Friday, 15 June 2018

Lego Castle MOC 2018

I’m pleased to say that after eighteen months of on-off work (and following me tearing down the first effort) I have finally completed the Lego Castle MOC (my own creation). As I mentioned a few months back, this hobby was kick-started by a Christmas present a couple of years ago that quickly sucked me into the fantastic world of Bricklink where the challenge of purchasing a high volume of grey bricks to resemble stonework is made a lot easier – in fact, the idea of being able to construct something on this level back in the 1980s when I first started building Lego is almost unthinkable. So, before I simper on any further, here’s the finished product in all its MOC-glory:


Lego Castle MOC 2018


Aside from being able to order specific Lego bricks, the other advantage of building a Lego Castle MOC in 2018 is the wider presence of the internet and its labyrinth of forums, articles, blogs and fanzines, all offering up thoughts and advice on the subject of bespoke Lego-builds. The natural challenge when it comes to medieval buildings is that of creating the effect of vast sections of stonework that resemble what actual medieval castles look like, without falling into the trap of simply creating a boring “big grey wall.” This was the main flaw in my first attempt at building a Lego MOC and, having disassembled the entire structure, I spent some time looking in super-detail at how a wall could be constructed in a more realistic way. There were a few pointers on this that I can share here to anyone looking for tips and hints.



Lego Castle MOC 2018 front view


The first thing is to think of the shape of the towers. Walls are, by their very nature, straight – at least if you are building them using Lego they are as you have no choice! But towers can be square or angular and it is this that will allow the walls a certain level of character above and beyond the “classic castle” modular style of the 80's and 90's Lego sets. As such, I chose to use 2x1 corner pieces (modified bricks) on my four towers, which meant that the intersections genuinely looked like curtain walls linking the towers together as opposed to a single flow of bricks set at angles. The second thing is the choice of bricks used throughout the design itself. In my first build I simply used a shedload of 2x4 and 2x2 standard bricks which are firstly too large when compared with the overall size of the castle (and especially the minifigs that stand alongside them) and secondly are just too boring when used exclusively – even if you alternate the colours! This time, I found that by identifying half-a-dozen different types of brick, all of a varying nature, before beginning construction, by the time they were layered together the walls took on an interesting, rustic and more realistic appearance. To put this to the test, it is worth visiting a real-life medieval castle (i.e. one built in Norman or Plantagenet times) or at least researching one via a book or Google images. The stonework is often irregularly sized, with different shades either blending together or contrasting completely at intervals. Both the walls and towers are rarely “flat” in the literal sense of the word; sections protrude or become recessed almost arbitrarily (though almost certainly for specific reasons of defence or structural support) with decorative features flanking the windows and doors and overhanging brickwork towards the highest points of the building where the ramparts or turrets become crenelated. In many cases, these sections feature murder holes beneath the level of the floor and the battlements themselves and even these are often presented in an irregular or decorative way. All things considered, a standard bricklay effect from solid bricks isn’t going to cut it!




Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the close-in stonework with a soldier


With this in mind I selected a number of bricks to use in the wall and tower sections, as follows. In the “standard” range, there were 1x1, 1x2 and 1x4 standard light blue-grey bricks, together with a “plate effect” whereby I would build up the equivalent of the 1x4 with three rows of plates but with a couple of darker grey plates to look like a “thinner” set of brickwork. Then there were modified bricks, including a 1x2 masonry piece (my favourite but more expensive), a “log” style 1x2 brick, a “grille” style 1x2 and then a technic brick with axle hole (for the impression of a spy hole or decorative feature). The final touch was the use of a 1x2 tile stuck onto a 1x2 modified brick with studs to look like a protruding block of stone. When clustered together, these completely break up the line of sight and create a really interesting section of stonework that, at least in the somewhat limited world of Lego bricks and MOCs, resembles the real thing!


For the windows, most are of the arrow-slit variety, which require a clever technique that I cannot lay claim to of arranging single 1x1 studded bricks facing each other and attaching single sloped pieces back in, meaning that the external gap looks like a religious cross type of arrow slit, with the inside having a wider view, which is exactly how castle windows of this variety were built so that the crossbowmen could load whilst protected and get a far wider view of the enemy without the full exposure being present on the external wall.





Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the arrow slits and shields


This Lego MOC Castle is a hybrid of a keep and a more meandering collection of tiles, mainly because I didn’t have the space to create a full-on Edwardian monster of the concentric-wall variety! Therefore, I was unable to really expand sections of curtain walling, though I did ensure that a couple of my towers were styled in a slightly different way. The two rear towers have Tudor-style balcony-window sections protruding from them to give the impression of a later addition, perhaps from the Renaissance period where comfort and style overtook stonework in terms of priority. The one tower has a French-style sloping roof (probably the costliest section to purchase as those black slopes are a nightmare to get hold of these days!) and the second tower is the tallest with a set of murder holes creating an overhang in the style of Raglan Castle and Warwick Castle (both of which can be seen surviving today). 


So that’s a bit on the exterior of the castle – what about the inside? I decided that each section had to be accessible and look realistic so made the entire thing break apart into two parts so that it could be opened up like a doll’s house. Initially this had a hinged piece but after a while the whole thing became so heavier with the sheer weight of the bricks that it made more sense to get rid of the hinge and just have a couple of hole/cylinder snaps to clip it together and pull it apart which became far easier to manage and more practical to work on either part at any one time. The first floor is the bit within the rocky base and it basically a dungeon / prison / store section. Then comes the first floor, on which the gatehouse sits. On entering the castle, there is a main hall with a stable block on the right and an armoury (with a blacksmith) on the left.





Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the stable block and horse



Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the Blacksmith working in the armoury


On the rear section there is a kitchen for the soldiers and a staircase up from the dungeons with a spiral staircase block on the left hand side. Here I have a confession to make! In real castles, spiral staircases rose deliberately from left to right because almost everyone was right-handed, which meant that their sword/weapon carrying hand would be closest to the central pillar as they made their way up the stairs, giving a huge advantage to a defender coming down the stairs, whose sword hand would be free in the spacious section of the staircase (whilst holding the central pillar) to hack down on the attacker. Here, however, it was almost impossible within the constraints of the space I had in the collection of baseplates to start the entrance to the spiral staircase against the exterior wall and have enough brickwork to cover the stairs and create a structurally-sound wall (those spiral staircase sections look very cool but they are a buggar to set up and keep stable!). So the result is a staircase that favours left-handed knights and soldiers, which I like to think gives it a more unique quality! 




Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the spiral staircase



Lego Castle MOC 2018 Throne Room featuring the king and queen


On the next level is the great hall, which on the right hand side includes the throne room for the king and queen with an ornate backdrop complete with decorative clock (a purchase from a Lego seller in the Netherlands!) and a display of shields. The housing to the portcullis breaks up the flow to the far end of the hall, above which a minstrel’s gallery sits, looking down onto the tiled floor below. To the rear of the castle is a chapel with two stained glass windows, created by using transparent pieces set horizontally, next to which there is an Elizabethan-styled studded room that gives the impression once again of a later evolution where comfort began to overtake military might when it came to prioritization of building work and decoration. Above this is a balcony linking the staircase to a library of books where a scribe stands reading his scrolls (this was a cool idea I “borrowed” from a Lego ideas book that my daughter has in her room!). Finally, on the top deck there are the front two towers which are bridged by the gatehouse ramparts and small wooden steps and to the rear the main tower and sloped roof. I decided to “close” the natural gap between the two sections by creating a very shallow house-styled black roof which is split at the top using single slopes to avoid the four towers colliding clumsily in the design. On reflection I think it was the best choice…





Lego Castle MOC 2018 Library featuring the scribe and bookcases



Lego Castle MOC 2018 Chapel featuring two stained glass windows



Lego Castle MOC 2018 View of Studded Chamber featuring an Elizabethan wall


A final word then on the two biggest challenges of this build – namely the minifigs and the rocks! The advantage of building an MOC in 2018 is that there are more minifigs than ever before, but this is equally a problem because most of the decent “medieval” ranges have since been discontinued and so fetch quite high prices. After shopping around I managed to get hold of a small garrison of Lion Soldiers and a champion knight, as well as a squire, blacksmith, king and queen, jester (my favourite), skeleton and war dwarf. Okay, the dwarf is rather more fantasy than historical but what the hell, it makes things interesting! 




Lego Castle MOC 2018 showing the champion knight on the drawbridge


When it came to the rocky base, I actually left most of this to last, having used some of my older 2x4 bricks to build the basement level, deciding to add the rock effect afterwards. This was fine, but I didn’t realise what a tough job it would be to create the genuine effect of an irregular rocky outcrop! Of course, using the darker grey bricks helped, but it took quite a few goes to build up the layered sloped (and inverted sloped) flow of rocks and especially when it came to bridging the corner sections – I can only recommend using as many joining plates and different styles of modified slopes as possible and being patient enough to build and dismantle a few times in order to get the right knack of hos this should look. It’s not easy but in the end I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out – I never thought I’d be able to build what looks like part of a mountain out of Lego!



Lego Castle MOC 2018 rocky outcrop with detail of landscaping rock and greenery

4 comments:

  1. That looks awesome - I love the brickwork! How long did it take?

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    1. Thanks! It took around eighteen months to build, though I had spent a year on a previous one only to dismantle is (as that was my "learning" version!) Could have done it more quickly but the cost starts to build up with so many brick so had some periods to pause and plan throughout the build.

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  2. It's amazing that you've managed to cram as much as you have into the platform space. Does it fit on a single baseplate?

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    1. No - actually I didnt use any baseplates. It's built on two sections that slot together using the peg & hole bricks. There is a row of 8x16 grey plates forming the base of the back then a deeper set at the front. Getting the base in place and then the basic outline / floor plan of the walls and tower was the first task then it flowed from there. Main thing was to ensure I could store it away on top of a bookcase!

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