Friday, November 29, 2013

Book review: Assassination!

Assassination! by Brendan Powell Smith, 2013, Skyhorse Publishing

Please note that I'm posting this same review across all my blogs, but I'm appending some blog-specific information at the end of each one.

For many years now I've beein reviewing Brendan Powell Smith's work, and up till now it has all been about his LEGO take on biblical material. When I heard his newest book was on a different topic altogether, I have to admit I was disappointed. For some time now I've been hoping he would do a version of the Psalms and the Prophets - I think those texts would provide a great opportunity for imaginitive LEGO interpretations. I have to say, though, that I was very pleasantly surprised. Assassination! is, in a word, terrific. This 272 page hardcover book is filled with over 400 LEGO illustrations, detailing the history of US president assassinations and assassination attempts.

The illustrations are top-notch. Back in the early days of Brendan's Brick Testament project his landscapes were often flat and the photos fairly sparse, but a decade of LEGO illustration has changed all of that. The images are all 100% LEGO from edge to edge, and they are richly detailed. He has taken full advantage of the wide range of LEGO elements that have come out in recent years, as well as custom accessories by third party AFOL dealers (SaberScorpion's custom decals of the presidents' faces are particularly good). Brendan's building has steadily progressed over the years, and he has a keen eye for composing scenes.

But, unlike some LEGO books, this isn't just about the pictures. The text is also really good. Brendan covers the four presidential assassinations and a great number of the attempts that have happened over the past two hundred years of US history. He takes great delight into going into some of the quirky facts around these cases, often delving into the odd backstories of the perpetrators. I felt that I knew a fair amount about some of these - Licoln, due to his importance to US history, Kennedy, because you can hardly turn on the History channel without some new documentary on him, and the attempt on Reagan's life, because I remember it quite well - but I still learned quite a lot on these, not to mention some of the less prominent attempts that I didn't know anything about. I was fascinated, and sat and read it cover to cover in about three hours, pausing to pore over the pictures.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. I still have several LEGO books to read through from this recent set of offerings, but I am fairly certain that the combination of great images and compelling text will make this my favorite LEGO book of 2013. Certainly all US AFOLs should get this, but I think that even non-Americans with an interest in history would find this quite enjoyable.

Blog-specific content - There is none.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Lego Adventure Book, Volume 2

LEGO Adventure Book, Volume 2 by Megan Rothrock, 2013, No Starch Press

Please note that I'm posting this same review across my blogs, but I'm appending some blog-specific information at the end of each review.

'Tis the season for new LEGO books. I've got a stack of new LEGO books to review, so over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting these reviews every couple of days. Last year, Megan Rothrock's LEGO Adventure book was among those that received my highest praise, and I'm so happy that she has continued her series with a second volume (and the book ends with "The adventure continues...", so we're promised at least a third volume, presumably this time next year). This book is very much in the same style as last year's volume. Meg's sig-fig travels around, meeting AFOLs from around the world, and along the way we get to see their great builds and get instructions and tips as to how to build our own versions.

Once again, Meg has assembled a great line-up of builders - three repeats from last year, and seven newcomers. Specifically she includes builds by herself, Mark Stafford, Are Heiseldal, Arjan Oude Kotte, Barney Main, Birgitte Jonsgard, Tommy Williamson, Tyler Clites, Marco den Besten, Yvonne Doyle, and retired LEGO designer (and the guy who designed the Yellow Castle!) Daniel August Krentz. Building styles include space, pirate, town, Friends, micro, post-apoc, among others.

I did see some differences between volume 1 and volume 2. It seems that the building directions are more detailed in this volume, which is nice. All of the builds have lists of what bricks you will need, which were missing from some of the directions in volume 1. There are fewer builders for the same number of pages, and I think this can be explained by the greater number of pages devoted to detailed building instructions, and also more additional models for those builders who were included. Also, this book has more of a story than volume 1. In the previous book Meg was simply visiting other builders. Here she is chasing the "Destructor" through these different LEGO lands. Whereever he goes, the Destructor destroys MOCs. This, then, gives Meg's sig fig the opportunity to help rebuild them. It's a nice device that then gives the excuse to include building instructions as part of the narrative. One suggestion would be to have shown the original MOCs before the Destructor came along, and then show the rebuilding. Since in a couple of places they note that the rebuild was not exactly the same as the original, this might be a good way to show that you can use LEGO to build in different ways. I liked that there was some inclusion of microscale, though the one model was still in a fig-scale world as a movie prop.

As I noted in my review of volume 1, this series is a celebration of the AFOL community. There are some nice inclusions that you pick up on if you know the community references or the people involved. For instance, Meg and Mark come across as partners in the book, reflecting their real-life relationship. Meg also includes a MOC of their dog, Bandit, who passed away this year (probably after the book went to print, now that I think of it). Tommy's MOCs are based around a movie set, reflecting his real-life profession. We get a reference to the Guilds of Historica project on Eurobricks. I was wondering if the reference to the CCC, the Council of Creative Constructionists, was a veiled reference to the Colossal Castle Contest or just a coincidence of acronyms. Other nods include the inclusion of post-apoc as a fan theme, a reference to online contests, and a micro rendition of the fan-favorite Galaxy Explorer. The community reference that most warmed my heart, though, was the inclusion of Vic Vipers. I know that Mark has previously worked a reference to the late Nnenn into an official set, and it was great to see these included, particularly in a book that came out during Novvember. I love these little peeks into the AFOL community, which are still subtle enough that people from outside the community can equally enjoy the book without feeling somehow out of the loop.

As with volume 1, I would give my highest recommendation for LEGO Adventure Book, Volume 2. The audience could range from a kid on up to a long-time AFOL; model difficulties range from intermediate to challenging; the variety of themes will have something for everyone. I'm very much looking forward to volume 3. One suggestion, if Meg happens to read this, is that in future volumes we should see Western and Ancient, two building areas that haven't been covered yet, and also some more exploration of scale, such as additional micro building and also things like miniland scale. I'd also love to see some licensed themes (Star Wars, DC, Marvel, Tolkien), but I completely understand how that might run into additional IP headaches when producing a book like this.

Blog-specific content: There is none.

Friday, November 22, 2013


I debated whether I should include this on my blog, since Ponyo is only tenuously connected to Disney (they basically handled the dubbing into English and the distribution in the US), but Miyazaki brings such great visuals to his films that I'd like to feature some of them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

From the director's workbench

Angus MacLane, both AFOL and director of Toy Story of Terror, is working on his entry to a current contest at FBTB, but look who's checking out the starfighter-in-progress, the LEGO bunny, in stair form.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Happy birthday, Mickey!

Today is Mickey's 85th birthday. Let's celebrate by featuring a few of the many LEGO rendition of everyone's favorite mouse.



Nathan Sawaya

Legoriki ? (or someone else at Festival of the Masters)


Friday, November 15, 2013

Disney Princesses - What other sets should they make?

There have been so many great Princess movies, that I would imagine we can expect multiple waves of future sets. In yesterday's post on the upcoming Princess sets I suggested some missing characters and one set idea (an undersea palace from the Little Mermaid) that I think would be cool. What else do you think they should produce? Here is some rampant speculation.

Snow White and the Dwarfs - I think a set of the dwarfs cottage would be really good. They could include Snow, a dwarf or two (all seven is too much to ask), and the evil queen in hag form (bearing an apple). I actually think putting a minifig with stubby legs next to a Friends fig for Snow would work well.

Sleeping Beauty - Malificent is the all time best villain in Disney history, and really needs to be done in LEGO, both in human and dragon form. This would be the Friends set for the boys - Prince Philip vs the dragon. Another good set, and more in keeping with the Friends aesthetic, would be Aurora dressed as Briar Rose and a bunch of animals. That whole scene of her dancing with Philip's clothes.

Beauty and the Beast - Disney's other 'Beauty' deserves a couple of sets. Maybe one of Belle and the Beast dancing? Molded LEGO versions of Lumiere and Cogsworth would be great. The castle builder in me would love to get a big village set from the opening musical number, but I think that would be unrealistic.

Brave - The one Brave set so far seems woefully inadequate. The whole focus of the movie is the relationship between Merida and Elinor, so they really should have a set including the queen, either in human or bear form. Of course as a castle guy I'd love to have a set of either the castle or the witch's hut.

Alright, your turn. What sets would you like to see in the Princesses line? Either realistic sets that LEGO could actually make, or just your dream sets covering multiple baseplates with tons of figs.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Disney Princess System sets

My slow blogging in recent months means that this isn't breaking news to most, but I still feel like I need to include this here. The next Disney property to get an official license is the line of Disney Princesses. Well, they've actually already done some of them, but as Duplo figures. There are going to be more of these, and I'll get to them, but today I want to look at the System sets. This seems such a no-brainer, and I've thought for a long time they should do this theme. It seems a natural point of contact to bring more, largely girl, customers in to System building, and also to connect to the very popular Castle building theme. As a Castle guy, I had hoped they would do these with minifigs, as this would add more characters to my minifig world, but they've gone with the Friends figs instead. This certainly seems a natural fit, given the popularity of the Friends sets with a younger girl demographic, so it makes sense. Let's look at the first wave of sets. At least I'm assuming this is the first wave, as there are so many more sets they could do in subsequent waves.

Everyone's favorite mermaid gets two sets. First we see 4105, Ariel's Amazing Treasures. The Ariel fig looks great, as does the Flounder piece. The set makes me want to burst out in song, and yes, I'm comfortable with my masculinity :). My only complaint is that she doesn't actually have a dinglehopper or a snarfblatt in her treasure trove. Instead she seems to have pilfered daddy's trident.

41052, Ariel's Magical Kiss is a nice looking set. Here, of course, we get her walking around on those - what do you call 'em? Oh - feet! Unfortunately, this is missing a very key element, Sebastian! How are we going to "Sing with me now ... Sh la la la la la my oh my" if there's no "me" to sing with. Sebastian really should be in either this set or the other one. I suppose you can always use a red scorpion piece as a lobster, but a new mold would have been good here (and not the lame printed brick we see in the Duplo sets, but more on those later). In addition to Sebastian, I hope we see King Triton and Ursula in a future wave of Princess sets. I think a set of the undersea palace would be really great.

Next, let's look at a Disney Classic, Cinderella. I've got to say that even though she is sort of the standard-bearer for Disney Princesses, I'm less interested in her than in the more modern run, but the first set, 41053, Cinderella's Dream Carriage, looks pretty great. I'm not as sold on the fig here, though. She looks to me a little more like Tinkerbell in a blue dress, largely due to the hairpiece and the proportion of the head versus the body. Also, it would have been nice to see her in her plain clothes, since the other Cinderella set also has her in the blue dress. Oh, I also would have loved to see little Jaq and Gus Gus molded figures.

41055, Cinderella's Romantic Castle is the biggest set in this line, and as a castle builder I see a lot of good parts in this set. On the other hand, though, it seems the set most geared towards little girls. This does have one of the only male figs, but, c'mon, who really cared about the Prince in Cinderella? He doesn't have the more well-rounded character of some of the guys in more recent movies, nor does he get to fight a dragon like Phillip. Oh, one more complaint on this set is the glass slipper as a printed tile. I would have rather seen an actual piece.

Two others each get a set. 41054, Rapunzel's Creativity Tower is probably my favorite of the whole series. As a castle builder, I could use this set pretty much as it is. The figs look great, and we get here both male and female characters that were both good in the movie and look good in LEGO form. Pascal is a great addition to the set, and there are some great accessories. My only complaint is that it would have been good to have a couple of spare hairpieces for Rapunzel - one with really long hair, and one for her with short hair from the end of the film.

Last but not least is the most recent addition to the princess crew, 41051, Merida's Highland Games. This is another great set. As a castle guy I think all of the pieces are useful, and I love that golden bow. The inclusion of her three brothers is great. My one big complaint about the set is that hair piece. Merida's crowning glory, and a big part of her character, is her wild mane of hair. This looks like she just stepped out of a salon, and in addition to chopping most of it off, they also changed the color. I think Elinor (at the start of the movie) would approve of this hair, but I certainly do not.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Toy Story 3 trailer

I mentioned a couple of days ago that LEGO was in the Toy Story teaser trailer. You can watch that here.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

LEGO Bunny Cuusoo

You may not even have to figure out the LEGO Bunny from Toy Story of Terror on your own. It was built by director Angus MacLane, and he's posted it on Cuusoo. This is a LEGO crowd-sourcing site, and if 10,000 people vote for this project, LEGO will consider making it as an actual set. Even if this never becomes a set, this set of photos is far better than the various screencaps I've found.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Toy Story of Terror Bunny

AFOLs who watched Toy Story of Terror have tried to reproduce the LEGO Bunny, which is comprised of pretty standard bricks and other elements. There's a great discussion here, where builders look at a lot of still screenshots to try and figure out exactly how the bunny was made. Rowdymike18 came up with a pretty good rendition.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Toy Story of Terror

Toy Story 3 was an amazing movie, but a little disappointing from a LEGO perspective. We heard in advance that LEGO would be featured, and LEGO had a prominent role in one of the the trailers. But in the actual movie, there was precious little LEGO. Some minifigures were essentially extras in a few crowd scenes - walking around among other toys at Sunnyside when Woody and the gang arrived, and when Buzz was captured he was tied to a chair made of DUPLO. It seemed such a missed opportunity, because you could imagine LEGO being used in all sorts of ways.

There was a brief view of minifigures again in the Hawaiian Vacation short, but LEGO first played a true role in Toy Story of Terror. This is unsurprising, since the Halloween special was directed by noted AFOL Angus MacLane, who included a couple of LEGO references. The first was a glimpse of a LEGO set (the blue box) behind our heroes.

Second, and much more important, was the inclusion of a real LEGO character, the bunny seen on the far right here. Even though he didn't talk, this bunny took advantage of his LEGO-nature, rebuilding himself into a cube, a stairway, and a ladder to advance the action. In the end the bunny escapes the Sleep Well with Combat Carl and the other secondary characters, so maybe we'll see him again.