Sunday 25 November 2012

UCS AT-AT : Once More Unto the Breach....

After a brief holiday from the MOC AT-AT build, during which time I dabbled with the Monster Fighters theme amongst other things, it was time to get back to business and crack on.

Those who have been following along will hopefully recall that when I last posted about the AT-AT here I had just completed the body of the beast. That was by far the toughest part of the build so far, but having had a break I was suitably refreshed and raring to dive back in. Next up : the neck and head.

You can see a screengrab of the LDD file of the AT-AT neck above (click to enlarge). The LDD building guide generator broke this section down into 112 building steps involving just 314 pieces, which compared to some of the other sections I've attempted thus far is veritably miniscule.... You can see a sample page of the building guide below.

Predictably given its design, construction of the neck was somewhat repetitive, but at least it was relatively uneventful; thinking back to the difficulties I've had with previous sections of the AT-AT, notably the body, this was a bit of a relief.... At its core are multiple overlapping Technic liftarms meshed together by a multitude of pins and axles; it's consequently extremely strong, which it will need to be to support the head in the correct position.

You can see a photograph of the front of the completed neck section above, and of the back below (click to enlarge). The red 3 x 5 liftarm with quarter ellipse is black in the latest version of the parts list, in case any fellow AT-AT builders are starting to panic... The Technic structure emerging from the dark bley neck section in the picture immediately above helps to support the head and enables it to move from side to side, or at least it will do when the head is eventually attached.

For those of you building your own AT-ATs (Tristan and others) I have another little tip; see that 6L axle with 2 smooth half bushes at either end floating in space beneath the neck section on the LDD screengrab at the top of the page ? It's not actually needed, so you can ignore it ! The four light bley Technic half pins floating just below and behind it are used in the build, however - they fit into two of the 4 x 4 quarter circle bricks at the base of the neck (you can just about see them in the picture immediately above). According to Pete, once the neck is attached to the body they help to prevent it from sagging under the weight of the head.

Once I'd completed the neck I made a start on the head. As you can see from the screengrab of the LDD file below (click to enlarge) this is made up of a number of discrete sections which need to be knitted together at the end of the build. Despite its relatively modest size, the head is made up of a surprising 713 pieces which is testament to the level of detail.

Construction of the AT-AT head was divided into 281 steps by the LDD-generated building guide. The AT-AT has two lateral guns which are mounted on either side of the head - you can see these in the lower left quadrant of the screengrab above. These are first to be built, followed by the left side of the head, which can be seen in the lower right quadrant of the LDD screengrab. Construction time for these sections was longer than I expected, which is I think a reflection of the fact that finding the correct pieces is starting to take longer and longer as the build progresses; when you start out, many of the pieces are present in abundance, but as you use more and more of them up you're increasingly left needing the last one or two of a particular part so searching time is definitely getting longer.  The lateral guns are quite fiddly, and it took a couple of minutes of scrutinising and zooming pictures of the completed AT-AT, plus a text to Pete, to figure out how all the parts come together and attach to the side of the head....

Above you can see some pictures of the left side of the head, complete with lateral gun turret. It's only possible to rotate the gun barrel up and down; lateral aiming will eventually be provided via side to side movements of the whole AT-AT head at the neck as described earlier.

And that's it for now. Despite progress being slower than anticipated, by my calculation I've now used up 3,881 of the parts, so only around 2,300 to go. That's about as many as one of the bigger modular buildings, so I'm hoping I can get this monster finished by Christmas....

< -- Building the AT-AT : Part 5                                       Building the AT-AT : Part 7 -->

Friday 16 November 2012

Monsters, Inc.

Against all expectations I was really taken with LEGO's Monster Fighters theme following my first contact with the sets, and having initially tested the water with a couple of the smaller ones including Set 9461 Swamp Creature it was only a matter of time before I felt the need to add to my collection.

Truth be told, it was quite hard to know which set to get next. Having pored over the set images I was spoiled for choice - all of the sets have an endearingly goofy B-movie charm to them, and really I would have been happy to build any of them. In the end it was Set 9466 The Crazy Scientist & His Monster that got the nod - there's so much cool stuff going on on the front of the box (picture above - click to enlarge) that I just couldn't resist it.While the front of the box drew me in, it's only when you look at the back of the box (picture below) that you really appreciate how many play features and neat touches the designer has crammed into the set; we'll get to those later.

The contents of the box are thankfully accessed by cutting a couple of seals rather than by the use of messy and destructive thumb tabs. The box contains four bags of pieces; the bags are numbered from one to four, and each of them contains at least one smaller sealed bag of parts. There are also two instruction booklets (below) the first of which details construction of the minifigures and the Monster Fighters' car, and the second which covers construction of the structures and furnishings. Finally, there's a gratifyingly small sticker sheet containing just two stickers.

Instruction booklet 1 is pretty short at only 27 pages; other than a collage of all the Monster Fighter sets on the back cover it's all building instructions. Booklet 2 is considerably heftier, weighing in at over 60 pages; it's bulked up considerably by a variety of advertising copy as well as additional content including a summary of the set's play features and a 2-page inventory of parts. As previously stated, the sticker sheet is teeny and can be seen below.

The set contains some interesting parts, a small selection of which you can see below. The medium blue 4 x 4 wedge and arch are unique to this set, and other parts such as the green Moonstone, medium blue 65 degree slope and dark brown tranquilizer gun only appear in two sets including this one. Other parts of note include the wonderful vial containing green liquid, the red light brick, and a few glow in the dark parts such as a rat and spider which aren't widely available in this colour.

And so to the build. Diving into the first instruction booklet, the first job is to assemble the set's four minifigures. The Monster (pictured below) appears to be a representation of Frankenstein's monster; I did wonder whether the lack of an actual reference to Frankenstein was possibly a copyright issue or just a conscious effort on the part of LEGO to distance themselves somewhat from existing works. Whatever the reason, he's pretty well realised. His large head is formed by way of an additional hairpiece-type element placed on the top of a standard minifigure head. There's a good level of detail on his head and torso, for instance a couple of safety pins printed on his head and metallic surgical clips printed on his chest to indicate where he's been opened up and resealed. The olive green colouration of his 'skin' is suitably ghastly, and all that's really missing are a couple of printed bolts on his neck. There's some back-printing on his torso, but he doesn't have a reversible head, meaning you don't have a choice of expression and are stuck with a grimace. The Monster minifigure is exclusive to this set, and rather good I think....

There are some clear similarities between the Monster and the Series 4 Collectible Minifigure (CMF) monster, released in 2011, but also some obvious differences in skin colour and the head and torso prints. You can compare and contrast the two figures below; the newer Monster Fighters version is on the left.

The second bad guy - the titular Crazy Scientist - can be seen below. Unlike the Monster he has a reversible head, which allows him to switch between red and clear filters on his goggles. I love his lab jacket, featuring a printed tool belt containing test tubes, scissors and pliers which wraps around the back of his torso.

While unique to this set, he's very similar to the Crazy Scientist Collectible Minifigure from Series 4, right down to his rubbery bley hair. The torso and facial prints are however different, and the CMF version doesn't have back printing on his torso. You can see a comparison of the Monster Fighters version (left) and Series 4 Collectible Minifigure (right) below.

Moving on to the Monster Fighters themselves, first up is Doctor Rodney Rathbone. His robotic right leg strikes a markedly discordant note against his neatly coiffured facial hair, natty bowler hat and immaculately turned-out torso complete with waistcoat, tie and fob watch. He doesn't have a reversible head, but his torso is nicely backprinted. Dr. Rathbone appears in three sets including this one.

Major Quinton Steele is the other Monster Hunter in this set. He's modelled on the cliched quintessential English pith hat-wearing adventurer, but with a twist - he appears to possess some kind of high tech monocle that even the Borg would be proud of.... This minifigure appears in this and one other set.

Once the minifigures have been safely assembled, attention shifts to the brick-built elements of the set. First up is the car, which can be seen below. The design of the vehicle is seemingly based on the iconic Citroen 2CV, but it's like no 2CV you've ever seen, bristling with armaments and other modifications including three flick-fire missles, an outrigger for Rodney Rathbone to fire from, rocket boosters at the back and a satellite dish on the roof. It's far from clear who's supposed to be at the wheel, however, seeing as both Rathbone and Steele appear to be too wrapped up handling the weaponry to attend to driving duties.... The car's neatly designed, with a rather fetching medium blue scheme. It would have have benefitted from doors, however, and it's a shame that a few bits of the bodywork are light or dark bley rather than medium blue. This is partly, but not entirely, down to limitations in the medium blue parts palette.

The laboratory is next up for construction, starting with the machine which breathes life into the Monster. This is made up of a tower which houses the diabolical reanimation device, and a rickety, uncomfortable-looking bed for the Monster to lie on while he's being zapped. The reanimation device contains a red LED light brick which, when activated, causes the transparent neon green dish and light saber blade attached to the front to glow red as you can hopefully see in the picture below (click to enlarge). An irritating thing about LEGO light bricks is that you have to keep the button held down in order for the light to stay lit. This set offers a neat solution to this, however - an elegant mechanism which allows the light to be switched on and remain lit. This is accomplished by turning a gear on the back of the tower which rotates a knob wheel adjacent to the light brick and holds the button down - simple but effective, and extremely welcome. Just remember to turn it off again when you're done or you'll be replacing the battery before you know it. The bed moves backwards and forwards by way of a reddish brown capstan so that you can manouevre the Monster into the perfect position for maximum reanimation beam exposure....

The remaining structures are what appear to be a holding cell plus a work bench and a storage unit (below - click to enlarge). The cell door opens at the front, but there's also a panel at the back that can be released if the occupant chooses to make a quick getaway. The roof of the cell is adorned with a ballista, presumably to defend the laboratory against aggressive oddballs driving Citroen 2CV's, plus a variety of animal species, of which two are of the glow-in-the-dark variety. The workbench comes complete with a glow-in-the-dark skull in a bell jar and various tools including a neat-looking little microscope.

The various sections of the laboratory bolt together by way of hinge bricks; triangular (cut corner) plates at the base of the various structures prevent much movement of the different sections relative to each other, although if you'd prefer to open the laboratory out more you can remove or replace the plates and choose your own arrangement

You can see how all the various elements of the set come together below; presumably the idea is that the Monster Fighters mount a full frontal assault on the laboratory and lay waste to the place. Let's just hope that the Monster gets a shift on and reanimates sharpish or the baddies are done for....

Overall, this is a cracking set - highly recommended. It's an interesting and extremely varied build, the components of the scene are well designed and come together nicely, and there are a ton of play features worked into the models, with the mechanism for activating the light brick and keeping it switched on a particular favourite. My 4-year old loved the set as well - seeing it assembled on my desk it was almost impossible to tear him away - so its appeal is clearly not restricted to AFOLs of a certain vintage....

Monster Fighters Set 9466 The Crazy Scientist & His Monster contains 430 pieces and retails at £39.99 in the UK and $49.99 in the U.S.. Even at RRP I'd be recommending it, but at time of writing the set is 17% off RRP at making it even more of an essential purchase. Folks in the U.S. can pick up the set here.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Blast from the Past : Set 657 Executive Jet

Just back from a week in the sun, and there's nothing like spending a few days in temperatures of 30 degrees plus to make you 'appreciate' the UK November chill.... My timing was actually pretty poor - I managed to pick the week when The Sun newspaper ran their biannual LEGO promotion to be away, and it's only thanks to the kindness of Brickset member Kevbags plus my folks that I didn't miss out on some pretty excellent sets this time around.

Anyway, what better way to cheer myself up on my return to chilly Blighty than by wallowing in some LEGO nostalgia and looking back at another set that I owned as a child. Set 657 Executive Jet, concisely but rather unimaginatively known only by the name "Aircraft" in the U.S., was released in 1974 at a cost of £0.65.

I still have the very set I owned as a child together with the buillding instructions, but the box is long gone. I was however lucky enough to find a boxed example on eBay for less than a tenner including postage earlier this year. The box (pictures below - click to enlarge) is far from perfect but is at least intact and even still has the original price sticker on it. The image of the model barely fits on the front of the box, and consistent with other sets of this era the image is untidily split in two when you open the box. Three out of four sides of the box feature a stylised side-on view of the model, and the fourth side is completely taken up by "LEGOLAND" branding.

The back of the box (below) is an early attempt to highlight close ups of a couple of features of interest, focusing on one of the jet engines and one of the wheels in addition to a side-on photograph of the finished model. I think the engine and wheel may be featured because at the time the set was released they were new parts - the light grey engine part appeared in sets for the first time in 1974, and the blue single wheel holder first appeared in 1973.

The building instructions (below) are of the fold-out variety and consist of a mere 5 building steps. The rest of the space is occupied by a multitude of photographs of other sets, including another of my childhood favourites, Set 687 Caravelle. I was pretty chuffed to realise that I have at least half of the sets featured in the photographs.

Most of the 37 parts making up this set are pretty unremarkable, but there are a few worth singling out for attention (picture below - click to enlarge). Pride of place goes to the three printed 2 x 4 blue bricks which make up the fuselage of the jet. This is the only set that these blue printed bricks have ever appeared in. There are also three of the single wheels with wheel holder, two light grey engines and the blue 4 x 2 x 2 tail, complete with (badly applied) stickers.

Unusually, my purchase came complete with the original sticker sheet which still contains two unused stickers; I don't recall LEGO including spare stickers with sets, but these two are certainly spares. I've not yet decided whether to remove the cack-handedly applied existing stickers from the tail and neatly replace them with the spares; I'm actually leaning towards leaving the remains of the sticker sheet unmolested for posterity, but we shall see.

As you'd expect, it only took a matter of moments to assemble the model, and you can see the results below. I suppose it's maybe hard to see anyone without an emotional connection to this set getting too excited over the finished model, but to me it's pure gold - I can still remember more than three decades later how exotic and sleek it looked back then, not to mention the hours and hours I spent swooshing it around....

If like me you're partial to a generous slice of nostalgia you can pick up your own copy of this set for a song; boxed examples can be purchased via Bricklink for less than £10 plus postage, or else keep an eye on eBay and one will no doubt pop up eventually. Happy hunting !