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.
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!
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.
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.
|© 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.
|© 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|
|© 2014 The LEGO Group, via The Brick Fan|
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.
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.