Saturday, January 26, 2013

Building the Dawn

Towards the end of 2012, my wife was casually flipping through a Toys R Us catalog during dinner, when she says, "Boy, that's expensive."
I look across the table and see a longish, greyish object. "What is that, an aircraft carrier?"
She says, "It has over 2,000 pieces."
"A Lego aircraft carrier?"
"No, one of the Mega Blocks Halo sets."
My eyebrows start to climb up off of my face as realization sets in. "Is that the Forward Unto Dawn?!" I say, grabbing the catalog from her.

With all the Christmas shopping done, there wasn't extra money for another big present, but now that I've put the Christmas money in the bank, I saw my opportunity and ordered it.

Tuesday, my wife informed me that a very large box was waiting for me in the living room. I had heard that it was large, but I wasn't expecting a box large enough to ship a small child in.

No, seriously.

The box was deceptively large, though. There was ample packing material (upon which the kids had fun stomping and popping) protecting the contents. The actual box was much smaller — although still pretty large in its own right.

The box itself is pretty well designed. It includes a built-in handle, and the lid has side flaps that tuck back in to the box neatly. The inside lid has a graphic reminiscent of the Halo 4 "Wake Up, John" trailer, and inside, under a cardboard insert that holds the very heavy and very thick manual, are four boxes with UNSC graphics that contain the pieces.

Each of the boxes contains a card that shows what pieces are contained in that box. Theoretically, this would help if you decided to open all the bags and keep them contained in the boxes while you build.

From personal experience, it is worth the time and effort to sort each piece by type and color. Not only does it make it easier to find each individual piece, but it helps to ensure from the start that, yes, you actually do have all of the pieces included. I've had several sets that have been missing a piece or two (or one of the wrong color — I think I still have a Warthog build that has a bright purple piece from a Ghost, because there was one green piece missing and one purple extra), and by counting all the pieces first, I can get on Mega Bloks's website right away and order the missing pieces. (To their credit, this was more of a problem early on and has only gotten better with recent builds.) Unfortunately, the cards for each box didn't show how many of each piece there were. For that, I had to go to the back pages of the instruction manual; and since that had the pieces sorted by size, not by box, it meant there was no convenient way to break down the counting and sorting.

Sorting over 2800 pieces is no easy task. After the first hour, I wasn't quite finished with the first box (which contained mostly small pieces), and after the 45 minutes it took for the second box, I started to get that panicked feeling that I had gotten into something that was over my head. Fortunately, the final two boxes had mostly larger pieces, which meant fewer of them, so the sorting went a little faster. At the two-and-a-half hour mark, all pieces were sorted and counted, and every single one had at least as many as the instructions said should be there.

All pieces present and accounted for

And then I used the very big shipping box to block off this part of the basement, covered the basement door with a bed sheet to discourage kids and pets from wandering downstairs, and went to bed.

The second day, I began the building process. The manual is laid out in four stages. The first stage is primarily for building the core structure of the back half of the ship (the section where Master Chief and Cortana are left at the end of Halo 3). The second stage involves building the roof and side details for that section. The third and fourth stages repeat this process for the front half of the ship.

Again, I couldn't help but think it would've been nice if each stage corresponded to one of the four boxes, which would have contained the pieces required for that stage. I might have been able to build it at a desk instead of sprawled out across the basement floor. But alas, there was no easy way out of the fact that this is one monolithic model.

Detail of Chief and Cortana
Section 1

The first stage took a good three hours of my Wednesday night. Fortunately, I was able to finish this stage before I couldn't stay awake any longer. This section does include Master Chief's cryo pod and the special mini Cortana figure on the lighted pedestal. The build also included some "broken ship" details at the front, including disconnected hoses and pieces that seem to jut out into nowhere.

Section 2 built the roof of the rear section, including the Dawn's bridge. It kind of makes it obvious that the Dawn is not to the same scale as the rest of the models (there's no way the Pelican model would fit in it for deployment, for example), but that's rather to be expected; something approaching same-scale size would probably require its own garage to build — and display and store — it in.

There are a lot of pieces all over the side of the Dawn. As I was building it, I had to wonder, quite frequently, if the designer at some point just started putting random pieces just because it looked cool.

The wings were surprisingly difficult to attach. The bottom half is topped with a series of angled pieces that give it its shape, but trying to push two large plates into each other at an angle to secure them was a challenge — as was trying to push the wing into its locked position on the side of the ship without putting pressure on that angle. I had to reattach each wing a few times before I got it right.

The back quarter looks a bit like its own spaceship
The back half with roof and sides 

Section 2 was short enough that I was able to get a jump start on Section 3 before bed. By the end of Thursday night, the larger structural pieces of Section 3 (the main body of the front half of the ship) were in place.

I did come across two missing pieces when I was finishing Section 2 and building Section 3. I'm confident that I counted all the pieces, but I found I was missing a black claw-shaped piece and a dark grey grate-like piece. The claw piece, I was able to substitute a dark grey one in its place (even knowing it's there, it's very difficult to see anything amiss — see if you can spot it on one of the turret guns). The grate was a little harder to deal with. I had an extra black grate, but the difference would've been noticeable; a dark grey "ridged" piece from my stash of spare parts matched the color well enough, and even though it looks a little peculiar, it's not bad. I had the basement room blocked off, but I suspect either my wife may have brushed it accidentally going back to the storage area, or the cat wandered through and it snagged her hair. Or maybe my count was, in fact, off. Still, that would be my only piece problem, and out of 2800, two ain't bad.

Friday night started with the completion of Section 3. This section includes the weapon storage locker and the MAC cannon area. The front was definitely the more interesting section to build. The front is split into a top and bottom half, and the top half has a lot of pieces with studs on both sides that allowed for other pieces to hang, inverted, into the middle space. A couple clear plastic bricks hold the halves apart to give it some structural integrity.

Section 3 complete
Section 3 in front of Sections 1 & 2

A couple things were working in my favor for a timely completion of this build. One, my head start on Section 3 from Thursday night meant I was finished and ready to start Section 4 sooner. Two, with three sections done, the number of piles I had to scan through was rapidly decreasing.

One section to go, and not many pieces left

Section 4 went relatively quickly, especially since there were much fewer pieces to search through, and I was getting better at remembering which piles had which pieces after two previous days of searching through them. There were no further missing pieces, and after maybe an hour, Section 4 was done.

Attaching the back half to the front was quite easy. The builds were made to mesh together, only requiring removing the "broken hoses" from the back half before sliding them together with a satisfying click.

The roof covering the back sections is removed extremely easily, so it's no problem to pose characters and get shots like this:

It is about three feet long and quite heavy. I cleaned off a place in my office for its display. Unfortunately, it's right next to the Covenant Seraph, which makes the Seraph pretty darn huge for scale comparison.

Imagine the size of the cruiser that Seraph launched from

The final appearance of the Forward Unto Dawn is based on its appearance in Halo 4. It is quite different than Halo 3, where it had a more boxy appearance, a more pronounced gap between the front "jaws", and a very prominent cargo bay on the underside.

Probably took me about 8 hours of building time (not counting the 2½ hours sorting and counting pieces), and it was well worth the effort. This will probably be the biggest model in my collection, until Mega Bloks gets around to doing an in-scale version of the Mammoth, the Scarab, or heaven help me the Infinity (which holds multiple frigates like the Forward Unto Dawn in its launch bay).

A couple things I learned while building this model. One, if you're making an instruction manual for something like this and some of your pieces are black, use a color other than a slightly different black to outline it. There were many steps that used similar black pieces, and only by shining a flashlight directly on the manual could I make out the details that told me exactly which piece went where. And two, when you're nearly 40 years old, crawling around on the floor looking for building blocks is extremely tiring and makes for very sore aches and pains the next day.

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