(Written by William)
In this Brick Breakdown series I’m reviewing official LEGO sets but with a bit of a twist. Instead of just writing a general review I focus on unusual and clever building-techniques LEGO designers used in the set. This way we can all learn new building ideas to use in our own LEGO creations, or at least get some inspiration to look at LEGO elements in a different way.
One of the coolest sets in 2012 has to be the #9448 LEGO Ninjago Samurai Mech. It features Samurai X’s main mode of transportation, and it does it in style. Anyone who has seen the Ninjago cartoon-series knows this is a very accurate recreation of the mech featured in the show. Now it’s time to explore why this is better than other LEGO mech models.
LEGO JOINT-STOPPING TECHNIQUES
Every mech LEGO puts out is typically fully equipped with remarkable joints. These are often ball-joints that have decent stability along with an impressive array of movement options. However what separates the Ninjago Samurai Mech from the rest of the mechs released by LEGO is how movement is limited. This is actually a good thing.
LEGO builders will often spend a great deal of time figuring out how to make a certain section move on a mech. Less time is spent devising ways to stop a joint moving in a specific direction making the mech’s movement look unnatural. This is not the case with the Ninjago Samurai Mech.
Upon closer inspection you will notice moving flaps around the hips, knees, and shoulders of the Samurai Mech. You will see small obstacles preventing movement surrounding the head cockpit. There are also small lift-arm protrusions at the ankles to prevent the foot from being angled awkwardly.
The result is a LEGO mech that maintains its stance based on its limitations. This gives it a very interesting effect and a good dose of reality. Ultimately you think of it only as the Samurai Mech and not just a lot of LEGO elements slapped together in a cool way.
ADVANCED LEGO SNOT TECHNIQUES
The first encounter LEGO builders have with LEGO SNOT (Studs-Not-On-Top) techniques often comes from a decorative element. It usually takes the form of a vehicle’s bumper or special design on the side of a building. When it comes to the world of LEGO mech design, SNOT reaches a whole new level. Arms, legs, hips, feet, hands, and even torsos will often be constructed using this technique.
LEGO slopes and tiles see plenty of usage in creating interesting shapes with this technique, where the studs end up sideways. The Ninjago Samurai Mech goes one step further and uses unconventional elements like shaped LEGO bricks, LEGO windows, spinner tops, and saw-blades to achieve the same goals as LEGO slopes and tiles would.
SNOT is a technique that is almost impossible to teach to a new LEGO builder just by giving instructions. It has a lot to do with finding creative orientations of normal LEGO elements to make them appear more than they are. Therefore it is a great idea to examine each element of the Ninjago Samurai Mech (i.e. arms, legs, feet, etc.) and identify the techniques you find most interesting. This will hopefully allow you to imitate concepts successfully in your own LEGO models.
APPLYING WHAT YOU LEARN
Getting a handle on how to make successful stops for joints is no easy feat. It will take lots of practice to work your way up to the level of the Ninjago Samurai Mech. In the meantime, start experimenting with more limited joint-movement. A good place to begin is with a basic hinge. Then you can try combining that with a swiveling component. Once you’re satisfied with the results, integrate the various mech joints LEGO has to offer. Both the LEGO Creator line and LEGO Hero Factory offer excellent choices for finding the appropriate joint pieces.
As for improving your LEGO SNOT work, start by designing something simple. Try creating an arm, neck, or tail with numerous segments. Set a goal to make each and every segment distinct while still matching the other segments. Since these types of LEGO builds are often seen from multiple directions and are highly mobile, they give you a good framework for figuring out creative designs while also keeping the part-count manageable.
I hope I helped you look at the Ninjago Samurai Mech from a bit different angle. Instead of just building LEGO sets according to the instructions and try to finish them as fast as possible, it is a good idea to pause at times and study the building-techniques used. This will make you appreciate LEGO sets even more and ultimately become a better free-builder.
What do you think? How do you like the advanced LEGO building techniques used in the Ninjago Samurai Mech? Is there any other LEGO mech design that you really like? Have you ever tried to build your own LEGO mech? How did it turn out? Feel free to share in the comment section below. Would love to hear about your own discoveries!
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