Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer of LEGO - "The Beast"

The Summer of LEGO continued on well after the construction of Mondrian City. As my son and I sat across from each other at our dining room table with a pile of LEGOs between us, other creations sprang to life. With very little guidance, he was able to create a number of masterpieces. Here are some of my son's beautiful creations:

While he opted for volume, creating a veritable army of vehicles, dwellings and abstractions, I opted to design and build a single vehicle. I always tell my students that whenever you are creating art or designing something, you push the art and the art pushes you. As I started to combine LEGO pieces from the hodge-podge of kits in front of us without any real objective, a truck started to take shape. One thing I really enjoy doing with LEGOs now as an adult is taking the parts from "prescriptive" LEGO sets (the sets that direct you how to build something specific, with step-by-step instructions) and re-purposing them along with traditional bricks, Technics parts, and elements of EV3 Mindstorms.

I call the truck I created "The Beast," as it's a pretty cumbersome monstrosity of a vehicle. I utilized the brick controller and two large motors from an EV3 kit to get it moving. In order to control it, I downloaded a free app called LEGO Robot Commander to my iPad, switched on the brick's Bluetooth and synced them up. Since I own a GoPro, I also created a custom LEGO mount and placed it on the roof of "The Beast," so I could capture a POV shot.

The beginnings of "The Beast"

The completed vehicle.

Side view.

Taking a peek under the hood where the brick lives.

Custom GoPro mount.

GoPro camera on custom LEGO mount.

The GoPro on top of "The Beast"

A closeup of the GoPro on top.

Admittedly, it's not the best design. It would have been better to create a 3-wheel vehicle, using the omni-directional pinball that comes with the EV3 kit. This would have provided better turning, since all of the wheels are fixed and turns are a little clumsy. I really just wanted to see if I could get the Bluetooth control breathing and get the GoPro on board. If I had more time, I would have incorporated the medium motor and created a turntable for the GoPro to swivel it like a tank turret. Next time!

Check out the video below (kinda low quality as I shot it on my iPhone):

Thanks for checking out my blog! Hope you found it entertaining and/or inspiring. Go build something cool!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Summer of LEGO - Mondrian City

I always kick off a summer with the intention of getting so many things done, a massive to-do list compiled and awaiting me just as school wraps up. Among the items on my list was this blog and to update it with more frequency. So much for that. This summer, with its incredible fall-like weather proved too tempting to resist, so much traveling and beach going ensued.

However, I did manage to squeeze in quite a few opportunities for creative exploration and professional development, largely via the use of LEGOs.

At home, prior to the start of summer, my six year old son and I used his enormous cache of LEGOs to create a couple of fun (and quite time-consuming, as it turned out) projects. Our first undertaking was "Mondrian City," named as such due to its color scheme of predominantly primary-colored bricks. What started out as the two of us building a single structure on a building plate turned into a massive streetscape. This construction continued through the summer.

A beautiful mess.

Under construction.

Coming together.

View from the rooftop (who knew Jack Sparrow had a penthouse apartment in Mondrian City?).

Being a photographer, I then decided to take this a step further by staging a narrative scene in our city. My son and I built a LEGO robot that would visit Mondrian City, with the inhabitants flowing into the street and staring in wonder.

Robot visitor (friend or foe?)

View of the robot visitor from above.

By this point, Mondrian City had become an obsession. I began to understand what Richard Dreyfuss' character felt like in Close Encounters as he dealt with the compulsion to construct a Devil's Tower in his living room.

Next, I purchased some inexpensive micro LED lights from Amazon and placed them throughout the city. I set up an orange paper background, meant to suggest the sky at dusk. I also set up a couple strobes (flash units) to compliment the scene.

Almost ready for the big shoot.

The micro LEDs.

Positioning the camera at the end of the street at a low angle, I shot a number of frames in total darkness, the shutter open for 30 seconds at a time. The initial pop of a strobe - at the other end of the block, behind the orange backdrop, pointed at the camera - at the beginning of the exposure provided a huge burst of light behind the robot, while the remainder of the exposure was illuminated via micro LED (some in the buildings, some waved about the scene by me and my son in a "light painting" fashion. Here are a couple of the strongest images:

In general, I'm pretty satisfied with the outcome. I did want to include some sort of "smoke" to create a little atmosphere, but I just didn't get around to it. Maybe next time...

I will be posting more about the Summer of LEGO shortly, including our trip to Brick Fest, attending an EV3 Robotics workshop at Carnegie Mellon University and another original project we call "The Beast," a vehicle designed using traditional LEGOs, Technics parts and the brick and large motors from an EV3 kit. All controlled with the Robot Commander app on my iPad. Cool stuff. Stay tuned...