Lego Rivendell Wows at BrickCon 2013

As the mom of a confirmed Lego junkie, I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of a good Lego build. It’s tricky to use a brick system meant to create a specific item—say, a space shuttle or pirate ship—to build something new and entirely different. Even so, plenty of A.F.O.L. and T.F.O.L. (adult/teen fans of Lego) builders do it and do it well. Many of those builders displayed their best work at BrickCon 2013 in Seattle this past weekend, but one stunner stood out: Rivendell.

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All photos: Kris Bordessa

Conceived of by Alice Finch and David Frank, the two builders discussed the idea the first time they met three years ago as novice builders. With a little experience under their belts—Alice created the large Hogwarts display that won honors at past BrickCon events—they decided to go for it this year. Planning started in February, with images from Weta Workshop, the folks behind the breathtaking visuals for The Lord of the Rings movies. Using stencils based on those images, the pair created a plan that allowed them to build on 48-stud base plates that would eventually fit together to create a scene measuring 4′ x 6′ or so. (One of those components ended up weighing in at about 75 pounds!)

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The actual building process began in March. Alice and David worked on the project at their respective homes, sharing progress pictures via email. Their plans changed a bit when The Hobbit was released in theaters; they decided to expand the scene to include images that appeared for the first time in the movie.

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The intricate details of the build required lots of assembly—even the simple details had to be pressed together, brick by tiny brick. For this, David and Alice enlisted the help of their kids. They even had a two-family tree-making workshop to create the amazing forests. (Notice that the trees change from spring green to the rust colors of fall across the model.) Even with that extra help, David tells me, “We’ve lost many nights of sleep in the past few weeks.” The final few days before BrickCon found David crashed on Alice’s couch, grabbing a little shut-eye when he could.

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Their goal was to make the final piece seamless. Done and done. The Rivendell display is simply stunning. To create something so fluid and aesthetically pleasing from a very angular building material is a feat. And yet, while the display won several awards—including the People’s Choice Award—I had a fascinating discussion with a BrickCon attendee by the name of Rick, comparing Rivendell to Alice’s previous winner, Hogwarts.

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“Look at the roofs,” Rick said. “Nobody’s ever* done that with cheese slopes. Alice can say she’s the first one to have used this technique.” And yet, Rick feels that Hogwarts is a better build. The architecture and the various diorama scenes based on the Harry Potter movies that are tucked within the castle are more technically challenging, he says, than the landscape work that makes Rivendell so visually appealing.

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Another thing to consider, some of the attendees tell me: A build like Rivendell wouldn’t have been possible a few short years ago. Why? Some of the parts—in particular the railings and many of the tree leaves—are third-party Lego-compatible pieces that have only become readily available in the past few years. The use of a variety of leaf colors is just one of the techniques that makes Rivendell seem so lifelike; official Lego colors are extremely limited but third-party sellers offer a wider selection of colors.

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Read GeekMom Kelly’s interview with Alice Finch about her popular Hogwarts display.

*Says Rick. I have no way to verify this with every Lego builder in the world.