Monday, October 21, 2013

Next round of Hobbit sets

Hey all, the big Hobbit LEGO news this morning is that good pics of the upcoming sets have hit the intertubes. As you've seen in the trailer, there's going to be a lot of action sequences in Desolation of Smaug, and that's certainly reflected in these sets. The name of the game here seems to be army building. These photos are thanks to Huw at Brickset, and seem to originally come from an eBay auction. No word on how these sets got out into the wilds of eBay.

79012 Mirkwood Elf Army

This appears to be from that scene in the trailer where we see orcs, including Azog, leaping over the walls of an elf fortress. Three generic elves, two orcs and a warg in dark brown - time to start gathering up characters for that massive Battle of Five Armies scene you've been wanting to build. BTW, I see the newish gothic half-arch in brown. I'm a little bummed that Thranduil's crown seems to make that hairpiece not generically useful, and also that two of the elves have hoods - it would be good to get more generic elf-hair. But OTOH dark green hoods are nice.

79014 Dol Guldur Battle

There's been rampant speculation on Dol Guldur. In the books we know that Gandalf and the White Council "put forth their power" and drove out the Necromancer (i.e. Sauron). So, the question comes, will this be translated in the movies as a big battle on the scale of Helms Deep, with elf armies coming out of Lorien and joined by all the wizards, or will it be more of a magical duel where just the Wise show up and fight, or will it be something at a distance (like the contention between Galadriel and Sauron she alludes to when talking with Frodo)? When I heard the name of this set, and also a glimpse of massive orc armies in the trailer, I thought that was clear proof that we would see a big Helms Deep style battle. But this suggests something different. We also see in the trailer Gandalf and Radagast sneaking around the ruins of, presumably, Dol Guldur, and running into trouble. This seems to suggest that. Two interesting foes in this set, and I'm curious what this implies for the movie. First we get Azog (so I wonder what just happened to the value of those BrickCon Azogs?), which means he's going to be one busy orc, if he's overrunning an elven fortress in the north of Mirkwood one moment, and down fighting wizards in the south of Mirkwood the next. Second is that dark figure. Is that Sauron? Some of the rumors about this set were that it would include the Necromancer. I would not have been surprised to see Gandalf clash with a Nazgul, since we know there's going to be an exploration of the opened "tombs of the Nazgul", but I did not expect that.

79011 Dol Guldur Ambush

This set looks great as an army builder, since it should be less expensive and includes two of the "hair orcs", which I like quite a lot. I can't say I'm terrifically thrilled with Beorn's mohawk/mullet hairdo, but oh well. Interesting that this fits together with 79014, which suggests that Beorn might come to the rescue of Gandalf and Radagast? Or somehow otherwise Beorn will be involved in the action sequence around Dol Guldur.

Just to complete the set, we've already looked at 79013 Lake-town Chase, but I'm not sure I've posted the box-art here. Also, I suppose it's time to give up hope of a fifth set in this run. I'd based this hope on a mention of "five sets" in the official video presenting the Lake-town chase set this summer, and my assumption that a hypothetical fifth set would be centered around Smaug (presumably in the treasure-chamber).

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book review: Beautiful LEGO

Beautiful LEGO by Mike Doyle, 2013, No Starch Press

Please note that I'm posting this same review across my blogs, but I'm appending some blog-specific information at the end of each review.

A little while ago, Huw on Brickset noted the explosion of LEGO books in recent years. Some of those books are little more than catalogues of LEGO products (the 'here are all of the figures in the Harry Potter sets' type books), the really great thing about this trend is the great number of those books that are by, for, and about the AFOL community. The most recent addition to the growing bibliography is Mike Doyle's Beautiful LEGO, published by No Starch Press.

Beautiful LEGO is exactly what the title implies, a celebration of LEGO MOCs that are particularly gorgeous. The emphasis here is on the pictures - of the 266 pages in the book, only 17 of them have text. These text pages include a one page intro by Doyle about inspiring artistic MOCs and the creativity of the AFOL community, and a series of one to three page interviews with some of the builders. By my count 81 different builders contributed over 360 different MOCs. The subject matter is completely varied, from microscale buildings to full scale sculptures of everyday objects. The arrangement of MOCs is varied - in places Doyle gives several different builders' takes on the same subject matter, and in other places he places the spotlight on individuals, grouping a series of MOCs by the same person. The creations themselves run from humorous MOCs like some of Angus MacLane's Cube Dudes to some that are bright and fun like Thomas Poulsom's birds, to others that are dark and foreboding, like Doyle's own abandoned homes. As you can see from just those three examples, the builders include a lot of names that would be familiar to anyone who is active in the AFOL community - indeed most of the MOCs are ones I've seen featured on the various LEGO blogs. But just because I've seen them before, and by virtue of being someone reading my blogs you probably have as well, doesn't mean this isn't a wonderful book to own. It's a great collection of some of the best of the best, and perfect to peruse for inspiration, or just leave on your coffee table to amaze your non-LEGO friends. Indeed, I think this would be a great gift for a non-AFOL who just likes cool things (and it may even convert them into an AFOL).

Beautiful LEGO has one really nice thing that I think may be a unique innovation in this book. There is an index of contributors at the back, and for almost all of them Doyle provides a URL of where to find their work online (Flickr stream, personal site, a couple of MOCpages), and he includes the nickname they use on LEGO forums. This is great in a hobby where sometimes I only know people by their forum handles (indeed, since I've never been to a major AFOL convention, I still half believe that people look like their sig figures). I think this resource is a great tribute to the true heroes of the book, the community of awesome builders.

So are there any problems with this book? Sure. There's the unavoidable problem of selection. In the potentially infinite creativity of a worldwide community you'll always be able to ask "why not include this, or that?", a problem that Doyle recognizes in the preface. I'm a castle guy, and I would have loved to have seen more castles. I've been judging castle contests for a decade and could point to hundreds of castle MOCs that could easily sit alongside the other creations here. One critique that goes to No Starch rather than Doyle is that this really should be a hard cover book, in keeping with other coffee table books focused on beautiful pictures. A very minor critique is that two of the photos on the back cover are cut off at the top of the page. I think they were going for the effect of it looking like an endless collage of photos that keeps going, but if this were so they should have photos leading off all four sides of the page. My main critique, though, is with the presentation of the MOCs. Don't get me wrong, they are all high quality photos. Almost all of the photos are clear shots of the whole MOC in good lighting taken from the front, or with the MOC turned slightly to one side, with the camera looking slightly down. I guess in a book that was all about the creativity of the MOCs, I would have appreciated some more creativity of the photography - maybe some with different lighting effects, in silhouette, or with different filters on the camera, or some closeup details, or looking up at the moc from the base, that sort of thing.

On my blog ArtisticBricks I have several times asked the question "Is LEGO art?" or at least "Can LEGO be art?" Doyle answers that question with a resounding yes. One interesting thing I note is that while the minifig is ubiquitous in the world of AFOLs, there are almost no figs in this book. I wonder what that means? Is this just a reflection of Doyle's choices, or an indication that the fig is the distinction between playing and creating? That's something to think about, and I'd love to hear people's thoughts. Regardless, though, in this book Doyle has assembled a great portfolio of evidence that show that this thing we love is no mere toy, but a true medium for expression.

Blog-specific content: The only Tolkien-themed MOC I see is Iain Heath's Finders keepers.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug trailer

Hey all, I'm sorry I haven't been blogging lately. The trailer for part two of the Hobbit movie came out today. Enjoy, then go build scenes out of LEGO.