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14 July 2014

Exo Suit: tease and reveal


Having been starved for the best part of a year, in the last fortnight AFOLs have enjoyed a glut of information about the next LEGO® Ideas set; 21109 Exo Suit, redesigned by LEGO Senior Designer Mark Stafford based on the submission by AFOL Peter Reid. There are already several set reviews online so I'm mixing mine up a bit by interspersing it with a review of the teaser marketing campaign driven by fans.




I was on the "Exo Team" of AFOLs Pete assembled to work with the LEGO Ideas team on the campaign. In a nutshell, having embraced the concept of "co-creation" with the introduction of the CUUSOO platform, LEGO Ideas saw this set as an opportunity to extend that concept into the very marketing and packaging of the set itself. They envisaged AFOLs would be a significant market for this set: so why not turn to AFOLs to plan how it should be presented? It was a brave approach and I'm relieved it has gone so astonishingly well: the "reveal" ran pretty much perfectly and if the hype (and indeed, panic) is to be believed, this set will sell out extremely quickly when it is released on 1 August.

Turtle


At our first meeting in January 2014, all the thrilling surprises were revealed to us. Pete's original submission comprised the Exo Suit piloted by a Classic Space minfig in White, but the final set contains much more. Another popular model of Pete's is his robot turtle, an variant of which is shown on the right below) and Mark was able to include a redesigned version in Exo Suit. He's a cute little guy full of personality and poseability, and remains largely unchanged. Pete's single-stud head connection had to go and consequently he now has two eyes instead of one, which I think looks ever-so-vaguely menacing, but if you prefer the original it's an easy change.



His shell is rather splendid, being a 3X3 dish in Metallic Silver [BL]/Silver Ink [TLG] (Element ID 6051541 | Design ID 15587) which is not unique, but only appears in five other sets. Although the reveal of the extras in the set happened just a couple of weeks ago, some tiny hints have been out there for some months now. When the 3X3 dish came out in Lime [BL]/Bright Yellowish-Green [TLG] in a LEGO Movie set, Pete and I seized on the opportunity to help bring the turtles back into the public consciousness by featuring his new Lime turtle variants in a post in February. Of course this was so disconnected from the Exo Suit, no-one imagined there was a secondary motive!

Green Spacepersons


Nor did anyone spot the next obtuse hint. Exo Team member Andrew Hamilton (Wami Delthorn) built this fabulous MOC in April, re-imagining our official meetings in Neo-Classic Space goodness.

Designing the Exo-Suit

At the far end of the left-hand table, you can spot (click pic to enlarge) that Andrew had the idea of including two Green [BL]/Dark Green [TLG] pieces. If anyone noticed this at the time, they didn't ask about it, and of course Andrew would have said nothing in reply! Now it's obvious that this was a subtle reference to the fact that the Classic Space minifigs in the set would be Green, a core LEGO colour that was never used for the various factions of Classic Space minifigs back in the '70s and '80s. This is a very big deal.



In terms of individual parts, the airtanks have never been produced in Green before (Element ID 6095718 | Design ID 3838) and of course the torso print (Element ID 6095721 | Design ID 76382) is also unique to this set. Sweetly, the figs are actually given names on the box art: Pete and Yve. (Pete's girlfriend is AFOL Yvonne Doyle.) Can you imagine anything nicer than having you and your partner immortalised as Classic Space minifigs in an official set? This makes me happy. Pete's preference for "fleshie" colour faces could not be accommodated unfortunately, as those are reserved for licensed themes.

Box art and booklet


At the first meeting the Ideas team had asked us to come up with the concept for the box art and basically we all instantly shouted in near unison; "Classic Space!" At the second meeting the artwork for the box had been designed by LEGO's internal Consumer Marketing Agency and proofs were ready for review. Whilst being modern, the finished art riffs nicely on the colours used in ye olde Classic Space dioramas and the dunes hint at the famous late '70s crater baseplate. Including the planet insignia in the logo was an inspired touch, but I'm not convinced by the way the models are pressing into the sand.


Also featured on the box cover art is a mysterious crashed spacecraft. This ties into the scenario around the set which the Ideas team asked us to brainstorm and for Pete to draft up. The final version is featured with illustrations in the set's booklet, in three languages to boot! Also in the booklet are pages describing Classic Space, Pete's life as a LEGO fan, and his development of the set with Mark. And just like New Elementary is constantly doing, the booklet even plugs the (unofficial) book Pete put together with Tim Goddard, LEGO Space: Building the Future.


I keep saying "Classic Space" in this review, but it's worth noting the set is not in the Classic Space style (and certainly isn't the beginning of the Classic Space reboot we fans are always demanding). If there's a "theme" it belongs to, it's the AFOL-developed Neo-Classic Space style featured in Pete and Tim's book, so it's very appropriate that gets mentioned in the booklet.

Tease and reveal


After revealing the logo in April, silence once again fell on the Exo Suit project, which was a deliberate request from Pete who didn't wish to stretch the anticipation for this set beyond breaking point. It was the right decision, as recent months have been filled with news of all sorts of other thrilling sets. However members of the Exo Team continued to help keep the Exo Suit and Classic Space in the public eye such as Jeremy Williams' (Bricking It) new Flickr group Out of the Attic and Ian Greig's (bluemoose) rebuild of Pete's original Exo Suit for the World Cup kickoff.

"We're gonna score one more than you"
© 2014 Ian Greig

Instead, an intense reveal one month from release was planned, to be spread over the course of a week. The main problem with keeping the reveal so close to release was the fear of a leak, which TLG took various preventative steps to avoid such as not listing the Classic Space torso on their online parts database and keeping pictures of the Exo Suit out of the summer catalogues. But the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, and just a couple of days before the planned reveal began, a set of (revised) instructions for 21108 Ghostbusters were accidentally uploaded to LEGO's online database which featured an advertisement for the Exo Suit. Yikes! Our exciting reveal plans were at risk! Brickset member OscarWRG was first to notice it, and alerted Brickset's owner Huw Millington to the story. It is a testament to Huw's character, and the great affection the community feel for Pete Reid, that Huw decided against publishing the image and instead alerted the LEGO Ideas team, who rapidly removed the instructions. Unbelievably, no-one else found the instructions before they were removed and reveal plans progressed as expected.

Before the mission...
© 2014 Ian Greig

Ian Grieg and Pete did a photoshoot that tied into the narrative from the set booklet. Starting from Monday 30 June, the teaser campaign kicked off with three of Ian's shots processed to look like security camera footage - in black and white of course, to keep that green reveal a secret for a little longer. But these images did show several clues, leaving the audience to wonder how they were relevant to the set: there were two minifigs, they were clearly not White as in the original submission, and Pete's signature robot turtle was present. Forums began discussing whether the Space figs were red, blue or indeed perhaps some other colour. Eagle-eyed fans of Pete Reid's work noticed the turtle was of different design to his original... could this be an official LEGO redesigned version?

© 2014 The LEGO Group
The likely inclusion of the turtle became clearer on Tuesday 1 July when a teaser clip was revealed on unofficial channels. This was a shortened black and white version of the main creative produced for this campaign: an animation by Pete's talented AFOL friend Chris Salt (0ldScratch / Oblong Pictures), a superb animator of LEGO who made his longest foray into CGI animation yet with this Exo Suit clip. Pete voiced himself, and Chris put a devilishly subtle clue into the video: the test card at the beginning had a typical colour bar pattern but rearranged. These represented the colours of Classic Space figs: white, red, yellow black and blue... and of course he used green for the final bar! To my astonishment, Eurobricks member AyliffeMakit actually spotted this clue. With the actual "green reveal" just a couple of days away, this was the perfect time for speculation to commence and AyliffeMakit's seemingly over-thought conclusion was met with a mix of suspicion and excitement.

Colour amendment


© 2014 The LEGO Group, via The Brick Fan
Although complete pictures of 21109 Exo Suit were kept out of LEGO catalogues, a teaser ad was produced and this was spotted on the German promotional calendar on Wednesday 2 July - again; perfect timing. Fred, a reader of the excellent LEGO news site The Brick Fan, alerted site owner Allen Tran and discussion on forums once again went wild. Here, the tone of discussion was not so positive, as although the teaser image showed very little, it showed what is arguably the most controversial element in Mark's redesign: the Dark Bluish Gray [BL]/Dark Stone Grey [TLG] barrel used on the arms. There was always a great deal of fear amongst fans about whether the official version would "ruin" Pete's original design, which was virtually monochrome, so this little glimpse was pounced on and to a degree, over-analysed, but given the lovely shape of Pete's original arm design, it's not surprising there was consternation. I was amused that someone complained that using a gray barrel suggested the Exo Suit was made of wood!


Also visible in that teaser shot was the other exclusive element in this set: the 2X2 inverted dome in Light Bluish Gray [BL]/Medium Stone Grey [TLG] (Element ID 6095719 | Design ID 15395). This is very exciting news as it's a wonderful part only previously available in three colours, and you get four of them in the set.

The final suit uses much more Dark Bluish Gray of course so the barrel inclusion is nowhere near as glaring as things seemed from the teaser image. Many fans prefer Mark's use of multiple colours, and I feel it certainly adds a sense of depth and volume to the model. Mark also included some little highlights in Trans-Yellow [BL]/Tr. Yel. [TLG] which is a lovely nod to Classic Space.

The suit and the stand




The climax of the teaser campaign, the full three minute version of Chris' video, was revealed on Friday 4 July on LEGO's official YouTube channel. It took Chris two months to create and his creative direction played heavily on the key approach of the marketing campaign - tease and reveal - by employing slow, deliberate pacing, atmospheric music by Jeremy Williams and thrilling footage of the suit itself. Fan sites went into meltdown over the definitive confirmation of green Space figs and how exciting the suit looked.


Further images by Ian Greig were released exclusively on Brickset over the following weekend, allowing the fan community a better look at Mark's redesign, and a first view of the other little extra that Mark sneaked in; a small stand with barrels to help create a play scenario. It contains Dark Bluish Gray 2X2 bows (Element ID 6071261 | Design ID 15068) which are not new, but there are eight of them which is very helpful. Likewise the Trans-Green/Tr.Green [TLG] 1X1 round tiles (Element ID 4646860 | Design ID 98138) have been around a while, but remain one of the less-common transparent colours of this part. There are four plus a spare here. Another rare part, used in the suit, is the 3X3 Technic disk in Light Bluish Gray (Element ID 4667578 | Design ID 2723) which previously has only been available in 10225 R2-D2.



Having now got hold of 21109 Exo Suit myself I can confirm it is beautiful to build and play with, and oozes personality. It's a small set in a shallow box with just 321 pieces (and 15 spare parts - including those valuable green airtanks!) but being a detailed build, it feels larger. I found myself needing to pay (relatively) close attention during the build, because although Mark had to tone down the degree of greebling that Pete employed, he still packed in as much as he could. A couple of times I missed parts of steps due to the general level of details covering the model, and sometimes it can take a moment of thought to figure out where some of the sub-assemblies get attached. I like it when instructions aren't completely easy.

I found the greebling the most interesting part of the build; there are all sorts of interesting unusual part combinations that are Reid-esque... but legal! Techniques such as putting parts with bars into Technic axle holes is not common in official sets and creates a variety of pneumatic stylings with interesting textures at the microscale level.


One pair of sub-assemblies in particular, which attach near the shoulder, tend to come apart as you play with the model. This actually kinda pleases me, as Mark has used the same build as on Pete's original (except Pete used binoculars where Mark has used a round tile). It's like a little relic of how unfriendly Pete's version is to actually play with! Mark's Exo Suit couldn't be more different in this respect; once you get the feel for positioning the legs with their multitude of joints, it's a wildly poseable model. So whilst some may be disappointed that Pete's version has undergone a near total rebuild, I think they'll change their mind when they start playing with this awesome final version and find themselves mildly irritated by the shoulder greebles, which I suspect might not have passed testing if this were a regular LEGO set. The problem seems primarily due to the very weak clutch between the 'robot arm' pieces (Element ID 4211644 | Design ID 4735) and the clip light. These robot arms in 21109 Exo Suit seem to be an ever-so lighter, greener shade of gray and I think feel a little softer, which all suggests a different plastic might have been used on this part for some reason. Testing the same connection with my older Black robot arms produces a significantly better clutch, so maybe Mark and the testing department were using the older version of the robot arm and the new weaker version only came into play later, during production.


Whilst staying true to the "DNA" of Pete's original, what I also found pleasing is that Mark has not shied away from making his own stamp on the design. Perhaps most obvious are the various additional parts that fan upwards from the top of the Exo Suit. It gives the model much more drama, but is a very different feel to Pete's. Similarly, the changes to the bars around the driver's cab transform it into more of a protective cage. The cage is hinged in a couple of places which has the benefit of allowing you to position it in slightly different ways when closed. I'm amused it is made using two handlebars from Friends (Element ID 4644102 | Design ID 98397). Mark has made some clearer humourous inclusions too, including placing a fiery exhaust on the Exo Suit's bum. Or is it only me that finds that funny.


I don't look upon these changes as being better or worse - and if you think they are worse, they're easily changed. Rather, they're proof of how skilled Mark is at finely balancing various requirements (faithfulness to the original, LEGO's standards, cost considerations) whilst injecting his own input as a creative designer. On the day of the Exo Suit reveal as AFOLdom went into meltdown online, another unexpected surprise happened - Mark discussed an enormous amount of detail about his development of the Exo Suit and answered fans' questions, including why he used that controversial dark gray barrel. This all took place on reddit, spread over a couple of extremely long threads with some repetition, yet I encourage you to read this one at least as the insight is wonderful.

Mark also points out that there might (not will, but might) only be one production run of 21109 Exo Suit. If you definitely want one, or an army as you can see I've commenced below, it is recommended that you buy it on 1 August. UK readers should be aware they can buy it early - and get it signed by Pete! - at LEGO Store Bluewater on 26 July from 12-4pm.





Thanks to LEGO Ideas and the Community and Events Engagement Team for supplying the sets.

21109 Exo Suit is released 1 August for US$34.99. Some sites are reporting a UK price of £29.99 but this has not been confirmed officially as far as I know.

If you haven't watched Chris Salt's other animations before, you need to do so now.

28 comments:

  1. Wow you guys did an awesome job during all the phases from the marketing to the actual set itself! Can't wait to get my hands on one.

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  2. Thank you, Tim, for this fantastic account of our whole process!

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  3. The claim that the barrels looked wooden or made the model look "steampunk" amused me too. Anybody who thinks the wooden barrel piece can only effectively represent a wooden barrel need to get their imagination checked out.

    I've also seen some unusual comments on the hands. A lot of people comment on them being larger than the original hands. They are, but only by 3.2 millimeters in diameter. Some people have even made the mistake of thinking the new version has more fingers than the original (it doesn't, of course). I think both mistakes can be chalked up to the fact that the fingers are more spread out on this model than on the original — by necessity, each finger is 45 degrees apart from the one next to it, besides the thumb. This makes the hands LOOK bigger, even if the difference is very slight, and it makes it easier to identify the number of fingers.

    The one criticism of the hands I somewhat agree with is that the old Vikings horns as claws might not be the best fit for its mechanical but non-aggressive aesthetic. Some people prefer the BIONICLE eye piece featured on the World Cup versions pictured above, and I have to agree it definitely suits the design. This is probably an example of an instance where the part was not available when the project was originally proposed and the LEGO ideas team wanted to keep things as close to the proposal as possible, despite a new alternative being available.

    I'm surprised to see no mention of the wheel covers on this set (http://www.bricklink.com/catalogItem.asp?P=62359). They definitely qualify as a rare element — they've only ever appeared in three Speed Racer sets way back in 2008, two years before the current silver color (315 Silver Metallic) was introduced. So even if you didn't think the new color was a big change, the inclusion of the part in the first place is a pretty big deal.

    Overall, good review. I think this is an amazing set, and both Peter Reid and Mark Stafford did a beautiful job on it!

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    1. Pete's proposal used Viking horns though didn't it? There have been so many versions I get confused!

      You're right I should have covered the wheel covers.

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    2. The silver Barraki eye was out last year in Baxter's Robot Rampage, and in _four_ sets this year, so I don't see how it could have been an issue to include it at any point in the development process.

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    3. Exactly, so my point is that the claws were probably kept in the name of keeping the model faithful to what people had supported, despite a newer alternative being available.

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    4. @Aanchir:

      I got pretty much the exact opposite impression from your post.

      Normally I'd say it might be because the Barraki eyes have a higher point cost for set design, but the fact that they were looking for ways to cram parts in just to fill up the tally suggests otherwise. But maybe the silver Barraki eyes weren't available when Peter submitted the design to Cuusoo?

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    5. Gah! Okay, I reread your post, and somehow I managed to completely miss the second half of that paragraph. But there is one weird thing. Peter was involved in the final design (first for Cuusoo/Ideas), and therefore should have had the opportunity to say, "oh, hey, BTW, these parts would look much better for the finger tips that what I had to use at the time."

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  4. 1 August in Europe too? Looking forward to grab one (or two) over the next few weeks!

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  6. Awesome coverage Tim!

    The old robot arm mold was recently found to be virtually worn out (it was still the same one from the eighties). Though within LEGO tolerance they are at the low end, the mold has now been replaced. I don't know if this was part way or after the Exo Suit was packed. If there is ever a second batch it should be a little stronger at this connection.

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    1. So what you're saying is, the Exo Suit contains elements struck from the same mould as '80s Classic Space sets... :O)))

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  7. Any word on pricing in Canada? The previous Ideas/Cuusoo sets have had terrible prices up here :-(

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  8. ^^ So later production runs of Benny's Spaceship should use the newer part? I would prefer to have max stability with a spaceship that explodes the awesome meter somewhere in Bag 3.

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  9. Nice article; I enjoyed the behind the scenes look into the finer details. Nice pictures of the greebling as well because it just makes me want to build something!

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  10. "The old robot arm mold was recently found to be virtually worn out (it was still the same one from the eighties). Though within LEGO tolerance they are at the low end, the mold has now been replaced. I don't know if this was part way or after the Exo Suit was packed. If there is ever a second batch it should be a little stronger at this connection."

    Interesting thanks for this insight Mark!

    "So later production runs of Benny's Spaceship should use the newer part?"
    That was something I was thinking too... I can indeed confirm that the robot arms in my copy of Benny's SSS are lacking clutch power.

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    1. (Same Anonymous as Above) Well, hopefully that shall be fixed by Christmas, because that's when I shall be getting mine.

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    2. The robot arms in my Bennny's Spaceship are also quite lacking in gripping power. I'm happy to find out that it wasn't just me; I was going nuts with the robots falling apart every time I touched them!

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  11. I'm the one who spotted the image on the Ghostbusters instruction manual

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    1. A big thank you to you, Oscar, for keeping it a secret a little while longer! But very well-spotted of you and it seemed you were the only one in the whole world who spotted it!

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    2. How could I get a signed copy by Pete, I live in Venezuela!!!

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  12. I wish reports of one production run were not mentioned, this just drives resellers to buy up stock and depriving real fans the opportunity to buy market

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    1. I know what you mean, but it's a double edged sword. If no warning was given, many fans just would have just delayed purchasing, hoping for a sale or just not getting around to it, and still felt disappointed when it ran out. I suspect wiser resellers will be leaving this one alone, anticipating that too many people will be purchasing this for resale and fearing TLG may indeed do a second run.

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  13. I've seen at least one note from within The LEGO Company that says they expect demand to be a bit high on this, and planned that one run accordingly (therefore it should have longer legs than the Mars Rover), and that reddit page has one bit in there where Mark says it _MAY_ be limited to one run, but that it's not definite at this time.

    Another possibility on the green group would be something along the lines of troubleshooting/investigation. The promo video shows that it's just a team of two plus the Turtle being sent in to check out what appears to be an abandoned facility. The fact that they end up piloting a pair of exo-suits is mere happenstance, not something they came there to do. It would also get around the fact that there have already been a few walker-type craft in the past that weren't piloted by greens.

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  14. Great post. I was particularly excited about the mention of how close-knit the AFOL community seems when you mentioned the ExoSuit's accidental ad inclusion in Ghostbuster's instructions.

    For me, the inclusion of many unique, rare, and/or new parts such as green Classic Space and dark bley barrels are cool, and I also like to collect minifig heads, and I currently do not have any in any shade of grey. I do, however, tend to shy away from sets that are mostly grey or single-color-heavy, as it makes sets very boring, but in reality, not feasible for a real exosuit to be in bright pink, now would it? I suppose someone out there could rebuild it using Sand Blue and Medium Blue as Light grey and dark grey respectively; This could give the Exosuit a sort of blue steel kind of color, I suppose.

    Very nice set. Will pick it up for sure!

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