Monday 28 January 2013

UCS AT-AT : Heady Days

Can it really be two months since I last posted about the UCS AT-AT ? Amazing how times flies. Anyway, having been distracted by a bunch of stuff, not least the small matter of Christmas, it was time to dust off the AT-AT and dive back in.

Those who've been following along will hopefully recall that last time I posted an update (here) I was already well into the build. I'd finished building the legs, body and neck of the beast, and had embarked upon the head, which I'd rather rashly assumed would be pretty straightforward. The head is made up of a number of sub-assemblies (LDD screen grab below - click to enlarge) which are knitted together at the end.

I'd got as far as completing the left side of the head prior to taking my vacation from the Kuat Drive Yards, and I was soon back into the swing of things, quickly polishing off the right side of the head, complete with lateral cannon. Externally, the left and right sides of the head are mirror images of each other (picture below - click to enlarge), but there are some differences on their inner surfaces; I initially assumed that the differences were deliberate, but having checked with AT-AT designer Pete it appears that there are a few pieces missed off the LDD rendition of the left side of the head. Furthermore, it turns out that some of the omissions are more than just cosmetic - their absence causes problems when it's time to join up all the sections to complete the head - so if you're building your own AT-AT (and I know that a few of you are) then you'll need to bear this in mind. It's thankfully pretty obvious which parts you need, but if you're having trouble figuring it out then get in touch and I'll provide the details.

Once the sides of the head were complete it was time to build the floor section (picture below). The sides of the head attach to this structure via a pair of heavy-duty brick-built brackets which pivot by way of a combination of axles and hinges in order to produce the correct angles. In addition, the two main forward-facing guns and a bunch of interesting greebled sections (more of which later) are slung underneath; the front and roof also attach to this section, as eventually will the AT-AT's previously-completed neck section, so this really is a key part of the build.

The last piece of the jigsaw is the front and roof section (below - click to enlarge). The front is deceptively complex and quite fragile; the AT-AT's windscreen is comprised of seven trans red cheese slopes mounted on hinges and sandwiched above and below by tiled sections which are themselves also mounted on hinges. Quite a bit of tweaking is required to get all the angles right, and God forbid you press too hard on the structures while adjusting them or else the whole windscreen section has a tendency to collapse on you and it's back to the start....

Combining the various sub-assemblies to create the AT-AT's head was a lot more challenging than I had expected, and it required some texts to Pete plus a bunch of coaxing, tweaking and adjusting to get it right. At the most basic level, all you have to do is attach the left and right sides to the brick-built brackets, adjust the brackets so that the sides are angled correctly to recreate the AT-AT head's geometry, drop in the front and roof section, and finally join the sides together inside the head by way of an elastic band which helps to ensure that the sides don't sag outwards under their own weight. It sounds fairly straightforward, but the job of positioning the sides, front and roof correctly to avoid leaving gaping gaps between the sections while simultaneously trying not to dislodge or destroy anything had me cursing in frustration. All that having been said, you can see the final result below (click to enlarge) and I reckon it was well worth the effort....

You can take a peek inside the AT-AT's head below; of note, you can see the attachment of the elastic band mentioned previously which runs inside the head from one side to the other and firmly holds the sides at the correct angle. It's not an official LEGO elastic band, but should I have an attack of guilt at some point and feel an irresistible urge to use only 100% official LEGO parts in the model I believe that there's a suitable LEGO-manufactured alternative available...

The underside of the head (below) is definitely worth a closer look. I think it's almost insectile in appearance with its multitude of striations, projections and structures, and I love the way that parts are used in unusual ways to create the desired effects; the main guns, for instance, are made up of a mish-mash of Technic gears and connectors, cones, barrels and the like. It's testament to Pete's attention to detail that what you can see in the picture below is in fact almost hidden from view in the finished AT-AT unless you're willing to lie on your back, shimmy underneath the model and stare upwards....

You can see the head from above in the picture below. The front and roof section attaches to the rest of the head via just four studs right at the front which means it needs careful handling once installed or else it can become detached quite easily; the roof simply rests on the upper surfaces of the sides of the head. One of the most impressive aspects is how snugly the different sections fit together, leaving minimal gaps between them.

So that's the head done, then, meaning that I'm now a total of 4,429 pieces into the build and have less than 1,800 to go. All I've got left to do now is put some skin over the bare bones of the AT-AT's body, so the end is definitely in sight. I'll crack on with the final sections and post an update when I've made further progress.

< -- Building the AT-AT : Part 6                                       Building the AT-AT : Part 8 -->

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Technic Temptation....

Since I started this blog, no posting has brought me more grief than the 'Technic Torture' piece I wrote back in 2010. There are clearly lots of LEGO Technic fans out there, and some of them evidently didn't appreciate my less-than-complimentary comments about their passion....

Since posting that article, it's only fair for me to confess that a few Technic sets old and new have caught my eye and have been added to my collection. These include the huge Set 8674 Ferrari F1 Racer 1:8 from 2006, which I picked up from eBay a few months back, and a couple of more recent examples, namely Set 8070 Super Car and Set 8110 Mercedes-Benz Unimog U 400. All are undoubtedly Technic, but they look sufficiently un-Technic-like to satisfy my aesthetic sensibilities. None had made it to the front of my build queue, however, and all thus remained unbuilt.

Set 8674 Ferrari F1 Racer 1:8

A little while back, Pawel Kmiec, a renowned LEGO Technic builder better known by his online name of Sariel, was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest book "The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder's Guide". I have to admit that given my at times 'difficult' relationship with LEGO Technic I approached the book with a degree of trepidation, and it wasn't just the Technic angle that I was wary of - many LEGO-related books that I've read over the years have been written with a much younger reader in mind, making them pretty uninspiring for the average AFOL.

First up, I have to congratulate Sariel on an extremely impressive effort; his book weighs in at a substantial 334 pages, and it's very nicely presented - robustly bound, and containing lots of clear colour pictures and photographs. Furthermore, any pre-conceived notions I might have had about being spoken down to were very quickly dispelled - this is no lightweight piece of LEGO fluff, people, it's a veritable textbook of Technic and no mistake....

The book is broken into five parts. It kicks off with the basics - four potentially dull but in fact extremely useful chapters which define critical and often misunderstood concepts and terms such as torque, power, backlash and efficiency before going on to describe the common Technic elements and then contrast the geometry, pros and cons of studless vs. studded building techniques. Once the basics are covered the book moves on to deal with mechanics, albeit with a distinctive LEGO flavour - gears, levers, chains and pulleys, plus mechanical solutions such as differentials, and also LEGO's pneumatic system. Next the focus is on motors, including an inventory of LEGO motors past and present and a detailed review and discussion of LEGO's current Power Functions system. Then follows a section on advanced mechanics which outlines various types of steering, suspension (picture below - click to enlarge) and transmission systems, even including step by step instructions on how to build your own versions. The book wraps up with a discussion of some of the key design considerations for different types of Technic models including cars, trucks, tracked vehicles and aircraft, including but not limited to scaling and controlling your models remotely.

I'm pleased to report that the book is well written and seems very comprehensive; some sections are pretty dense and the going gets a little heavy at times, but it's hard to see how this could have been avoided without losing important details; furthermore, every effort is made to help the reader by way of copious colour diagrams and step-by-step building instructions. And Sariel isn't just an expert on the theory, either - the book is full of worked examples of the different concepts and systems, not to mention a liberal sprinkling of pictures some of his superb Technic MOCs (including the excellent GT40 below) which bring the theory to life and show what's possible once you have a decent grasp of the Technic building system.

Picture and model (c) Sariel
The Unofficial LEGO Technic Builder's Guide is published by No Starch Press and available from Amazon (UK/US - click to browse and buy) and elsewhere. If you're a fan of Technic then I can see it being a very useful reference work, and given Sariel's credentials I sincerely doubt that there are too many more knowledgeable Technic builders out there to learn from. If you need more convincing then check out his site here - there are some seriously impressive creations on there. Sariel's book might also be worth a look if, like me, you're somewhat on the fence so far as Technic's concerned. I say that because after reading the first hundred-or-so pages I felt sufficiently educated and inspired to crack open one of my thus-far unbuilt Technic sets.....

I did initially consider going all-in and building the biggest Technic Set that I own - the Unimog - but eventually decided to go for Set 8070 Super Car instead. It's less intimidating, frankly, and also smaller and hence easier to display than the monster that is the Unimog, but it still contains some Power Functions so there'd be some motorised mechanisms to impress my son with (!). The front of the box (above - click to enlarge) features a large picture of the finished model plus a pictorial summary of the various different motorised functions; the back of the box (below) shows an alternative build that can be assembled using the same parts. LEGO describe the alternative build as a Roadster; you need to download the instructions from, but at least they're free. The Roadster, which like the primary model features a bunch of motorised functions, looks pretty good IMHO, but I haven't tried to build it yet.

After cutting the seals I realised with some dismay that it's one of those stupid boxes where the top half is actually glued to the bottom half along the back and you're supposed to cut the the top of the box on either side near the rear 'hinge' to open it. Such vandalism is against my principles, so I was instead obliged to spend the next ten minutes carefully lifting up the front of the lid and squeezing out numerous bags of parts, instruction booklets, loose elements (wheels and tyres) etc. through the narrow gap between the top and bottom halves of the box one by one while trying not to tear the cardboard....

My set unfortunately pre-dates LEGO's recent welcome policy of bagging up the instruction booklets and sticker sheet with some cardboard to keep them flat. My instruction booklets were therefore less than pristine, and my sticker sheet was creased - irritating. There are 3 instruction booklets (below) which look identical save for the different booklet numbers; they're close to A4 size and have the same image of the primary model on the front cover as is printed on the front of the box. Booklets one and two are a mammoth 84 pages long; booklet 3 is only 56 pages long, and contains advertising for other Technic sets and various LEGO websites as well as the final building steps.

Having started to build the set while I was away from home I wasn't able to photograph or scan the sticker sheet, but if you're so inclined you can see a picture of it here. I'm sorry to report that it's a monster - lots of stickers, some of them huge - and just to make matters worse mine was as previously stated creased and a couple of the stickers were starting to peel off the backing. Thankfully the stickers themselves seem to be pretty robust - applying them neatly was challenging, and despite needing to peel off and reapply a couple of them they seemingly survived this without losing their adhesiveness or incurring any damage.

The bags of parts weren't numbered so I poured out all 1281 parts and sorted them into a couple of containers. The set contains almost no studded parts at all, instead featuring a preponderance of studless beams, axles, gears and panels in the build, not to mention an obscene number of pins and connectors of various types - you can find a full parts inventory here if you're curious.

The build itself took me a number of hours, mainly split over 3 leisurely days between Christmas and New Year's Eve. You start out by building the chassis, function select mechanism, rear axle and suspension, and installing a motor, at which point instruction booklet 1 is done. Instruction booklet 2 then walks you through construction of the front axle, suspension and steering rack, the engine block and pistons, and the car's interior. By the end of booklet 2 you've also built much of the retractable rear spoiler and bonnet, of which more later. Booklet 3 is largely concerned with the construction of a pair of scissor doors, wrapping a skin of sorts over the bare bones, tidying up and finishing off.

One of the reasons I've been slow to embrace Technic is that many of the completed models are just mechanisms wrapped in a framework of beams - often technically impressive, but purely functional and very ugly to my eyes. What initially attracted me to Set 8070 Super Car was that at least some effort had been made to pretty it up a bit. While the publicity shots looked good, I think it looks even better "in the flesh". First off it's bigger and more imposing than I expected; harder to display, therefore, but definitely more eye-catching too. The front (pictures above and below - click to enlarge) looks superb, and the long, sleek bonnet brings to mind a Dodge Viper; overall the lines are very pleasing - curvy thanks to the judicious use of panels and flexible hoses, but also stocky and low to the ground as a Super Car should be.

It's not all good, though - the rear of the vehicle (below) is spoiled by the presence of the battery box sticking out like a sore thumb aesthetically and indeed literally. It's a shame as there are some nice details to behold at the back of the vehicle - the rear lighting cluster, intakes and exhausts are nicely done, but the monstrous battery box dominates the view. More could and should have been done to hide it I think.

It's when you look under the skin that Technic models really come into their own, though, and the Super Car is no exception. While only one motor is included in the set, at any one time its power can be channelled through to any one of four functions; the bonnet opens and closes, each of the scissor doors independently opens and closes, and the spoiler is retractable. You can see all these features in the pictures below. The various mechanisms work well - I found them to be smooth and reliable. Honestly, between me and my son we've already worn out a full set of six batteries playing around with these motorised features and they've continued to work without a problem. The motor is switched on, and the selected mechanism activated, by flicking the orange switch on the battery box to the right or to the left depending on whether you want to open or close the bonnet, door etc.; when the orange switch is in the central position the motor is turned off.

Incidentally, if any fellow Technic novices out there are wondering what happens when one of the mechanisms reaches the maximum range of movement in one direction or the other, e.g. when the bonnet is fully open or closed, the answer can be found deep within the Super Car's innards where a special white gear lurks. This is actually a gear with a clutch; when a mechanism linked to this gear reaches its limits and resistance consequently increases, the clutch automatically starts to slip around the axle, thus disabling the mechanism and stopping it and indeed the motor from getting damaged. To a Technic noob like me that actually seems pretty clever !

As previously stated, there's only one motor; power must therefore channelled to the motorised function of choice via the switching mechanism which you can see in the picture below. The switch is located between the seats; simply click it into the desired position depending on which function you wish to select and power will be directed to that particular function while the others remain dormant. I have to admit that while I was building the switching mechanism I had real doubts that it'd be robust enough to survive a lot of switching back and forth. Like the functions themselves, however, it's worked faultlessly so far - rather impressive.

In addition to the mechanisms powered by the motor, there are also a few non-motorised functions. Under the bonnet you'll find a V8 engine, complete with yellow pistons (picture below); when the car is pushed forwards or backwards, the rotation of the back wheels is transmitted to the pistons which smoothly rise and fall within the engine block - neat ! Another feature involves the black gear sticking up from the rear of the car (picture below - click to enlarge) - rotating this gear steers the front wheels. Finally, all four wheels have independently-sprung suspension. Once again, all these mechanisms work beautifully and feel surprisingly robust.

OK, so here's the thing. I didn't enjoy the Super Car build as much as I've previously enjoyed building, say, a large modular building. I definitely derive more satisfaction, relaxation and enjoyment from building with standard LEGO bricks than I do meshing Technic gears and putting together complex mechanisms - it doesn't provide the same tactile pleasures, nor is it as relaxing. That having been said, gradually combining that cacophony of gears, axles, connectors and levers into a system of interconnected, working mechanisms was genuinely interesting and challenging, and there was a significant feeling of accomplishment when the model was finally finished and everything was working beautifully. Also, and importantly from my perspective, LEGO have made some significant strides with their Technic set designs from an aesthetic perspective - as well as being a cool and clever model, I actually think the Super Car looks good as well. Sure, it's far from perfect - there are still way too many gaping holes in the bodywork for my liking. I think, however, that I could probably remedy that quite easily; certainly it'd be pretty straightforward to mod the model so that the engine was largely enclosed. Same goes for giving the car a proper roof, and indeed covering over the back.

So overall the Super Car gets a big thumbs up from me, so much so that I've now got a bit of a taste for these big Technic sports cars - anyone got a boxed Technic Enzo (below) or Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano going cheap, by any chance....?!

Set 8070 Super Car was released in 2010 and is I'm afraid no longer available direct from LEGO, although in the UK and elsewhere in Europe it can nevertheless still be found at retail, e.g. currently has the set available, and it's surprisingly still priced well below the £99.99 RRP as I type this - click here to buy. If you're U.S.-based then your best bet might be Bricklink, although if you're willing to pay for trans-Atlantic shipping then will I think ship it to you in the U.S. - good luck ! 

Tuesday 8 January 2013

"And the Gimme LEGO Readers' Choice Award for Best Set of 2012 goes to...."

......Monster Fighters Set 10228 Haunted House !

Not exactly a landslide victory, perhaps, but in contrast to the previous year's poll when Set 10217 Diagon Alley took the title by a single vote, it was certainly pretty comfortable. The battle of the twelve sets became a two-horse race early on, with the Haunted House and its main challenger, Set 79003 An Unexpected Gathering, opening up an early lead over the other contenders. Bilbo and co. fought valiantly, but the Haunted House eventually opened up a healthy lead which it maintained until New Years Eve when the poll closed, finishing up with a little under a third of the vote, and pushing Bag End into second place with just under 20% of the votes.

You can see the final rankings in their entirety below (click to enlarge). Set 9474 The Battle of Helm's Deep performed creditably, finishing in third place and reinforcing how generally well-received the Lord of the Rings theme has been. The relatively unheralded but nonetheless lovely Set 10226 Sopwith Camel also put in a gratifyingly strong showing to finish in fourth place. "None of the above" finished in seventh place, exactly where it did last year, but with a slightly reduced share of the vote this time round; perhaps surprisingly, Ninjago Set 9443 Rattlecopter was the set most frequently mentioned as a reader favourite outside of the twelve that I chose to include in the poll. 
A total of 617 people voted, which is around 10% more than the previous year. Between the 19th and the 31st December, which was the window of opportunity for placing a vote, there were 5,991 unique visitors to the Gimme LEGO blog; those visitors racked up a total of 15,063 page views, and 10.3% of those visitors registered a vote, down on the 12.2% who voted the previous year.

Set 10228 Haunted House is a worthy winner in my opinion, and it walks away with two 2012 awards - the Readers' Choice, and my own award for best non-licensed set. You can remind yourselves of the official LEGO video reveal for the set below, which is presented by set designer Adam Grabowski. Congratulations and thanks to Munsters-fan Adam for designing the winning set - we eagerly await your next creation....!

So that about wraps it up for 2012, then.... I think it's fair to say that 2013 will really have to go some to maintain the level of quality of design evident over the last couple of years, although the likes of Set 10937 Batman : Arkham Asylum Breakout and Set 10233 Horizon Express have certainly kicked the year off in style. I for one can't wait to see what LEGO come up with next !

Friday 4 January 2013


As some of you know, in addition to writing this blog I'm also an Admin over at Brickset. Kim at LEGO recently sent Brickset a number of new sets to review, and having got my grubby mitts on a couple of them, namely Legends of Chima Set 70102 CHI Waterfall and Super Heroes Set 10937 Batman : Arkham Asylum Breakout, I've posted reviews of the sets over at Brickset.

I wanted to briefly mention the review of Arkham Asylum here as I think the set is superb and well worth checking out. My mouth was watering at the prospect of getting my hands on this particular set from the moment I saw the first publicity shots, and it certainly didn't disappoint. You can read my Brickset review by clicking hereand if you're hungry for more you can then check out some additional pictures that I took by visiting my Flickr stream.

I'll be reviewing a couple more new sets for Brickset over the next few weeks, and hopefully at intervals thereafter, and I'll update my Offsite Set Reviews page as I go. You can find a link to the page here, under the Gimme LEGO title banner on the right of the page, or else by clicking or touching the down arrow under the title banner if you're using a mobile device.