One of my favourite contemporary LEGO themes is LEGO Ideas. I await each new quarterly review and announcement with feverish anticipation, curious to see what fan-voted set from LEGO Ideas gets turned into a retail product. The pedigree of LEGO Ideas has been nothing short of remarkable, with modern classics such as Brent Waller’s Ecto-1, Peter Reid’s Exo Suit and Dr. Ellen Kooijman’s Research Institute delighting LEGO fans with innovative builds, original designs and pop culture reimagined into LEGO sets.
2015’s first LEGO Ideas set, LEGO Birds showed up on my doorstep late last week and I couldn’t wait to tear into the set. When the first photos from Tom Poulsom’s Birds sets appeared, I immediately knew that this set would be something special. I was pleased to discover after putting Birds together, my initial impressions were right on the mark.
Set Number: 21301
Price: AU$69.99 (AUS LEGO.com link) (US LEGO.com link)
Exclusive to: LEGO.com
Year of Release: 2015
Instructions: LEGO Ideas 21301 Birds instructions
Birds is the brainchild of LEGO fan Tom Poulsom, a British LEGO and wildlife enthusiast. Inspiration struck Tom when he was out gardening and a Robin landed on his fork’s handle. That led to the creation of Bobby Robin and eventually a submission to LEGO Ideas. The popularity of his Ideas submission soared, garnering 10,000 votes and beating out several other submissions to become 2015’s first Ideas set.
I highly recommend checking out Tom’s Flickr page – he has many more amazing creations inspired by the natural world.
The 9th Ideas set sees an interesting concept brought to life – beautiful brick-built models of a trio of birds: a Robin, Blue Jay and Hummingbird. Birds is a wonderful breath of fresh air to LEGO Ideas and I believe is a shot in the arm to the Ideas ethos: providing a platform for creative fan-made models to become retail LEGO sets.
It seems that every other Ideas project that achieves 10,000 supporters is based on some sort of license or pop-culture reference, which isn’t a bad thing but much like the Research Institute, whenever an original non-licensed idea makes it through, it sends a positive assurance to builders that getting your project made into a real LEGO set does not rest on it being a Super Heroes or pop-culture inspired model. Thanks for keeping the dream alive, Tom!
You can’t do a LEGO Ideas review without touching on the exquisite box art. Unlike previous Ideas sets which had black borders and used moodier colours, Birds immediately sets the tone for the set by using a vibrant splash of colours and a beautiful pine background – this has definitely got to be one of the best LEGO box designs I’ve ever come across. The watercolour illustrations behind each bird also evokes the feeling that this is more than a LEGO set – this is art in brick form.
On the back, we get more watercolour goodness in the form of a map which pinpoints each Bird’s native location and a helpful diagram showing the exact dimensions of each Bird model.
Here’s what you get when you pop open the box. There are 3 numbered polybags inside, with each one containing parts for each bird. I really enjoyed that you could build each bird separately, which allowed me and my wife to spend a relaxing evening putting this set together.
My wife occasionally enjoys building my LEGO sets with me, so it was really good to be able to split up the birds between us and build simultaneously. She put the Hummingbird and Blue Jay together and I assembled the Robin.
There are 3 instruction manuals in the Birds set, one for each Bird. Being an Ideas set, the instruction booklets are of the premium variety, made of thicker and glossier paper and have a lot more than just building instructions. Very svelte and elegant, just the way I like my Ideas manuals.
Flip open the booklet and you’ll be treated to a nice little profile of the set’s designer, Tom Poulsom.
To encourage learning and a love for ornithology, each booklet also has a nice section with some information and interesting factoids of each bird featured in the set.
The back of the manual has the same illustration as the back of the box except that it doesn’t have all that Ideas branding obscuring the pretty pictures.
Let’s get into Bag 1 – the European Robin.
Putting together the Robin was quite interesting. Here’s a work-in-progress photo. It was like building a sphere – you first started out with the core and slowly added all the little elements around it such as its red plumage, tail, wings and legs. The Robin uses some pretty ingenious build techniques that you don’t often find in traditional LEGO sets, which tend to mostly be about stacking & layering bricks on top of each other but the Robin has you building in all three dimensions.
Here’s the completed model of the Robin – what a beauty! Each Bird sits on a little perch that is connected to a base. Attached to the base is also a printed tile with the scientific name of each bird, which I think is a cool little touch. From the moment I completed the build, I was blown away by the end result. I had never constructed anything like this out of a retail LEGO set.
The Robin looks fantastic, with its signature bright red breast contrasted against its brown feathers. It has beady black eyes and a small cone-shaped beak.
It looks quite fat, compared to the other birds! It’s pretty cute after you take awhile to admire it. I also enjoyed the use of studs and curves to give it a very puffed up look. Building the Robin felt a lot like creating a sculpture and it was quite satisfying clicking all the main components of the Robin to the main cubish core. I also really liked the clever use of cheese slopes and tiles to create the Robin’s textured appearance, especially around its head.
From the back, the Robin doesn’t look as impressive. I felt that its tail was quite a bit of a letdown – it looks flat, and overly rectangular. You can tilt the Robin’s tail up and down which alters the shape slightly, but the squarish shape of the plates gives it a rather primitive look. Not sure what I would improve, but I would think some layering or making it so the tail ended in a pointy way would’ve gone a long way in making it look more organic.
Luckily, you’re only really going to be looking at the Robin from the front, so its lackluster behind isn’t really a detracting factor. The Robin’s branch/stand is also a little wobbly, which is a minor irritant, but realistically, the Birds set is more of a display model, so once you leave it alone, it looks just fine.
The Blue Jay is up next in the second set of bags and is the largest bird that you build. When I was a wee little kid, I used to be quite chatty and talkative which led to a lot of people drawing a connection with my first name and the Blue Jay’s – the bird is known for being noisy and quite rambunctious, which I thought was rather apt.
The Blue Jay is by far the most complex bird in the set. Unlike the Robin which had a relatively easy to visualise build, the Blue Jay packs quite a few nifty build techniques using a myriad of clips, ball joints and angled elements. The Blue Jay also sports a very streamlined and narrow look, compared to the fat Robin.
Here’s the completed model – and what a stunner it is. My favourite parts of Blue Jay has to be its crest and its wings. The wings have a slight detached angle to them accomplished by ball joints, which allow them to be swivelled around slightly.
It has a slightly more complex look to it compared to the Robin. The techniques used to build the head is quite simple, stacking lots of plates onto one another but it results in a very pleasing pixelated look. I also really liked the blend of light blue, grey and white bricks, giving it a very layered and natural colour scheme.
From the side, some of the great details such as the use of layered tiles and sharp angles to convincingly recreate the bird’s feathery look. It works great on so many levels, giving the wings and back a very pleasing textured appearance. Out of all the birds, I think the Blue Jay has the best scale – it’s just the right size to incorporate all the necessary birdlike details and look balanced at the same time.
The Blue Jay’s only bizarre fault is his legs, which is mostly constructed out of Technic parts and are fused to the platform that it’s perched upon. It just looks off to me for some reason, and I think that’s mostly due to the exposed blue Technic pins. That said, it makes for a very stable perch and the Blue Jay is fastened very firmly onto it.
From the back you get a really good look at the Blue Jay’s striped tail. Unlike the criticism I leveled the Robin for having a very rectangular shaped tail, it doesn’t seem to affect the Blue Jay as much thanks to a clever combination of the stripes and narrow tail which gives it much more definition than the Robin’s plain brown tail.
Other than its oddly shaped talons, the Blue Jay is definitely the star of the trio of Birds. Tom and the designers have done an admirable job getting the bird’s distinct shape just right. I have to say it again, the colours used to construct the Blue Jay are the unsung heroes of the entire model and really pulls everything together in a visually pleasing fashion.
The last bag holds the dimunitive Hummingbird, the smallest bird out of the bunch.
Bag 3 starts off interestingly with the construction of a very pretty flower. The flower has a relatively simple but brilliant design. Using a bright contrast of red and yellow with just a slight dash of white, the flower’s petals and four filaments look fantastic, and you can certainly see why a Hummingbird would be attracted to it.
Going to digress a little, but now that we have a set devoted to Birds, I would love a set that’s all about creating beautiful flowers and flora out of LEGO. The Birds set seems to be an endorsement by LEGO of display-centric sets and I would love to see more sets in the same vein. As an AFOL, most of my sets end up on display so I would definitely be lining up for more sets like this.
Here’s a work in progress shot of the Hummingbird. Unlike the relatively complex builds of the Robin and Blue Jay, the Hummingbird was an extremely straightforward model.
Despite being the simplest model, the Hummingbird takes the cake for the most interesting scene overall. The Hummingbird flitting around the flower is a powerfully attractive image and more than makes up for its low piece count. The use of a clear piece to prop up the Hummingbird is a really nice touch as well as it makes it seem like the Hummingbird is buzzing around unsupported by anything.
Here’s what the Hummingbird looks like from the front. The Hummingbird is quite small and the clever use of cheese slops to give it a bit of shape and definition is quite brilliant – I also like the dark green cheese slopes which breaks up the colour scheme in a great way.
The jagged wings are just angled plates placed on top of one another, but gives the Hummingbird a very effective “in-motion” appearance. If you stare at it close enough, it creates a sort of optical illusion that makes the wings look like they’re beating rapidly, which I think is quite a genius design.
The Hummingbird’s head looks a little robotic due to the lack of eyes, but because of the size constraints, I think the designers did well with what they had to work with.
The Hummingbird’s back is quite simple, it kinda looks a little like a turtle’s shell to be honest. You also get another look at the wings in which the underside of the plates are visible. In case you haven’t realised, the Hummingbird’s body is built upside down!
What I liked:
- Birds looks awesome on display
- Very interesting models that are unlike any other LEGO sets
- Is more a piece of art than toy
- Can be built individually
What I didn’t like:
- Nothing at all!
Final thoughts: LEGO Birds is one of the most fascinating LEGO sets that I’ve ever built in my life. Never before has a retail LEGO set achieve what Birds has done – blurring the lines between a toy and art. In fact, if I were to classify the LEGO Birds set, I would lump it within the art category.
Each Bird is a wonderfully and delicately designed piece of art. They look amazing on display (attracting a lot of praise and interest from my non-LEGO enthusiast friends) and will be one of those LEGO creations that will make your guests do a double take and go “whoa, are you sure that’s LEGO?”.
Like the Research Institute, as soon as I was done with Birds I immediately wanted a sequel. I would love for LEGO to release another Birds sets with a different trio as I really enjoyed this set. Birds represents the best of LEGO Ideas, and despite lacking the star-studded draw of licensed creations, is shaping up to be one of the top sets this year even if it’s only January.
That said, Birds isn’t for everyone. If you like Super Heroes or grand buildings, this set might not feel like it contains a lot of value. Indeed, I would think that a certain subsection of LEGO fans will just gloss over this set and scoff at the $70 price tag for 500 pieces.
I really hope that you’re not one of those people. Birds is such a refreshing revelation to me as an adult LEGO fan and I really want this set to sell well. If you’re on the fence or have never considered adding this set to your collection this year, I hope you change your mind as it is a truly outstanding and innovative LEGO set. Birds is a beautiful set that will not look out of place in your LEGO display room, living room or even your office desk.
Giving this set anything other than a 5 out of 5 would be selling it short. LEGO Birds continues the incredible run of LEGO Ideas sets and is another feather in the cap of a consistently remarkable theme. Bring on the next Ideas set, I say!