1 January 2015 sees the launch of the next Ideas set, 21301 Birds, designed by British LEGO (and bird) fan Tom Poulsom. I had the pleasure of meeting him last week at the massive Brick 2014 show in London, and can bring you some of his insight in this review of the set. Being sort-of-British myself I can't help feeling proud that two Ideas sets released within months of one another are by British fans, and it's an interesting coincidence that unlike other Ideas sets, neither are based on existing intellectual properties (IPs).
In fact, this set arguably is the closest yet to the core concept of the Ideas platform, or at least the way I always conceived of it (and was duly disappointed when it seemed to become overrun by IPs). It uses loads of basic parts and has a wholesome, educational subject that fits well with The LEGO Group's brand values. I'm so glad it made it through - it took 20 months for Tom to achieve the required 10,000 votes, so his project would not have succeeded under the new rules introduced recently which archive projects after 12 months.
We don't normally discuss box art on New Elementary but I have always been a huge fan of LEGO boxes and still own many from my childhood. This one is so charming and successful, I feel compelled to describe it. Four sides mimic a wooden box with leather straps, with watercolour paintings of plants stapled to the front and photographs stapled on the rear along with a world map. This map highlights that each of the provided species are from a different continent; Tom has been diligently creating series of bird models representing continents of the world.
Like all Ideas and Architecture sets, it's a flip-top box containing high quality bound instruction booklets. I was surprised to find three booklets; one for each bird. This means you can build the set with two friends, which would be fun had I not greedily wanted all three for myself. Each booklet starts with an identical introduction to the set before describing the specific bird; all of this is then repeated in French and Spanish.
The task of amending Tom's designs was taken up by Steen Sig Andersen, who has been a Designer at The LEGO Group since 1981, and Tom was thrilled to have his precious friends in such capable hands! I don't want to describe the build in massive detail, but if you're desperate to see lots of stages, other fan sites like Eurobricks are publishing detailed build shots. I will say that each bird is quite different in its construction and the way that Steen (and whoever created the instructions) have organised the flow of the build have done a spectacular job. When I spoke with Tom at the show last week, conversation naturally turned to the changes that were made to his model so I'll share these with you instead. Tom was amazed by the brilliant job that Steen did, especially as he was simply working from photographs - there was never a need for Tom to send the models to Billund.
Book 1: the European RobinLowell Sphere, the robin requires a core that has studs on all six sides and Steen has engineered a robust solution. The process of assembling this core is cleverly done, especially Steen's solution to creating the four connecting studs you see here in the centre in Black, which requires a 180° reversal of the 2x2x2/3 SNOT brick (Design ID 99206).
3937/3938) to attach the tail; Steen has created a stronger and more realistic tail connection using clips and bars, and gave more shaping to the... er... bum. No doubt there's a correct birdy term for that.
illegal build as there are parts added above which rest on the studs of the Technic brick - which are of course hollow. SNOT bricks have regular studs with the LEGO logo embossed on them; this lettering increases the height of the stud and would have prevented the parts above sitting completely flat.
Book 2: blue jay
There have been more exterior changes to the jay than the robin, but they are only noticeable if you hunt them out. It's hard to tell from the terrible picture, but Tom's original uses Sand Blue which Steen replaced with Medium Stone Grey [TLG]/Light Bluish Gray [BL]. I can only assume he didn't have enough colour changes available to him to bring these parts back into production, and admittedly they are pretty similar colours.
Again, the significant changes are inside the bird. Tom's solution to attach the wings at an angle with some rotation by connecting to a single stud on a hinge brick was ingenious but unstable. In Steen's version the new cup connector with friction comes to the rescue - this is a perfect example of how this new part makes difficult jobs simple. You can even wiggle the wings a little!
Book 3: flower and green violetear (hummingbird)
The construction of the hummingbird requires a 180° reversal to attach its back. Tom achieved this using parts long out of production due to their tendency to snap; Design IDs 4275 and 4276 from the 'finger hinge' family. These compact hinges are sorely missed by AFOLs for several reasons, including the 180° reversal technique which Tom employed - to enable studs to point outwards from both the top and bottom. Steen's chosen solution is to build two stacked Technic plates into the body of the bird so that a 2x2 plate with inverted pin (seen in Light Bluish Gray) can be inserted into the bird's back. It's a legal technique, but not ideal as the fit is not snug, leaving a small gap between the attached sections. It's nothing to worry about though; these models contain many small gaps in their designs which you don't notice.
60025 Grand Prix Truck, prior to that it had only been used in two sets in 1999 and 2000.
The first 2015 set I've gotten my hands on just might prove to be one of my favourites of the year! From the moment you see the box to when you finally arrange your completed species on a shelf, I found this set an absolute joy. Despite being basic plates, the models are extremely accurate but more than that, it's the creative spark of personality that Tom brings to every bird which really sets them apart. Compared to the animals you get in the Creator line, these creations are several steps higher in terms of being exquisite and complex geometrical builds - more akin to a Chinese puzzle. In fact if I had to compare them to another LEGO theme it would be Architecture... luxury box and instructions, classy display presentation, advanced techniques and an inventory consisting mostly of basic parts. For adults who've not built a LEGO set in decades, this prevalence of simple plates should make them comfortable that this brand is indeed not "full of specialised parts you can only use for one thing", whilst the specialised parts that have been included should open their eyes to how LEGO has advanced over the years, along with the advanced techniques.
We love new elements here at New Elementary and there wasn't a massive amount on offer here, but the green parts are pretty useful I reckon and it's great to see some basic parts back in production. A shame Sand Blue did not make an appearance, but really I found almost nothing to complain about with this set. In a super-ideal world I would have been thrilled to find some never-before-moulded Trans-Clear parts included in the stands: namely the hummingbird's Reddish Brown plate with handle and the robin's axle. But I'm dreaming.
This set perfectly reflects LEGO's brand values in so many ways and I'm feeling confident that it will be a massive hit with pretty much everyone that buys it, although of course younger kids may prefer something with flick-fire missiles. I guess they could add some... that would be cool... but no, they are fantastic display pieces, although you can easily detach most of them from their supports for a bit of swooshing!
My thanks to LEGO's Community & Events Engagement Team for providing this set and to Tom Poulsom for explaining his models.
21301 Birds is released 1 January 2015 priced 44.99 EUR / 39.99 GBP / 44.99 USD. Consider using our affiliate links to buy it when it comes out (or anything this Christmas!); this helps support New Elementary.