LEGO collaborations bring the community to life; the bigger and more ambitious the better! One such collective I’ve been honored to join and contribute to is the loosely termed ‘Private Club.’ Under the guidance of its brainchild Pico van Grootveld we have twice come together to present expansive collaborative space scenes rendered through his formidable photographic editing skills. On the eve of the unveiling of the second of these mammoth endeavours, Building Debates plays host to an overview of the project and hear thoughts from Pico and a number of the other key collaborators about its creation.
A slice of fortune seekers trying to find their luck on Jupiter’s moon Europa. After the discovery of water under its icy crust, several investigated areas revealed the presence of ABS. Moments later…
The completed Quest for Europa diorama can be viewed here.
I hand you over to Pico now to set the scene.
It all started when a group of Lego enthusiasts came together in a posh group aptly named the ‘private club’ over on Mocpages. Different folks of all ages from all over the globe sharing stories, asking questions, the usual stuff. One day in 2014 fellow builder Stephan Niehoff dropped a poll to see who’d be interested in a digital collaboration (here’s the original post).
So time passed and things became more polished through group conversation. The idea was expanded and a common theme of interest picked. The collaboration would revolve around different factions searching for the precious element ‘ABS’, or absinite.
The First Chapter: Mining Frenzy
The first chapter told the story of a mining frenzy that followed the discovery of the element. A collaborative build with a variety of creations that went from planetside bases, asteroid fields, mining ops, sector security to alien species and of course space pirates! The final tableau is on display here.
The Second Chapter: The Quest for Europa
After publishing, again some time passed and the second chapter was in the making. This time the real life discovery of water on Europa got things ticking. ‘What about an underwater world unknown to mankind, let’s explore!’. So again we made a roster and let everyone pick their spot.
With different layers in the grid, there was plenty of choice for everyone. Space, planet, planet crust, water, deep sea, sea bottom, examples of the layouts can be seen here.
We left the choice of build free so as to let creativity do its thing. All was possible from an exploration team to lurking creatures.
Following Pico’s account of the collaboration set-up, some of the key builders involved in the project shared their thoughts on the project. Each providing their contribution to the project’s fantastical narrative and reflections on the creative project.
Pico Van Grootveld
Narrative: The Tequilatron agenda
As life thrives on planets over multiple quadrants, demand for spirits is high. The tequila serving syndicate has to keep the liquor pouring and the condiments a plenty. Whether it’s the growing of limes on blue planets or harvesting deep underground salt deposits on rocky ‘roids, the right equipment is crucial to get the job done right. Introducing the underwater model of the Roid Jumper, the Roid Diver can withstand higher pressures and is equipped the technology needed to source salt rich deposits.
Reflections on the build
With Tequilatron making a debut with the Tequila Tuk Tuk in the Classic Space Pocket Money contest (an idea of David and David), the line developed along the way in several contests, games (Rutherford & Goldman’s D.A.2.) and collabs.
To keep things consistent and fitting within the storyline, I thought it best to stick with the lime and grey. I would see a modified Roid Jumper equipped to dive and mine in the deep. So the cockpit got fortified to whitstand high pressures, an arm was replaced by a mining laser and the top got a big lamp to lighten up the abyss. To add to the scenery, red ABS crystals were added as well as a strolling diver and marker buoys. The idea was to get the share of the resource while it was around. The divers would attach the full tanks to the buoys and release them to the surface, where logistics would pick up and ship. The whole logistic aspect as well as the defense of the precious goods are the themes I like most. The most fun, though, is to be had with the whole ‘bringing things together’. It’s a nice thought of having fellow builders from over multiple continents adding their creativity to a concept. While, in this case, real life logistics would get in the way, the digital collaboration type is just perfect. I really enjoy the different angles people take on a subject, each in their own respective and distinctive style. I have the honour of mixing it up and praying for an end result that puts a smile on everyones’ face!
Narrative: The Sub design story
After the relaxation of ‘The Mining Frenzy’, the time was right for the first meeting of the Resources on Europa Strategy Team or REST, in the team’s favorite polished corner of their favorite posh bar, The Private Club. Team member, sister of Dame Darkla, and engineering genius, Wacky Wanda, attended the meeting after having recently been refreshing her knowledge of Platonic solids by scanning the web’s mathematical sites. As the meeting progressed and post meeting discussions continued, Wanda, armed with this refreshment of past solid learning, realized that a mining submarine in the shape of one such Platonic polyhedron just might be the design answer to small volume cargo packing of drilling submarines for transportation to Europa in cargo spacecraft. Wanda’s design lab, Technic Bulldog, quickly determined a cuboidal design would be the best. The drill sub was even built with a propitiatory exterior surface metallic membrane material featuring faced-centered cubic packing as opposed to body-centered cubic packing of its metallic atoms. And finally, Wanda wanted her dear friend and Astro-geologist, Marina Bleu, to pilot the first sub.
Reflections on the build
Just like Wanda, I too had just happened to have been refreshing my knowledge of Platonic Solids. So, when all of us Private Club friends made the decision to add another chapter to our ABS Space Resource Saga I had already been thinking about building a Platonic Solid with LEGO. Now, I wanted my solid to be, well, for lack of a better word… SOLID! I didn’t want to just use LEGO pieces for my polyhedron’s edges and vertices leaving its faces open like so many builders had been doing! So, I decided my contribution to our project would be a drilling sub that would have the shape of one of the Platonic Solids. Now I know my own limitations, so I decided to build a cuboidal submarine. Not having a large quantity of any one colored LEGO piece, I began by designing my structure using LDD. I found it was best to build up individual or 2 neighboring cube face structures from the outside in, then grouping them, and finally sliding the various groups together to form the ‘cube’. Of course, LDD gave me a great estimate for the number of LEGO pieces I would need. And naturally, the building process for the actual physical sub did not progress without some modifications and tweaks!
Reflections on the build
My thought on the collaboration: Absolutely! Having built for Mining Frenzy and having a blast doing something so weird and out there, I couldn’t pass up another opportunity with this crazy crew. Having also worked on collaborations of all sorts as well, I find the freedom and constraints here more appealing to my own building ethos. Plus, not having to photo edit my work appeals to my laziness. Thank you Pico! But the added bonus of a master like Pico taking charge in that aspect is always worth it.
Building ideas: Well, I really only had only one vision as soon as I heard the idea. I grew up loving Kubrick and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was one of those films that couldn’t have been more perfect for me and my development at a critical moment. Turned me on to Clarke and from there I found many superb authors to really absorb and dive into. So when 2010: The Year We Make Contact came out, I was understandably so pissed off and disappointed in spite of having Scheider, Mirren, Lithgow, and Balaban on board. I’ll grant that the movie was not bad; however, I did not want any answers to the questions raised by 2001. The mystery was completely deflated. And because of that, I thought of the monolith as just another piece of junk. Then with the discovery of possible water hidden underneath the frozen crust of Europa, I couldn’t help but think of a pair of ice fishing aficionados lucklessly pulling one up from the depths.
The final build: I didn’t want just a simple pair of figures ice fishing, I wanted a couple characters having a REALLY crappy day ice fishing. I have them pulling up other “junk” and casting it aside in a pile. But I didn’t want just junk, I wanted other relics that would give the monolith an even lower level of importance. The Ark of the Covenant and a golden statue are parked back there along with a hull piece from a Helicarrier, a Wurlitzer, a miniature trireme, and a bunch of rare Lego pieces including a hanger, a metal Technic crane hook, a pen brick, the original Han frozen in carbonite, and of course a Scala potty. The toughest part of the build was figuring out to use white macaroni pieces to replicate the sides of a large fishing hole cut with an ice drill, which is sitting behind Phat Mac there. It’s a Stihl. 😉 The entire build was supported as it cantilevered out from the back by the lower half of the submerged monolith.
Matt’s brain not on drugs: The story behind the characters and what I envisioned while building. I’ll post a link to the story along with an edited main photo of my contribution after the big reveal. Don’t worry, it’s what you all expect. 😉
So, there were some engineers on Earth who were married to biologists and artists, sports players and idealists of all sorts. And these engineers had a private design business, creating exploration vehicles for various space environments. The absinite craze launched the greatest adventure through space and time since the California Gold Rush. Everyone wanted a piece of the action. This small firm was no exception.
The engineers wanted to build something practical, competitive… And fast. They wanted to get in and out before the competition. Their wives and husbands wanted something creative. Something organic, and inspired. Because they all lived on Earth, the biologists said it should be modeled after an Earth-dwelling creature, even an extinct one. The artists wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing, creatively disproportionate. The sports players wanted it to be tough, and powerful, and memorable. The engineers just wanted something practical.
But a happy wife makes a happy life, and the lady engineers in the group decided their husbands’ ideas had merit. Putting their heads together, the engineers created MABOFA, or Mobile Apparatuses Based On Fearsome Animals. This wave of spaceships and mining equipment included rhinos, condors, snakes, wolves, sharks, and dinosaurs, to name a few. The idea was to intimidate the competitors and any other natural creatures that may be out in space, just hidden from view.
When Europa was announced as ABS-positive, the firm scrambled to create an aquatic mining scout. Expanding their line of shark-resembling products, the “Little White” was created. It served every purpose of the original creators except one: it wasn’t the most intimidating creature in the ocean.
Reflections on the build
Personal background: When I made this, I wanted to challenge myself in two ways. I wanted to create something organic, and I wanted to work in black, which is notoriously hard to photograph. I worked pretty randomly on different parts of this creation, not having too much direction until one piece of the manta or the shark sub just worked. I had recently purchased the skyhopper and wanted to reuse the windows. The dual-tone sticker made this the perfect opportunity, with the half-grey, half-white color scheme on the shark.
Both of these models were insanely fragile. Since creating this, I have become somewhat better at building sturdy models. It is still an area where I struggle, but I have not quite reached the level of despair I experienced when propping the shark up for the fortieth time. I’m pretty sure that I used thin black string to hold the sub up and edited it out in post-processing. Come to think of it, the entire MOC may have been suspended above the ground, in front of an evenly lit blue brick background.
This prompt was really fun and I was stoked to join this crew after their first collab. It is always exciting to work with great minds like those in this group, so I am honored to be included in this awesome adventure. The idea was very creative and surprisingly challenging. Pico is a fantastic editor, and if any behind-the-scenes information ever gets shared about what our team started with, you’ll understand what I mean, and just what he went through to pull it all together. It’s really marvelous, and has been a lot of fun.
Narrative: LABCO News – The OPACIFIED Department on Europa
After having dried out the ‘roids in the Terpon Cluster, the Liquid ABS COmpany joined the party under Europa’s ice crust. Soon they realised that, whereas most of their competitors swept large amounts of absinite off the oceanic floor at massive operating costs, they could manage to obtain the precious material more easily. A certain species of giant worm thrived in the abyss, mainly feeding on creatures that live on the ABS-saturated oceanic floor. Soon the LABCO realised that the worm’s digestive system rejected crystals of pure absinite.
A daughter company was created to use the OPACIFIED technology on Europa, which stands for Organically Produced ABS by Catalyse of Inert Faeces Into Exploitable Detritus. The job, consisting of following the worms until the absinite, well… gets out, is boring and time-consuming, but avoids many of the jovian moon’s dangers. A diving bell signals to a little collector-submarine when the time is right. Unfortunately this particular event is followed by the creature’s lunch time, which can be a problem if the diving-bell can’t reach the surface… Those pesky fishermen!
Reflections on the build
Mainly an excuse to use my growing bowed slopes collection and my Duplo for the background, the build itself didn’t take too long and didn’t involve complicated techniques. Instead, I tried to remain simple, especially concerning the colours. I was looking for a good contrast between the water and the submarines, and a camouflage pattern for the worm. But above all, I wanted to go on with this exciting and rewarding collaboration started with Mining Frenzy! As for chapter 1, Pico did a great job organizing the setting, and it’s nothing compared with the work he put into cutting, gluing, editing, lighting, fogging and in the end making something beautiful out of our bricks! Hope you’ll enjoy the end result as I did!
David Alexander Smith
Narrative: Ecological Preservation Investigators SUB
When the absinite rush began, the outer reaches of the solar system were put at serious ecological risk. With leaking tequila and flying drill bits aplenty across Europa someone had to ensure the indigenous lifeforms were not disrupted. And being the sensible people they were the ecologists designed a sea-horse modelled sub. Why, because of course all life on Europa would be sea-horse shaped, and they really really wanted to fit in. Whether this was true or not all the divers agreed that a sea-horse sub was a beautiful thing and more fun to drive than a Ferrari. It now bumbles around the mid level sea keeping its sensors alert for any illegal mining activity.
Reflections on the build
The project allowed me to investigate a further creature based vehicle following on from my space dinosaurs. With the underwater theme allowing to make a nod the Aquazone’s yellow and blue sets rather than the classic space grey and blue. A fun and I believe unique build, I love how Pico has accentuated the yellow so that it pops right out of the centre of the final diorama.
Reflections on the build
The Europa collaboration: it feels like it started a long time ago, so where to start?
At first I was reluctant to get involved with the project. I’m not very good at building things to a specification; indeed my entries into the Decisive Action 2 game on MOCpages were often about trying to subvert the categories. For me Lego is somewhere I can be free of deadlines and the need to deliver quality, whatever the circumstances. Fortunately the “Private Club” is a very tolerant group of people, with a fairly relaxed schedule. The joy of a virtual collaboration is that there is no external deadline of a show that everybody has to be ready for.
I was also worried that mine would be the only digital creation amongst the real bricks. I render things on my old, currently disintegrating laptop. Modern standards are stunningly photo realistic but not mine! Again the group was very welcoming and understanding that I don’t live with my bricks for 5 months of the year. I think it also speaks of Pico’s skill that all of the different builds and especially lighting setups have been so well mixed into a whole.
The longer I’ve been involved in the Lego community, the more I’ve come to appreciate the skill of professional designers such as Pico. A lot of what I build is all about shape and colour and pattern: abstract sculptures that have engines attached so that people accept them as spaceships. However, when I look on Flickr at the models and presentations of people who work in the graphic design world, it often makes me wish I’d trained in something like that.
After all of my dithering, I was one of the last to join the project. I wanted to crack on and get something built, as I didn’t want let my friends down and a busy working period was coming up. Pods. I like pods. The pods in 2001: A Space Odyssey have always fascinated me. Either their shape or the way that they moved or perhaps it was that one of the astronauts was called “Dave”. People have commented that my pod at the bottom of Europa’s ocean looks like a space pod and I did revisit and modify the design in real bricks in the first of my SHIPwreckers models, in SHIPtember 2016. Yellow was the obvious main colour, as that seems to be the colour of most submersibles and would send a visual cue. Red was for high-vis and breaking up all of the red and adding a bit of contrast. I used a lot of 3675 3×3 corner slopes on the pod. When I came to make it real bricks these were very expensive on Bricklink and if I’d realised, I wouldn’t have used so many on the submersible. I do like my virtual builds to “work” in real life: structurally and financially!
So thank to everyone in the group but especially Stephan for kicking it off, Pico for wrangling the images and David Alexander Smith for co-ordinating the written part. It’s been a brilliant thing to have been part of again.
Thanks first and foremost to Pico for making this happen, and to all the other collaborators who added to the fun and creativity. See links below to visit their individual pages.
– Tom Remy