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An unexpected gathering of bricks
December 23, 2012 11:31 PM   Subscribe

What It Takes to Build a Lego Hobbit [cached version] - How Lego's An Unexpected Gathering was designed from the 2,700 pieces of the modern Lego "system of play", which remains compatible with a brick design that goes back to 1958. Despite worries that the stacking brick system has become less creative, a persistant series of complaints that have spawned their own bingo card, it remains hugely popular, in part through quality control and clever licensing. The Lego Bag-End house also comes in a life size version.
posted by Artw (41 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lego's earliest set using another companies brand.
posted by Artw at 11:40 PM on December 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


A slightly more wonky look at the design process: The evolution of design at LEGO
posted by Artw at 11:55 PM on December 23, 2012


Sorry, anything that gives a Star Wars franchise tie-in the greenlight is not exercising "quality control".
posted by dunkadunc at 1:29 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm a little nostalgic for the days when Lego promised you the ability to build a castle, or a city or a spaceship, or whatever else you came up with. Now, the focus is on building the set of any G or PG movie that grosses over $400 million worldwide.

And I'm worried that this is the start of the slow slide, like when the TV channel founded by NASA stopped showing Emmy-award winning documentaries about science, medicine and history, and started showing Junkyard Wars, en route to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:45 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the one hand if licensing has enabled LEGO to stay in business so's I can keep buying sets for my kids who aren't old enough to play with them then that's a good thing.

On the other hand, the existence of their Star Wars line results in a general paucity of original LEGO space sets to which I can only

PURE UNBRIDLED RAGE BURN ALL THE STAR WARS
posted by Doleful Creature at 1:47 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess I'm a little nostalgic for the days when Lego promised you the ability to build a castle, or a city or a spaceship, or whatever else you came up with. Now, the focus is on building the set of any G or PG movie that grosses over $400 million worldwide.

Bingo!
You can still get the "big box of bricks" and the City/Castle/knock-off Jurassic Park sets. No-one is forcing you to buy the licenced sets.

Doleful Creature, they are just about to release a new line of Space sets called "Galaxy Squad".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:57 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I already picked up the swarm interceptor set...let's hope they continue the line into some bigger pieces beyond the ships.

I ain't quittin' Lego yet
posted by Doleful Creature at 2:01 AM on December 24, 2012


Homeboy Trouble: "And I'm worried that this is the start of the slow slide"

Slow slide? They've already slid.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:07 AM on December 24, 2012


anything that gives a Star Wars franchise tie-in the greenlight is not exercising "quality control".

dunkadunc - it's pretty much accepted that Lego would have gone bankrupt a few years ago if they hadn't focused on licensed themes such as Star Wars. They were losing a lot of money and had lost their way as a company.

They moved to a strategy of bringing in external partners to run the non-core businesses (Theme parks, video games etc) and getting plenty of strongly branded basic sets into the market. They cut back on big single-purpose pieces and went back to using lots of generic pieces in sets, albeit with many of those sets strongly aimed at boys. They cut back the piece catalog (storing all those molds costs a fortune) and using licensed ideas cut back the design cycle time for new sets.

They have been steadily adding new pieces to the catalog ever since (and retiring old ones) and very cleverly juggling the appeal of their sets. A large new set may have a strong fighting role-play element to appeal to young boys (lets not argue about that generalizaion, that's the marketing behind it), an exclusive mini-fig to appeal to collectors and one or two new parts to appeal to people that build their own models. Its all very clever when you look into it.

Add to this that they have the excellent "creator" line for people that want to make non-licence models, plus the long-running city lines (etc) for people that want non-gendered role play. They have always made the bucket-of-bricks products too. Recently they publicly stated that the focus on "boy" sets had saved them, but that they regretted the lack of "girl" sets and hence launched the friends line. They now have girl, boy and neutral sets in the market. There is a strong argument that all the sets should be neutral, but there is no argument that all their sets are based on fighting or star wars.

Basically what I'm getting at is that your complaint has no validity. They still make sets in all the market segments they did back in the 70s/80s and those sets are a hell of a lot better. No comparison. Plus they have the movie licence sets, which sell by the truckload and arguably saved the company. Quality is better than ever, set design is better than ever.

Ramble ramble, tldr: it's a remarkedly well run company. I buy maybe 6 sets a year, and own 0 star wars sets. Thank god they make those star wars sets, or maybe none of the other excellent products would be on the shelves.
posted by samworm at 2:37 AM on December 24, 2012 [32 favorites]


I click the lead link and do not see an article. I see a bunch of teasers and links that might accompany an article, but there is no actual content.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:38 AM on December 24, 2012


One of the pieces that I keep seeing in recent sets (including these Hobbit sets) is the little "fang" piece. The bottom is a round cylinder that can fit into a minifig's hand, or stuck into a headlight piece, and the top is a long, curved spike.

It's amazing what a versatile little decoration it is! Spikes on the back of a monster, or claws or fangs for an animal, or a little arabesque-type curve for an overhang. Not structurally required for anything, but a splendid wee bit of decor! I like this piece.
posted by Greg Nog at 4:43 AM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I click the lead link and do not see an article. I see a bunch of teasers and links that might accompany an article, but there is no actual content.

Ahh yes, that's where metafilter comes in to play.
posted by the noob at 4:44 AM on December 24, 2012


[Just added the cached version, which seems to be complete, for those who cannot view the whole article at the original link]
posted by taz at 4:44 AM on December 24, 2012


Having just recently spent a monetary figure on Lego sets I'm not willing to publicly admit (because truly, it is shameful), I've gotta disagree with the "Lego is on a slow slide" crowd. My son adores his Lego and I've seen more creativity come from that boy with his sets than I've seen with any other toy.

We buy the sets (he usually is allowed one throughout the year because yeah, they are expensive) but at Christmas I load that kid up. We don't own any of the Star Wars sets but we have plenty of the Hero Factory, City, Creator, Dino, Ninjago, and LOTR sets. He builds with the instructions first and then we stockpile the bits and he creates from his imagination or with the help of a Lego book that shows you all sorts of things you can build with random pieces. In short, Lego is my favorite inanimate babysitter.

Lego is still as awesome as it ever was.

Also, Lego has a (FREE!) kid's magazine. My son flips when it arrives in the mail. That last issue we got came with a DVD that had ton of the Lego cartoons on it but also a long episode thingy which showed the entire Lego making process in detail. He's either now but wants to work for Lego when he grows up. Mom is totally behind this dream...
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:01 AM on December 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


My Lego and Star Wars obsessed 7 year old has a whole bunch of the Star Wars sets. Unless his dad or I grabs it before he can rip it open, it will never ever ever be used to build the set pictured on the box. The mini-figs will join the ongoing epic space battle in his room (which also includes little green army men, dinosaurs, cars, and various other small toys), and the bricks will join the rest of the collection in the Lego box (okay, more likely on the floor - ouch!), which will be used to build various rocket ships, cars, robots, animals, and whatever else he and his little brother and sister are in the mood for. The complaint that Lego has killed creativity and that the sets can only be used to build the model as designed is ludicrous. Of all the Lego sets he's gotten - maybe three ships have ever been built as designed. And those were built by their parents and destroyed almost immediately when we finally let the kids play with them.

And I have just subscribed to the magazine. Thanks for the heads-up on that youandiandaflame!
posted by Dojie at 6:05 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't realize there was so much dislike for the Star Wars sets - as both a Lego lover and a Star Wars fan I really enjoy the Star Wars sets (at least the Original Trilogy ones, I'm less a fan of the prequels and therefore their sets).
posted by Rallon at 6:08 AM on December 24, 2012


I always let out a groan when I see people bemoaning "what has become of Lego". I just have to assume that none of them actually buy and play with Lego bricks anymore. My kids love them and always find new things to build.

I mean just go to the website and watch the little videos (bottom of the page) of the designers lovingly showing off their creations. Watching those grown Swedes (Danes, sorry!) playing with the little sets will charm anyone into loving Lego again.
posted by history_denier at 6:12 AM on December 24, 2012


Thanks for your comment, Samworm. It is an excellent rebuttal to the typical uninformed complaints that crop up every time LEGO is mentioned on the internets.

Also, this.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:14 AM on December 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Watching those grown Swedes playing with the little sets will charm anyone into loving Lego again.

Danes. Also, LEGO recruits set designers from all over the world.
posted by Fleebnork at 6:14 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of the branded sets are delightful. One of my kids has Hogwarts, and it is so detailed there's even poop in the Owlery. It's one of the few sets that is not eligible to be taken apart and repurposed.

Samworm's excellent comment failed to mention the whole movement spawned by Lego Mindstorms robotics.
posted by not that girl at 6:52 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I used to like the sta-lox brick system. True, you could only build red brick buildings, but they looked great. Plus the plastic was softer and you could chew on them. (ten quatloos to whoever can guess how old THAT memory is -- or where it came from just now)
posted by Trochanter at 7:03 AM on December 24, 2012


Watching those grown Swedes (Danes, sorry!) playing with the little sets will charm anyone into loving Lego again.

If you ever find yourself in need of a video of the thickest Danish accent possible, you can't do much better than the one you linked to.
posted by Sourisnoire at 7:15 AM on December 24, 2012


We're at the stage right now where I can't indulge myself by buying kid number one Lego because kid number two would try to eat the peices and choke on them, but when she's a bit old I'm going to build myself this.
posted by Artw at 7:43 AM on December 24, 2012


We just went through our first Lego heavy Hanukkah and I have to say I was bowled over by the quality of the movie-branded kit my daughter received (toy story thing with a conveyor belt). Admittedly I'm working against some hazy memories but I found the provided design more fun and technically interesting than the kits I had, and the pieces were great! Super clever and versatile.
posted by ~ at 8:08 AM on December 24, 2012


Great storage tip. - kind of obvious really but I think its going to help a lot.
posted by Artw at 8:11 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an avid childhood Legoist I used to think that new Lego kits sucked. Then my nephew grew up and started playing with Lego and I got to fiddle around with those new kits and they are actually great. Certainly some kits include some custom parts like massive drill bits, space ship prows but so did the kits in my childhood. The same is true of all the branded kits.
posted by Authorized User at 8:41 AM on December 24, 2012


Well, you know, the link in my first comment there with the Esso sign bricks from 1958...
posted by Artw at 8:42 AM on December 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just stumbled on this very cool recreation of Fhloston Paradise from The Fifth Element. (I love those green guys!)
posted by Glinn at 9:27 AM on December 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


My Hanukkah present this year, as requested, was a Lego gift card, and I used it to pick up the very, very awesome Haunted House. I have always vastly preferred the architechtural sets to the vehicle sets (there are far too many of the latter to suit me in most of the lines) and this one just nailed it, as far as I am concerned. The best bit is the gramophone in the junk-filled attic, but the whole thing is just lovely.

I have been underwhelmed by the Tolkien-themed sets so far. I want Minas Tirith and Rivendell, not Shelob and a tree with dwarves in.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:01 AM on December 24, 2012


Lego Rivendell
posted by Artw at 11:05 AM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm still bummed that I missed out on getting the Eiffel Tower set years ago. Sure, I could go to eBay, but I'm not made of money.
posted by nickthetourist at 11:41 AM on December 24, 2012


I loved the bingo card. So true.

I'm always a little embarrassed when I read people talking about how Lego today requires no imagination, because when I was a child I had five zillion Lego City sets and I always built them according to the instructions. I mainly added imagination by coming up with elaborate storylines, like a dramatic car race that ends in an enormous pileup attended by the fire rescue team.

Whenever I tried to make something up myself it always looked crappy and stupid compared to the professionally designed Lego assemblies. Never looked anything like the decent amateur-designed models one finds at BrickCon. But even the lesser models designed by serious amateur enthusiasts look pretty crappy to me, so it seems like it would be hard for a kid with a seriously critical sense of aesthetics to get very far.

At my adult home, I have a suitcase full of Lego with a gross weight of fifty pounds (I filled it up from boxes at my mom's house until it was at the checked baggage limit). I should really open it up and start playing, but it's always hard to know exactly where to start.
posted by grouse at 9:52 PM on December 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quite a few of my lego pieces ended up getting destroyed in our destruction derby competitions. We would build cars and then collide them head on from a couple of meters away. The loser would be the one whose driver minifig was dislocated from his seat. The rule was that you could only add one of the ballast pieces from my cargo ship kit, but even so, they were all destroyed. Also quite a few of the biggest technic tire-hubs were destroyed after the steamroller design was perfected. After that we started doing "boats" that just slid on the floor without any wheels.
posted by Authorized User at 6:18 AM on December 25, 2012


Lego: the building blocks of the imagination Don't be fooled by its pop-culture kits of The Hobbit and Harry Potter –Lego is a perpetual motion machine of creativity
posted by Artw at 8:14 AM on December 29, 2012


restless_nomad: "I have been underwhelmed by the Tolkien-themed sets so far. I want Minas Tirith and Rivendell, not Shelob and a tree with dwarves in."

What, really? The dwarves never saw Shelob! The spiders that attacked Thorin and co. weren't mentioned by name.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:50 AM on December 29, 2012


I think the spider is a Lord of the Rings set. That said, there IS a wood elves set.

I'm kind of desirous of the Bag End set, I hope it's still around come Christmas a year from now when I'll probably be able to give Kiddo 1 Lego again without Kiddo 2 choking on it.
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on December 29, 2012


Yeah, there's a Shelob set and Mirkwood spider set, and a dwarves-in-trees set.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:36 AM on December 29, 2012


Oh, there IS a Mirkwood Spiders set.
posted by Artw at 10:37 AM on December 29, 2012


Possibly a bit of a function of the source material, but I like that the Hobbit ones have some variations in tone and environment compared with the LotR ones which are all mines and fortresses all the time.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on December 29, 2012


My point exactly. Rivendell! Minas Tirith! Hell, Edoras would be something other than gray stone walls with orcs. So many great environments, and I suspect that unless the Hobbit sets sell like mad, we won't get any of them.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:44 AM on December 29, 2012


Pretty cool Minas Tirith - lots of white walls, which would help with the monotonous grey of the sets.
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on December 29, 2012


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