Story and images by Jake Roos | Meet Maxy Figure. He’s my giant love letter to Lego, filled with dioramas/rooms based on my favourite sets and all brought to life with Mindstorms robotics. His arms move, his head turns and opens and a lightbulb rises out of it and turns on. But how did this crazy confection of a model come together? Well inspiration came from a very wide range of sources.
It was just after BrickCon-NZ in June 2018 and I was thinking long and hard about my next MoC. It was then all the ideas started to coalesce. I discovered an old school book of mine from 1987 recently. In it was a story I wrote (at age nine) entitled ‘Lego: I couldn’t live without it’ which said ‘I don’t know why I’m not made of Lego!’.
That got me thinking about a giant self-portrait – a giant figure of some kind. I didn’t end up doing exactly that but I did end up putting a lot of myself into Maxy. Also, I had really enjoyed building crazy apartments as part of a Brick-show co-lab in 2017, and wondered about recycling them, building more and making a huge apartment building of my own out of them.
But could people tell what I’d built when seen from a distance? It needed to look good from far away as well as up close. Essentially it was these two ideas merged together that formed the overall concept of the model. But there is way more to it than that.
Maxy’s arms move using strings. This idea came from Avery and Andrew Dean’s presentation at BrickCon-NZ 2018, where they showed a clip about a Mindstorms marionette they built. This was ideal as it freed up room inside the body, and in any case driving the arms’ movement at the shoulder would have needed way more force than Lego parts and servos could deliver.
However, moving Maxy’s arms (which weigh 4kg each) this way was still a big technical obstacle. I had successfully used a counterweight in a past model to reduce the force needed to move a helicopter model, but only straight up and down. The amount of force needed for a rotating an arm changes at every degree, so a regular up-down counterweight wouldn’t work. The brain wave I had was to counterweight one arm against the other with a single string linking them – if they start off at the right level (90 degrees = maximum load) the force required to support the arms cancels out over the whole range of their movement. This brainwave came to me completely out of the blue as I chewed the problem over, and in the end it works so well a single servo is all that is needed to move both arms.
The arms themselves have a lot of complex curves, and they needed to be strong without being excessively heavy. I didn’t know how I would build them when I started and they turned out to be the most technically challenging part of the project. At the Palmerston North Brick show 2018, the NZ company Flexo was displaying and selling their product, which is Lego compatible and whose flexible tendon connectors create all sorts of possibilities for making unusual shapes. It wasn’t until the very end of the show that I realised it was exactly what I needed. As well as the tendons, the equilateral triangle plate Flexo produce was perfect for filling in the 120 degree bend at the elbow. I can thank Dan Mulholland for encouraging me to do it and supplying Flexo parts.
Finally: the head. The head is really important, as that’s where ideas are born, and where identity rests. The figure needs a friendly face or he’ll be scary. No set-based diorama seemed worthy of going in there, and having a permanent gaping hole in the head to show it off felt wrong too. But on the other hand, the head is so big, it can’t just sit there being hollow and boring, it has to do something cool. I explored all sorts of options and I can thank my fellow Well-LUG mates (particularly Linda Fahey) for being a sounding board for most of them. Finally, at breakfast talking with Frank Averes, Jay Horne and Hendrik van der Watt on Day Two of the Whanganui Brick Show 2019, I had a very meta ‘Eureka’ moment: a light bulb rising out of his head would be the perfect way to show Maxy’s own Eureka moments – his head isn’t empty, it’s full of bright ideas!
I was on the home straight and in the following two months I got the model finished and tested in time for BrickCon-NZ 2019, which was also in Palmerston North. Seeing the procession of delighted and amazed faces all weekend was reward enough, but winning Best in Show was great too. Maxy is the best thing I’ve ever built. Topping him is going to be tough!
You can see a video of all Maxy’s tricks and a description of all the sets inside him here:
The other videos on my channel show how I built up to this point, check them out here: