24 April 2021

Si-MOCs vs. LEGO® Art

Simon Liu (@si_mocs) is our welcome guest today! A stalwart of communities in Canada and online, including the wonderful Iron Builder, we knew Simon would take the ultimate MOCcing challenge in his stride. The products in this article were provided for free by LEGO; the author's opinions are not biased by this.

There are lots of LEGO® sites out there, targeted at different audiences, but for a builder like myself New Elementary has always been my go-to source for parts and building analysis. I’ve always said I’d jump if asked to do something for New Elementary.  Tim knew this, but Tim’s a funny guy; he asked me to do some seed-part building with some interesting new pieces... from LEGO Art 31200 The Sith. You read that right, dear reader, Tim asked me to do a deep dive build with pieces from a mosaic set.

Okay, jokes aside there are actually a few new and great pieces in this set… and over 3000 Plate Round 1 x 1... which are not particularly interesting as a MOC seed part! This theme introduced them in some new colours however; this set has 92 in Cool Yellow/ Bright Light Yellow (6319958 | 6141), 200 in Dark Brown (6315780) and 139 in Sand Blue (6315783). It’s also great to get 447 in Earth Blue/ Dark Blue (6021623) as previously this colour had only appeared in 2 sets back in 2003 and 2004.

Part 55819, the new LEGO Brick Separator

So when the mosaic sets were announced and images released, my LEGO friend circles were all excited, not for the set itself but introduction of Brick Separator 4 Studs Wide (6302093 | 55819). Or as we instantly dubbed it, the ‘Thick Separator’.

This new 4-wide brick separator actually isn’t as big we expected:

I kid! This is actually a 3D-printed DUPLO Brick Separator gifted to me by my good friends at KenoshaLUG. And if you’re asking yourself why would anyone ever need a Duplo Brick Separator, then you’ve never had to take apart a human-sized Duplo Escape Room.

This is actually the third iteration of the trusty brick separator, here is a real comparison of my LEGO Brick Separator family:

Starting on the left there is the Brick Separator v1.0 shown here in Dark Green/ Green (600728 | 6007). I do have several Dark Grey (600727) ones as well, but they’re probably in a MOC somewhere. Rebrickable also list a Dark Stone Grey/ Dark Bluish Gray version from 2003, which coincidentally appeared in mosaic sets of the era. Next we have the Brick and Axle Separator v2.0 (31510), shown in order of coolness on the Simon Scale: Bright Bluish Green / Dark Turquoise (6254100), Dark Green/ Green (6240517) and the humble workhorse of the family: trusty Bright Orange / Orange (6240515). 

This is probably the time where I mention that as much as I might complain to Tim, I’m actually a huge fan of Brick Separators; they’re not just functional but also super fun to incorporate in builds - I’ve even created an entire group devoted to their fun usages.

And I’m not going to even talk about the Super Sized Brick Separator picture.

What is the difference between old and new LEGO Brick Separators?

The original version was extremely good at separating two plates or bricks connected together; it was a single purpose tool. The second iteration introduced two new functions: one is that the opposite end was designed to be able to pry pieces apart, especially tiles with groove, and the second was that there was an axle attached to the top, useful for those pesky instances when an axle or rod was stuck.

But this second-generation separator also introduced a problem. For anyone that keeps a Brick Separator with them, be it the trusty one on their table, or as some like to do, attached on their belt, you might notice that... well… they sort of break down after a while.

Now some might be jumping on that bandwagon of how LEGO bricks aren’t as good as they used to be etc etc… but this is actually by design! Most of us have a whole bin of the omnipresent Bright Orange Brick Separator, not because it was a cheap part to inflate the LEGO part count, but because LEGO wanted us to have ‘fresh’ ones. When two plastic bricks are of equal ‘strength’ when connected together and pried apart they do equal and opposite damage to each other (Newton’s 5th Law of LEGO?) so there’s an actual LEGO science on the malleablity (or softness) of the plastic used. Basically: depending on the part, the plastics need to be different from each other otherwise they would have catastrophic effects.  Ever wonder why the baseplate is so bendy? … if they weren’t, they’d break when you tried to pull parts off of it. Same thing with brick separators! They’re one of the softest of non-rubber LEGO parts as they were designed to break down so that my precious LEGO pieces won’t get damaged by separator marks.

A lesser-known use of the brick separator is to straighten rows of 1x1 plates or tiles. Position the brick separator as if you were going to pry a piece off, but instead, push it into the two plates or tiles - this results in both pieces being aligned to each other. But now... I can straighten four at a time! Efficiency!

Geometry of the new 4-wide Brick Separator

The first question I had about the 4-wide separator was, does it have the same profile as the current tiny 2-wide version?

Yes, that checks out, which means that these could potentially be used in tandem for some builds… though I’d have to consider the limited colour combos.

My next comparison was if these Brick Separators would be useful beside one another:

This was actually my first issue with using multiple Brick Separator 4 Wide - the edges don’t line up when connected together! Unlike the 2-wide, which fits very nicely into LEGO System angles as its edges are at 90 degrees, this four stud version is not a perfect connection and has a bit of a gap.

Might it be okay if we used enough of them? While 31200 The Sith only comes with one brick separator, there’s nothing stopping enterprising reviewers from ordering more… so I totally ordered a bunch from Bricks and Pieces to make a circle.


And… sadly it does not work. The angles simply don’t align to make a complete circle, and similarly it doesn’t align to the old separator. This put a bit of a dampener on some of the MOC ideas I originally had envisioned. Though you could use the negative space in a sports arena type build I suppose.

While the current generation of two-wide separator is often used in LEGO builds, this is mainly due to the fact it fits in the System quite well: the handle fits snugly between 2 studs, and the ‘head’ can be connected by studs or anti-studs. The 4-wide Brick Separator doesn’t fit nearly as well due to how the handle is tapered; the closest match I could get was using the Plate 3x6 w Angle. 


But there’s actually a few more interesting pieces in this set; the LEGO Art series introduced two other new parts. 

Part 65803, the 16x16 Technic Brick

The second new piece is the Brick Special 16 x 16 x 1 1/3 with Pinholes in Black (6302092 | 65803).

This serves as the backing of the mosaic, where all those wonderful Plate Round 1 x 1 are attached to. This new piece was designed as a high-strength piece that when connected can hold up not just a 3x3 grid but a 3x9 grid. Which is a lot of weight.

While this might seem like a single-purpose piece, the instructions call for only 3 Technic pins to attach to each section to another while there are 11 Technic holes present, that could be used. Indeed, 10276 Colosseum utilised them for a base in Olive Green (6301768).

Part 67139, Technic Panel 3x5

The third new piece is Technic Panel 3 x 5 with Wall Mount Hole (6302094 | 67139).

Similarly to the square bases, this initially looks to be  a single-purpose piece made for this set. It’s basically used to hang your mosaic up on the wall. And if you thought the 16x16 Brick was strong, this piece was designed to hold up to the 3x9 mosaic configuration, which is roughly 10lbs (4.5Kg)!  Warning: if you’re hanging this, don’t worry about this LEGO piece holding up the weight; worry about the nail and the mount on your wall! Seriously.

This has also been used outside the LEGO Art line in 76161 1989 Batwing for, you guessed it, hanging the model on a wall.

Simon Liu’s creations using new parts from LEGO Art

Now for my favourite part of new sets: not building the set but building something out of the new pieces instead!

MOCs using Brick Separator 4 Studs Wide 

At this point dear reader, I hate to admit I was a bit disheartened by the possibilities of this piece, it originally seemed like it was the chosen ‘meme’ piece and even in a colour that was pretty useful! But as it stands really the only other piece that aligns nicely is another Brick Separator 4 Wide .

The back side has interesting dual ridge that gave me a sense of a long path to some dark imposing and dangerous fortress. I also used the Technic Panel 3 x 5 with Wall Mount Hole to shape the main gate, with two 1x1 pyramid tiles inserted into the ‘nail’ slot. Yes, even LEGO wall hangers are in System!

The entire build sits on a clear Ferrero Rocher tray, which allows for a UV light to shine up under the build, adding an interesting orange glow to the piece, but more importantly allowing me to build the guard towers in Transparent Fluorescent Reddish Orange, consisting of a Light Sword Blade (6288243 | 28697) inserted into a Black Connector Peg W. Friction (4121715 |  2780). This allows the cuts in the Technic pin to be illuminated as if there was warm fire in a cold guard tower.

MOCs using Technic Panel 3 x 5 with Wall Mount Hole

At this point I started looking at the Technic Panel 3 x 5 with Wall Mount Hole with a new lens. Originally I had pegged this as the most useless of the new pieces, but it turned out quite the opposite with that interesting negative space. My next concept was all about that negative space, using it as a simple padlock.

Again utilising the fact that the Wall Mount Hole itself is 1 module wide, its slight bevel makes the perfect keyhole for a lock. The rest of the build was all window-dressing driven by the idea of a locked gate and what could be behind it. I feel like this was the most “Iron Builder” of my building moments for this article, where an entire build is dictated by one little concept. 

But this piece just keeps on giving! Again using the negative space (there’s really not much more to go on), I put together another build using that lovely hole:

Using two of the pieces back to back reminded me of a hangar and if any of you amazing readers know anything about me, it’s that I love building spaceships. So this little guy has a nice hangar for deployment for some fun space fighters. 

MOCs using Brick Special 16 x 16 x 1 1/3 

Now onto the last piece… the Brick Special 16 x 16 x 1 1/3 with Pinholes. My original thought was some large cosplay-type build where I could literally wear my build, but really the most useful application of this piece is not from the grandiose ‘seed part’ vantage point, but as the humble utility piece.

Many fan community collaborations require a uniform base standard, e.g. Micropolis but many become pretty parts-intensive. Instead of building a 16x16 out of plate and additional pieces, this one piece can be easily used as a new standard to build micro cities. While it might seem like the new 16x16 Brick is costly, it’s actually super-cost effective relative to building something similar out of smaller bricks.


While I could have done this on a 16x16 plate, the new 16 x 16 Brick adds a lot of strength over the classic plate, instant connectivity with the built-in pins and no fear of warping!

Nothing here is overly special, but it was fun to take the Micropolis concept, rescale it to fit trophy figs and make it Steampunk. As a side note, the trophy fig scale is pretty interesting to work with. Unlike microscale, that is somewhat ambiguous as to what the scale actually isand thus the detail that can be used, the trophy fig scale means everything must be scaled to that little fig. It also means all the usual sneaky microscale tricks don’t work, and minfig scale techniques would be too big. As much as it hurts my brain, it’s certainly one of my favourite-yet-annoying scales to play with. 

But that doesn’t really show the versatility of this piece; the unique nature of its strength coupled with the Technic holes. You can use those to your advantage and create a very easy curved configuration, and there’s only one curved layout worth building: the Halo Ring.


The ring segments are actually connected by three Sausages (33078) inserted into a Technic half-pins (4274). While three was enough with a stand, I think with a few more, an entire ring could have been created. I kept mine light as originally I wasn’t sure how much weight I could put on, but perhaps could have added layers of plate or even a SNOT terrain. 

I did consider building a full ring, as there are enough in the set to do so, but sadly I used 4 of the plates already in the cute Steampunk build. 

Conclusion

So what did I think about this set? As a decoration for your walls - probably absolutely amazing but as a set for someone like me that is interested in pieces for building … not so much. While we did get three really neat new pieces to play with, these can be easily obtained through other means at a much cheaper price. 

The remaining pieces aren’t exactly overly useful but the high volume of new colours of round 1x1s is attractive.

And as for my chance to build MOCs from one of the least interesting sets of 2020?

READ MORE: Lee (cityson) finds more parts joy in LEGO Friends 41433 Party Boat

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5 comments:

  1. Simon! Lovely article from some difficult pieces to work with. I do notice a lack of frogs though, which is unusual for simon... ;)

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    1. Are you sure there aren't any frogs? :D

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  2. Very good article! I loved your in-depth analysis of the brick separator's design.

    I still haven't picked up any of the Art sets sadly... the initial offerings just don't particularly appeal to me, as somebody with only a passing interest in licensed themes like Marvel, Star Wars, and Harry Potter, and while some of the parts and colors are interesting these are a little expensive for me to consider buying purely as a parts pack (especially when I've been less productive at MOCing in recent years, and there's a chance that some of those parts might go on to see further use in some of the themes I do tend to prefer). I'd love to see some Lego Art sets based on art movements other than pop art, though. Perhaps an artist like Van Gogh or René Magritte would be more up my alley.

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    1. Thanks Andrew!

      You probably are aware, but there are some sites that allow you to pick one of the existing mosaic set's inventory and you can upload a picture for them to generate a different mosaic - If I had a larger place, it'd be definitely something I'd consider to make some custom LEGO mosaics for the home or office!

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