A Research Project on Hybrid Experiences

Makie Dolls

Makie Dolls 4Makies are 3D printed dolls. User customizes the doll’s facial features in MakieLab web service after which the doll is printed and shipped. Through the service, additional clothes and accessories are also available.

The lowering costs of 3D printing sees companies adapting the technology to new sectors, such as customizable toys. MakieLab lets customers closely define the appearance – face, skin color, hair type and color – of the elf-like Makie doll via a related web service. Users are able to create as many virtual Makies as they want and then order the creations they like as 3D printed dolls. The service can then be used to shop from a wide variety of additional doll clothes and accessories. Makies support more extensive customizing, too, as the doll’s head can be fitted with electronics, such as Lilypad Arduino sets, Bluetooth, and RFID tags, for further tinkering.

While the price tag of roughly 80€ is not necessarily too high for children, high-end collectible toys are often embraced by adult aficionados. This kind of business model strongly relies on the community, as the users are encouraged to create custom content and share design tips and photos.

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Getting back to LEGO, Pt. 8

This post continues the series of auto-ethnographic posts concentrating on my venture back into the world of LEGO at an adult age.

Well, I’m back from a long hiatus on updating my progress within the world of LEGO and I thought this would be a good time to share some pictures of the King’s Castle (6080) I finished already in January. I really loved building the set (for nostalgia, sure, but otherwise too). Here are some pictures of the finished set (enbiggenable to huge versions):



Ultimately I wasn’t able to replace some of the missing parts – some might notice this for example in the main tower  of the castle. You can also see how some of the parts are really yellowed compared to others. While at first I might have been a bit upset about this, I soon realized that the mixing of different shades of grey (yes, even the newer bluish grey) gives castle builds a nice texture if you take the time to spread the different colored pieces evenly. Overall, I’m very happy how the castle turned out, and it really looks like the way I remember it looking.


Additionally, I only had a few of the parts and accessories needed for the original minifigs from the King’s Castle, so I had to create new ones. First of all, I only had one lion shield. Thinking about how to fix this little plot hole I figured that mine is a scenario where the lion knights, weakened by some conflict, have been forced to invite their enemies, the falcon knights, to the castle to negotiate some kind of a truce with them, a temporary one perhaps. Already, the new joint colors of red and blue have been raised (instead of the traditional red and yellow) and a scene of negotiation is going on. As I didn’t have more of the classic knight helmets, I had to create characters with hair pieces. Not having that many classic smiley faces, I also used a lot of newer faces ordered from Pick A Brick and many faces from the Kingdoms Chess set. With these I felt that the scene depicted well the reluctance of the lion knights to broker a peace with their age-old enemies and the arrogant pleasure of the falcon knights of things having gone this way (a future betrayal in their minds, no doubt). I was also very happy with the red haired character in the middle, who I imagined to be this Worm Tongue -kind of guy, having slipped into the ranks of the lion knights and being the chief architect of this plan through which the falcon knights now have gained access into the lion king’s fortress.



I was also pleased with some of the supporting characters, such as the ominous tower guard below, as I felt that his new face really nicely reflects his worn out chest armor. My old customized blacksmith found also a new home in the castle.



One of the most interesting aspects of the building process was tackling the missing pieces problem. Among other pieces, LEGO’s Pick A Brick service didn’t have the kind of prison doors originally used in King’s Castle, so I had to order a different kind of version. I had the original hinge pieces and I assumed that the hinge mechanic on the door would work the same way as it had on the original door. I was wrong. And, to my surprise, I first found myself completely lost when suddenly I didn’t have building instructions to follow. I simply couldn’t figure out how to create an alternative way to make to door work. Finally, one night as I was lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, a (super-simple) solution suddenly came into my mind, and I had to get up in the middle of the night to go quietly finish the door. Even a tiny solution like this made me really proud of myself and I’m sure many LEGO builders recognize this ‘A-ha!’ -moment to be one of the best things about LEGO building.



I also had to add a skeleton in the cell, plus some foreboding skulls and bones in front of the cell. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how these fit in the backstory of lion knights being the good and just rulers of the kingdom…

Having built the castle I realized something: I really like minifigs. I like them because of the roleplay/pretend play aspect they give. Creating characters and scenarios such as the ones on display in the above pictures really lights up my imagination and just…feels fun.

I’m now kind of sorry that, instead of the R2-D2 (10225), I didn’t get the Haunted House (10228) during the winter holidays. R2 is great, don’t get me wrong, but the decision to buy it was motivated too much on the fact that you could pose it nicely on a self for everybody to see, like a statue, same way as I imagine my AT-ST (10174) has worked for me. I wasn’t considering the minifigs. The minifigs, the minifigs. Scenarios. Scenarios with story. I love them. Much more than I love statues on shelves. Notably, minifigs and play sets have play value among each other – that is, they derive meaning from each other. Even if I won’t be pretend playing with the sets until I have kids, I actually kind of do that, only in my head, when I look at these castle and pirate sets. Creating these scenarios is shaping up to be a very interesting mix of creative building, storytelling and roleplaying, and something that I find to be a very appealing corner in the LEGO community. Having researched the community and its subgroups I really feel that I would like to be somebody who builds castle/pirate themed MOCs. From this perspective (and from subcultural research perspective) I’m really getting interested in the roleplay/play/build forums for castle MOCs, such as Guilds of Historica.

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Blythe dolls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABlythe is a fashion doll with an oversized head and large eyes that change color with a pull of a string. Sold originally during 1972-73, Blythe dolls experienced resurgence in 2000 and since then have achieved a cult status among adult collectors.

Created in 1972 and initially sold for one year only in the USA by toy company Kenner, the Blythe doll rose to new prominence in 2000 following media exposure by New York TV producer Gina Garan and a photo book by her, This is Blythe (2000). In 2001 Japanese toy Blythe dolls 1company Takara, under a licence issued by Hasbro (the Trademark and License owner), began producing new editions of the dolls called Neo Blythe. After notable success in Japan, Hasbro issued a license to Ashton-Drake Galleries in 2004 to sell Blythe replica dolls in the United States. There the doll became a niche product in a marginal market, selling largely to adults, supported by a network of hobbyists who create clothing and shoes for the Blythe dolls, building their collection but also customizing them for resale. Many enthusiasts share also stylized photographs of their work on the Internet.

The dolls range in retail price from around US$60 for the Ashton Drake versions to upwards of several thousand dollars for an original Kenner doll in the collector’s market.

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Getting back to LEGO, Pt. 7

Getting back to Legos 14This post continues the series of auto-ethnographic posts concentrating on my venture back to LEGO at an adult age.

I wanted to get a taste of pretty much every theme out there. I was now looking at the models from a new perspective: what parts did the sets contain. Suddenly every set seemed very interesting. Take for example the Toy Story sets with the Woody “maxifigure”. As far as I know, there are no other instances besides the Toy Story theme where a LEGO figure with longer legs has been released. Even with the cowboy boot printing on them, these longer body parts instantly give possibilities for some cool MOC scenarios, such as this atmospheric whale hunter crew. MOCs include also entirely brick-build characters, such as these dwarves from The Hobbit, and other, creatively “combined” characters, such as this cool fox with a Fabuland head (which reminds me of the Wes Anderson movie Fantastic Mr. Fox).

Trying to remain calm with this lush, abundantly creative scene on my hands, I finally found myself going for the classic castle themed sets. The castle MOCs impressed me the most and the Castle sets were the ones I most feverishly wanted to purchase. The current Castle theme was called Kingdoms (still is), but, to my dismay, there were only two sets available: the Kingdoms Chess Set I mentioned in an earlier post and this quite impressive Kingdoms Joust set. Soon enough I found somebody selling the Joust set on a Finnish online auction site and was instantly getting really nervous on what to do about it. The set cost a little over 100 euros – and I already had my King’s Castle to build. It was the winter vacation, my family members were relaxing and playing board games right next me, and there I was, browsing these rare sets on these auction sites, hands trembling as I was some kind of gambler – and steadily moving to ever more expensive toys.

You see, every time I visited (the very useful) Brickipedia to check something, the front page teased me with this awesome Imperial Flagship. (It’s still there by the way.) Pirate LEGOs were the True Love of my childhood, number two. I had Pirate LEGOs almost as much as I had Castle LEGOs. I remember being around eight and coveting for the pirate ships of the day, namely this Black Seas Barracuda (without ever thinking I would get it – there was no point in even asking). Now, though, could be my chance to remedy all this – Imperial Flagship, too, was on sale at the same marketplace. Only 200 euros.

And so there I was, eyeing these things like a junkie who has decided to relapse this very evening and is now savoring the options on hand – while still feeling kind of bad. Still, by now I was so in the subculture. I felt that this was a huge, glorious, creative thing, perfect for me but something that I had foolishly missed for years, giving away my childhood LEGO collection and all. This was something I could delve into. This subculture was the home that I had been searching for a long time.

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Getting back to LEGO, Pt. 6

Getting back to Legos 12This post continues the series of auto-ethnographic posts concentrating on my venture back to LEGO at an adult age.

I was getting pretty fired up with my new hobby. As I was getting prepped up with my shop.lego.com process, I was also scouring the Internet for new LEGO models, sites, video blogs, etc. And when it comes to LEGO, these are in no short supply. The web is full of LEGO aficionados and builders. I’m talking about countless blogs and bigger sites like Brothers-Brick.com which are updated many times a day and highlight LEGO related news, phenomena, and most of all, MOCs (short for My Own Creation, the word used for custom LEGO builds). If you add to this the fact that most every MOC builder uses Flickr photostreams and/or MOC pages to showcase their creations from every possible angle, I was quickly spiraling into a situation where I could get sucked in to the world brick-building-ingenuity for weeks.

In case you were wondering, great many of the MOCs are by and far more impressive than anything LEGO itself has ever created.  This is mostly because LEGO needs to keep tabs on the cost and affordability of its models, whereas MOC builders throw apparently endless resources and staggering amounts of bricks into their creations. (That is not to say there aren’t very impressive MOCs build with very limited number of bricks.) Obvious talent is on display for example on the numerous, awesome MOC castles and towers around the web. Or take this Batcave, or this Star Wars sand crawler, or this Pakistani style Isuzu truck. Or, or…

Gathering the know-how of thousands of gifted, innovative builders, the Internet seems to be an endless supply of building techniques. The things I had learned as a child, building sets like the King’s Castle, had somehow locked my mind into a specific formula for LEGO building. Looking at these masterful MOCs was like reinventing laws of gravity! Talk about thinking outside the box! (Ok, to be fair, it is obvious that the classic sets, such as King’s Castle, have no doubt inspired many of the modern builders in hugely important ways.) And, the building techniques themselves are many times so entrancing precisely because they are so simple (take a look at this curved wall technique, for example, or this offset window technique, or this guy’s awesome sewer pipes – ok, that stuff cannot be called simple anymore) .

Another seductive sub-sector is microscale building. Building in micro scale basically boils down to figuring out how to represent specific objects, like trees and people, with fewest possible bricks and it’s remarkable how stylish it can get. Microbuilds aren’t of course far-removed from architecture builds such as this train station (which also highlights the effect a good photography can give to a MOC model). Of course, LEGO has for a couple of years now put out architecture sets itself that are microscale building at its finest.

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Getting back to LEGO, Pt. 5

Getting back to Legos 11This post continues the series of auto-ethnographic posts concentrating on my venture back to LEGO at an adult age.

Having sorted through my bricks, I washed the ones that had smudges on them and proceeded to make a needs-list. As anticipated, Googling around a bit brought up a couple of sites that had scanned instruction manuals and brick lists for classic sets, allowing me to check which parts I would need for King’s Castle. All in all, to build the castle I would have to order roughly half of the original 670+ bricks from LEGO’s online store. Now, it is important to note that the site doesn’t offer all the pieces ever manufactured. More than 20 000 different LEGO parts have been released over the years (I couldn’t find an exact number) (including the color variations) and they have never been in production all at once. A few years ago, LEGO cut down the number of pieces in production down from around 12 000 to 6800 (as a cost cutting measure and to focus the building on fewer key parts, thus adding modularity). Of these 6800, the site sells only around 1000.

Getting back to Legos 9Still, many of the parts that are available are some of the most usual ones. I figured I’d get all the parts for such a classic and by-the-numbers set as King’s Castle. To my surprise, this wasn’t the case. The defining construction element in the King’s Castle, the wall panel 1x5x6, wasn’t offered in the store. Luckily for me, however, my old LEGO box contained all but one of the 30 panels needed for the castle. Other parts, however, would have to be substituted too. 1×3 arches in OldGrey were nowhere to be found, and I found myself really frustrated being forced to think of alternatives for the build. I’m not sure if this had more to do with my inability to come up with substituting build plans or with the fact that I, for whatever reason, felt that the castle had to look just right. So, for the missing arches, I decided to go with 1×4 arches, the missing cell door would be replaced by equally fitting jail door, axes would have to be newer designs comprised of two separate pieces, etc. etc.

Ordering through the shop.lego.com’s Pick A Brick service was delightful. In no time, I was getting over-anxious with the ordering – and beyond my needs: “This part looks useful, I’ll take 2, I mean 5…let’s say 10, just in case.” “Wow, that color was not around back in the eighties – could be really useful in case I have to build a wooden shack in the courtyard”, and Getting back to Legos 12so on. In the end, I had chosen parts worth almost 50 euros, clearly more than I had anticipated. One thing was lacking though: my box had not included many of the 12 minifigures originally packed with King’s Castle. Yes, there were a lot of minifigs in the box, but for example only a couple of shields and knight’s helmets. Needing a new army, I remembered the guys at one of the LEGO video channels I had started to follow, The Brick Show, talking about good sets for army building. One of these sets, Kingdoms Chess Set, included not one, but two armies (it was a LEGO chess set, after all, with Lion knights and Dragon knights representing the two sides), and it was still available in LEGO Shop! For the castle to work, I had to have it.