Beautiful LEGO – Photos and insights from some of the LEGO world’s top artists – #bookreview

Beautiful LEGO

Mike Doyle
(No Starch Press – paperback, Kindle)

Wow! That’s one of the best words to describe the snap-together works of art that can be created using LEGO plastic bricks. Mike Doyle’s excellent new LEGO art book offers some 400 color pictures of everything from a rotary-dial telephone to a Thanksgiving turkey, plus robots, space weapons and a magnificent, futuristic city, constructed by some of the world’s top artists in the LEGO building community. (LEGO®, incidentally, is a trademark of the LEGO Group.)

In his book, Doyle asks several of his fellow artists a key question–Why LEGO?–and gets an intriguing array of answers and insights to accompany the photographs of their creations. Doyle himself says: “It is a medium that offers instant gratification. No matter how large a project is, at the end of the day, I can look at the section I’ve built in its finished state. LEGO is a one-step process; there’s no gluey mess, sanding, or painting to worry about. I just build. This gives me the opportunity, after each session, to assess visually how the piece is working as a whole.”

His book’s eye-catching cover shows a six-foot-tall model titled “Contact,” a movie-like cityscape that took Doyle some 600 hours and 200,000 LEGO bricks to assemble.

Another artist, Arthur Gugick, explains how he constructs LEGO models of landmark buildings such as Big Ben, the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat and Notre Dame, after determining the proper scale for each structure. “It often depends upon the scale of a particular element,” he says. “The White House’s scale depended on the scale of the windows. Notre Dame’s scale depended on the scale of the buttresses.” Gugick sometimes has to resort to mathematics and even to writing software while creating his models. “The Roman Coliseum is an ellipse with a width-to-length ratio of 6:7. There is no formula for the circumference of an ellipse like there is for a circle,” he notes. “To find the circumference, I use the arc length formula from calculus. The Dome of the Rock,” he adds, “required a bit of trigonometry. To build the dome accurately, I wrote some software that easily allowed me to build any dome shape.”

Beautiful LEGO is, indeed, a beautiful book, one that will give fans of the plastic bricks many ideas for future projects–and no doubt a few bouts of artistic envy to accompany the inspirations.

Si Dunn

The LEGO Build-It Book 1: Amazing Vehicles – Creating with 1 brick collection – #bookreview

The LEGO Build-It Book 1: Amazing Vehicles

Nathanaël Kuipers and Mattia Zamboni
(No Starch Press, paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-59327-503-7

Using just one collection of LEGO bricks and this colorful how-to guide, you can build 10 different model vehicles, starting with a simple go-kart and working your way up to a muscle car, a street rod, and a rescue truck, among others.

No Starch Press recently has launched its LEGO Build-It Book series with this well-crafted volume, aimed at readers age 7 and up. Volume 2, due out in September 2013, will offer another group of 10 construction projects that can be built from just one collection of LEGO bricks.

Many young readers will appreciate the new LEGO book because it has many illustrations that mostly just show,  step by numbered step, how each vehicle goes together.

Nathanaël Kuipers is a Dutch design professional who spent several years working for the LEGO Group in Denmark, where he was mainly responsible for engineering LEGO Technic models. Co-author Mattia Zamboni has a background in graphic design, photography, and LEGO, as well as electrical engineering.

A key message from this book and the evolving Build-It Book series, Kuipers says, is: “You don’t need to buy the really expensive products or lots and lots of sets to make interesting models. With a little creativity and some useful techniques, you can build endless models from a simple collection of bricks.”

Si Dunn

LEGO Bonanza — Stack ‘em up: 3 hot new books for LEGO builders – #bookreview

No Starch Press recently has released three new books aimed at the world’s millions of LEGO™ builders:

  • The Unofficial LEGO™ Builder’s Guide, 2nd Edition
  • The LEGO™ Adventure Book, Vol. 1
  • The Unofficial LEGO™ Technic Builder’s Guide.

Here are short reviews of each.

The Unofficial LEGO™ Builder’s Guide, 2nd Edition
Allan Bedford
(No Starch,
paperbackKindle)

Allan Bedford’s popular how-to guide has been updated, and all photographs and illustrations are now in color.

The well-written 221-page book starts at the absolute beginner’s level, showing and explaining the various LEGO pieces, which range from “bricks” to “plates” to “slopes” to “tiles” and numerous others. From there, it shows the best ways to connect pieces for successful construction.  Then it delves into three different, progressively larger, sizes of LEGO constructions –minifig, miniland, and jumbo – before briefly going smaller, to microscale.

Bedford explains how to design and build structures and characters from LEGO elements and also shows how to put together several projects, including a train station, a space shuttle, a mosaic, a game board, and a sculpture of the Sphinx.

His book’s Appendix A offers a helpful “Brickopedia” that contains “a selection of more than 275 elements, from basic bricks, slopes, and plates, to specialized elements, arches, and even decorative elements.

The pieces included represent the most common and most reusable elements in the LEGO system,” Bedford notes. The parts’ specifications are given, and helpful notes are included, as well.

Appendix B, meanwhile, shows how to download and use design grids to plan complex LEGO projects before you build them.

The LEGO™ Adventure Book, Vol. 1
Megan Rothrock
(No Starch, hardback 
- Kindle)

Megan Rothrock’s book is the debut volume in the new “The LEGO™ Adventure Book series” from No Starch Press.

Subtitled “Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs & More!”, Volume 1 presents excellent color photographs of nearly 200 intriguing models crafted by LEGO builders around the world. Ms. Rothrock’s 200-page book also features “brick-by-brick breakdowns” of 25 models that range from a medieval village to T. Rex and a British Railways steam engine.

The constructions are shown step by step in close-up, so even inexperienced builders can duplicate them. Some are simple, such as a small bridge “that can be added to any scene” in eight steps. And others are more involved, such as a mecha named “Counterblast” that is well-armed with big guns that requires more than 50 steps to complete.

Megan Rothrock is well-known in LEGO builder circles. She is a former set designer for the LEGO Group, and her models have been widely displayed, including at ComicCon and LEGO events in Europe. She is now a freelance toy designer in Denmark.

LEGO builders frequently claim that they can build models of “almost anything” with LEGO parts. With books such as The LEGO™ Adventure Book, Vol. 1 helping guide and train you, you definitely can learn to build lots of different types of models.

The Unofficial LEGO™ Technic Builder’s Guide
Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć
(No Starch, paperbackKindle)

The LEGO™ Technic system lets you build LEGO models that move. The system includes motors, gears, pneumatics, pulleys, linkages, and other devices designed for LEGO constructions. But working with Technic can be complex at times.

Fortunately, Paweł “Sariel” Kmieć has excellent credentials for showing and explaining how to construct Technic models and make them operate. He is described as “YouTube’s most popular LEGO Technic builder, a guest blogger for the official LEGO Technic blog, and a 2012 LEGO Ambassador.”

His 333-page book is packed with illustrations, photographs, explanations, and tips on everything from simple “pins” (which “keep bricks and beams together”) to wheeled suspension systems and using a subtractor to get better steering of a tracked LEGO vehicle that has two motors and is radio-controlled.

While most of the focus is on details of how to use specifics Technic parts, he also shows some amazing and inspiring powered models that he has built from LEGO pieces and LEGO Technic devices.

Whether you are new to Technic or an old hand, you likely will want to build many things that move, once you have this book. 

Si Dunn

The Cult of LEGO – #bookreview #lego #afol

The Cult of LEGO®
By John Baichtal and Joe Meno
(No Starch Press, list price $39.95, hardback)

Looking for an inspiring and informative Christmas gift for the adult or teenage LEGO® fan in your life? Stack up some consideration for this colorful new coffee table book from No Starch Press.

The Cult of LEGO® is a well-illustrated, smoothly written and often eye-opening look at the Danish toy sets that have swept the world since their inception as a stackable plastic block in 1947.

Today, LEGO® products are in the hands and toy boxes of countless millions of children. And there are many thousands of adults using the interlocking little plastic “bricks” to build everything from life-size dinosaur statues to massive models of battleships, fanciful spacecraft, Yankee Stadium and Easter Island’s mysterious stone sculptures.

Many men and women, in fact, call themselves AFOL – Adult Fans of LEGO®.—and they sometimes speak of “the Dark Age,” the time in their lives when they stopped playing with LEGO sets, because puberty, high school, college, careers, marriage and other milestones and pressures of life got in the way.

Now that they have emerged from the Dark Age, they are once again able to design and build fanciful creations using the little blocks, plus the various product additions and enhancements introduced by the LEGO Group during the 1960s, 1970s, 1990s and early 21st century.

Numerous businesses also offer specialized LEGO-compatible products, such as tiny plastic weapons, “minifigures” of famous characters (Indiana Jones, Albert Einstein, etc.) and specialized “bricks” that light up. Meanwhile, the LEGO Group has added  hundreds of LEGO enhancement parts such as gears, wheels, microcontrollers and other devices to its product offerings.

Two important aspects of the basic LEGO building “bricks” are their quality and durability. One former LEGO Group employee notes in the book that “[t]he fact that 15- to 20-year-old parts are still compatible with current sets from the store is pretty amazing—and the old pieces just need a ride in the washing machine!”

The Cult of LEGO®’s authors definitely are not strangers to the world of LEGO. Joe Meno is founder of BrickJournal, a print and online LEGO® fan magazine. He also has helped design LEGO sets, acted as an advisor on LEGO projects, and organized and run LEGO fan events. John Baichtal is a contributor to MAKE magazine and Wired’s GeekDad blog. He also has written for tabletop gaming magazines.

A note in The Cult of LEGO® points out: “This unofficial book is not endorsed or authorized by the LEGO Group.”

Nonetheless, the book’s lively and intriguing contents likely will inspire many adults and serious young builders to launch new LEGO® projects or complete old ones. There are many lively photographs and illustrations, as well as interviews, anecdotes and descriptions of resources for the serious AFOL and younger enthusiast alike.

Si Dunn