12 November 2021

Old Elementary: Part 1 of the LEGO® BIONICLE 20th Anniversary Festival

Áron Gerencsér, Eero Okkonen, Mitch H and Ivan Martynov kick off a fresh Parts Festival using old parts, in honour of the weird and wonderful elements from LEGO® BIONICLE.

LEGO® BIONICLE is a beloved, if controversial, theme and it turned 20 this year. Memorable to different people for different reasons - be it its extensive story and mythology, or the feat of saving the company from bankruptcy, or the unusual moulds which at first glance might seem hard to finesse into the broader LEGO building system. The legacy of ‘Constraction’ was kicked off by Slizers / Throwbots, popularized by Bionicle, streamlined with CCBS, and lives on today in brick-built creatures and mechs using tow ball joints. Once revived and twice cancelled, Bionicle still has a dedicated fanbase full of enthusiastic builders. In true New Elementary fashion, we decided to celebrate the occasion by digging into the parts. 


Over the course of the next four weeks, we will be publishing a series of bite-sized Old Elementary articles put together by regular and guest contributors, examining 20 moulds that were designed and released for Bionicle during its original 2001 to 2010 run and using these pieces in our own creations.

Bionicle Matoran Chest Torso & Toa Nuva Climbing Claw / Kodan Ball Half - Áron Gerencsér

To kick things off I’m looking at a mould from 2002 used by one of the main characters, Pohatu, both as a climbing tool and as a ball (and a weapon, though LEGO never called these things weapons) as well as a piece from 2004 which initially served as the torso of that year’s diminutive Matoran sets. Both eventually saw other uses in sets, but the latter never appeared in another theme. The only set that features both moulds is 8621 Turaga Dume & Nivawk.

The Parts


The climbing claw, also known as Bion. 2002, Claw (4178666) appeared across 23 sets in five colours: Silver is the most common, followed by a tie between Black and Flame Yellowish Orange (Keetorange, as we call it around these parts), then New Dark Red and finally Bright Yellowish Green. Meanwhile, the Matoran torso, also called Block 7X7X2.5 W. 6 Holes Ø4.85 (47295) popped up in 17 sets with 8 colour variations, these being Silver, Bright Red, Black, White and the so-called “Metru” colours, Earth Blue, Earth Green, New Dark Red and Brown. 


The two moulds I chose fall more or less on two opposing sides of the specialisation spectrum. The climbing claw being a simple and versatile enough piece to use in a number of different ways - as evidenced by the number of sets it appeared in - while the Matoran torso is a bit harder to work with. Even so, both have some interesting connections and geometry going for them. 

The climbing claw’s full footprint covers 5x6 modules and plates high, with the useful interior gap being three modules across at the widest and just one at the tip. The Matoran torso is a bit more complex having a footprint of 7x7 at its widest points. It’s total height isn’t an exact plate-number, as little overhanging bits of plastic used to stabilise joints in the set the mould was designed for aren’t in-system; it’s roughly 6.5 plates high. At the abdomen, there is a curved cutout to house the ball joints typical of the theme. 


As far as traditional connections go, the climbing claw sports one Technic axle and two Technic pin holes, whereas the torso has six Technic pin holes - but this is where the greebly, mechanical nature of Bionicle pieces come in handy. The tried and true method of “just jam stuff into holes” gives us some other useful, if not always sturdy, connections. Additionally, the claw’s curvature is a great fit for Tile 4X4, W/ Bow (27507).

Building with Bionicle Matoran Chest Torso

First up, I approached the Matoran torso with a smaller tablescrap in mind, and taking advantage of the mechanic detailing and pointed shape, I figured it would make for a good hull on a smaller version of the angry space triangles from everyone’s favorite science fantasy space opera. 


Moving on to a larger MOC, if something Bionicle is definitely known for it’s the masks. Masks were visually striking elements of the sets, important collectibles in the early years of the theme and central to the storyline - so it only made sense to turn this torso into a mask. Taking the piece in brown, the various gaps and surface detailing already make it seem mask-like even without adornment. 


Building with Bionicle Toa Nuva Climbing Claw / Kodan Ball Half

Running with the Star Wars vibe for tablescraps, the angle and texturing of the climbing claw’s, well, claws reminded me of the Chiss Clawcraft design that appeared back in the Legends era. 


Building bipedal Metal Gear-esque drones for New Elementary articles has become something of a tradition for me, and the latest MOC in the series features the climbing claw both as feet and as technical detailing around the eye.

I deliberately utilized some other Bionicle molds on this build, inkeeping with the theme of these posts. 

 


Bionicle Rahkshi Back Cover with Groove - Eero Okkonen

Most Bionicle parts of so-called ‘Generation One’ are greebly and filled with little mechanical detail - parts of gears, pistons and other marvels of engineering. They lend strong aesthetics to the theme, but are sometimes hard to incorporate into one's own creations. I'm mostly a character builder, and I've been trying to achieve organic forms for more than a decade. One of the first Bionicle pieces to exclude mechanical detail was Bionicle Rahkshi Back Cover with Groove/Bion. Shell (44140). This piece has been my friend in MOC-making for years, and its curious and sometimes baffling connection points deserve a closer look. 


From 2001 to 2006 - aside from the recoloured line of Bohrok-Kal - new waves of Bionicle canister sets introduced a whole batch of new moulds. The Rahkshi in 2003 had two different unique and one randomized parts each; staff end, spine and Kraata worm. In addition, each six Rahkshi got three moulds - head, back guard and foot - in their own elemental colour. These were Blue, Black, Red, White, Green and (old) Brown. However these parts were cast in a special blend that gave them a shining, silvery finish. Curiously, Bricklink lists the white variant as Pearl White (not appearing elsewhere) but does not differentiate the others. 

Why did Rahkshi have these shiny colours? I do not know - it seems contradictory with their story role as the spawns of darkness and misery. I totally thought they were good guys upon seeing them for the first time.

In my opinion, the most interesting part of these is the back guard. In 2003 the part was also introduced in Flat Silver (pre-2006 variant) and Pearl Dark Grey. In 2005 it made its only appearance outside Bionicle, in Dark Green in 7018 Viking Ship challenges the Midgard Serpent, lacking the shiny effect. The last appearance of Rahkshi back was in 2006 in the weird Bionicle bulk can 6620 Ultimate Accessory Set. It was recoloured in Pearl Light Silver, the light silver variant of 2006-2010.

The Part


The Rahkshi back was designed to fit Bionicle Rahkshi Kraata Holder (44139) and Bionicle Rahkshi Chest Section (44136). These parts moved without friction on axle connections, and the little connector inside the upper end of the back cover clicked into the notch on the Kraata holder. Banging the head of the Rahkshi, connected to the ball joint, would then release the back cover and shoot the Kraata maggot out. The groove on the back of the cover matches six different Rahkshi spines that slide on satisfyingly. I didn't have any available so they are not pictured here, but you can check Rebrickable for reference. 


The length of the piece is 7 modules. The height of the concave curve is six plates and the height of the part on the upper end is four plates. The concave curve does not match the 1x3 bow piece, nor any known curve on the system (save the matching Rahkshi piece, obviously).


If it's angled slightly, it's a close but not exact match with Technic, Liftarm, Modified L-Shape Quarter Ellipse Thin 3 x 5 (32250). The groove on the back is slightly thinner than a 3.18 mm bar. Bars can be slid in it, but they will stress the part. I tried some pieces with sections thinner than a bar, and Mixel ball joints with Technic axle or pin (2736 and 6628) felt most promising, and the older and thinner version of the robot arm piece (53989) slid in relatively nicely. These connections stress the back cover a bit, too, but I don't think they will eminently damage it.

The connection of two pin holes with one empty module in between creates some challenges when using this piece. It works fine (though without friction) when connecting to an axle hole in the middle, with a 3L axle, like in Rahkshi sets. However, the connector to plug into often happens to have a pin hole, causing some ugly asymmetrical connections - as with 8811 Toa Lhikan and Kikanalo. But fret not - this issue was just recently solved by Technic, Pin 3L without Friction Ridges Lengthwise with Stop (77765).

Building with the Rahkshi Back Cover

Leg it

About 90% or more of times I've used the Rahkshi back, it has functioned as an upper leg cover, creating a muscular thigh. This is not a very innovative use, as both 8593 Makuta and the aforementioned Kikanalo use it this way - but it worked, and the piece came in a lot of nice colours. Mace-Bearer (2016) was one of the more successful ones of these MOCs.


Next up I'm going to open my archives a bit, showing off an upper leg build I developed in 2011 and used actively until 2017 with some variations. 

 

Woolly Mammoth

Before embarking on this parts festival, I hadn't used the Rahkshi back since 2017. This is mostly due to cowardice, as Bionicle building is complicated and the desired shapes are generally easier to accomplish with some wedges and curved slopes - which also come in a better variety of colours. Even so, handling the Rahkshi back was like meeting an old friend, and I wanted to honour it with a fresh idea - taking it completely out of its context and focusing on its shape only. To me, the Rahkshi back looked like the face of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius).


So I built the rest of the mammoth around it, the result being close to miniland scale. Embedding the piece into a LEGO System structure posed some challenges. A 3L axle with a stopper is securely held between the brows. The lower end of the back cover is slightly stressed to host the studs of a 3-module wide lower lip. The stress keeps the piece from flapping. The transition into the dinosaur tail is not the smoothest possible, but transition with that old dino tail almost never is, except when Serpent Basilisk Middle Segment (43936) is used - and it only comes in Black and printed in Sand Green.The new Dragon Tail / Neck Curved (67361) has an easier connection point but an ugly material-saving hole. 


Another challenge was the colour scheme. The Rahkshi back does not come in Reddish Brown, and I didn't have enough pieces for an old Brown mammoth. However, it was not a problem really - beasts like mammoths are not monochrome. I slapped as many old brown pieces as possible into the mix so that the seed part would not stand out too much. Two birds with one stone, as it's hard to find use for old brown parts.


Bionicle Bohrok Windscreen - Mitch H

In 2002 and 2003, the villains of LEGO BIONICLE were the Bohrok and the Bohrok-Kal. These incredible sets were perhaps most well known and celebrated for their unique spherical shape. This was largely made possible by the subject of this article, Bionicle Bohrok Windscreen 4 x 5 x 7/Bion. Head, Top (41671) or simply the Bohrok dome.


 

The Part

As the Bricklink name infers, the element is 4L tall, 5L wide, and 7L long. Like many Bionicle elements, the dome serves a specific purpose and does not easily fit into the standardized LEGO System. It’s only connection points are two pinholes at the front. The element is large but also thin making it easier to build around than it initially appears.


The element has three different common variants. The first is a marbled variant from the original Bohrok. It comes in the six standard Bionicle colors (red, blue, brown, black, green, and white) as well as orange from the 2010 Hero Factory set 7158-1 Furno bike. All of the Domes have the same marbling. The second is a printed variant from the Bohrok-Kal. It only comes in the standard Bionicle colors, though unlike the standard Bohrok Domes, each Kal variant has a unique print. Featured on each dome’s print is a symbol that resembles the weapon that Bohrok-Kal holds. The third is a solid-color variant. It comes in black, dark blue, bright light orange, and pearl dark grey. It was introduced in later Bionicle and Technic sets but was never featured in any Bohrok or Bohrok-Kal set. 


Finally, there are rare misprints and prototype variants floating around the community. Be on the lookout for a green Kal dome with the printing of a red Kal dome. These are misprints and are highly collectible for some fans.


Early prototypes of the original Bohrok had magnifiers on the domes to show the Krana brains inside. These were never featured in the final designs but some early promotional art and prototype elements feature the magnifier.

Building with the Bohrok Dome

8573 Nuhvok-Kal was my first Bionicle set, so I knew I had to use the dome from it in this project. Using its dome I made this abstract remake of 8555 Nuhvok-Va. At the back of the MOC two Technic, Liftarm, Modified Bent Thick 1 x 7 (4 - 4) connect to the top pinhole of the dome. Flipping the dome around allows the groove at the back to show off the monoeye/visor below. 


As part of a collaborative build based on The Seven Samurai, I built Katayama, the archer. For this MOC I studied photos of authentic Samurai armor which you can view here. Many of the suits of armor I looked at featured large, solid breastplates. The Bohrok dome perfectly fit the bill. The dark blue Bohrok dome had just entered my collection so it was the perfect time to use it. Due to the unusual geometry of the part the rest of the torso was mostly functional and built around it.


Bohrok Domes are a common element in large-scale constraction character builds. For more clever and unique ways you can integrate the Bohrok dome into your own MOCs, check out this Flickr gallery. Special thanks to community members Grayson M, XCCJ, Kevin H, and DanielBrickSon for providing extra photos for this article.


Bionicle Mata Arm - Ivan Martynov

The Ball Joint 5 x 7 Arm with dual axle hole at 90 degrees/ Voodoo Arm (32476) , also known simply as the Mata arm, debuted in 2001. Early LEGO BIONICLE sets followed the design philosophy first established in Slizers and Roboriders: models had to be sturdy and easy to assemble at the same time, and thus featured a lot of specialized elements. The Mata arm was present in almost every Toa Mata set, hence the name. Characters hold their respective weapon, be it axe or sword, in this long arm, while their second arm features an articulated hand. This design choice allows Toa to swing their weapon without it wobbling around, successfully knocking masks off each other during play. 

By examining 2001 box art, you’ll notice that the Mata arm, as well as its close relative Bionicle Toa Leg, often appear bent in the “elbow". Sadly, it’s not a feature of the real part, although some enthusiasts have tried to model its alternate version with a functioning joint.

The element was prominently used as limbs, especially in gearbox-based canister sets such as 2001 Toa Mata or 2004 Vahki. Some interesting uses include:

As later Bionicle sets focused more and more on articulation, large prefab elements became less common. The Mata arm only saw occasional usage in smaller sets or appeared in larger ones as a purely structural element. In 2010 it was featured for the last time in a small Atlantis set and then faded into oblivion. 

The Part 

To start with: its Bricklink name is not quite realistic as the part is ever so slightly longer than 7 modules. At least they got the height right!


Interestingly enough, you can actually attach the part to a regular LEGO System stud despite it ending with an axle hole. This connection is pretty sturdy, but the stud doesn’t go in all the way. You may also notice that there’s a half-plate gap between the Technic hole in the part’s midsection and the bricks I’ve used. You’ll get a more useful connection if you flip it, though - both ends can be attached to bricks this way and secured in place. The part’s geometry (the 135° angle in particular) also gives space for some fun techniques. I’ve discovered that you can mount a 2x4 plate at an acute angle of 45° using some modified plates, pneumatic T-piece and a towball with bar. Such an assembly, however, might be less sturdy than System-based techniques relying on hinge plates and such.


The “fake joint” on the part is also useful as you can attach a 1x1 plate to it. There’s also a small oval bar inside the part (where the H-shaped protrusion on the joint is at) which is too thin to be grabbed by a clip. It’s generally unusable, but you can jam a Technic axle underneath it. Fellow digital builders might face unexpected issues: the part’s model in Stud.io is incorrect as it appears significantly shorter. LEGO Digital Designer, despite not being updated since 2017, still has the precise model which you can use properly.

Building with the Mata arm

The Red Brawler


I really enjoyed using the part as a limb in the past so I couldn’t resist doing it once again. The greebly LBG surface works well enough as a counterpart to smooth red and black areas and also matches the texture on corrugated tubes. 

Duke Takan


For this alien aristocrat, I’ve used exposed ball joints as cartoony antennae, while making use of “illegal” attachment points in the part’s central section.

Jungle Pyramid


The repeating pattern on the element instantly reminded me of stairways, so I made a small stepped pyramid.

Sattelite


Bionicle parts with their pistons and radiators can form interesting technological shapes. After arranging them in a radial pattern, I thought that the resulting shape looks like some kind of Cold War-era military tech.  


Come back every Friday for the remaining three parts of this anniversary celebration where we take a closer look at more moulds that debuted as part of Bionicle’s first run!

Festival Curator: Áron Gerencsér. Editor: Chris Baginski.

READ MORE: Continue to Part 2 for another 4 builders and another 5 LEGO BIONICLE parts!

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4 comments:

  1. "In 2005 it made its only appearance outside Bionicle, in Dark Green in 7018 Viking Ship challenges the Midgard Serpent"

    ...and what a set it was.

    Bohrok Dome contributor here, just wanted to add a few details I forgot to include about the magnifier prototype. According to XCCJ who provided me the photos of his, "the notches in the top don't actually connect with the Krana holder, so it doesn't snap shut on a modern Bohrok. There's only one pin-hole in the "nose" and it's a bit of a tight fit, not having the regular standards of a proper Lego element."

    I also neglected to mention the notches he mentioned here because they don't fit into the LEGO system at all. Like the Rahkshi backs, the Bohrok domes have notches that help them stay in place. On the domes they're located next to the two holes on the top.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What we need is someone to tell us more about that set :)

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  2. Reminding me that I should actually make use of all those Rahkshi backs I impulse purchased a few months ago.

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  3. I love that mamoth! I really like how you sculpted it out of bricks!

    I disagree with your sentence 'The new Dragon Tail / Neck Curved (67361) has an easier connection point but an ugly material-saving hole.', as I believe the hole is needed to be able to create the curve in the dragon tail in a moulded part (retracting part of a mould in a curved direction seems very complex and would probably require completly new machinery).

    ReplyDelete