One of the reasons why I love shooting LEGO minifigs so much is that their modular design makes it very easy to create new characters and tell different stories with them. I don’t need to bust out the X-Acto knife and “kitbash” a minifig; I can simply swap out body parts as desired.
But as comfortable as I am pulling minifig arms out from their sockets and dislodging legs from hips, sometimes I can’t create the characters that I really want because the part or design just doesn’t exist in the LEGO universe.
“I would actually have dreams where my minifigs were equipped with awesome new accessories, only to wake up and be disappointed to find that those accessories didn’t really exist.”
Ryan Hauge felt the same way and in 2011, he founded BrickWarriors and started making LEGO-compatible accessories to fill the gap in his medieval fantasy gaming world.
Today, BrickWarriors’s impressive line goes beyond medieval fantasy and includes over 400 accessories covering historical and fictional themes like Ancient Greece, pirates, modern warfare and sci-fi among many others. Their latest release is an immediate favorite of mine: steampunk armor!
As a LEGO photographer, I’m always looking for ways to tell better stories with more interesting characters and BrickWarriors helps me do that with all the custom accessories they’ve created. (Needless to say that I am not a LEGO purist, so I’m happy to accessorize with anything that fits on a minifig including natural items like twigs as walking sticks.)
I wanted to know more about BrickWarriors so I was thrilled to be able to interview Ryan about it.
How it all started
Ryan’s story is probably a familiar one to many of us:
“When I was little, I was always most interested in the LEGO minifigures. I can’t tell you how many $90 or $100 sets I bought just to get that one unique minifig that LEGO cleverly packaged with the most expensive set in the theme,” he said in an interview on BrickUltra.
He told me that the one set that really stuck out in his mind was the big orc fortress from the 2007-2009 Castle theme that he bought so that he could get the orc king and queen.
I was still in the “Dark Ages” when LEGO released that version of the Castle theme but as a former D&D player, I could see how readily the medieval fantasy minifigs lent themselves to the kinds of tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) that Ryan played with his friends.
“I would actually have dreams where my minifigs were equipped with awesome new accessories, only to wake up and be disappointed to find that those accessories didn’t really exist,” he said.
“Once I realized it was possible to get my own designs injection molded, I immediately got a CAD program and taught myself how to design accessories.”
A perfect complement
BrickWarriors uses the same kind of plastic and injection-molding process that LEGO does so their accessories fit seamlessly into the LEGO system. The design of the accessories also follow the LEGO aesthetic closely.
But Ryan is clear about the BrickWarriors brand: they’re not “bootlego”, a term used to describe companies that make clones of existing or upcoming LEGO products.
“Bootlego is made by scumbags that copy LEGO molds and set designs and try to pass them off as real LEGO.”
He says BrickWarriors also steers clear of intellectual property that LEGO has rights to, adding that “historically accurate and fantasy designs of our own making are much more fun and a lot less likely to land us in a courtroom.”
BrickWarriors has a lot of weapons and armor in its catalog but the accessories that really stand out for me are the designs that make use of unconventional connections with LEGO minifigs.
For example, BrickWarriors’s wizard sleeves and vambraces (or arm armor) are worn on the minifig’s wrist much like a watch. To connect them, you remove the minifig’s hand, slip the wizard sleeve or vambrace onto the wrist, and then slide the minifig’s hand back into the arm.
It’s elegant in its simplicity and the details add so much to the character of the minifig.
The spurs and boot wings are other examples of un- or under-utilized accessory connections: they attach to the holes on the backs of minifig legs.
Both the wrist and calf connections are really clever but I can see more designs for the former than the latter. Maybe we’ll see a dewclaw in the future for a demon or monster minifig!
On the topic of monsters, BrickWarriors also has ogre armor that allows you to create a two-headed minifigure. The armor piece fits over a regular torso but has two neck stems at angles at the top so that their heads don’t bump together. It makes the resulting ogre much taller than a standard minifig but hey, it’s an ogre, they’re supposed to be bigger.
Ryan has also designed full-body pieces like trench coats and pirate coats that cover the torso and part of the legs, but these don’t work as well for LEGO minifig photography as they do for large MOC dioramas.
The coats don’t have any printing on them so they can look unfinished in tightly framed shots, but have enough molded detail in them to be appreciated from farther away like in a display.
Unfortunately, Ryan says that BrickWarriors doesn’t have any plans to start printing their pieces any time soon so if you wanted to add more details, he recommends hand-painting them. (Another nod to his RPG roots: painting figurines to represent your character.)
Better and different storytelling possibilities
Storytelling is an important ingredient in photography and having an interesting character as your subject only increases your chances of creating a successful image.
Not to say that it’s impossible to create an interesting minifig using just official LEGO designs — I’ve certainly done it — but LEGO couldn’t possibly cover all of our wild imaginings even if they had the means to.
A LEGO Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy theme? That’s probably not happening but maybe if I could get a BrickWarriors pirate coat and ogre armor to work together, I would be one step closer to having a Zaphod Beeblebrox minifig!
Storytelling is about the details too. Here’s a couple of details I added to this photo of a wizard animating a tree:
I love the scroll, even if it is obscured in shadow, because it adds another element of storytelling to my photo: Was the mage testing a spell he found on the scroll? Is that why he did it at night?
I also really like the look of the billowing wizard sleeves. That little detail makes the arms truer to the garb of a mage.
The case for customs
I get that LEGO purists shun unofficial parts or designs (I am an HTML purist so really, I get it), but even among LEGO photographers, the issue of purity is fuzzy: is it LEGO photography if you shoot in natural, non-brick-built environments?
For me, custom accessory makers like BrickWarriors help me break out of the LEGO universe and enable me to bring my own LEGO stories to life, even if it is just “still life.”
Everything is just awesomer.
Featured image by Neonspectres