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Brick Breakdown: LEGO BrickHeadz Series 1

by admin on April 10, 2017

in Building Techniques

(Written by William)

I should start out by saying that this Brick Breakdown segment is going to be a bit different from previous ones. As the LEGO BrickHeadz series uses very similar building techniques in all of the sets, I thought it made more sense to write about the entire series, instead of each separate character. So today, we will be discussing all the building techniques found in LEGO BrickHeadz Wave 1. 🙂

As you probably know already, LEGO BrickHeadz Wave 1 includes mostly LEGO DC and LEGO Marvel Super Heroes characters, along with two sets from Beauty and the Beast, and two from the latest Pirates of the Caribbean Movie. One thing that I found very interesting is that – at least in the Marvel sets – LEGO designers used very specific versions of the characters. This seems to indicate that we might be getting alternate versions of these characters later down the line.

As far as the whole concept of LEGO BrickHeadz, I first saw them via coverage of last year’s San Diego Comic-Con… and I wasn’t sold on the idea. However when Wave 1 was released, and I saw the very reasonable price, I thought to give them a chance. And, I promptly fell in love with these little guys. LEGO BrickHeadz are the type of sets that look and feel better in real life than on images. I think this has to do with their weight and artistry that you can’t appreciate until you build at least one. This is why I thought I should definitely write about them.

As far as building-techniques go, overall I would say that this is a great series to get a handle on both sculpting shapes, and simple sideways building. The simple base core that you can find in all of the characters give you some really excellent parts for sideways building, and you can easily see how to adapt the techniques to making your own characters, as we demonstrated in this article: Expanding the LEGO BrickHeadz Collection! However, for more advanced building-techniques we will need to look a bit more critically. So let’s begin…

SUPER-DEFORMED CHARACTERS WITH LEGO

A popular feature in anime is chibi, or super-deformed. The style is meant to be a light-hearted portrayal of the characters in a series. It often promotes an oversized head, which tends to be half the size of the entire figure. In order to accomplish this, the rest of the character is shrunk by giving it a square body and very tiny limbs. By keeping the head so large, the figures retain a high degree of expression and character traits.

It is this super-deformed style that LEGO BrickHeadz uses, and for the most part, the scaling all revolves around fours. The body of the characters has a 4×4 stud footprint, and it is 12 plates high, (which means it is four studs high with 2 plates left over). If you cover the side of the body with a 4×4 plate, only the 1 plate high neck and 1 plate high shoes will stick out. In other words, the body is basically a cube. The sides of the head are built off of a 4×4 footprint as well.

Due to this scaling, the brick that serves as the chest of most of the figures is printed, since there is not enough space to get a large amount of brick-built detail in place. Instead, all the fancy building is kept for the head. Keep in mind that the head is enlarged, so certain details get accentuated. It is during building the head when you’ll discover whether or not you like the LEGO BrickHeadz characters. You very likely will, but even if you don’t, you will end up with a collection of some really useful pieces.

THE UNCANNY VALLEY OF LEGO CHARACTER BUILDING

If you don’t care for the look of the LEGO BrickHeadz characters, it might have something to do with their faces. Compared to the rest of the head/hair/headgear, they are a bit plain. A great example is Belle’s face; it’s pretty much tan tiling with two eyes, and it looks very square.

This stylistic choice was likely done to avoid what is called the “uncanny valley” effect. For those unfamiliar with the phrase, it originated from a robotics engineer who discovered that when he made a humanoid robot too realistic, it ended up unnerving people. This is because we are wired to recognize human faces for information, and when we detect something is not right, it sends primal warning bells off. In order to avoid this situation, engineers purposely build robots with at least some clearly non-human features. In the case of toys, manufactures go in the direction of making their humanoid characters overly cute and adorable. It is also interesting to note that compared to the other LEGO BrickHeadz characters, Beast has some of the most detailing on his face. However since he is not human, he won’t freak people out.

To give you a more concrete example of the uncanny valley effect, I’m going to share with you one of my own LEGO creations. Last year I wanted to try my hand at making a LEGO sculpture, so I made a leprechaun, and tried my best at making it as realistic as possible. The head of the sculpture has very similar proportions to the heads of the LEGO BrickHeadz characters, so it makes a good comparison. Looking at it, how does it make you feel? Honestly, I’m not offended if it’s unsettling. It just means I built a little too close to the uncanny valley.

APPLYING WHAT YOU LEARN

Up to this point, I never really considered building with LEGO in a super-deformed style. However, LEGO has given us a great blueprint for making this possible with the LEGO BrickHeadz characters. Plus, by buying just one of these sets, you will have the most essential pieces to build your own figures. So what’s not to like?

Avoiding the uncanny valley is a real important technique when building with LEGO. It’s one of those rare guides that warns you away from building too well. It also gives you an idea why standard LEGO minifigures stayed popular throughout all these years; they completely avoid the uncanny valley. So as you are working on brick-built figures, share them with your friends and family to see what they think. You will eventually find the sweet-spot that is somewhere between too simple and too detailed. Give it a try!

What do you think? How do you like the LEGO BrickHeadz characters? Are you collecting them? What do you think of the building-techniques used in the sets? Have you tried building your own figures that match the style of LEGO BrickHeadz? Feel free to share your thoughts and own review in the comment section below! 😉

And you might also like to check out the following related posts:

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

brickmaster April 10, 2017 at 3:08 PM

For whatever it’s worth, I like your leprechaun. But I understand what you are saying about the uncanny valley effect. Interestingly, Brikset is running a survey right now, and half of their readers don’t like Brickheadz at all. So the big head, little body thing doesn’t work for everyone in the first place. I like how you call them super deformed. 😀

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admin April 10, 2017 at 3:55 PM

Having a 50% approval rating for a LEGO theme is actually really good. Not everyone likes every theme. And I also like Will’s leprechaun. 😀

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LEGOJeff April 10, 2017 at 3:14 PM

I’m not into this style, but the building techniques are definitely interesting. I would like them to do some general characters rather than just super heroes.

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admin April 10, 2017 at 3:57 PM

The whole BrickHeadz collection started out with a cute elephant, which I still think is the best of them all. 😀

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Halcut April 10, 2017 at 3:35 PM

What a great post. Thanks for the discussion about the uncanny valley effect.

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Håkan April 10, 2017 at 5:43 PM

Actually, I think Lego is too blocky to really be able to produce a proper Uncanny Valley effect, it’s near impossible to make a character in Lego that’s so borderline realistic it hits Uncanny Valley territory…

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admin April 10, 2017 at 8:21 PM

It depends on what scale you are using. In a small scale it is certainly difficult to make a fully realistic characters, but on a larger scale it is definitely possible to get pretty close. And it is possible to get pretty creepy too. 😈

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