Thursday, 5 January 2017

Building a Big Grey Lego castle – a Useful Guide…

So last year I posted a few updates on my Lego MOC castle that I started to construct following my wife’s absolutely genius idea to get me back into Lego (here’s the last one during the construction of the spiral staircase). Over the Christmas period I started putting the finishing touches to the last tower, a slide-out affair that would have a spire at the top and complete the keep, only to realize that I could do a MUCH better job. Yes, that’s right. I gazed at my year-long creation and realized it is merely a trainees prototype, great for having helped me to figure stuff out, get things right and wrong and stockpile a large collection of (mostly grey) bricks. But in the end, there were just too many fundamental elements of the Lego build that I wanted to change (mainly the lack of provision for a roof over the middle of the structure, the lack of Lego cellar/dungeon and the lack of accessibility / hinging). So I took a few pictures of it, made a couple of videos then began to dismantle the whole thing. In fact, once I started, I realized that I had a HUGE number of Lego bricks that needing sorting, so as it turned out I ended up staying in the lounge until 1 in the morning with episodes of Breaking Bad to keep me company, before I had the entire thing reduced to Lego brick rubble.

My next castle is already underway and will address those three short-falls, whilst adding in a few other features such as a drawbridge and portcullis, an outcrop of rock upon which the castle will sit, and more rooms and general detail in the architecture. Anyhow, I’ll post updates on that in due course. For now, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learnt along the way…

One thing that I think I did quite well with the 2016 build is the creation of different windows, mixing up the designs, positioning and sizes in order to create some interesting styles in the Lego architecture with a goal of replicating the original medieval window designs you see on original castles.

I have posted a YouTube video on Lego window techniques but essentially the biggest thing here is to try and double up on depth as much as possible to avoid “blocky” window gaps and to use two sets of openings. For this, the most common approach is to have a larger arch on the outer skin and a smaller arch on the inner skin (or even two if space allows). Single round Lego pieces are also useful to create the gothic style of mullion in the detail.

The problem of the Big Grey Lego Wall
Going back to the 1980s when I first started to collect Lego castle sets as a young child, the “godsend” of the range was the interlocking wall sections which allowed the builder to quickly assembly a curtain wall with only a few 1x2 pieces needed for the joins. However, if the goal is to build something genuinely impressive and detailed, these pieces are a little bit stale and boring for most tastes as they don’t really give the sense of the castle having been built by individual pieces of stone. Therefore, any castle-builder needs to stockpile a huge collection of grey bricks for the main structure, but in doing so, the danger then becomes the monotony of a “bricklay” effect en masse. If you ever observe the detail on the wall of a castle such as Winsor, Warwick or Ludlow, you will see that, though the walls are vast, they are easy on the eye due to so many little nuances in the stonework – whether it be the flow of bricks, the different sizes, the butting out of ramparts or the angles below the battlements.

I have again posted a YouTube video on overcoming the problem of the big grey Lego wall. I would add that my effort here is probably a little ornate for a genuine medieval fortress and some of the wall edges and window frames are probably more pseudo-medieval than they might otherwise have been. They illustrate the point, however, that much can be done with colour and design to overcome this pitfall – and of course I will be making further improvements to the 2017 castle!

Support structures for Lego floors
On a duller topic that the aesthetics of the build, one thing I have done especially well with the first Lego castle is the provision for supports on each and every level to ensure that flooring can be removed easily as well as supporting additional structures as the build continues. The key to this is a combination of arched walkways (1 x 6 and raised arch passageways are my personal favourite) and inverted slopes, which are indispensable when it comes to adding floor sections, ESPECIALLY if you can only get hold of smaller plates which need reinforcing at more frequent intervals.

Access, progress and practicality
This was the big one. The heady combination of Christmas, Lego and castles led me to steam in with my first tower without the slightest thought as to how the overall structure was going to take shape. Every so often I had to dismantle a section or removed a few bricks to fit another section in, or otherwise retrace my steps – but otherwise the entire first Lego castle was built piecemeal without much of a plan. As a consequence, I immediately started to encounter some issues; whether that involved running low on certain types of bricks, finding that Id missed a section, or otherwise overlooked something that was too late to fix without breaking the whole thing up. Here’s where I don’t actually have any regrets – it was a learning experience and I don’t think you can get it right first time. Moreover, I now have a large collection of bricks that has meant I can start again without too many trips back and forth to Bricklink!

What I would say is that baseplates are important – it is crucial to get a good sense of the surface you have to build on (in my case I didn’t want to go mad as our house is already full of children’s toys without me taking over half of it with Lego creations). Access is also vital – will the castle come apart, hinge open or be one single piece? At what level do you intend to start? Will you require any underground rooms or different geographical levels on the outside that require a higher base to be built? Also, when it comes to detailing room, I have discovered that providing the basics are in place, much can be done in retrospect if that helps the brick acquisition process; very often it is cheaper to buy larger structural bricks (2 x 2 and 2 x 4s for instance) in bulk than it is to tinker around with more decorative or modified bricks which can be added at a later point. That isn’t always the case when it comes to building out sections of external wall, but is true of internal decoration if done correctly.