Permission to Build Small

GLaDOS (Build Small)

As an AFOL and avid Lego® builder, this one’s a biggy for me. I’ve wrestled with it many, many times and if you’re a creative of any sort, I’d bet you have too. To me, it seems like the excepted ‘mastery’ of building with Lego® elements (or indeed most crafts) comes from building the biggest thing possible. Did you pour x-million, zillion Lego® bricks into your model? Look, these people did and it’s 8m tall! Oooooooh. Been there? I have many times and what used to follow was, oooh, but I’m not made of money, nor do I want to make massive financial sacrifices just to keep up with the Jones’. Now I am buying more Lego® parts and to be honest I don’t use most of them at any given time.

Here’s the issue. As I have got older and more comfortable in my creativity, I’ve started to feel like there’s a big difference between ‘mastery’ and ‘look at how much that must have cost’. Don’t get me wrong, some creations, Lego® brick or otherwise, are huge and masterful, but for most of what I see, I feel like someone just threw enough bricks at their build to make it impressive. Sometimes it’s the opposite that gets me excited. It’s how can you represent something with as much detail, as efficiently as possible? To really explore this, I had to give myself permission to build small!

This point really hit home for me the other week when I had the idea to build a world for my robots, for me to tell stories on my Instagram with. I thought, I’ll start with small stories or scenes, then put them together into a contiguous unit that I (or the camera) can move around. One massive set. This was the result.

Mule Outpost

The piece featured a dock with speeder, cargo crane, park, lookout tower, a floating tower with two levels and finally a secret lab. Loads, packed into a fairly large model. The more I built, the more it told a story of it’s own and the less flexibility it afforded me! Arrrggh!

So where did this permission take me? First, I followed my instincts and started to dismantle the model. As I went along I effectively ‘dug out’ the bits I found interesting or wanted to keep using. The great thing was that with these sub-models left over, I could actually use them in my scenes and show them properly. Here are the scenes I extracted.

The Lab

Secret robot lab set

Secret robot lab bio-bed

This is the robot lab with Star Trek TOS-style computer bank. I took out the computer, the bio-bed and the reactor-unit with control module.

The Dock

Dock set pieces

Dock set pieces - lookout

Dock set pieces - crane

For the dock, I really liked the crane with control unit, crates and the lookout post.

I think one of the understated problems with Lego® creations is that they’re inherently visually noisy, whether you use plates, tiles, large tiles, or smooth parts. Every stud, join or shadow adds visual noise and you lose focus on the essence of what you’re creating. So when you make something smaller and more efficient, you focus the viewer / player’s attention where it needs to be.

My latest attempt to play with this idea was in my Instagram series on my geocache robots. I’ve taken to removing the backgrounds from my scenes, substituting in wood or frosted translucent plastic. For me, they’re easier to build and easier to tell stories with, but also just more fun to try and figure out the best way to build my model. What’s your building scale? What works for you? Please let us know in the comments below.

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