

Using plates can give you some color variation, as here by jj481012.

Even with taller figs, getting good seated poses is tough, and even more so with shorter legs. Here Ru Corder made a great seated hobbit

Ever since 2002, though, the default has been to use the shorter legs that AFOLs call stubbies. Interesting to note, these were first introduced based on licenses, as the first figs to employ them were the Gringotts Goblins and Dobby from Harry Potter, and the young Boba Fett and Ewoks from Star Wars (they were then also included in a train set that year for a child, but my recollection is that that one came out later as a Christmas set).

These legs are fine as far as they go, but they don't bend. Also, at first they were only available in a few colors, and the color palette is still much more limited than the normal legs. Some have built articulated short legs, like this by MrTS ...

... and this by Shadow Viking.

By far the best solution has been by MooseBot. I can't find the photo of how he did this, but he took a pair of long legs and carefully cut them just below the rounded part at the bottom of the waist. Then the really clever part is that those 1x1 plates for feet are stuck into the holes that are normally on a fig's rear end. You could imagine doing this with different color plates for shoes, or even the "tooth plate" for pointed shoes.

Anyway, I really think LEGO missed an opportunity here. If they're going to make special molds for single usages, like the longer legs used for Woody and Jessie in the Toy Story sets (and never used again, though you could imagine them for giants or basketball players) (and that raises the special spring-loaded legs for those basketball sets, though at least they made a bunch of those), why not the much more useful short legs, that would be used for tons of characters in the Tolkien license, also for other licenses, and just in general for children? MooseBot's design shows that this could be done fairly easily and still look very much like LEGO's normal aesthetic.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Weathertop attack - MOC version

Shannon Ocean isn't thrilled with the official Weathertop set, so he decided to make his own version. He set himself a limit to use the same number of bricks as the official set and see what he could do. So what do you think? I particularly like the curving stair up the side and the fact that it opens up. Also giving the hobbit (Frodo I assume) bare feet here is a great attention to detail. I did think the Palantir stand in the official set was a particularly nice nod to literate people.

Monday, April 16, 2012

What might have been - the MOCs

In my previous post I gave my suggestions for an official line. John-Lennon did me one better and actually built a suggested line of sets.

I would have conceived of this as a larger, more complete set, but his Bag End would work very well in the style of a small set. This includes all of the essentials to suggest Bag End. You get the iconic round green door with doorknob in the center, a fence for outside, and some interior furnishings - a desk for Bilbo and Frodo to chronicle their adventures, a coat rack that would be particularly useful for the scene at the start of the Hobbit, and a fireplace to toss the Ring in. The modular design lets you configure this in various ways.

His Wizard Duel depicts a scene right out of the movie. I'll leave aside my anti-Peter-Jacksonism to say that this would again work quite well as a small set. You get conflict. You get two key characters (and where is Saruman in the official line of sets?). You get just enough construction to suggest the interior of Orthanc. I'm going to have to re-watch the movies - did Gandalf actually see the Palantir when he went to Orthanc? That seems very wrong, but is Peter Jackson's mistake, not John-Lennon's.

His Black Rider is another small set that works very well. You can reproduce that iconic scene where the hobbits are cowering under some tree roots while the Rider searches for them. I love the little mushrooms, btw.

His Weathertop Ambush set is similar to the official version - key figures, camp, ruins. This would be at a lower price point than the official set just because it has fewer bricks, and no rearing horse. I love, btw, that he included an 'action' element. When you stand a fig in that one archway, he is knocked aside when you flip the little catapult. I could totally see LEGO doing that.

I had suggested that LEGO break up Moria into three separate sets - one for the Doors of Durin, one for the Chamber of Mazarbul, and one for the Balrog confrontation. Here John-Lennon combines elements of each of those into one large set. He also includes the long collapsing staircase from the movie (another fist shaken in Peter Jackson's general direction). Again, I think this would be an awesome set. My only complaint is that I would have included the Watcher in the Water.

I particularly like his Balrog:

As I said before, I probably would not have done the Ambush at Amon Hen, but John-Lennon's set is great. Again, he works very well with LEGO's set designs, and includes an action element in that a figure standing on that rectangular structure will go flying when you flick a little lever, so they're either leaping aside or being struck down.

In summary, here John-Lennon does a great job in making a series of sets that fit well with what LEGO might actually make. He spreads his figs out amongst the sets, so a collector would have to buy them all. He even includes Saruman, sadly missing from the official sets released so far. I think his Balrog, though very cool, would be made larger by LEGO, and sadly would probably be largely based on big molded parts (see the cave troll, for instance). He hits a variety of price points, with smaller and larger sets. He includes conflict and action features in most sets (not much action in Bag End). In short, LEGO, hire this guy!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Official line: What might have been, and what may yet be

Okay, I've gone through all of the sets now (finally) from wave 1 of the Lord of the Rings sets. While I'm not completely thrilled by the existence of a license at all, I'll leave that for a separate editorial. Given the existence of a license, there are good and bad things about the line as we've seen it.

First off, this first wave of sets goes through the end of the Two Towers, with the battle of Helm's Deep and the pass of Cirith Ungol. That seems like a very odd choice to me. It's like they were following along with the 1978 Ralph Bakshi animated movie, rather than the 2001, 2002, 2003 Peter Jackson films. If I were to design a line for LEGO, I would have released it in three waves, one for each volume. So here are my suggestions for what they should have had for official sets (IMO, of course). While it would be easy to ask for sets of every possible location, will every possible character, I'm trying to keep in mind some of LEGO's requirements for a line - a range of price points, relatively simple construction, emphasis on 'conflict' (sigh on this last one).

One other note of concern with wave 1 is the total lack of female characters. Not that there are many in Tolkien, but Peter Jackson made a point of expanding the role of Arwen to work against just this problem. If wave 1 goes through the Two Towers, we should already have Arwen, Galadriel and Eowyn (surely we'll get an Eowyn in some upcoming Battle of the Pelannor Fields set).

Fellowship of the Ring - Following through the book there are several key locations for action - the Shire, the Old Forest/Barrow Downs (okay, this is obviously out), Bree, the wilderness between Bree and Rivendell, Rivendell, Moria, Lorien, and the River Anduin/Amon Hen.
ShireWe've already got one from the Shire in the Gandalf Arrives set. I do think Bag End would be a nice set, but it might make more sense to have a set for that in the first wave of Hobbit sets, so if I were designing sets I'd put that aside. The only other Shire thing I might expect would be something like "Nazgul Pursuit" - a cheap set with a hobbit or two, some trees (or maybe the Buckleberry Ferry), and a Nazgul with his horse. This would be a pretty popular set - I know I'd buy 9 of these.
Bree - Here I think they missed an opportunity. A good sized set for the Inn of the Prancing Pony would be hugely popular with castle fans - think something like the Medieval Marketplace set. You could limit the figs to keep price down, with a minimum of one of the Hobbits, Strider, maybe Butterbur, and a Nazgul (remember, conflict is key).
Wilderness - They pretty much got it with the Weathertop set. I suppose the flight to the ford might be there, especially to introduce an Arwen fig, but there's no real build potential.
Rivendell - As much as I'd love a big elvish settlement, there's just no action. Rivendell is all about exposition, so would not have the action needed for a set. Of course, if there were a set in Rivendell it would give the opportunity for Elrond and Arwen figs (others as well, but those are the most important missing characters that were there).
Moria - This is the other real missed opportunity I see in LEGO releasing one wave that covers FotR and the TT. There are main actions in Moria, and I think each of them would be a great set- one for the Doors of Durin, one for the Chamber of Mazarbul, and one for the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.
Lorien - Again, I'd love to get something here, including yellow foliage, and also the key Galadriel fig, but there's not much build potential. Yes, you could do a set along the lines of the old Dark Forest Fortress set, but I doubt it. The one thing I could really see as a set is Galadriel's swan boat, which set could also include a canoe with a couple of members of the company of the Ring.
River Anduin/Amon Hen Aside from maybe the set just mentioned, I don't really see any potential here. Yes, a full scale Argonath would be great, but they'd never do it. Also, I don't see much potential in Amon Hen. With the Weathertop set we already get something similar - some ruins, a couple of our heroes, and some enemies. And the Two Towers sets are already going to be Uruk/orc heavy.
My sets Okay, so for wave one I would suggest a run of six sets, with a variety of price points. I'd make Moria the focus, in much the same way that Helm's Deep is the focus of the existing line (3 sets if you count the Orc Forge set):
Gandalf Arrives - pretty much the existing set
Inn of the Prancing Pony - relatively large set with some advanced construction for the inn, Strider, some hobbit (maybe Sam), Butterbur and a Nazgul.
Doors of Durin - The doors in cliff, with some interior, a couple of members of the company, tentacled monster.
Chamber of Mazarbul - Essentially the existing set.
Bridge of Khazad Dum - Gandalf and the Balrog - sort of a mecha construction, maybe with some Bionicle techniques.
Some additional small set - either a Nazgul pursuit set (hobbit, Nazgul, horse, minor setting construction), or Galadriel's boat (Galadriel, 2 members of the company, swan boat, canoe)

The Two Towers - Again, an analysis starts with a walk through the major settings in the book. The action, of course, breaks down between east and west. In the east, Frodo and Sam go through the Emyn Muil, the Dead Marshes, past the Black Gate, down through Ithilien, via Hennuth Annun (Faramir's stronghold), past Minis Ithil, and into the pass of Cirith Ungol. Unfortunately there's not a lot of build potential here. It's mostly a bunch of rocks, or else things that are too massive to make in a realistic set. The Shelob set is a pretty obvious one, as it allows for the construction of a creature, which is always good. The other good possibility along these lines would be an oliphant. In the west the action takes us across a lot of grassy plains, into the forest of Fangorn, down to Meduseld, over to Helm's Deep, and up to Orthanc.
Plains of Rohan - No build potential here, maybe an army builder set for Eomer and his men
Fangorn - A real missed opportunity here so far to make a Treebeard set.
Edoras - It would be cool to have a set of Meduseld, but probably not realistic. If they did have this set it would give the opportunity to include Eowyn in a dress (we'll surely get her in armor later)
Helm's Deep - This is obviously the center point for the line, as they've already made two great sets.
Orthanc - The whole fortress is unrealistic as a set, but I guess the Orc Forge set is supposed to be there. I really think they should have included Saruman.
My sets - Again, I'd suggest six sets, two from the east and four from the west:
Oliphant Ambush - Brick-built creature for the oliphant, Sam, Faramir, 2 Haradrim
Shelob's Lair - Pretty much the existing set
Treebeard - Brick built creature for Treebeard, Merry and Pippin
Helm's Deep - Pretty much the two existing sets
Orthanc - The Orc Forge set, but replace one of the figs with Saruman

Return of the King - In the east we pretty much get a long slog through Mordor and then the Cracks of Doom. In the west all of the action is around Minas Tirith, and then the last stand at the Black Gate.
Mordor - Really the only good point for a set here is the Cracks of Doom. There's just not a lot of build potential for all else. If they wanted to do another brick-built creature, there could be a set for a giant eagle, but I doubt they'd do that.
Minas Tirith - I predict that there will basically be a series of interlocking sets showing different aspects, all centered around the Battle of the Pellanor Fields.
My sets - I'll suggest a run of five sets, but in actuality I predict that there will be an additional set to make an oliphant (and include Legolas), since they didn't do so already for their Two Towers sets.
Cracks of Doom - Frodo, Sam, Gollum, Ring, rocks and fire
Minas Tirith Gate - with Grond
Minas Tirith Siege - section of wall, a catapult
Minas Tirith Battle - section of wall, a ballista
-These three sets would fit together to make a larger overall scene. The various figures of Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Faramir, Pippin, Eomer and a couple of Gondor and Rohan soldiers would be evenly distributed, as would some orcs
Witch King Attack - The build here would be a brick-built monster of the Fell Beast. Figs would be Eowyn, Merry, Theoden and the Witch King.

So those are my suggestions. If the line continued past three runs there are a bunch of other locations, plus other characters to include. The Star Wars line has shown that fans will be excited about all kinds of minor figures, so if the Tolkien line were similarly popular we'd get all of those others. I could also imagine a series of microscale sets like Minas Tirth, Orthanc, Barad Dur, the Black Gate, etc.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Shelob attacks, the MOCs

Several LEGO builders have taken on the idea of Shelob:

My favorite might be this vig of Shelob's lair by the Fisherman.

Christopher Baldacci does something similar for his Shelob's Lair

There are some larger versions by Chris Stone

and JHolmes

Nate Wells did this Joe Vig scene (quick explanation - Joe Vig was a character that many AFOLs included in scenes where he was always finding himself in deadly, and usually humorous, peril).

BrickBrothers98 doesn't have any one photo that captures his Shelob's cave 2-level vig. I think his solution for the web-tangled Frodo is pretty slick.

The Masked Builder tags this spider as Shelob:

Hewkii also shares his Shelob

Not the same thing, but Firn has some fun at Cirth Ungol. "Sam plays a trick on Frodo who has a heavy arachnophobia after he met Shelob."