For the uninitiated, Bricktastic is the brainchild of Kevin Gascoigne, head honcho of charity Fairy Bricks. The charity, which arose in the aftermath of a spectacularly successful fundraising drive on the Brickset Forum a few years back, organises donations of LEGO sets to children's wards in hospitals and hospices, and many of us in the AFOL community have taken Fairy Bricks to our hearts and actively support the charity.
Bricktastic 2016 was held at the Manchester Central Exhibition Complex over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd of July. Most of the action was centred on Exchange Hall, which with a floor area of almost two square kilometres was more than large enough to accommodate an impressive line up of MOCs, a number of traders and their wares, a large interactive NEXO Knights-inspired mosaic build made up of 129,528 elements, and a variety of areas set aside for kids to free-build and display their creations. In addition, Ed Diment from professional UK LEGO building company Bright Bricks happens to be a trustee of Fairy Bricks, so it was no surprise that the company brought a number of spectacular builds to the event, notably Smaug (above) and a unicorn (below). Robotics fans could also participate in interactive LEGO Mindstorms workshops which ran on both days of the show in a separate breakout room.
Members of the UK AFOL community turned out in force to support the event, many of them by exhibiting their own LEGO creations. Exhibitors included a trio of successful LEGO Ideas contributors in the shape of Tom Poulsom, Carl Greatrix and Pete Reid, plus many other well-known and respected builders. There were a huge number of superb builds on show and I've included pictures of a few of them that particularly caught my eye below; if you want to see more then a number of attendees have uploaded comprehensive online galleries of images shot at Bricktastic 2016, for instance here and here.
While I'm talking MOCs I do have to give a brief mention to Pete Reid's Turtle Factory. This Neo-Classic Space masterpiece has been around for a while now, but rather than just cart it from show to show and rest on his laurels Pete has continued to work on it over time and has added new features on an ongoing basis. Since the last time I saw it he's incorporated a couple of screens into the model which display an 'informational video' on a loop, and he's also added a soundtrack. You can see and hear a brief clip below of the Turtle Factory in action at Bricktastic; in the event that you can't view the embedded video on your device you can also access the clip here. Fellow Portal fans will I suspect immediately recognise the GLaDOS-esque tones of the video narrator which for me adds another dimension to what was already a superb model.
It was a bit of a daunting prospect, if I'm honest - I'm a notoriously slow builder, and I only just managed to complete the Sydney Opera House build in the allotted time, so it felt like Big Ben might turn out to be a bit of a stretch. Mark Guest, editor of Bricks magazine, reassured me that he'd managed to build the model in just five hours while reviewing it for Bricks, and although I was a bit sceptical about his timekeeping I figured I was just going to have to suck it up and get on with it..... I was lucky enough to be allocated a couple of tables for my build next to first-time exhibitor Bob Turner who was showing off his Red Dwarf LEGO Ideas proposal (below). Bob provided me with frequent encouragement and also kindly offered to record my Big Ben build in a series of photographs, a couple of which I've included in this post with the remainder available here. Thanks, Bob, and good luck with your ideas proposal which is already almost two-thirds of the way to the magic 10K mark at time of writing!
There are a number of excellent reviews of 10253 Big Ben available, for instance here, so I'll refrain from posting a detailed account of the build. In summary, you start with some large bright green plates plus a single blue plate to represent the Thames and go from there. While the clock tower, known as Elizabeth Tower, is the most immediately recognisable part of the model, it's actually the horizontal section representing the North end of the Palace of Westminster (below) which is the most time-consuming and fiddly part of the build. Although construction of this section is undoubtedly repetitive, and I really can't recommend attempting it without factoring in a number of rest breaks, the level of detail and use of elements is outstanding; for example, the use of rare tan microfigs and tan modified 1 x 1 plates with vertical tooth for detailing is inspired, while the way that stacks of 1 x 1 bricks are rotated by 45 degrees to mimic the look of the actual building is unexpected and clever. Overall, while it was undoubtedly a relief to finally complete this section of the build, the final appearance is spectacular and it fully justifies the effort required to construct it.
Assembly of Elizabeth Tower can also predictably get a little repetitive, but it thankfully proceeded sufficiently rapidly that I didn't really find myself getting too bogged down. The bulk of the structure is made up of identical square panels which can be constructed in multiples in assembly line fashion to save time; these panels utilise the majority of the set's 200 tan 1 x 2 plates with door rail oriented vertically to convincingly reproduce the tower's pin-striped appearance. Elizabeth Tower includes a famous four-faced clock, which according to Wikipedia is the second largest four-faced chiming clock in the world. In order to accurately represent each clock face LEGO has produced a superb new printed element, and each clock also features a pair of hands. These are functionally linked via a Technic mechanism such that turning a knob at the back of the model rotates all four pairs of clock hands simultaneously - very cool. Knowing the ingenuity of the AFOL community it's probably only a matter of time before some bright spark figures out a way of integrating a real working clock into the structure.... A LEGO representation of the great bell, whose nickname of Big Ben lends its name to the set, sits just above the clock mechanism as you can just about see in Bob's picture below (click to enlarge).
Yet more intricate detailing adorns the upper reaches of the model, much of it utilising elements which are appearing for the first time in this set in their respective colours; examples include tan palm tops and 1 x 1 taps plus pearl gold 3L ski poles and a large number of round 1 x 1 plates with 4 tabs. I found myself building ever quicker as I neared the finishing line, increasingly eager to see the completed model which was finally revealed mid-afternoon on the second day of the show. I don't mind admitting that I felt a genuine sense of triumph as I stood back and admired the fruits of my labours - the model is an absolute beauty, and the reaction of Bricktastic attendees to the finished build was similarly enthusiastic. I'd certainly unreservedly recommend the set to anyone looking for a challenging, satisfying build with a beautiful end product, although I'd definitely advise purchasers to take their time and savour the building experience rather than rush through it like I did.
I spent a fair bit of time chatting to attendees during the build, and once Big Ben was complete I was able to wander around the show floor for a couple of hours, check out the exhibits and gossip with some of the exhibitors. I've attended numerous events over the years, and I have to say that Bricktastic was definitely one of the most enjoyable ever. I've pondered on the reasons for this, and I think it's a combination of different factors. Certainly the focus, namely to raise as much money as possible for a worthy charitable cause that we all believe in, resulted in a real shared purpose and camaraderie among the exhibitors, volunteers and traders which was evident throughout the show and at the Saturday night social gathering. In addition, I thought that the event attendees were some of the friendliest that I've encountered at a show, eager to interact with the exhibitors and respectful of the displays; I think that this may have a lot to do with the laid-back feel of the event, the spacious venue and the ease of access to the exhibits without the need to queue five deep for the privilege, although it may of course just be down to the fact that Manchester folk are naturally friendly! There were also more opportunities for attendees to get their hands on bricks and build for themselves than I've seen at most shows. Such opportunities included a variety of brick pits and themed building areas such a Minecraft zone where attendee builds were put on display; these seemed to be in constant use for the entire duration of the event, and provided a reminder than in order to engage youngsters in particular you need to provide opportunities to interact rather than just impressive things for them to look at. Whatever the reasons, many of those present remarked upon the great atmosphere, and I have a feeling that Bricktastic will go from strength to strength over the years to come.
I'm told by Kevin that as a result of funds raised via Bricktastic 2016 at least twenty more hospitals and hospices will be in line to receive a Fairy Bricks donation which is fantastic news. Huge congratulations are due to Kevin and his team of volunteers for staging such a successful and enjoyable event, and I'll definitely aim to be back next year if they'll have me....