Tuesday, 15 April 2014

CUUSOO Exo Suit: the logo

Exciting news today; the LEGO® CUUSOO team have given New Elementary readers this exclusive first look at the official logo to be used on their forthcoming set, the Exo Suit! The set will be released in August 2014. Knowing how special the Exo Suit is to the fan community, the CUUSOO team took the unusual step of deciding to work hand-in-hand with AFOLs to decide how the set should be packaged and marketed. So the designer of the original Exo Suit, British AFOL Peter Reid, assembled a team and I was fortunate enough to be included.
There was great excitement in October 2013 when Peter's model passed the CUUSOO review. Even those of us who aren’t into Space and mecha were glad to finally see a model get approved that wasn't based on an existing object or licensed property.

Seemingly, things have been quiet on the Exo-front since then and the Ghostbusters project has been in the limelight - despite being approved later, the official set has been revealed first and it will be released in June, before the Exo Suit comes out sometime in August. Ghostbusters’ move forwards was unrelated to the Exo Suit, which has been happily moving along on its original production schedule.

Having fans direct your marketing is a fairly radical approach, given that TLG have plenty of expert employees who actually do this shizzle for a living. But TLG’s relationship with their fans has been experimental and interesting ever since they realised in the late ‘90s that Mindstorms hackers could teach them a thing or two, and brought them on board to help develop the next version of the product. Admittedly, we fans would like it if TLG did even more experimental and interesting things with us, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re a pretty forward-thinking company in this regard. Indeed, they’ve never involved fans in the marketing of a set quite as much as they are with the Exo Suit.

The AFOL team.
Back row: Andrew Hamilton, Jeremy Williams, Peter Reid, Tim Goddard, Drew Maughan.
Front row: Tim Johnson, Julie Greig, Yvonne Doyle, Ian Greig.
Absent: Chris Salt.
Photo © J. Broberg
As you may expect, there’s a lot that we're not permitted to tell you at the moment – undoubtedly, all the things you actually want to know! But the CUUSOO team have kindly agreed to me writing this post to give some insight into the process so far. So what has this actually entailed to date? Essentially, two all-day workshops which were held in Stansted, UK, in January and March with LEGO employees and us AFOLs. The first meeting mostly dealt with how the set should be presented and packaged, and the second discussed how the marketing campaign should pan out.

In case you're wondering what these meetings looked like, Andrew Hamilton (Wami Delthorn) has created this extremely accurate and realistic model. :O)

January’s meeting was highly creative. We didn’t have the finalised CUUSOO Exo Suit model to play with (nor at the March meeting), but we were shown an image that made us all squeee. The big fear that many FOLs have about the CUUSOO Exo Suit is that it won’t be as cool as Peter’s original, which enjoyed the luxury of being full of illegal and weak connections that would never stand up to a moment of a child’s attention. I should know… I’ve broken Peter’s Exo Suit more than once, including at one of these meetings! A teeny knock (honest) seemed to cause every limb to ping itself off in a crazed domino effect. (Self-ejecting feet are both a cool and irritating play feature.)

I can’t yet comment on the redesign, suffice to say it was undertaken by Mark Stafford who has designed many of LEGO’s greatest mecha such as Ninjago 9448 Samurai Mech; he’s also an AFOL and good friend of Peter. In late 2013 Peter flew to Billund to finalise the design with Mark, so whilst it is (by necessity) altered, it’s been in safe hands all along.

We were split into two groups to start brainstorming ideas around the possible story behind the Exo Suit. As you probably know, because I always go on about it, Peter co-authored an unofficial book with Tim Goddard (who naturally was also part of this team) called LEGO Space: Building the Future. It re-imagined the various LEGO ‘Classic Space’ themes in a new cohesive narrative - and featured the original Exo Suit. So the CUUSOO Exo Suit ideally needed to work within that universe, and the CUUSOO team were cool with that. But what was the backstory - where did the Exo Suit come from, what makes it exciting? And what is the scenario of the set itself, what is the minifig’s role? (Yes, don’t worry, I can confirm there’s still a minifig in the set!)

Concept sketch by Jeremy Williams.

Pages of ideas and sketches were scribbled and when we re-combined the two teams, it was interesting how many concepts were similar. As for the packaging, CUUSOO boxes don’t follow a template (aside from a few essential regular inclusions) so the brief was open. Unanimously, we wanted a modern riff on the original Classic Space look and feel from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, and as you saw from the logo this is indeed the direction it’s been taken.

A marketing idea from the first meeting, but will it be used? (And before you guys ask; the little Exo Suit image in the bottom right is Peter’s original model, not the CUUSOO version!)
Photo © I. Greig.

We also brainstormed a range of marketing ideas to help promote the set, and everything was taken back to Billund where things progressed rapidly. TLG and Peter did a lot of work in between the two meetings and we were thrilled to commence March’s workshop by being shown the all-but-final artwork for the box and booklet. Once again I’m sorry I can’t share details yet, but hey at least we’ve been allowed to show you that Classic Spacey logo!

Everyone, including Peter, loved what they saw and the agenda moved on to the marketing campaign. Of course TLG will be reaching a mass market with this set, but as far as they are concerned the pre-release marketing is all about exciting the “alpha fans” - the TFOL and AFOL fan community. So they were extremely open to hearing how we felt the set should be promoted, and when. Our ideas from January had been written up into potential concepts by TLG’s internal Consumer Marketing Agency (CMA) who seemed quite pleased to have received a brief already brimming with campaign ideas! The next few hours were spent reviewing and finessing these, deciding which were strongest and when was the ideal time to run them.

I have to admit, the cynic in me did at first think we’d give TLG all our ideas and they’d just go away and change them beyond recognition. But I’m glad to say that wasn’t the case and that the whole release of the Exo Suit will be a true co-creation by fans and TLG, just like the model itself. Sadly there are still months to wait, but I hope this little peek has whetted your appetites!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Competition: LEGO House

I’m excited to announce New Elementary’s first ever competition! The fantastic team at LEGO®’s Community and Events Engagement Team have provided these wonderful prizes:

First prize: LEGO House
This exclusive set is only for sale in LEGO’s home town of Billund, Denmark. It’s a model of the new tourist destination currently being built there; an interactive museum showcasing The LEGO Group’s history, products and ethos.

Second prize: UN Headquarters
This recent Architecture set is an excellent build, and contains 155 Trans-Light Blue 1X2 plates! Sweet. You can read my review of it here.

How to enter

To enter, you need to build your own design for LEGO House. If it were up to you, what would this exciting museum look like? You are allowed to use up to 250 pieces in your model – which is the same piece count as the official set. You have until Thursday 15 May to enter, so there's plenty of time for multiple entries!

Sorry, but only those aged 18 or over are able to enter.

Rules for building:

  • Only parts that have been produced by The LEGO Group are permitted.
  • Customised parts are not permitted, with the exception of tubing which may be cut.
  • Custom stickers/printing are not permitted. Official stickers or printed parts are fine.
  • Digital entries are not permitted; it must be a physical model.
  • No more than 250 pieces may be used.

To make your entry as good as it can be, take good pics of your model (in focus! Plenty of light! Plain background!). To submit, upload them to the LEGO House Competition Flickr Group I've created.

Rules for images:

  • A maximum of 3 angles per entry may be uploaded.
  • Some image editing is permitted, but most is not:

    • removing background
    • colour/brightness/contrast adjustment that has been applied to the entire image
    • a watermark of the entrant’s name/screen name if desired (but this is not a requirement). Please place unobtrusively in a corner.
    Not permitted: Any other image editing. This includes but is not limited to:
    • changing the colour of parts
    • mimicking custom printing or stickers
    • adding titles or explanatory text – please do so on the Flickr page instead
    • Compositing several pictures into a single image – instead, please upload up to 3 images per entry.

If you want to get inspired, here's the official video about the building - but remember, you're coming up with your own design. You don't have to follow anything they've done in the actual building or set, and it doesn't need to fit on the same area of land. There is no need to design any interiors, nor do you need to specify what the function of each part of your building is, like they do in the video.


Judges will be asked to consider the following criteria when deciding winners, so entrants are encouraged to keep these in mind when designing.
  • Creative approach. Judges will decide which designs are inspiring, innovative and of architectural merit. This is the primary criteria.
  • Building technique. Judges will consider how the designs have used LEGO parts in a way that they consider to be appropriate, effective or innovative.
  • Fitness for purpose. It is not necessary to define the specific functions of your design, but judges will consider overall whether the design is suitable as an exciting museum for The LEGO Group.

Once the competition has ended I will ask judges to create a shortlist of their favourites. I will collate which entries are popular to create a second shortlist. Judges will then score this list and collated scores will define the winners.

I will announce the judging panel soon!

    Terms and conditions

    • Entrants must be 18 years or older.
    • First prize is 1 sealed copy of set 4000010 LEGO House. Second prize is 1 sealed copy of 21018 United Nations Headquarters.
    • To be considered, entries must be photographed and uploaded to the Flickr Group set up for this competition. This is found at www.flickr.com/groups/2616190@N20. Therefore entrants will need a Flickr (Yahoo) account to enter.
    • Entrants may enter as many times as they like, but only 3 uploads per entry are permitted.
    • The competition opened on Monday 14 April 2014 and will close at the end of Thursday 15 May 2014. Entries received after this date will not be considered.
    • Judging will commence on Friday 16 May 2014 and will end on Thursday 22 May 2014.
    • Winners will be announced on newelementary.com on Friday 23 May 2014.
    • The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
    • Winners will be contacted via Flickr on Friday 23 May 2014 to arrange delivery of the prizes. Alternatively, winners can contact New Elementary using the contact form on the right-hand side of every page of newelementary.com. If no response is received from a winner within 90 days, the prize may be forfeited and used as a future competition prize.

    Good luck!

    Monday, 7 April 2014

    Take thou thy plate of flesh

    New-fangled parts are very exciting, but perhaps more important are the simple parts at the core of the LEGO® System that arrive in new colours. Today I highlight basic bricks and plates that have been released in new colours in 2014.

    To date the only plate in Medium Dark Flesh [BL]/Medium Nougat [TLG] has been the beautiful 4X4 round with a 2X2 hole, but now there's the regular 2X2 (Element ID 6056383 | Design ID 3022). It comes in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 79121 Turtle Sub Undersea Chase and a set that I'll mention several times today - Friends 41039 Sunshine Ranch. There's also the matching brick, the 2X2, in 71006 The Simpsons" House, a set that is stacked with exciting colours but I'm most excited that it has a plate in Flesh [BL]/Nougat [TLG] - the 6X8 (Element ID 6060856 | Design ID 3036). This is a common enough colour of plates in LEGOLAND Resorts - they're needed to create the skin on large scale Star Wars and Friends characters, for example. But in sets, this colour has only ever been used for... well, flesh... on figures and piggies. Also on sausages, which are mostly piggy flesh I guess. That was for some Scala sets 15 years ago, by the way. So using it in a plate (and also a door) in an official set is quite radical. Will we ever see a whole range of plates and bricks to match or will the secondary parts market be AFOLs' only source of other sizes?

    One of the final missing basic plates in Reddish Brown is now here; the 1X12 (Element ID 6055145 | Design ID 60479) which probably would have appeared sooner had the same plate not previously appeared in Dark Brown. But it's here with a vengeance - appearing in three sets, including 15 of them in the massive 10241 Maersk Line Triple-E. The Triple-E is yet another set I'll keep mentioning today...

    In fact, I'll do so immediately. It also provides us with a couple of large plates in Dark Red [BL]/New Dark Red [TLG]: the 4X10 (Element ID 6052765 | Design ID 3030) and 6X10 (Element ID 6052874 | Design ID 3033). On the brick side of things, we get the 4X4 round brick with Technic holes (Element ID 6057433 | Design ID 6222) in Star Wars 75039 V-Wing Starfighter.

    Magenta [BL]/Bright Reddish-Violet [TLG] now comes in the 1X1 brick (Element ID 6022035 | Design ID 3005) in four sets: Creator 31021 Furry Creatures, Disney Princess 41052 Ariel's Magical Kiss, Friends 41057 Heartlake Horse Show and Sunshine Ranch - which has an impressive 40 of them! The 1X2X5 (Element ID 6056385 | Design ID 2454) is also found in Sunshine Ranch along with 41029 Stephanie's New Born Lamb. It's worth noting 1X4 and 1X6 bricks make a welcome return in Sunshine Ranch, and that you also get 20 1X2s, so that set is a great boost for anyone wanting to build in Magenta. (Sunshine Ranch also has a cool new plate and a tile, but I'll write about those another time.)

    Dark Pink [BL]/Bright Purple [TLG] has a couple of new plates, the 1X2 (Element ID 6057387 | Design ID 3023) and the 2X3 (Element ID 6060801 | Design ID 3021), which are both found in two sets: Juniors 10668 The Princess Play Castle and, once again, Ariel's Magic Kiss. This colour is now extremely well-represented in bricks and plates.

    Bright Pink [BL]/Light Purple [TLG] isn't doing quite as well yet, but plate selection is nevertheless very good. In 2014 the 1X1X5 brick (Element ID 6058396 | Design ID 2453) arrives in Princess Play Castle and the 1X6 plate (Element ID 6058222 | Design ID 3666) is in The Simpsons House.

    Bright Light Orange [BL]/Flame Yellowish Orange seems to be a very popular colour with AFOLs and in official sets it appears in both 'girl' and 'boy' themes. The available parts are growing more slowly this year it seems; all we have so far in the basic department is the corner brick (Element ID 6034175 | Design ID 2357) found in Friends 41035 Heartlake Juice Bar.

    I said it before, but I'll say it again, 'cos it's cool. The 1X1 round brick now comes in Pearl Gold [BL]/Warm Gold [TLG] (Element ID 6060800 | Design ID 3062). There are 20 in 41055 Cinderella's Romantic Castle.

    Here's a super-useful part in a tiny set. Creator 31015 Emerald Express has the 2X2 round brick in Dark Green [BL]/Earth Green [TLG] (Element ID 6055770 | Design ID 6143). Goes nicely with the 2X2 round plate in Dark Green which Creator introduced only just last year. Yay Creator!

    The double jumper plate finally comes in Lime [BL]/Bright Yellowish-Green [TLG] (Element ID 6056291 | Design ID 87580) in Chima 70133 Spinlyn s Cavern and 40114 LEGO® Friends Buildable Jewelry Box.

    1X1 round plates appear in Transparent Bright Green (Element ID 6057034 | Design ID 30057) for the first time in four 2014 Chima sets. Previously this part has appeared in Transparent Green and Trans-Neon Green [BL]/Transparent Fluorescent Green [TLG], so this new shade is sufficiently different to feel worthwhile.

    Yellowish Green [BL]/Spring Yellowish Green is an extremely new colour so I'm very glad to see another plate now available, and once again it's thanks to our friend Unikitty from The LEGO Movie. She's feeling queasy aboard 70810 MetalBeard's Sea Cow and the 1X3 plate that makes up the bottom of her face has turned Spring Yellowish Green (Element ID 6069258 | Design ID 3623). I may as well mention the top of her head is a Sand Green 1X3 plate, which isn't new, but not seen in a set for over a decade which could prove good news for anyone trying to buy the parts necessary to build 3450 Statue of Liberty or 7194 Yoda.

    Bright Light Blue [BL]/Light Royal Blue [TLG] seems to be 'a blue too many' for some AFOLs but like it or not, the number of plates available is slowly and surely increasing. The 6X8 (Element ID 6056216 | Design ID 3036) appears in Disney Princess 41053 Cinderella's Dream Carriage.

    Following an alteration to the Maersk company's corporate blue, Medium Azure is now being used in LEGO sets instead of Maersk Blue [BL]/Pastel Blue [TLG] which, as far as I know, is now a discontinued shade. Once again the Triple-E brings us very useful parts: the 1X2 brick (Element ID 6004945 | Design ID 3004) and the corner brick (Element ID 6052877 | Design ID 2357).

    As for plates, you'll find the 4X4 quarter-circle plate (Element ID 6056271 | Design ID 30565) and the 4X12 plate (Element ID 6056270 | Design ID 3029) in both Ariel's Magic Kiss and Cinderella's Romantic Castle, both of which contain the strange new Medium Azure Kermit neck I described recently.

    I hope this post has alerted some of you to elements that you've been hoping for!

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