Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wedding Favours

Although this post is being written long in advance of its publication date, when it *does* go live, it will be going live just as my wedding wraps up--appropriately so, because today's post is about the wedding favours I designed for our wedding. I wrote a couple weeks ago about the fact that I've designed a few custom LEGO sets for my brothers as Christmas presents over the last few years, and I put this talent to good use for our wedding. As a result, an element of LEGO (reflecting just a wee bit of my character and quite a bit of my new wife's Do-It-Yourself craftiness/artsiness) has been introduced into our wedding, and we have distinctive, hopefully somewhat unique, wedding favours that, despite that, were not terribly expensive for us. They're also, in my opinion, rather cute. The individual guest doesn't get the pair of them, I'm afraid. Instead, the grooms and brides will be dispersed singly. The set was fairly easy to design. I suppose, more than anything else, they owe their design to some of the Christmas sets I've seen over the years, as well as maybe a touch of the LEGOLAND theme park "Miniland scale" creations (though this is a bit smaller). The chief interest in designing them was to keep them simple: simple instructions would be easier to make, and simple parts would be easier to accrue in lots of 75. The finished project makes it one of the "cutest" polybags ever (cuteness would be my wife's touch much more than mine). We'll see how the guests like them later today.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Aquazone Breakfast News: 094

With the wedding taking place this weekend and the honeymoon all of next week, this post and the next couple posts are being preloaded. Having never done this before, let's hope it works as planned... The guests in today's strip are in anticipation of that same wedding.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grandfather's Tale, Chapter XIII

It continues to be slow-going between chapters of Grandfather's Tale, but Chapter XIII is finished! Hopefully, with no more wedding or grad school over the summer I'll get to the next couple/few chapters somewhat more quickly, but I make no promises... In the meantime, here is the link to the Brickshelf folder (which isn't moderated as of posting.) ...and the rest of the chapter: 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blacktron-painted X-Wing

I've mentioned before that I like to "repaint" LEGO sets now and again. It's one of the simplest forms of MOC-making, and often it's a way to recapture the attraction of an old LEGO set in a new way. Normally, repainting is a rather simple task, but it can be taken to extreme lengths. A few years ago, as a Christmas present for my brother, I did just that: Some LEGO fans will recognise that this fake set is a repaint of one of the original Star Wars sets from 1999: 7140 X-wing Fighter. Although this original model has been superceded by shinier, curvier, more recent attempts, the original X-wing still has a certain "wow" factor. By the standards of the time it is well-designed, an excellent source of basic parts, and eminently--swooshably--playable. My younger brother did not own the set, though he is a Star Wars fan, and he is a major Blacktron fan (in particular a fan of Blacktron's second incarnation)--to the point of running a blog about Blacktron. In addition to having to find all the parts to make a Blacktron(ii)-coloured X-wing, I also had to make a couple minor adjustments for the canopy--and decide how I wanted to shift the minifigs from Rebel Alliance uniforms to Blacktron II. I ended up keeping the original minifig's faces but otherwise playing it straight with the Blacktron uniforms--though I went a bit further with the mechanic/ground crewman, who gets to wear a white version of his Star Wars counterpart. The astromech ("R2-unit") was similarly blanched: The REAL challenge to making this set, however, was not finding the parts (though that was my first real Bricklink-based parts-hunting venture), nor modifying the original LEGO set's designs, but putting together instructions. Fortunately, I'd tinkered around a lot as a teenager making MSPaint-based LEGO instructions, and still had the templates. Nonetheless, it was a time-consuming process--and made me wish I'd learned to use LDraw or a similar program. Below is a sample page of the instructions, to give an idea of the finished product: Though overly pixellated for some tastes, the end result is sharp enough--and was certainly something my brother could follow. Add in a fully-recovered box in the style of the first image, and you had one very happy younger brother that Christmas, as he received his first brand-new Blacktron (ii) set ever... and one rather exhausted older brother who decided not to tackle such a labour-intensive Christmas present again. He succeeded... mostly.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

9472 Attack on Weathertop

As mentioned a couple days ago, I acquired my first Lord of the Rings LEGO set last weekend, set 9472 Attack on Weathertop. I have to say that I'm impressed. Like Bruce, I never really wanted an official Lord of the Rings set line, not least because it would be based off the movies--and I am a diehard favourer of the books. That said, I've been liking what I've been seeing so far, and Attack on Weathertop really blew me away as a well-done set. What's more, in hindsight, I've come to the conclusion that one of the things Peter Jackson's movie did best was the visuals, and this is where the LEGO sets are mostly drawing from--so we'll see how it goes, set by set.
Now, to be perfectly faithful to the Books, it should be pointed out that the attack by the Black Riders does not actually take place in the ruins of Amon Sûl (the Sindarin name of Weathertop, and also the name of the Dúnedain-built tower on top of it), but in a dell or hollow near the base of the hill. That said, the scale of things to minifigs in sets has never been anything approaching accurate, and I like what the set designers have done with the set. In a way, you get it both ways: you have the ruins of the ancient tower as the predominant feature of the set, but the alcove that Pippin is standing in works fairly well as a "dell" for the purposes of a LEGO set, and I have to admit that it makes more sense to go Jackson and build the ruins rather than try to capture the more landscape-only scene of the books.
The way the set is designed from this side ("the back"), it's hard to tell how much of the set is hill or how much is tower--probably more tower than hill, I suppose. The rounded design of the tower's base is well-done, using LEGO's standard 1x4 hinge plates technique to bend the wall. LEGO also makes liberal use of the new brick-relief 2x1 bricks in this set, all of which are in dark tan. I'm not entirely convinced LEGO needed to develop these new bricks, but I have to admit they look sharp, and I can only imagine there are builders out there who intend to amass them by the hundreds.
The interior of the tower/cave is nothing much to look at. I'm not convinced the weapons-rack makes sense in a guard tower that was razed by fire a millennium ago, but perhaps its a nod in the direction of the fact that movie-Aragorn gives the Hobbits their "barrow-blades" here ("barrow-blades" because, in the Books, the swords the Hobbits carry were taken from the also-Dúnedain built barrows on the edge of the Old Forest, just prior to arriving in Bree). More impressive, to my mind, is the black stand-thing on the other side of the room. It has been suggested, and I agree, that this is a nod to fans of the books, who will remember that the chief palantír of the North-kingdom was kept at Amon Sûl until the destruction of that tower.
In addition to the parts of the set already shown, Attack on Weathertop includes a lone outcropping of rock and two Black Riders, who have the distinction of riding the first new-model horses in my collection. The horses work fairly well with the older models, in my opinion, and can be mistaken for them at enough of a distance. I'm glad that LEGO included two in the same set, as it helps the minifig-count match the set's high number of pieces for good value (relative to the size of the set--not the price: prices are always going up and licensed themes are always worse). I'm not really sure the separate outcropping of rock was needed at all, but I'll take the extra pieces.
Speaking of extra pieces, this set came with a plethora! Like a few other sets of 2012 (or so I'm told--I haven't got any), Attack on Weathertop comes with one of the new model Brick Separators--the large orange piece in the above picture. Besides all the usual duplicates (1x1 round plates, 1x1 tiles, etc.), the set also comes with an extra dark pearl spear (the new model with the flat butt), an extra Sting, and TWO extra Rings--or, at least, my copy did. I have no idea what the fate of those extra Rings will be, but I can assure you they're welcome.
And that brings us to the minifigs. I think LEGO did an excellent job, on the whole, with these minifigs--even though I continue to chafe at their skin-tone Licensed Theme policy. The Hobbit and Strider torsos are particularly good in my opinion and the faces match their on-screen counterparts fairly well. The Nazgûl are also very well done, but they don't greatly differ from the Black Riders people have been making since Darth Maul came out in 1999: black hood, black head, black robes. That said, although I plan to keep my copy of Attack on Weathertop together for a long time, the minifigs are going to change. As my preference is for yellow-figs, I've replaced the heads and hands on Strider and the Hobbits (and touched up the necks of their torsos with yellow Sharpie). I've also taken slight umbrage to the swords our heroes carry in this set. In particular, Frodo should not be carrying Sting, since even in the movies he receives it from Bilbo in Rivendell, later in the story. This is easily rectified by giving him the extra sword from inside the tower chamber. Aragorn should also, as a Books fan, not be carrying a sword. He does in the Movies, and I like the use of the new broadsword in pearl silver, so I'm not complaining strenuously, but if to be pedantic, Aragorn on Weathertop should only be carrying the Shards of Narsil. Since I have no shards of any blade, my Strider will have to make do with his torch alone.
As you can see, I've used the head from Anakin in the 2002 Episode II sets to replace Frodo's peach head, and the current yellow-fig smirking face from this guy for Pippin*. Pippin is a particularly good match, I think, Frodo a bit less. The chief problem with Frodo is that his eyebrow colour is a bit lighter than his hair, whereas Pippin's is roughly a perfect match. Frodo shares this problem with the face I picked for Aragorn, but it doesn't bother me too much. In both Frodo and Aragorn's case, I'm also somewhat pleased that they look a bit less like the movies and bit more like my imagination's book versions. Aragorn could be even better if his face came in scruffy and not-scruffy versions, so that I could use this for "King Elessar" and the scruffy version for "Strider," but I'll survive. All told, Attack on Weathertop has already become one of my favourite LEGO sets and I think that LEGO really outdid themselves in general. The few quibbles I have are more with the movies than with LEGO, and as far as Weathertop is concerned, they are minor indeed. *EDIT: So, after reading the review of this set on FBTB, I realise that the minifig I have dubbed Pippin is actually Merry (which comes, I suppose, of not keeping the box handy for doing this review). Well... maybe he's supposed to be, but I just can't see it. Bearing in mind, of course, that I'm a fan far more of the original books than the movies, and that I don't have a visual memory welding the movie versions irrevocably to my mental images of the Hobbits, this little fellow will continue being Pippin for me. It's all about the face--that smirk (which I have managed to replicate in yellow) just doesn't say "good planner/more subdued humour/older cousin" Merry so much as Pippin to me.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Aquazone Breakfast News: 091

My photography seems to be getting worse, rather than better, though there's a bunch of things coming together that cause that. 1. I've redone the AqBN studio and there's a LOT of yellow, 2. My camera's battery has a charge-life of about 8 photos these days, 3. I'm not taking pictures in direct sunlight (or, better yet, overcast sunlight), but in the shade, and 4. I haven't been taking duplicate shots for the same frame (mostly because of the ridiculously short battery life). Hopefully the comics won't all be this... glarey yellow... but we'll see.