Monthly Archives: March 2012

Rainbow Connection

My latest creation is a life size model of Kermit The Frog with his banjo, as seen in the opening scene of the 1979 film The Muppet Movie, when he was playing “Rainbow Connection.” I haven’t done a photo shoot of the model on its own, so for now you will have to be satisfied with pictures from Bricks by the Bay 2012. I will update this post when I have more pictures to add. I was very pleased to have this model voted “Supreme Sculptor” (best sculpture) and “Greenest” (best use of the “Green” theme for the convention).

On Display at Bricks by the Bay
On Display at Bricks by the Bay
Kermit's Head at BayLUG meeting
Kermit's Head at BayLUG meeting

I built the head first and showed it at the February BayLUG meeting. There was a building contest with a theme of “Movies” based on the fact that the Academy Awards were held near the time of the meeting, and I won the adult competition with the head alone. But for Bricks by the Bay I wanted to at least do a bust if not the whole body. My dream was to have a log made of LEGO bricks for him to sit on, based on the scene in the movie, and I may yet do that….

Kermit’s head started with his eyes. When the new movie The Muppets was in the “coming soon” phase, and I kept seeing ads for it, I started thinking about how a partial Lowell sphere would be a good way to model his eyes, and thought about how a 2×2 round tile can be mounted centered on a 1×4 plate (If you haven’t seen this before, try it! The 2×2 round tile is one of the most versatile pieces LEGO makes.) To make the shape of his head come out right, I had to mount the eyes at an angle, which is done by some interior clips, and then build up LEGO slopes to try to make it fit in as seamlessly as possible. There are even some 1×1 “Henrik” (cheese) slopes that are sandwiched in between parts but not actually attached to anything, just to fill in the gaps!

This part used a huge number of green slopes. I quickly ran out and had to buy more from club members and BrickLink to complete the model. Thanks to Paul Sinasohn, Jayson Cabuag, and Pete Woulfe for helping me to get the parts in a timely manner. I bought parts from Paul at the February BayLUG meeting, and the Monday before the convention, I made a trip up to San Francisco and picked up some more from Pete, and then (after a brief detour to do some dancing at Shades of Blues) took a trip to San Jose to pick up my BrickLink order from Jayson. The lime wedge plates that make up his collar, and more of the green slopes, were mostly from various BrickLink sellers over the course of February and early March, and I choose not to contemplate how much I had to spend to get those…

Kermit's Head at BBTB SNOT Panel
Kermit's Head at BBTB SNOT Panel

A week before the convention, all I had was his head and collar. The rest of the body, arms, and legs, were built during those few days before the convention. The body is pretty straightforward construction, but the arms and legs were trickier. I used the Technic click hinge joints to articulate them, and though they aren’t strong enough to hold up the arms and legs in a pose, they do allow the range of movement needed (well almost – his hands don’t quite reach where the strings on the banjo should be). The arms and legs are octagonal in cross-section, but because inverse slopes in green are much less common, I built them by constructing each segment studs-out and then mounting them together back-to-back using various methods. The hands and feet are simple assemblages of green plates. I wish I could have made the fingers articulate but I didn’t have the parts in green to do that.

But by far my favorite part of this model is the banjo, and that was done in a day from parts I had on hand. I made the circle out of 1×2 log bricks interspersed with 1×1 round bricks, with a wall of white 1x bricks to form the face of the banjo. The neck and other details came together out of basic bricks and plates in a straightforward manner. The round part of a banjo is basically a drum, and so there are tightening screws all the way around it to adjust the tension. I simulated those using grey LEGO bars mounted on clip plates, and think it comes off looking quite realistic. I did not string the banjo, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get the strings taut enough to look right. I might see if I can add strings to improve it later though.

I used the head of Kermit as a demonstration model in the SNOT (Studs Not On Top) panel at Bricks by the Bay, and plan to post some more detailed pictures of the construction techniques used in the future, so watch this space.

If you missed Bricks by the Bay, I plan to bring Kermit to the Bricks Cascade convention in Portland in June, so look for him there.

All the photos of Kermit are in the Rainbow Connection photoset on Flickr (click any of the photos in this post, or view as slideshow).

Bricks by the Bay 2012 Wrapup

Our third annual Bricks by the Bay LEGO fan convention was a huge success! It was held just over a week ago, March 16-18, in Santa Clara, CA. Months of hard work planning and preparing for the convention finally paid off as over 400 attendees came to the convention, and over 5300 members of the public came to see our stuff on Sunday.

Although I’m the President of Bricks by the Bay, I actually managed to enjoy and participate in the convention to a large degree. Here’s a brief overview of what it was like from my point of view each day…

Thursday

Suite
Suite

I arrived at the hotel around noon and checked into my room. I had a van full of both my stuff, and stuff for the convention (mainly prizes). I sorted all my stuff from the convention stuff and had the bellhops take my stuff up to my room, and had the housemen (Banquet department workers) carry the convention stuff up to the suite. I then spent most of the afternoon in the suite along with the other board members Bruce and Loren, and our prize goddess Jen, getting things sorted and ready for the convention. I spent most of the time getting my Scrounge Build envelopes ready.

When it came to be dinner time we went to the hotel restaurant and ate, then started setting up the Grand Ballroom. As the earlier event’s tables and chairs were being cleared away, we measured out on the floor all the locations where the vendor and exhibit tables would go and marked them with blue painter’s tape, and set up the pipe and drape in the vendor areas. In the meantime, the hotel staff brought in and set up all the tables in the spaces we had already marked. We stayed until about 1am working on this.

Friday

SNOT Panel
SNOT Panel

I had to get up at 7am Friday to help continue setup. We had thought we would have a lot more table setup to do in the vendor areas Friday morning, but it turned out that we were able to get more done Thursday night than planned, so that was a more relaxing time than expected. I helped get the check-in desk squared away, and turned to setting up my MOCs. Unlike the past two years things were going quite smoothly and I didn’t get called upon much during this time, so I was able to have a fairly relaxing day almost like a regular attendee.

At 1pm, I joined Mariann Asanuma to talk about SNOT (Studs Not On Top) building techniques, and used my camera connected to the projector to show close-ups of the things we were talking about. I brought my Kermit the Frog head to the panel, and showed the various ways that parts of his head were built at different angles.

Parts Draft
Parts Draft

After that I sat in on Erik Wilson’s Historical Models presentation then took some alone time, catching up on email and decompressing. Later that afternoon I participated in the Adult Dirty Brickster (I brought a 9V train motor, and came away with a couple small Star Wars sets) and Small Set Parts Draft (I got a bunch of cool parts from the Olivia’s Tree House set) activities, then went out to dinner with the other Directors and the LEGO delegation.

After dinner, we had the Opening Ceremony, where each of the LEGO representatives spoke for a while and then Kevin Hinkle from LEGO unveiled the new R2-D2 set. At the end of the Opening Ceremony I handed out envelopes for the Scrounge Build participants, consisting of a LEGO set instruction book and a form to fill out (but no parts – the point of the game is they have to find the parts, or suitable substitutes for a penalty, and build the set). A few minutes after that was done, a couple guys came up to me with a completed Scrounge Build model! It turned out that Angel Monje’s store had the model (a Star Wars ship) in stock, and they just bought it off him and brought it to me. But since they had to actually build the set to win, I told them to take it apart and rebuild it, and they still had to write out the story of how they got it, before they could turn it in.

Kevin Hinkle and R2-D2
Kevin Hinkle and R2-D2

While they were working on that, there was a fire alarm in the hotel. Although we were in the Convention Center, a separate building connected by a corridor, we still evacuated the Grand Ballroom and spent some time waiting in the Convention Center lobby. I later learned that my Scrounge Build winning team had gone outdoors instead, and were working on their model in the rain! After they finally gave us the all clear to go back in to the ballroom, the team found me again and turned in their model. It seems that what they had bought was not built 100% right – there were pieces missing and extra parts that shouldn’t be there, so they had to do a bit more scrounging but eventually they got it done. With the story about finding the set and the fire alarm, they easily qualified as having a great story as well as being the first ones done, but since nobody else turned theirs in, they won in both categories.

I took a lot of photos on Friday evening, but since some things didn’t arrive until Saturday that doesn’t cover everything.

Saturday

Zonker - EL Wires

I allowed myself the luxury of sleeping in a little Saturday morning, and went downstairs to the convention around 9:30. I sat in on Zonker Harris’s EL Wires presentation at 10, but got called away to meet a reporter who had arrived, Richard Hart, who was working on a piece for channel 7 ABC news, and had been the host of the Discovery Channel show The Next Step. It was great to meet him because I’d seen him on TV for decades dating back to my childhood when he was a host of the “Evening Magazine” show. He was very personable and easy to talk to, and I enjoyed telling him about the convention and the LEGO hobby. He did a short video interview, a clip of which made it as a sound bite in the eventual TV news segment, which aired Sunday night. The original intent was to show it Saturday night, so that it might help publicize our public day Sunday, but it didn’t make it into the broadcast. You can see the video and read a transcript of the segment online: “LEGOs go from toy to technology

Relay Team Speed Build

At 11, Jen Nogle and I ran the Relay Team Speed Build game, where 5 teams of 4 people raced to build a set that we provided. The parts from the set were distributed across three tables, where there was one station for each team, and the members of the team had to carry the build-in-progress from one table to the next, handing it off to the person who was waiting there, until a team finished the build.

After lunch I was a part of the “How to Design MOCs from Start to Finish” panel with Mariann Asanuma and Russell Clark. We talked about three different ways of building: Mariann uses “brick paper” to plan out sculptures, Russell uses LEGO Digital Designer, and I build using bricks by looking at pictures but not doing any formal planning. I had some technical difficulties getting my part ready as I hadn’t taken the time to do adequate preparation, but in the end it worked out fine.

Immediately following that was another game I was running: 101 Bricks. Players brought their own parts, 101 elements of any type, to engage in a series of challenges. My original idea, copied from the game I played at BrickCon last fall, was to go through 10 challenges, but because so many people were participating we only got through 5 of them. Still, it was a popular game and people had a lot of fun with it.

That game ended at 3, when my dance partner Valerie came by after her bellydance class, and I spent the next hour showing her around. At 4, I was in another panel, this time on LDraw, with Jordan Ladd of BrickBooks. We talked about the various tools that make up the LDraw system and how we use them to make instructions for models.

When that was over, it was time for the All Ages Dirty Brickster game. I brought in a box of LEGO 9V train track switch parts and came away with a Heroica game. What followed was the dinner break… and that’s where things finally came off the rails.

Late Friday night I had had the hotel print out ballot forms for the MOC (My Own Creation, the models people brought to display) award voting. We had 8 display themes, each with 5-7 awards to give out, plus 10 general awards, and we had five judges for each theme. So the ballots were pretty important… I had prepared envelopes for each of the theme coordinators with the ballots for their theme, and had them at the check-in desk for them. The judges did their work all afternoon and turned in their ballots as planned to Paul, who was to tabulate the results and prepare a slide show with a photograph and the name of each winner. But we had a couple of serious problems with this plan…

First, Paul’s computer was misbehaving. He had to install some updates to the software and wasn’t able to create the slide deck during dinner as planned, and by the time the computer was ready to do so, it was almost time to start the evening ceremonies and he was needed on stage, so I took over that job. Second, I had failed to include space on the form for the builder’s names. Thankfully a couple of the judges did write the names down, but most didn’t, and I couldn’t very well give out awards without knowing who built the winning models! So I holed up in one of the empty rooms and furiously tabulated the votes with Loren, while tireless volunteer Raj Singh ran around the ballroom finding the winners and identifying the builders, communicating with us by cell phone. I don’t know how long this all took but it was probably over an hour. We were going to put photos on each slide, but quickly discarded that idea as too time-consuming, since it often wasn’t clear which photo corresponded to which winner. Meanwhile, back in the Theater, they had given out door prizes and awarded the winners for all the games, and needed to stall for time while I worked on the MOC awards. Eventually I got them done and ran triumphantly down the stairs in the theater with laptop held high to thunderous applause, and set it up on the stage for Paul to read off the winners.

But as if that weren’t enough trouble for one night, I had been doing all of this with my laptop running on battery power, and the battery gave out just as we finished the awards. The computer put itself into emergency sleep mode and turned itself off moments after we were done with the slide show. But when I turned it back on the next day, I was horrified to learn that the file was corrupted and could not be restored, and I had never hit Save!!! So all the slides I had worked so hard on were lost, and I would have to reconstruct the winners yet again from the ballots. I did that on Monday at home after the convention, and think I got them all right except for a couple of unknowns….

My "City Park" diorama won an award
My "City Park" diorama won an award
My "Rainbow Connection" sculpture won two awards
My "Rainbow Connection" sculpture won two awards

The good news is I won some of the awards! My “Rainbow Connection” sculpture of Kermit the frog with banjo won Supreme Sculptor (Art) and my “City Park” won Best Minifig Scene (Town & Train). In the overall awards on Sunday, Kermit also won the “Greenest” trophy. I had brought the City Park to last year’s convention and it was barely noticed, but this year for some reason it attracted a lot of attention and I received a lot of comments about it. Kermit’s head appeared at the February BayLUG meeting (and won the “movies” themed contest there) but the rest of the body and banjo were built in the week before the convention.

Anyway, back to Saturday night. After the ceremony was over, I ran the Wacky Racers and Catapult events. Wacky Racers was a hoot! We had a lot of entries in all categories (kids, teens, and adults) and some spectacular crashes as well as some great long distance results. The Catapult only had a couple of entries, all adult, and only one purist entry. Still, it was fun flinging minifigs across the lobby of the Convention Center!

When that was all done, I stayed up late taking pictures of all the models until about 1am. We kicked everyone out of the ballroom at midnight, but I pulled rank to stay behind and take photos until the security guy needed to lock up.

Sunday

Best in Show & Public Choice Winner - Last March of the Ents by OneLUG
Best in Show & Public Choice Winner - Last March of the Ents by OneLUG

Sunday was our big day when the public would come through from 10am-4pm. Last year we hired a security firm, Praetorian Event & Protective Services, to monitor the doors and lines on public day, and this year we expanded that to include ticket sales as well. This saved us the hassle of having to provide volunteers for that work and just let the pros handle it. This proved to be a great decision and we will probably expand their presence again in the future. If you’re looking for a company to provide that kind of service I can’t recommend them highly enough.

We had a long line of pre-paid people again this year, like last year, and we let them in as fast as we could… there were not many complaints, though at times we had to pause the lines because the ballroom was too full. I put up some signs to help direct the flow of people correctly, which helped avoid event staff people having to answer questions repeatedly and people being in the wrong line (cash vs. pre-paid).

Like last year, the lines calmed down as the day wore on, since the majority of people came early. By the afternoon things were running smoothly without my help and I was able to go upstairs and participate in the Large Set Parts Draft where I got some great parts out of the Robber’s Hideout set. As that event wound down the convention center staff arrived to set up the chairs for the Closing Ceremony. We had the “chill space” bulk brick play area that was going on in room 203 moved out into the foyer, while we finished up the game in 204 and cleared out of there, and they took down the wall between the rooms and filled the space with chairs. Johannes set up the audio system and we were all set in time for the ceremonies at 4:30.

At the closing ceremony we gave out a few more awards – the Wacky Racers and Catapult winners, Individual Speed Build, and other things that took place after the Award Ceremony on Saturday, the overall MOC awards, and two theme MOC trophies whose winners had been absent the night before. I announced the dates for the next event – August 8-11, 2013 – and we all went downstairs to tear down.

Coda – IHOP Dinner

IHOP Dinner
IHOP Dinner

A week after the convention, on Saturday March 24th, about 35 of us met at the International House of Pancakes for a post-mortem party, where we talked about the convention and what we all got out of it, started talking about the 2013 event, and I think BayLUG did some recruiting.

It was fun to recapture some of the camaraderie from the convention if only for a few hours, but a challenging day for me as I came straight there from a tearful memorial service for a former housemate who had been a pillar of the social community I was a part of in college, who had died of cancer a week before the convention.

What’s Next?

We start the planning process for the 2013 convention, and we may have another smaller “minicon” this fall to tide us over since there’s such a long delay until the next event. We’re moving the convention to the summer because we weren’t able to find a date in the spring when the hotel could let us have the space. If you would like to join the effort, subscribe to our Planning Mailing List and you will be kept in the loop.

Photos

Here are all my photos from the convention. Some photos appear in more than one set, so there are several ways to slice it up: by day, by subject, or All.

By Day

BBTB 2012 Planning Meeting: Brian's old LEGO
Planning Meeting: Brian's old LEGO - 7 photos
BBTB 2012: Friday
Friday - 358 photos
BBTB 2012: Saturday
Saturday - 479 photos
BBTB Dinner at IHOP 2012-03-24
Dinner at IHOP - 3 photos

By Subject

BBTB 2012: People
People - 57 photos
BBTB 2012: MOCs
MOCs - 781 photos

All

BBTB 2012: All
All Photos - 847 photos

Four-Track Signal Gantry

A signal gantry I built over four tracks at Bay Area LEGO Train Club exhibit at the Train Collectors’ Association Cal-Stewart Spring Meet, Santa Clara, California, March 2-4, 2012. I built it Friday night after we finished the setup when I realized we would have a four track line without much decoration in that area.

The signals over each track are based on the Union Pacific Signal Rules. Over each track there is a signal facing each direction, and each signal has three lights which could be red or green. I set up the signals with two each track marked “Clear” in one direction (top light green, two lights below red), and “Stop” in the other direction (all three lights red), in keeping with the direction of travel we used on the layout, but after I set all that up, someone put trains on running in the opposite direction (as shown in the photo below)!

Four-Track Signal Gantry

BayLTC at TCA 2012

The Bay Area LEGO Train Club displayed a train layout at the Train Collectors’ Association Cal-Stewart Spring Meet, in Santa Clara, California, on March 2-4, 2012.

This is one of our favorite events to display at, as they have a fairly low stress environment and it is in a very nice facility. We set up our exhibit on Friday afternoon, March 2, and finished setup Saturday morning. On Saturday, however, the show was only open to members of the TCA who were there for the Meet, so the crowd levels were low-stress. Sunday was busier, as it was open to the public from 10am-2pm. In past years, the attendance for the public day at this event has been fairly light, and we haven’t bothered putting up our “sneeze guards” (Plexiglass barriers that keep the little kids from reaching into the layout), but this year we quickly realized they had done a much better job promoting it, and we had to scramble to get the sneeze guards up before too many fingers found their way into places they shouldn’t (or worse yet, took things they shouldn’t … you know how grabby little kids can be around toys). Once we had them up, the crowd lightened up again, but we were still glad we did it.

This event was held at the Santa Clara Convention Center, where we will be holding Bricks by the Bay in two weeks. While we were there, I had a chance to meet with our representative from the Convention Center and tour the facilities we will be using along with some of the convention volunteers who were also participating in the layout. We finalized the BBTB event schedule and locations where all the activities will be held.

This year the layout was a rather unusual shape for us. Usually we make a big ring of tables, and Bruce brings a gate that carries two tracks across it, so we can have two loops of track circling the entire layout. But Bruce wasn’t able to attend so we tried a new design, making a large “C” shape instead, with the two loops of track doubling back at each end, making a total of four tracks around the layout. It worked quite well, but it presented us with a new esthetic challenge, as there was now a stretch with four parallel tracks and no structures. When I saw that Friday night, I decided we needed a signal gantry, so that night I whipped one up and I am quite happy how it came out.

Take a look at the pictures from the show. Click the image below, or view all the photos as a slideshow.

BayLTC at TCA 2012