This past Saturday, I had another great time being part of SMaRT Education’s FIRST LEGO League tournament. This year I was able to once again referee on the competition floor. However, hats often change heads as the tournament progresses, and this year I found myself filling in as emcee as well.
But, I get the feeling that’s not why you’re here, is it?
Oh, right! This year, I once again designed and built custom LEGO trophies for the winning teams.
The design process was far easier than last year’s. Entitled Nature’s Fury, the theme of the competition was centered on natural disasters. Four trophy concepts immediately came to mind; volcanoes, tornados, earthquakes and floods. And with those general concepts already selected, I had given myself a much longer timeline to design the specific trophies.
For most of the design process, I was working towards included moving parts. Each trophy would have a series of simple gears that would allow the trophy to animate once a small hand crank on the side of the trophy’s base was turned. The tornado would spin, the earthquake would fissure into two sections, and the flood waters would rise and fall around three small buildings. The volcano however, became a challenging design to figure out.
The first concept wasn’t a full volcanic cone, but rather a slope from which a river of lava would flow down. The gears would work to turn four red rollers built out of round LEGO bricks. The mechanics were based on the same mechanism that Disneyland uses for the lava effects used in their Primeval World diorama portion of the Disneyland Railroad ride at their Anaheim theme park.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to figure out a LEGO gearing combination that could create the effect without breaking the bank. Each time I had built a working model, the rollers were spaced too far apart to create the illusion flowing lava. If the volcano couldn’t be animated, I didn’t think it would be fair to have the other models animate. So all the designs were simplified to be static trophies.
Once the designs were finalized, Calista went to work putting together the bricklink.com orders. This year’s trophies use a large amount of small LEGO pieces. Calista had to find stores that sold large quantities of the pieces we needed to help keep the shipping costs down. A single tornado trophy uses 418 LEGO pieces, not including the black LEGO bricks used to build up the stand and base. That’s 3,344 pieces for just the eight tornado trophies.
During the ordering process, it became apparent that a static version of the flood waters trophy wouldn’t measure up to the volcano and tornado designs. For a week, I played with an alternative idea that featured a forest fire theme. However, LEGO trees and plants are expensive to buy on Bricklink, and they would have pushed the entire project well outside our planned budget.
As the orders arrived, Calista and I sorted out the pieces, prepping them for final assembly and gluing. This year, we were very grateful to have some assistance in gluing the trophies together. With the gallery exhibition approaching, my production time has been understandably heavy. I can not thank Chris Naud and Brenda Fisher enough for all their hard work and enthusiasm in helping Calista and I build this year’s trophies. And please accept my deepest apologies for asking each of you permanently glue LEGO pieces together. It’s a heartbreaking process, but the appreciation received from the FLL teams makes it all worthwhile.