I don’t usually participate in any of the Lego group builds/theme builds for a number of reasons. A lot of them don’t call to me, and the ones that do tend to be the more involved ones, and I just don’t have the time. But this year Nnovvember rolled around, and an idea struck me: I’d been wanting to do something in the style of the Galaxy Squad bug ships but hadn’t figured out what. I was thinking a beetle, but that doesn’t fit the requirements of a Vic Viper—then it hit me: stag beetle! It has the two forward spars. And I can use the wings and shell for the Vic Viper’s requisite structures!
Unfortunately, Thanksgiving Day was the first chance I had to actually work on it—but at least I’d been doing a little bit of the planning in my head before then. And a few of my mental plans even worked with actual bricks. Over the course of about 16 hours, mostly yesterday, here’s what I came up with:
There was a slight set-back very early on as I realized that a Vic Viper is supposed to have one central tail fin, not twin fins as I’d originally intended. And, of course, your typical beetle has two halves to its shell. Solution: have the two parts fold into a single, if somewhat massive, tailfin. Figuring out the geometry was easy—or, rather, there was only one geometry that made any sense and didn’t require the two halves swapping sides, which was a bit more engineering than I wanted to engage in. But actually figuring out the Lego connections to make this happen, and have it sturdy enough, was rather more of a challenge.
I figured it out on its own, but it turned out that in translating to the actual ship, one of the seemingly-insignificant changes I made completely changed everything. I had originally intended the folded wing shells to form a fin further back, maybe even sitting on a support coming from the engine pod, but I couldn’t find a position that they would balance at—they kept flopping backwards. Once I figured out that they could sit further forward—and that’s one of the sturdiest parts of the ship, so it could definitely support them, the only problem was they would tend to not line up. A couple magnets took care of that.
(You’re not supposed to note the old dark gray.)
The shell itself was a fun puzzle. How to cover that much area with colors that are fairly rare, at least for me? The parts I had forced me to do some interesting geometries, and I’m really pleased with the end result. It does tend to tilt backwards when closed, and I thought about trying to do something about it, but I like the existing lines, and there’s no obvious way to solve it even if I were willing to make some changes—I’d need some sort of support pretty far back and high up, relative to the existing structures, and I’m not sure the existing bits would provide enough support for that. The functionality is technically just fine, they shells simply have too much of the mass too far back. And it’s not obvious that they weren’t intended to work the way they do.
It does give them a nice angle, to add to all the other interesting angles I ended up with.
I actually started with the folding wings. I’ve tried to do folding bug-like wings in the past, and never been satisfied with the end result—they were always either too bulky, too awkward, or the folded version wasn’t significantly smaller than the unfolded version. I think I nailed it this time.
The end results extend more than 30 studs from the body and have a reasonable (if not perfectly contiguous) wing surface once all the bits spread out and unfold. And they’re at a pleasingly non-rectilinear angle. Oh, and partly mechanized—there’s a thumb wheel tucked in right above and behind the cockpit.
The third part was the third defining Vic Viper characteristic: the forward spars. Or, in my case, the stag beetle jaws.
This is the one part I’m a little disappointed in. If I had the time, I probably would’ve tried to redesign them to make them a bit more rigid—they tend to droop. Though the bulk of the drooping is from their anchor points torquing under all the weight. And, again, with enough time I probably could’ve figured out how to better anchor them inside the body to minimize this. (In fact, I have an idea right now, but it would require ripping pretty much the whole thing apart to get into the core structure that ties everything together and gives it enough structure to handle all the heavy bits cantilevered off all over the place, and redesigning the jaws because I would have to scoot them in by about 6 studs, which would eliminate the clearance for the guns hanging off of them, which would mean redoing pretty much everything except the tips in order to accommodate this.)
Once I had wings, shells, and jaws, it was really just a matter of fitting a bug between them. Some parts were easy (the abdomen/engine). Some parts weren’t (I had no idea initially how to fill enough vertical space to fit those domes in for the cockpit).
In the end, however, I experimented my way into some really nice shapes, giving it a good flow, I think, lots of interesting angles, and a pretty sturdy construction. And I like the plethora of parts orientations—I’ve got stuff facing all 6 cardinal directions, as well as several interesting angles built into the inner structure, as well as the crazier angles of non-structural bits on the outside. Some fun connections, too, which I don’t usually do much of.
Lessons learned: big cantilevered elements need more anchoring than a 2 stud x 4 block anchor point can provide. Check the center go mass of any large bits that you want to stay put while resting on other bits. Not all Lego ball joints—even of the same size—are created equal. In particular, a ball that can rotate doesn’t provide the same anchoring as one that can’t. (Though I figured out how to fix that for this.)
And it turns out those bug legs aren’t sturdy enough to hold it up—they bend and collapse—but I like the look of them, and simply didn’t care badly enough to find an alternative, since nothing else jumped right out at me. It’s easier to put a clear support block under it for now, and it’ll be taken apart soon enough. (I might even need to disassemble it to do our traditional Xmas build—I’m not sure about my dark red and dark tan parts quantities.)
Still and all, I’m really pleased with the end result. Particularly the cockpit and wings and general body shape. I’d’ve liked a bit less black to the overall look. If the body could’ve been more of the Galaxy Squad-specific colors (lime green, dark red, dark tan, olive green, transparent neon green, transparent red, gold, transparent dark pink), instead of a pretty significant mass of black with only a few trimmings breaking it up, that would’ve been great, but I simply don’t have much more of those colors, and certainly not in the pieces I’d need to do something like this. There are quite a few more pictures on Flickr, if you’re curious, or you can check out the Vic Viper group to see others’ creations.