Thursday, 9 March 2017

Red Five Standing By

Like many AFOLs I seem to spend an inordinate amount of my time sorting and resorting my LEGO collection, and it was during a recent sortfest that I stumbled across the little fellow below. It reminded me that I'd long intended to share the rambling tale of how he came into my possession, and in so doing say a public "thank you" to the US-based AFOL and all-round good guy who has tracked down all manner of US-exclusive LEGO-related items for me over the years including Yoda.

Back in May 2013 there was a disturbance in the force, with the unveiling in New York's Times Square of what was at the time claimed to be the world's largest ever LEGO model - a 1:1 replica of an X-wing Starfighter - to celebrate the impending premiere of The Yoda Chronicles animated series. Based on Set 9493 X-wing-Starfighter, this huge build was 42 times the size of the retail set and apparently took 32 builders at LEGO's Kladno Model Shop in the Czech Republic over 3 months to build from 5.3 million bricks. As you can see from the picture below (courtesy of it caused quite a stir....

To further promote the Yoda Chronicles series, the nearby Times Square branch of Toys R Us ran a promotion from May 23rd to 25th 2013 whereby purchasers of specially-marked copies of Set 9493 would receive a limited edition "NY I Love" Yoda minifigure. Apparently 1,000 of these minifigs were made and handed out during the 3-day promotion, and as a big Star Wars fan and LEGO collector I was obviously really keen to get hold of one. Thankfully, help was at hand in the form of US-based Brickset admin Roland a.k.a. Rocao, and to cut a very long story short he was able to secure a limited edition Yoda minifigure for me. The plan was initially for Roland to package Yoda up with a bunch of other items that he had collected together for me and for other folks and ship the whole lot over to the UK for me to distribute. For various reasons, however, Yoda didn't make it into the consignment and was left stranded in the US.

Jumping forward a couple of years to August 2015, a delegation of Brickset Forum members headed by Brickset head honcho Huw and myself journeyed to the LEGO mothership in Billund, Denmark. Thirty three of us in total travelled over at the invitation of LEGO's Community, Events and Engagement Team for a one-day visit which included a tour of the fabled vault housing copies of pretty much every LEGO retail set every released, the LEGO factory at Kornmarken, and the site of the work-in-progress LEGO House and visitor centre (above). There was also a visit to the LEGO employee store for a spot of shopping, and a presentation by LEGO designer Mike Psiaki who's the man behind 10248 Ferrari F40 amongst other sets. As good fortune would have it, one of the 33 Bricksetters to make the trip to Billund was Roland, who travelled over to Denmark from California. Aside from the fact that it was absolutely brilliant to finally get to meet him in person and hang out after literally years of chatting online, Roland had stashed the promised Yoda minifig in his luggage and so I was finally able to take delivery.

Neither Yoda's printed sand green head, which has a tuft of white hair at the rear, nor his short tan legs, are exclusive to this minifigure, although the head has only appeared in two other sets, 75002 AT-RT and a Yoda Clone Wars Watch Set. The torso, which doesn't have a back print, isn't exclusive to this minifigure either, having also appeared as a part of a 2013 New York Toy Fair giveaway. The minifig came sealed in a 7.5 cm x 13.5 cm soft plastic bag which also contained the printed white card that you can see in the picture above.

In addition to Yoda, Roland had also brought me the special cardboard sleeve which was placed around the otherwise standard copies of 9493 X-wing Starfighter to mark them out as being promotional items. The front of the sleeve (above) is focused on advertising the Yoda Chronicles premiere and also gives notice of the free Yoda minifig available with purchases of the set, while the back of the sleeve (below) provides photographs of the life-sized LEGO X-wing together with technical drawings and some facts and figures.

Talking of the X-wing, following its brief Times Square residency it was transported to LEGOLAND California in June 2013 where it went on show. Then, in March 2015, the X-wing crossed the Atlantic to LEGOLAND Billund where it formed the centerpiece of a Star Wars display. And so it was that by a quirk of fate the X-wing was on display at LEGOLAND Billund when I visited, and my Yoda minifigure was therefore, in a manner of speaking, reunited with the X-wing more than 2 years after the Times Square reveal. All of my pictures of the X-wing unfortunately came out appallingly badly, so I'm indebted to another US-based Bricksetter who came on the Billund trip, JusJeff from Iowa, for giving me permission (albeit about 18 months ago....) to use his picture below.

So thanks again Roland for all your efforts to track down juicy US LEGO exclusives for me and others on this side of the pond, and sorry it's taken so long to get this posted....

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Hit the Road

Some welcome time off over Christmas and New Year gave me a welcome opportunity to crack on with my LEGO city layout after a hiatus of over three months. Last time I posted an update I had started to significantly modify 10224 Town Hall with a view to creating a St Pancras-inspired station building for the layout, with the front of one 'wing' of the building completed (picture below).

Progress on the station subsequently stalled due to a lack of dark orange bricks, but during the run up to Christmas I was able to pick up 31050 Corner Deli from Amazon at a substantial discount; this set contains a selection of dark orange bricks including the ones I was missing, and while I'm generally loathe to buy brand new sets and immediately cannabalise them for parts, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to get what I needed to progress the build without the hassle of putting together a Bricklink order. Mirroring the modifications that I'd previously made to the Town Hall was fairly straightforward once I had the necessary elements, and I was soon able to complete the front of my station building as you can see in the picture below. The trickiest part of the build was figuring out how to fashion the number '1968' on the roof ballustrade in the same style as the '2016' (the year I started the station build) and the '1891' (from the original Town Hall set). It took some trial and error, but I got there in the end, utilising a variety of SNOT techniques to get it right.

The station is still far from complete, of course - I haven't even decided what the back and sides will look like yet, much less started to source parts - but with the footprint and front largely finalised I was at least now in a position to start figuring out how the building would fit into my layout. As a reminder, the station has been designed to occupy the area marked out by the light blue box below, with a canopy of some description protruding from the back of the building and overhanging the track.

Before placing the station into position on the layout there were a couple of things I wanted to do. First I filled the vacant space to the right of Cafe Corner with another of my venerable old Modular Buildings, 10211 Grand Emporium from 2010; as stated in a previous update I'm planning to eventually populate the layout with a mixture of modified 'official' sets and buildings of my own design, but for now the official, unmodified Modulars will do just fine. With the Grand Emporium in place my next job was to construct a few sections of brick-built road to run between the pair of Modulars and the station. As detailed in an earlier update I'd previously decided on the specifications for my brick-built roads in terms of their width and overall appearance, and I'd also figured out how to integrate the roads with the surrounding buildings and other structures. It was therefore a relatively simple task to build some new sections of road to those specifications and drop them into place on the layout as you can see in the picture below.

In addition to building a couple of full-sized road sections (32 studs in length) I also needed to fashion a smaller section to serve as a junction between the new road sections and the older section of road to the left of Cafe Corner. I also tiled the area between and around the railway tracks to the left of the road junction so as to create a level crossing; this will require a barrier of some description, but that's a job for another day....

With the new road sections in place I carefully lowered the station building into position on the layout as you can see below. There's obviously still a lot of tidying up and landscaping to do around the edges, but it was nevertheless nice to see it in place. I was also relieved to discover that the station's considerable weight was adequately supported by the structures below such that the whole building didn't crash through to the lower level of the layout....

If you've been patiently following along with this project for a while now then you'll perhaps recall that the layout includes an underground track loop complete with an underground station platform (more details here if this is news to you). The underground platform sits directly beneath the station building, and the intent is to connect it with the surface via a pair of staircases which emerge from underneath the twin arches at the front of the station. You can just about see the staircases disappearing downwards beneath the arches in the picture below.

The image below, which is taken from behind the station building, shows one of the staircases starting to take shape. The plan is for both staircases to descend down to a common underground concourse featuring a ticket office and a number of ticket barriers, through which the minifigure population of my LEGO city can access the underground platform.

While the station undoubtedly looks imposing from the front, the rear view above provides a sobering reminder of how much work there is still to do on the left and right 'wings' of the building which are currently only half built. Even so, it feels good to have made some tangible progress and moved the project along a bit, as evidenced by the picture below.

I hope you enjoyed the update. Feel free to share any comments below, and I'll provide further updates in due course.

Previous MOC city layout update here.

Monday, 23 January 2017

"And the Gimme LEGO Readers' Choice Award for Best Set of 2016 goes to...."

....71040 Disney Castle.

2016 was an excellent year for licensed sets, and the Disney Castle was the best of the lot according to the Gimme LEGO readers. Unlike the previous year's poll where the Temple of Airjitzu quickly opened up an unassailable lead, the Disney Castle and Ghostbusters Firehouse Headquarters were pretty much neck and neck for most of the time, with the Castle ultimately prevailing.

Although I have to admit that I voted for the Firehouse Headquarters, if it wasn't for my enduring love of Ghostbusters I suspect that I would almost certainly have voted for the Disney Castle instead. While the sheer ambition and size of the set are impressive, as is the excellent overall design, it's the attention to detail that helps to elevate this set above its peers. There are just so many lovely little touches in the form of nods to a host of beloved Disney movies and cartoons, and you just know that the set was designed by someone with a genuine love for, and understanding of, the subject matter.

The final Readers' Choice rankings are shown below, together with the number of votes polled by each of the sets. The Disney Castle, with 22.6% of the overall vote, ended up pipping the Firehouse HQ to the post by just 12 votes, with the Brick Bank following up in a relatively distant third place with just 12.9% of the vote. The Spiderman Ultimate Bridge Battle set came in higher than I'd expected in 4th place, and I was delighted that the relatively unheralded Creator Vacation Getaways set polled enough votes to finish in 5th place and above more high profile sets such as the Technic Porsche 911 GT3 RS and Big Ben. The spread of votes was interesting - fewer than 1 in 4 voters chose the eventual winner - and I think this highlights the sheer number of quality offerings from LEGO in 2016 and the difficult choice facing voters. Thirty people rated a set which wasn't listed in the poll as their favourite of the year, with the likes of The Beatles Yellow Submarine and  the most recent version of the Star Wars AT-ST Walker getting some love from the Gimme LEGO readers.

Once again it's been great fun seeing which sets readers liked the most, with the only real disappointment being a decrease in the number of votes cast compared with previous years. The interesting thing is that the Gimme LEGO Awards posting asking people to vote was viewed approximately ten thousand times while the voting window was open, and yet those ten thousand views yielded fewer than 600 votes. It got me wondering whether the ever-increasing use of smartphones to browse the web might be a factor in this; the rudimentary polling plug-in provided by the Blogger platform doesn't work well with smartphones, often requiring readers to visit the web version of the site if they want to vote. This might have put off prospective voters - it would certainly have put me off.... I think therefore that unless I can find a better plug-in I might have to consider alternative ways of conducting future polls.

Many thanks to all those who voted, and thanks also to Brickset for publicising the 2016 Gimme LEGO Awards and Readers' Choice poll - much appreciated!