An Epic Realm of Brick Fantasy: No License Required

Buffalo, NY builder Alex P., also known as Sirens-of-Titan on Flickr and simply A P on MOCpages, is a prolific and truly inspired AFOL. His inspiring focus and commitment to developing a single world has lead to this beautiful series of MOCs that provide beautiful visuals to a pretty engaging story in the fantasy genre which can be likened to the universes created by Dungeons & Dragons, Song of Fire & Ice, Malazan, and Lord of the Rings. But what really puts these MOCs over-the-top is the consistent quality from the smallest details to the largest structures. Each model is a mini-workshop on one or more building techniques. He’s been around a while, but I’m ashamed to admit that I barely came across his work last week on Flickr, so I figured I’d better take this opportunity to spread the word so that such talent can get the attention it deserves.

How long have you been building? Are your current fantasy-based MOCs reflective of the themes you liked to build the most in your early LEGO days, such as Castle, Fantasy Era, Viking, etc.?

I have been building since I was little, but my tastes have changed with time. I used to love building space ships and sci-fi MOC when I was a teenager, but have come to appreciate the intricate world of fantasy and castle building much more over the last two years. I have only been posting MOC’s online for about a year. My wanting to build in the castle theme also stems from the fact that i never go to own or build any of the classic castle sets when I was little, so I guess you could say I’m overcompensating in a healthy way.

When did you start working on the fantasy world that you seem to be building now? Did you intend to slowly build a world with so many characters, buildings, and environments from the beginning?

I started out with the idea of building an adventure story that encompassed every classic fantasy castle location imaginable. I wanted to have all the classics, from dragons, to fortresses, to elf lands to dwarf cities and I feel I’ve accomplished that part. The characters evolved as a means of telling a convincing story to justify all the builds, but evolved into the primary catalyst of the action.

The overall narrative behind your creations that you have on MOCpages is really developed. For our readers, would you mind giving a summary? What is this world? Who are the factions or key players?

The basic narrative is about the young mage Kaloyan who goes on a journey to gather an unstoppable force and overtake the largest power of his time; the Empire of Leon. Every MOC explores another adventure, and aside from Kaloyan’s tale, there is also a parallel story from the point of view of Asparuh; an older Knight who is attempting to stop the mage. Overall, the story raises questions about who is truly the “bad guy”. Is it Kaloyan for wanting to destroy the current world order, or is it Asparuh for blindly protecting it? Both points are valid, and there are no clean-cut answers.

Is the story something you work on separately from the MOCs and then build to, or do you build and then the story just sort of evolves? How does that all work?

Because of the scale of the project i have to plan well in advance in terms of story writing. I always write the story first, while imagining the locations. I usually build 4-6 sets per chapter and each is described in detail before I ever touch a single brick. It actually makes building much easier as I know what the scene is supposed to look like and what function it serves in advance. If there is a model that has to be revisited in a future chapter, i take all pictures for that chapter while the model is built. (For example, I am currently taking picture of not-yet seen MOC’s that will be going in the final chapter)

This is not to say that there is no flexibility, however; if something doesn’t look or feel as good in brick form as it did in my head I revise the story and build a different version of the model. )This last chapter is a perfect example; it was originally titled “dwarven industry” and was an all-interior dwarf forge which did not look as impressive as i had imagined, so it was rebuilt as the entrance to the city and the action moved to the King’s throne room.)

Generally speaking, how long does it take you to build a vignette like “The Drake’s Head Inn” or “The Soul of a Demon”? Do you sketch at all first? What’s the process?

The actual building time is 3-4 days per MOC of about 4 hours a day at most. I scatter this throughout the week so that I can keep thinking and revisiting. The “drake’s head” was a bit larger and took two weeks to finish. I always sketch a rough layout idea, but the design and architecture are developed as i move into the build.

“Dwarven Treachery” particularly caught my eye. The mine vignette is fantastic. I love the Guardian sculptures as well as the mountain behind them. Can you talk a little about how that particular piece came together?

As I mentioned earlier, this piece changed a lot from it;s initial concept. I have always been a fan of dwarves in movies, books and games, so the source material was neither new nor original, but it was very familiar to me, and I wanted to re-create that instantly recognizable “dwarven architecture” feel. The key aspects of this feel are the Guardian statues, the hexagonal tower, and the geometric door. I took concepts from Dragon Age’s “Orzammar” for the statues; basically romanticized versions of dwarven heroes. They were the first things built and placed down. Next came the door, then the rock work, followed by the tower on top. The very-last feature of any outdoors MOC I build is the ground and environment which come together only to complement the larger building.

“Lord of the Dragon Riders” has some amazing architecture. How did that come together? Do you look at real world castles and landscaping for inspiration at all, because the detail is extraordinary? Is playability something you think of at all? For example, can one actually “play” in those buildings or are they pretty enclosed?

I build exclusively for photography purposes; many models only have 2 or 3 sides completed. My “lord of the dragon riders” castle only has 2 walls for every square tower, and you’ll notice it’s only ever shown from the front and side. This is to save on time and parts, and it also allows LED’s to be easily placed behind windows. The design of that castle was purely this concept; “build a castle out of Light grey with no angles worked in whatsoever, and still make it look good.” This meant I had to use textures and lots of rectangular geometry to make the castle appear as detailed as possible. Why the restrictions? I read somewhere that castles made out of one color of grey with no geometry are bound to look dull and boring. I took it as a chance to showcase that wasn’t necessarily true.

You have some very unique landscaping techniques. The ground and trees in your vignettes are so varied and realistic, and yet they all “work” together in that they all seem to have a clear aesthetic. How did those techniques develop?

To be honest all of my techniques evolved through trial and error. Imitating nature with ractangular bricks is a huge challenge for all MOC’ers and so I stick to a few basic guidelines when building a landscape:

  1. Vary textures/colors and patters
  2. Vary elevation
  3. Use the colors and patterns to work with main object of build, not as a separate entity. Of course a lot of my techniques are learned, and people like Derfel Cadarn are big influences on my work especially when it comes to of lush greenery.

What’s your take on the new Lord of the Rings licensed theme coming out this Summer?

As sad as it is to see Kingdoms go away, I can’t help but rejoice that we are finally getting a castle licensed theme. I am a fan LOTR of the books and movies so I look forward to owning some of the great figures from the theme, and at the same time I know a lot of new elements and colors will flesh out the somewhat limited pallet of castle MOC’ers.

What existing fantasy properties (eg novels, films, comics, games, etc.) do you enjoy? Are there any that you wish people would MOC more or would be miraculously turned into licensed sets? Why?

There are many influences on my builds and stories from classic literature to modern high fantasy movies, games, books etc. I really enjoy new renditions on old classics like Lord of the Rings. Believe it or not I’m also a big fan of sci-fi and especially video games sci-fi. I always love seeing either “Fallout” or “Mass Effect” MOC’s, those are truly epic and artistically perfect franchises with as many possibilities for MOC’ing as Castle. I hope to one day do another story as large as this one outside the castle theme. Mass Effect is my dream license, but as am M rated video game it has no chance.

If you could have any new pieces (eg bricks, armor, weapons, etc.) you could imagine to help with the building of your world made as either official LEGO pieces or custom accessories by the likes of BrickForge, BrickWarriors, Brick Command, etc., what would they be?

I actually have a long wishlist, but at the very top always is some proper bow pieces from Lego. I like the classic Lego bow, but it’s always in the drawn position, limiting it’s use to action sequences. As far as custom pieces go; you can never have enough armors, helmets and swords, and I currently favor and highly recommend brick warriors as the most innovative and quality pieces when it comes to castle customs. Whoever makes a successful “orc armor set” first will have lot of my money really quickly.

And I’ll be right behind you with my own hefty chunk of change.

If you would like to read more of Alex’s story, be sure to visit his page on MOCpages

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