Thursday, 31 December 2009

My favourite models of 2009

It's the end of the year; time for lists of people who died, best songs, and new years' resolutions! I have a list of my own: military Lego models of 2009 that impressed the hell out of me.

Obviously it is no coincidence that quite a few of these models have been featured on this blog before. It probably also is no coincidence that many of them came out of this year's flickr Lego military group build competition because it brought out the best in many builders. Apparently there's nothing like the prospect of a prize and beating somebody else to get people to put a little extra effort into their models. I'm already looking forward to 2010's contest.

There's no beating about the bush, in my opinion the most impressive military model that I've seen this year was my friend Ed Diment's Vulcan bomber, the subject of the very first post on this blog was Ed Diment's Vulcan bomber.

Ed built it in record time for an exhibit celebrating 100 years of British flight at the Manchester museum of science and technology (MOSI). It has functionality, great camouflage, is very detailed and huge. Size does matter.

I myself have not built as many military models this year as in the last two, but I do have a personal favourite and was well pleased and even pleasantly surprised with how it turned out: my Sea Harrier FRS.1. It was also built for the exhibit at MOSI.
Sea Harrier FRS.1 (1)

I already mentioned the military build contest. One of the most hotly contested categories was WW-2 aircraft. I was well chuffed that my own B-26 Marauder finished 1st, because both the numbers two and three were impressive and I'll post pictures of them both. The 2nd place was for the B-25H Mitchell built by Dan Siskind, the creative brain behind Brickmania.

The third place was for Ed Diment's Spitfire. I suspect the only thing that kept him from getting the first place was the slightly misplaced cockpit canopy

According to the judges' comments it was a very close race between the numbers 1,2 and 3.

Mainman produced a wonderful model of the Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACs for the microscale category of the contest and ended up winning it. The shape is amazingly accurate for such a small model and I felt it was great to see a model of a somewhat unusual aircraft.

Another winner, this time in the modern armour category, was Daniel Zayac's excellent Merkava MBT. It's only slightly larger than minifig scale, but has an amazing amount of detail and really captures the Merkava's utilitarian look.

Talking about impressive tanks, when I saw the next model on The Brothers Brick, my jaw dropped. It's a model of a WW-2 Tiger tank built by mad_a0, a builder who I hadn't heard from before or since. Man, where are you? I want more of this.

Magnus Lauglo is probably mostly known for his armour, although he has been building jets and helicopters and a few years ago was big in the Lego castle scene. He has built a lot of nice models in the last year, but one that stood out to me was his Sealion Assault Hovercraft, mainly because it's such an unusual vehicle that nonetheless looks convincing and because of the excellent camouflage.

Another very prolific builder is Aleksander Stein. I had a hard time picking one of his models, but I chose his EH-191 Whirlwind. It too has great camouflage and I love the way he has shaped the sides of the fuselage. If I ever build an NH-90, I know whose helicopter I'll be looking at.

I've blogged the next helicopter before, but like it so much that I don't mind posting a second picture of Steven Marshall's Ka-50 'Black Shark".

Last but not least I want to mention a builder who appeared on flickr only about a year ago Babalas Shipyards. He does exactly the sort of things I like and keeps getting better with every new model he builds. One of his latest models really hit the spot because I've developed an interest in WW-2 US Navy carrier-based aircraft. he built a wonderful little model of an SBD Dauntless

This list is op course completely subjective and I am sure that I've overlooked some excellent and worthy models while compiling this list. I'm also heavily biased towards models of real military equipment as opposed to things people make up (although a few did make it onto my list), so don't feel left out if your own best model didn't make it.

I look forward to seeing what new military models the next year will bring. I've already started planning for a few myself.

All the best for 2010.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

War Pig

I've been working on the M1A3, a near-future version of the Abrams main battle tank (MBT), for quite a while now, and I think that it turned out nicely if I do say so myself. It may not be completely accurate, but I built it as an upgrade of the real thing to give myself some room for artistic license. I'm happy with it, at any rate, and that's what matters in my opinion. See here for its photo set on flickr.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Contest announcement: Air/space craft Carriers

Grumman (General Motors) FM-1 Wildcat (1)
In the last months we've had two build challenges on the Flickr Lego military group. (You may have seen the round up of the last one here). This time we're doing something a bit different. Slice151 is running a small contest with a theme that I myself really like: Air/space craft Carriers. Unlike the challenges, this one will come with winners and prizes. Check out Slice's full announcement on flickr.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

[insert witty title here]

Captain Eugene has built a minifig scale M3 Stuart light tank, and has used the chassis to build a Howitzer Motor Carriage M8. As a bonus, he has also build a larger version of the latter as well. Though all three vehicles are exceptionally well done, I find the two minfig scale ones particularly impressive as I know just how difficult it can be to build in that scale and still manage to integrate working features. (Via the Brothers Brick.)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Island hopping with Babalas Shipyards

We don't blog a ship on this blog every day. (In fact we don't blog every day, full stop, but never mind.)

The appropriately named builder, Babalas-Shipyards, has posted pictures of a very interesting craft: a so-called "Landing Craft Support Large", a craft used by the US Navy in WW-II to provide fire support to amphibious landing forces in the Pacific. Obviously it was intended for the 'Fire Support' challenge on the flickr military build group, but it wasn't finished in time. No problem, I'll blog it anyway.

It's an impressively large build and very detailed, although by the builder's own admission some of the parts were a bit rushed and improvised. That wasn't at all obvious to me. It looks great and it is a very interesting choice of model.

To take in all the details and the clever construction used for the main bridge, among other things, I recommend you take a look at more pictures in the full photoset on flickr.

Friday, 4 December 2009

'Fire support' challenge round up

In the last two months the flickr military group has been running it's second challenge, titled 'Fire Support'. Obviously you can look at the discussion on the group, but as I did last time I've listed the entries here and give my opinion and some background info.

Erogwin was the first to come to the troops' rescue with his F36B Gryphon

According to his description is a heavy fighter used for close air support. At first this struck me as a somewhat unusual combination. Then again, the USAF nowadays even uses B-52 bombers for close-air-support, so why not?

A more traditional entry is the MA-(L) 'Sifter', by Mdrn-mrvls, a towed artillery piece

He built more than just the gun, it's part of a nice little diorama and I can only recommend that you check out the full photset to appreciate all the details.

Magnus Lauglo entered the fray with his Forktail attack aircraft seemingly inspired by jets such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II. Like the A-10, which is more popularly as the 'Warthog', Magnus' jet also has a nickname:'Killer Duck'. Some of the names you guys come up with are at least as creative as the models themselves.

The model has some lovely angles, in particular on the tail and in the way the cockpit canopy has been built. Magnus has taken a whole
series of pictures showing it from different angles.

Wiseman_Lego chose to go for a helicopter, the suitable chunky looking 'Nh-95 Plus' Special operations gunship. In common with real-life special ops helicopters it has some weird-protruberances fitted to the nose. However, I don't think I've ever seen a special ops. helciopter packing quite this much heat.

There's no kill like overkill!

It's rare to see something built by Greenlead and his entry, the Non-Line-Of-Sight Launch System had me puzzled. Fortunately he provided a handy link to a wikipedia page giving details of a similar system designed for the real world. It's a modular missile launcher that can be mounted on just about any vehicle or ship.

Greenlead has made instructions for this design and using those
Mickomaley has recreated the model in the brick.

I personally am not familiar with Warhammer (other than knowing of its existence), so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of cm946's Vendetta gunship from the Warhammer40k universe. Apparently it's a transport but with enough fire-power to support the troops it carries.

Robbyem has built something that can best be described as a low-rider half-track (albeit without tracks). It's a somewhat odd but futuristic looking combination and the effect of a missile being launched using a large transparent orange flame part looks cool (or should that be hot?).

The next entry was rather more conventional. Pmjredsox's U-902 Ferret is a helicopter reminiscent of the US Army's AH-1 HueyCobra attack helicopters and that's a good thing as far as I am concerned. Sadly there's only a single picture. I wouldn't have minded seeing other angles as well.

Pdragon> has built a vehicle, the One-Winged Angel with -as the name suggests- a very unusual configuration. I gave him a hard time about how real-world flying craft are usually largely symmetric (there have been a few assymetric aircraft in history, but they were never a success).

Still, it's nicely constructed.

One of the things that came to my mind with 'Fire Support' was mortars. So far we've seen a fair few really high-tech entries, but in practice lowly mortars are still in wide-spread use. Their lighter weight compared to proper artillery means that they can be carried by infantry units, although it's not uncommon for them to be transported using a vehicle such as the one built by legosim
M9982-FS 80mm Mortar Carrier

Rossart12 has gone for a classic, the Rockwell OV-10 Bronco. The real aircraft was designed specifically as a light attack/ counter-insurgency aircraft and saw operational service with the US Military from Vietnam through to the Gulf War of 1991. It's still in military operational service elsewhere in the world and in the US still fights battles of a very different nature: it is used as a spotter aircraft for fighting forest fires.

Ross' model has such goodies as a retractable undercarriage and moveable control surfaces. Spot on!

For this challenge Vaiano has produced two truly excellent entries. 'To Carlie with Love' is a version of a WW-II vintage M3 half track modified with a turret with four M2 Browning machine guns. Vehicles like this were used during the Korean War for defence against enemy aircraft. In practice the firepower also came in handy against ground targets and if Vaiano is to be believed these trucks were still in use in Vietnam.
Halftrack guntruck

His second entry is a hill-top fire base.

If customised minifigs are your thing, I suggest you to take a closer look at this.

Snuffwuzz >.< has defied the limitations of Lego Digital Designer to produce two CAD-models of real-life artillery used by the British Army. The first is an AS90 Self Propelled Gun

The second model is the one I like best. It represents an M270 multiple-launch rocket system, also known as the 'Grid Square Removal System'.

edit: Apparently my wish was granted before I even expressed it. Check out the brick-built Challenger.

My own entry is a model of a US Army HumVee modified for use by special forces.
US Army Ground Mobility Vehicle (1)
Vehicles like this were used in the 2003 invasion of Iraq to penetrate deep behind enemy lines.

Brickgeek27 has what he himself calls a 'cute entry'. I'm not sure whether cute and military mix very well, but I'll leave you to decide. I myself quite like the minifig.

I could blabber on about the next entry. Aleksander_se has built the massive Koalitsjia "Blackbear" Self-Propelled Artillery piece. As usual with Aleks' builds it isn't based on a particular real-world piece of armour, but it looks as though it was.

It's full of amazing details, as usual. Check out the interior, for instance.

edit: as usual reality is stranger than fiction. Imagelego informed me that it is actually based on a real vehicle!

Fellow Dutchman Wouwie13 found some inspiration in my own model of a Predator UAV and built a very convincing model of the latest development, the ominously named MQ-9 Reaper.

Experiments with armed unmanned aircraft were done as long ago as WW-II, but it's in the recent war on terrorism that they have first seen widespread service.

DarthNick has entered two versions of basically the same vehicle, which he calls the Coyote. The first version is armed with two surface-to-air missiles.

the second version carriers surface-to-surface missiles.

It's a nice little vehicle, but I can't help wondering whether the crew wouldn't be burned to a crisp by missiles launching right over the tops of their heads. Ouch!

Brickmonkey presented an LDRAW version of his AH-6 Little Bird attack helicopter. This type of helicopter is used by the US Army's Special Operations Aviation Regiment 'Nightstalkers' to support troops like Delta Force or the US Army rangers. Perhaps you've seen them in action in Black Hawk down. Due to bricklink orders not arriving in time he was late posting the pictures of the brick-built version, but since I prefer real bricks over virtual ones I decided to put pictures of the real model in this write-up.

John Lamarck was another builder somewhat late to the party due to Bricklink orders not arriving, but the model was well worth the wait. John presents his Mil Mi-31 "ЛАСКА" (Russian for Weasel) as a near-future replacement for the current Ka-50 'Hokum'. Some of you may find Megabloks offensive, but this mix with proper LEGO works well and I have to admit that they apparently make some parts that I wouldn't mind LEGO making.

edit: I got fiction and reality a bit mixed up here. John actually presents his Mi-31 as a replacement for the Mi-28.

We haven't had as many entries as last time, but some really nice models came out of it nonetheless and I'll take quality over quantity any day. It'll be a while before we do another challenge quite like this, because next up we'll have a challenge that'll be a bit more specific. An announcement will follow shortly.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

fire for effect

Magnus Lauglo and Aleksander Stein, both regulars on this blog, have built two very different but both mind-blowing awesome creations for the LEGO Military Build Challenge: Fire Support.

Magnus has built an as-of-yet unnamed (Magnus is accepting suggestions for names here) multirole fighter (multirole fighters are capable of ground attack, and thus are fall into the category of fire support) inspired by real-life multirole fighters such as the American F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35 Lightning II, and the Swedish JAS-39 Gripen. While aesthetically it's quite reminiscent of the Gripen and sports a camo scheme that reminds me of the Gripen's predecessor, the Viggen, it incorporates a VTOL system that's very similar to that of the Lightning II. To fully appreciate the amount of detail and working features that Magnus has packed into the relatively small fighter, I encourage you to browse its photo set on flickr.

Aleks, on the other hand, opted to build a self-propelled howitzer inspired by the prototype Koalitsiya-SV, an artillery piece based upon the Msta-S, the primary self-propelled howitzer of the Russian military. As always, he has managed to fuse a piece of real-life hardware and an impressive, techobabble-laced writeup into a very believable finished product. His attention to detail really shows through on this model, so be sure to browse the photo set for the creation on flickr.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Smooth operator

Steven Marshall -already known by LEGO lovers worldwide as the builder of amazingly realistic studless models and crisp photography- turns his attention to a new topic: a military helicopter.

The model represents the Ka-50 Black Shark (known to NATO as the Hokum). It is an amazingly detailed model that stands out not just because of being studless, but also because of the smoothness of all the shapes. It is not immediately clear from the picture, but this is actually a render. Steven has already announced that he is also building the model in real bricks and I already look forward to seeing it. Excellent work.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Building camouflage

I would like this blog to be about more than just nice military MOCs we spot on the internet, so every once in a while I'll bore you with something a bit more 'editorial'. This time I'd like to share my thoughts and some tips and tricks on building convincing camouflage for LEGO vehicles, helicopters and aircraft.

What is camouflage?
According to the free dictionary camouflage is:

The method or result of concealing personnel or equipment from an enemy by making them appear to be part of the natural surroundings.

There are two main ways in which this is done: by giving it a colour or colours that match those of the surroundings and by using those colours such that its contours are obscured. Examples of the former are painting a tank that is used in a desert in tan or painting an air superiority fighter in a more-or-less uniform grey. For LEGO building this is fairly easy, although it may be hard to find all the parts you need in a single colour! However, if the surroundings have multiple different colours or you expect to use your vehicle in different surroundings, painting a vehicle in a single uniform colour may not be the most effective. A forest, for instance, tends to have different greens and browns that are lighter and darker depending on how dense the foliage is in any given spot. Having a uniformly green APC standing in front of it might make it stand out rather than blend in, because of the straight lines that form its edges and a general absence of straight edges in a real forest. The various coloured patches on the vehicle should obscure the vehicle's contours. Check out these pictures of real-world camouflage.

A US Marine corps AAV-7 amphibious tractor

A US Navy F/A-18C Hornet painted to represent a Russian Su-27 'Flanker'

An actual Russian Su-27 'Flanker'

Camouflage is not random
Recreating this effect in a LEGO model might seem easy. After all, building something in lots of colours has the wonderful advantage that if you don't have a particular part in one colour, you can easily use another. However, simply taking a few piles of parts in a number of colours and picking the parts you need at random isn't going to produce a very convincing result. You see, camouflage isn't random. In order to have a vehicle blend into the background, different colours are used in a few fairly large patches rather than in lots of small ones. The size of the patches and how jagged the demarcations between the colours are have to be matched to what the background looks like from a range of distances. In the real world this is increasingly done using mathematics, (fractal geometry in particular), but that may be a bridge too far for the purpose of this blog post. So, how can you build multi-coloured camouflage in LEGO?

Limit the number of colours to four at most
The first step in recreating this sort of effect in LEGO is choosing the colours. Back when I was a child, LEGO used to come in black, white, grey, red, yellow and blue -not enough for decent camouflage. The range of colours in which LEGO makes parts has been greatly expanded, but there still aren't all that many colours that work well for a realistic colour scheme. In my opinion, a convincing camouflage scheme shouldn't have more than three or four different colours. Of course, if you are modelling a real vehicle, your colours are determined by those of the real vehicle. Regular green is very bright. There is a decent collection of parts in sand green as well, but the colour does look quite pale. Brown and reddish brown are pretty good and there's a fairly wide range of tan parts available. Dark green is better, but you can only get a very limited range of parts. Dark tan is really nice, but still a bit limiting. Part availability in various greys and in black is very good. For aircraft models, colours such as medium blue and sand blue can also be handy, but they are also not easily available in large quantities.

Don't use colours that contrast too much
Most real-world camouflage schemes do not mix very light or pale colours with dark ones, simply because most background don't either. An exception would be snow camouflage, which sometimes mixes dark green and white.
Fairly pale colours such as tan, sand green and light grey go reasonably well together. Similarly, black, dark green, brown and dark grey go well together. Leave out the dark grey and you've got something very close to a standard vehicle camouflage scheme on the AAV-7 above.

The second step is creating the patches. As I mentioned before, the demarcation lines between different camouflage colours tend to not be straight lines. Of course, LEGO is full of straight lines, but we can break them by applying two simple guidelines (important enough for me to make them stand out a bit):

1)The border between colours should never be a straight line of more than 3 or 4 studs long before it changes direction.
2)once a demarcation line has changed direction once, it should change again at the next stud.

If you don't follow the latter your patches will end up looking far too rectangular. I pondered making a drawing to show this, but have instead decided to show it using a picture of a model I built for the Alpha Company Forums.

Alpha company M6 Crusader V.2 (2)
Demarcation lines between different colour should typically not be straight for more than 3 or 4 bricks.

If you look at the demarcation lines between the colours on the side of the container the vehicle carries, you'll see that they follow the two rules above. There is one obvious exception: the long straight line at the bottom, and it stands out like a sore thumb! This is something I need to fix on a new version. These rules may all seem terribly complicated and they could get in the way of finding the right shape or using a particular part that works well in a particular spot. However, I have some practical advice to avoid this. What sometimes works for me is building the model without paying too much attention to the camouflage and then, when the rough form is done, simply swapping some colours around whilst applying the guidelines above. It doesn't have to require vast amounts of parts either.

As examples I'll show some more examples of other people's LEGO models that show what I think is convincing camouflage. Look closely and you'll see that the builders have generally applied the guidelines for the demarcations between the colours, quite possibly without being aware of them.

Tan and dark blueish grey on Brickmania's Tiger tank, with leaves added for extra effect.

Aleksander SE's "Prowler" Light Tank is a fictional but very convincing vehicle in dark green, dark grey and tan. The tan looks quite light compared to the other colours, but because there's not a whole lot of it looks fine.

Magnus Lauglo uses dark green, regular green and dark grey for his Griffin heavy lift helicopter. The green looks a bit lurid, but combined with the darker colours the scheme is convincing.

Vulcan birdseye view
Lego Monster's huge Vulcan bomber has a few fairly long straight lines in the camouflage, but because it's such a huge model this doesn't distract at all. Also note the use of wedge plates to create diagonal lines.

Of course, this overview is far from complete. There are more techniques you can use, with slopes and wedge plates to make things smoother for instance (as on Lego Monster's Vulcan). Some real-world vehicles can have pretty odd-ball patterns. There is also a type of camouflage that is not so much aimed at making a vehicle or plane blend into the background, but that is instead aimed at making it harder for an enemy to spot how far away it is or in which direction it is pointing. An example of this is painting a false canopy under the cockpit of a jet, making the bottom look more like the top from a distance. This is a completely different ballgame. In any case hope that I've given you some ideas on how to make your camouflage convincing!

Happy building!