Firstly, as I've mentioned a number of times during this seemingly interminable journey, the LDD files I've been following were in very much 'first draft' status when I received them, and predictably enough a number of issues have been identified. Cavegod (Pete), the AT-AT's designer, has dutifully revised the LDD files along the way, but there was consequently always going to be a need for me to make a few tweaks to the various completed sections prior to final assembly of the model. Much of the last week or so has therefore been spent making these modifications, some of which necessitated a wait for a couple of Bricklink orders to arrive.
The biggest issue to remedy involved the internal skeleton of the body (above) which thanks to a mistake in the LDD file ended up one stud too long and therefore needed chopping down to size. This sounds potentially quite involved, but in practice it wasn't too big a deal, particularly as Pete has now revised the offending LDD file so I could closely study the necessary modifications and implement them. A further issue concerned the dark bley platforms which project out from the sides of the body, one on each side (you can see one of them in the picture above); these structures were unfinished and slightly out of position on the original LDD file. Once again the LDD file has now been corrected, and thankfully the necessary modifications were straightforward, although they did require a few additional parts.
Lastly, I decided to make a couple of tweaks to increase the stability of the legs as I was nervous about their ability to support the weight of the AT-AT's body. The joint between the foot and the lower part of the leg (above) isn't very strong, and as a consequence, when the leg pivots at the ankle and the weight of the body is applied there's a risk of the leg giving way. This is guaranteed to bring 6000+ pieces crashing down so is to be avoided if at all possible.... Following some discussion, Pete suggested a simple modification to help support the leg when it's in a flexed position, and in addition to this I made a couple of further tweaks to increase the strength of the ankle joint and offer additional support and stability. Only when these had been completed did I feel sufficiently confident to proceed with final assembly of the AT-AT.
So here we go, then.... Step 1 : Attach neck to body. A couple of Technic pins protruding forward from the front of the body act as a guide to ensure that the neck is in position, after which the neck can be firmly bolted on by threading a bley Technic axle down through a series of interlocking, overlapping Technic liftarms sticking out from the neck and body. You can see the results below - click the pictures to enlarge them.
Step 2 : Attach the legs. Before I even attempted this came the realisation that with the legs attached, the AT-AT would be too big for my rudimentary photographic layout.... So where to build and photograph it ? Well, I didn't want to assemble it on my floor on the basis that the carpet wouldn't provide a firm base for the AT-AT to stand on. That, and I really didn't fancy its chances of surviving for long on the floor in the middle of my study. A solution was found in the form of the tables which support my work-in-progress LEGO City layout; thanks to my glacial rate of progress (yes, yes - I know I promised to provide an update on that project about a year ago, but I've been busy....) there's still a huge empty space in the middle of it. A space big enough for a colossal AT-AT, in fact. The downside is that there's no nice plain backdrop there to photograph the AT-AT against, so apologies for that - you'll just have to live with the distracting background until I can find a way of properly photographing it....
OK, adequate space located, it was time to figure out how on earth to go about precariously perching the body on top of the legs. Having tried to lift the body with one hand a few months back with catastrophic results (my hand-hold came away from the body, which proceeded to plummet to the floor and distintegrate on hitting the floor....) I decided to call for help. Pete tells me he's built a handle for the body of his AT-AT to allow him to attach the legs single-handedly, but I've yet to do this, and so it was that my reluctant wife was called into action and asked to hold the body of the AT-AT at just the right height for me to attach the legs. Attaching the legs involved threading a single Technic axle through the top of each leg and into the lower part of the body; the outer end of each axle also holds in place the large printed dishes that you can see at the top of each leg. Once each leg was attached, there came a point when I had to tell my wife to carefully let go of the body to see whether the legs would support the weight without collapsing. I don't mind admitting that this was incredibly nerve-wracking - if I hadn't seen Pete's AT-AT in the flesh I would have doubted that the legs could hold the weight. We both held our breath, but thankfully the legs held firm, and with a huge sigh of relief I stepped back and recorded the moment for posterity below (click to enlarge).
Step 3 : Attach the sides of the body. Here the concern was less about actually attaching the sides to the body and more about the fear that all the pushing and pulling involved in getting the sides into the right position and bolting them to the Technic frame would destabilise the legs, causing them to give way and bring everything crashing down. The other potential problem I faced was the fragility of the sides themselves - as previously described they're not very robust and have a tendency to break apart at the slightest excuse. In the event, attaching the sides turned out to be reasonably straightforward and didn't even require the help of my glamorous assistant. The sides are suspended from the top of the body's Technic frame by a couple of Technic pins with stop bush, and they rest at the correct angle relative to the body as a result of being pushed outwards by the platforms projecting from the sides of the body. The only complication did in fact turn out to be the fragility of the sides themselves - they broke apart a couple of times while I was trying to manipulate them into the correct position for attachment, setting me back a few minutes on each occasion while I effected a repair. Eventually it was done, and you can see the AT-AT with one and then both sides attached below (click pictures to enlarge).
Step 4 : Attach the head. This somewhat unexpectedly turned out to be one of the trickiest jobs. As you can see in the pictures above, projecting forwards from the front of the neck is a black rectangular structure with a couple of bley tiles on top and a bley Technic pin sticking out of the front. This structure slides into a slot inside the AT-AT's head, and the pin anchors it when it's in the correct position. Sounds simple. Lining up the head, getting the structure into the slot and getting the pin to click into place took a number of attempts, though, and all the while I was sweating that all the pushing and pulling would make the whole thing collapse. The head is quite fragile, and with all the pressure I was applying I managed to break the windscreen and roof section off the head. This however turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it ended up being easier to slide the head on to the neck without the roof being attached as I could better see what I was doing. Once the head was locked into position I carefully replaced the roof and windscreen and took the picture below (click to enlarge); the gap between the side of the head and the roof is a little wider than it should be as a result of all the pushing and pulling but this should be easy enough to fix with a bit of careful manipulation...
Step 5 : Cover the body. The roof which covers the body of the AT-AT consists of 3 distinct sections which are dropped into place one at a time. Fitting the roof sections was pretty straightforward - all sit on top of the upper edges of the sides of the body - and the fit was mostly pretty good although a little final tweaking is still needed in a couple of places. Also, the rear section has a tendency to slide backwards, and I'm going to need to add a stop to the underside to prevent this. The completed AT-AT with the roof sections fitted can be seen below.
And so more than 11 months after I published my first post about building a copy of Pete's AT-AT it's finally finished ! Although I've seen Pete's original on a number of occasions I have to admit that I was still taken aback by the sheer size of the thing when I'd finished building my own - it's absolutely huge ! The scale is somewhat hard to convey, but the rebel pilot minifigure that I've posed on the top of the AT-AT's body in the picture below (click to enlarge) should hopefully give you a sense of how massive it is....
Regarding the final piece count, it was around 6,220, give or take; I can't offer an exact figure as it's calculated from the first draft of the LDD files which contain a few errors as previously mentioned, plus I've made a few minor modifications along the way to improve stability. So let's say 6,250 for the sake of argument. And the cost ? Well, I had around a third of the pieces already, and I estimate that the rest cost me about £600 including shipping, although I'm certain I could have done it cheaper if I'd shopped around more; I believe that fellow AFOL Rocao recently managed to source the necessary parts for around $600 excluding shipping, and Pete reckons that the whole lot only cost him £250...(!)
And lastly, was it worth the effort and the cost ? Well, on the one hand I can safely say that it's been quite the most frustrating build I've ever experienced, by a country mile. Admittedly this was in part because I was to some extent a guinea pig. working with the first draft of Pete's LDD files, but mostly it's just because it's a mighty tricky build at times. It's also nerve-wracking to put all the sections together, wildy impractical to display, and can't be moved when constructed.... But despite all of that, just look at the thing ! As a huge Star Wars fan, and indeed someone for whom the AT-AT is perhaps my favourite vehicle from the Star Wars universe, it's definitely been worth all the expense and pain to see this monster standing proudly in my house. Massive kudos to Pete for designing the thing and putting together a set of LDD files for it, and if anyone wants to get hold of a copy of the most recent version of the LDD files and have a go at building one yourself then please get in touch and I'll forward your details to Pete.
So what now ? Well, plans are afoot to show the AT-AT later this year at a public event where it'll be part of a display featuring a number of big Star Wars MOCs - I'll share more details in due course. Until then I think I'll just stare at the finished model with a huge grin on my face while I decide what to build next....
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