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19 September 2014

Groot Expectations


Chris Salt (Oblong Pictures) is a stop motion and CGI animator who most recently created those thrilling Exo Suit teaser clips. New Elementary has been lucky enough to publish "exclusive first looks" at his work before, but today we're luckier than ever! Chris has reviewed 76020 Knowhere Escape Mission and has arranged for none other than Groot himself to assist.

The people who design LEGO® sets for movie licences have a tough job. With a big tentpole blockbuster, the film is often still being edited in the weeks running up to the premiere. The first run of sets has to be on the shelves long before then, so how do you decide what to use from the collection of concept art, stills and storyboards available to you?

With Guardians of the Galaxy, the Milano is an obvious choice for a showpiece set. It's Star Lord's Millennium Falcon. It's how the Guardians get around that galaxy that they're guarding. It's practically a character in its own right. You just know something like that is going to play a big role.

The rickety tower with a gun on top from the Knowhere mining complex? That's a bit more of a stretch. Who knows, it might not even make it into the film.

It didn't make it into the film.

The Build


I'll state up front that I'm not a seasoned builder of LEGO sets. As an animator, I mostly build pieces of wall and bits of scenery to go in front of them. I like detailed minifig-scale sets like the modular Cafe Corner range but otherwise I generally buy loose bricks. So I don't have a lot of experience of following the instructions. The bag breakdown for this set seemed odd though, splitting parts of the mining tower over the three bags and interspersing them with other (more fun) builds.

First off, bag 1 cuts to the chase and gives you Groot right out of the gate. That's a smart move because, let's be honest, no one is buying this set for the tower.

The designers did about the best job they could here. He looks a little blocky in places but the combination of micro ball joints, hinges and clips give you a nice poseable maxifig at a scale that's close enough to the minifigs in the set to make for a fun play experience. Making him brick-built also means you can relive those moments in the film where he sprouts new growth.


Bag 1 also gives you the Nebula minifig, a surprisingly faithful representation of Karen Gillan's cyborg character.
The fig comes with double-sided torso and head prints and wields two samurai swords for twice the evil cyborg chopping action. Nice.

I've saved the best for last. I hope you're sitting down. Bag 1 also contains the first part of the mining tower.
I don't even know what this section is supposed to be. It's a kind of walkway leading to a little pit of loose trans yellow bits. It's not the most stimulating build. In fact, it has one connection that seems to be skirting right on the edge of legal technique - connecting two lengths of corrugated tube with a technic pin.

It's surprisingly fiddly to get a pin in there without kinking the end of the tube and, when it's finally done, the connection doesn't feel like something LEGO would normally be cool with.

The lack of stability doesn't ultimately matter because it gets enclosed in bricks and the tube is really just there for decoration. It's just one of those questionable design decisions that interrupts the flow of an otherwise fairly straightforward build.

Having ploughed through the uninspiring mining platform thing, we're on to bag 2, which rewards you with everyone's favourite creepy little beast, Rocket Raccoon.
Rocket's shorter than the average guy so we naturally get the hobbit legs. Hobbit legs are the animator's enemy because they don't move. Then there's the single moulded piece that makes up his head and his space shoulder pads, removing yet another point of articulation. Overall, it's a decent representation of the character's look. It just would have been nice if he could move a little. His arms still go round, more or less, so there's that.

You also get the new tail piece that connects at the waist instead of the neck like the Chima equivalents. It's a much more sensible location for butt-based attachments and now that LEGO have opened up this new connection option, I look forward to seeing how they build on it in the future. For now, this part has fairly limited applications outside of Rocket. I guess it's handy if you're a werewolf fan.

Rocket wouldn't be Rocket without a great big gun. This one is a brick-built number that's super compact but still ends up being bigger than its owner. To be fair, that's accurate to the one he had in the film. Handily, the stock is hinged so you can angle it to avoid his tail.

Possibly the best thing about this set is that you get to recreate that scene from the trailers where Rocket jumps up on Groot's shoulders and unleashes mayhem.

And if you think that's cool, wait till you see what's up next: more mining platform!

Pretty much everything you need to know about this section can be worked out from this photo. There's some trans yellow tiles in there representing mining ooze. Probably if a bad guy fell in that he would melt or drown or something. If I was a bad guy I would be really careful about building any trap doors above a pit of mining ooze like this. That would just be asking for trouble.

But enough about health and safety. When you've finished, you get to connect it up to the other bit of mining platform. Things are really starting to take shape!
Finally, bag 2 has the one thing that I recognise from the film - the mining pod. These pods transport mining ooze around the Knowhere mining complex. They are also really useful in a space chase scenario if you need to retrieve a shiny orb from some bad guys and/or keep a shiny orb out of the hands of bad guys.
The film has a super vibrant colour palette and it's nice to see that reflected here with the vivid blues and yellows of the pod. The designers have managed to squeeze a fair bit of playability into something so small - the claws at the front swivel and grab, the hatch at the back lifts to reveal a stockpile of mining ooze and the cockpit is built to accommodate either a seated standard minifig or Rocket with his big bushy tail.

While this is the highlight of the set from a building point of view, I have to have a little grumble. Like the micro managers in the Movie sets, the mining pod achieves its studless SNOT look by using bracket plates. Lots of bracket plates. You basically build a box with studs on all sides and then attach things to them.

Now there's no denying that this is 100% legit SNOT building but I'm old enough to remember a time when you had to earn that look. There was space for one headlight brick and you had to find a way to offset it just the right amount in order to start building out at right angles to everything else. When you finally stepped back from your swaying spaceship, being careful not to breathe on it too heavily for fear of it all falling apart, you felt like you'd achieved something. The studless finish on the mining pod feels cheap, a hollow victory in comparison to that giddy rush of yore.

It's still cool though.

And so, with Rocket in his mining pod and Groot fighting Nebula over a pit of mining ooze, it's time to open bag 3. The final bag. This will be the bag that ties the whole model together. What wonders will it contain?
Oh.

There's not much in the way of interesting building techniques here. You stack bricks until you get to the top and then you stop. I totally called it on that trap door though. That thing is an industrial safety citation waiting to happen.

Fortunately, that's not it for bag 3. You also get the standard issue Sakaaran minifig who will be familiar from the other GotG sets and a neat laser cannon that goes on top of the tower.
The cannon is pretty good. It's based around the increasingly common 1X4 spring shooter, perfect for launching a crimson bolt of fiery death at our heroes, but with mean-looking curves and vents to make it look awesome. If they'd put this and the pod in a budget priced set, I'd have had no complaints at all.

New elements


"Yes, yes," you're saying. "But I don't come here for a detailed breakdown of the contents of every single bag in a mid-price licensed set. What about the new elements?" Well, I'm glad you asked.

The most obvious new elements are Rocket's head and tail and Groot's upper body. Great sculpts but not a whole lot of use outside of Guardians of the Galaxy models.

Groot's shins, a pair of 1X4 brick with bow with a printed vine pattern, are a bit more versatile. You could probably find a use for these in a garden MOC or maybe an overgrown post-apocalyptic city.

The Sakaaran space gun is semi-new too - it's unique to the GotG range at the moment. It's a nice shape and there's enough connection points there to make it potentially useful for greeblers on the lookout for silver accents.

And then there's some old friends in new colours.



Play features


This set is riddled with interactive play features. I've mentioned some of them above but I think a video demonstration will give you a better idea of how they work. So let's hand over to our special guest reviewer...



The animator's perspective


Following on from Groot's little demo there, let's look at how this set shapes up for the brickfilmer.

The tower is neither here nor there. No one in his right mind is going to try to incorporate that into a film. There are too many loose connections and, well, it doesn't look very good. It doesn't really have any handy elements for building your own scenery either.

Rocket is somewhat of a disappointment too. As I said earlier, he looks great but he may as well be cast from a solid piece of ABS for all the articulation he has. If you have a story that involves him standing in one place and moving his arms a little, you're in luck. Otherwise, you're going to have to work to get any kind of performance out of him.

Groot is pretty good fun to play around with though. I had a blast making the play feature demo and working out how to make him do stuff. The lack of a neck joint is a shame but the flexibility of his arms and legs gives you a lot of options for subtle movement that you don't usually get with LEGO characters, and the ball joints and hinges are stiff enough that he'll mostly hold a pose while you take your photos.

Summary


I've been quite hard on this set overall. Looking at it as an AFOL, it's not that interesting a build experience and it's definitely not a set you're going to display on the shelf next to your Cafe Corner and UCS Star Destroyer. For a model based on a film with such a strong design aesthetic, it's a little disappointing.

There's no doubt that its intended to be played with rather than looked at. Everything does something - things knock other things over, Groot can wave his arms and legs around, Rocket has a big gun and a mining pod with grabby hands. A kid who's just watched these guys take on the assembled forces of Ronan the Destroyer will get a kick out of reliving moments from the film with this set, even if half of it never actually appeared on screen. The rest of us? Well, they could have released a $40 set with Groot, Rocket and a box of red 2X4s and I'd probably still have bought it.




Our thanks to LEGO's Community and Events Engagement Team for supplying the set.

76020 Knowhere Escape Mission retails for US$39.99 / £44.99 / €49.99.

11 comments:

  1. Sad to hear about the lack of Rocket's posability. I've seen some third parties release half-sized legs that move separately, but I guess Lego considered them too fragile or something.

    I really don't like Groot either, it's just a mishmash of custom and brick-built that ends up failing in both appearance and function. I'd have preferred if the only custom part was his head, and the rest was acchieved through wedges and slopes (such as 64867), now you end up with one big behemoth torso that's basically useless for everything else.

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    1. The problem I have with most third-party poseable short legs is that the proportions just look wrong. Lego's short legs are purposefully molded so that what would be the "waist" on a regular figure looks like it actually extends up into the torso. Most poseable short leg proposals I've seen just don't have enough "leg"—just hips attached directly to feet, in a way which looks exceptionally awkward.

      I do, however, wish Lego would make more use of their new multicolored short legs from the Simpsons sets. The SDCC Rocket uses them to great effect to give the effect of bare feet. Why doesn't this one? And on that note, why doesn't Bilbo in this year's new Hobbit sets? I saw a lot of potential when that part was introduced, but so far I can't help but feel it's been underutilized.

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    2. Interesting standpoint, but I can't see Lego reasoning that aesthetic awkwardness would trump probability.

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    3. *playability*

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    4. I don't even think poseable short legs have that much playability, though. Certainly they might help for a model like this where Rocket might stand on Groot at an odd angle. But sitting—one of the primary applications of poseable legs on minifigures—would look awkward and wouldn't let the figure's butt mount to a brick anyway. The same applies to many other poses—they'd look worse by default while still being less versatile than comparable poses for standard minifigures. And of course, a single-piece mold is cheaper to produce than an assembly. So why complicate things when it would worsen any fig's overall look and cost more to produce?

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    5. @Andrew:
      I have several sets of Brickfortress mini-legs, and they have holes that match the top holes on standard legs. The minifig can therefore sit in any position that a standard-height minifig can, with the notable exception that if they are sitting in a minifig seat, you have to choose between attaching them to the two studs at the front, or putting the minifig up against the seat back.

      There are other issues with the single-piece short legs, such as not being able to seat them in a leaning position, not being able to display them or animate them as walking, and not being able to have them bend over. BF legs also give you the option of building shoes onto the short legs.

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  2. The last line makes a great tl:dr version, "they could have released a $40 set with Groot, Rocket and a box of red 2X4s and I'd probably still have bought it."

    Love the animation.

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  3. That Groot is one of the ugliest monstrosities Lego has ever released.

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  4. I plan on getting this set. It's Ronan the Accuser, Drax is the Destroyer.

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  5. I suspect the Simpsons legs are a more expensive part which is why they dont get used. Also, the GOTG and Hobbit sets would need them in flesh color rather than yellow (which might make them even more expensive depending on how they are made)

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  6. How long have you had a 'tash Chris?

    Love the animation. All reviews should now have an animation. Tim, sign him up on a cheap watertight contract.

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