I Spent $200 on Faux LEGO to Make the Robotic T-Rex from 'Horizon: Zero Daybreak'

I Spent $200 on Faux LEGO to Make the Robotic T-Rex from 'Horizon: Zero Daybreak'


LEGO Thunderjaw
Michael Crider

LEGO is nice. LEGO can also be costly, and although it’s fairly ubiquitous in its partnerships, not each single factor you may probably think about is obtainable as an official set. So if you happen to’ve been obsessed with Horizon: Zero Dawn for months, and also you desperately need a large LEGO Thunderjaw (the sport’s iconic robotic T-rex), what’s a LEGO nerd to do?

Too Good to Resist

Assuming that you simply don’t even have tons of of hundreds of free LEGO items with which to design and construct your individual set, you might have just a few different choices. The “My Own Creation” (MOC) community can provide you with a design and step-by-step directions, like this massive 4743-piece LEGO Thunderjaw from designer Nicola Stocchi. Websites like Rebrickable may also help you discover and buy the person elements you want from sellers world wide.

However there’s a draw back: value. Official LEGO units are inclined to common about ten cents per piece, extra for licensed properties, rather less for the actually huge units. So if that design was made as a “actual” LEGO set, it might be someplace within the vary of $450-500.

However shopping for a large customized mission, piece by piece, can actually rack up that value. Based on Rebrickable, getting about 90% of these frequent elements from one store would price someplace round $600-700. Utilizing its multi-buy instrument to get each single piece from dozens of unbiased retailers, the associated fee comes out to a soul-crushing $1,123, plus a whopping $440 for transport. Abruptly that large, stunning robotic prices greater than 30 cents a chunk!

Rebrickable multi-buy screenshot

LEGO can get costly, however even essentially the most ardent collector may balk at these costs. And I did. After which I cheated.

Whereas looking for some Horizon: Zero Daybreak memorabilia on an public sale website, I noticed the Thunderjaw design I’d been drooling over for greater than a 12 months… bought not as a set of directions, however as a full constructing set with items, delivered to my door like a traditional LEGO set. What was much more wonderful was that it was promoting for $152 with free transport—lower than many actual LEGO units, and an absolute steal contemplating that its practically 5,000 items labored out to solely about two cents a chunk!

As soon as I paid for the set, I observed that the itemizing very fastidiously omitted the phrase “LEGO,” and that it was transport from China. The penny dropped: This was a vendor who had taken the elements checklist from Nicola Stocchi’s design, populated it with knock-off LEGO items (which are entirely legal, if nowhere close to pretty much as good as the actual factor), and created an ad-hoc LEGO set of one of the vital drool-worthy designs I’d ever seen.

If I used to be keen to work with substandard items, I might get the set all of sudden, for literal pennies on the greenback, and have a brand new beautiful centerpiece to my assortment. What’s extra, I’d have the ability to construct a creature design from considered one of my favourite video video games (that LEGO will most likely by no means license for itself), created by somebody with much more expertise than I. Even ready for worldwide transport, it might are available a lot quicker than ready on elements from 44 totally different shops.

What Have I Carried out?

DHL mentioned it might be as much as six weeks earlier than I’d get my items. I obtained them in simply two, which is fairly nice for transport from China to Texas. I opened the unmarked field, and I used to be happy to see it full of dozens and dozens of numbered ziplock luggage full of unmarked items. It was identical to a “actual” LEGO set, minus the branding!

LEGO pieces in bags
Michael Crider

Inside had been two playing cards: one with a obtain hyperlink for the PDF of the directions (since an precise instruction booklet would have price practically as a lot to print because the items themselves), and a useful “ruler” scale for the trickier bar and Technic items. The obtain card additionally knowledgeable me, to my fast dismay, that the numbered baggies didn’t really correspond to the order of the constructing directions the way in which an actual LEGO set does.

That meant that I had practically 5,000 free items of not-LEGO. And to be able to assemble this nearly literal monster, I’d have to go looking by all of it, step-by-step, piece by piece.

For slightly context: The largest and most advanced set I’d ever assembled earlier than was the Avengers Helicarrier (set number 76042), a large endeavor at just below 3,000 items. However the Helicarrier is mainly a giant boat with just a few gears added on. It took me about 16 hours. The Thunderjaw has 60% extra items, and it’s a bipedal, nearly “natural” design, related in bodily dimensions however far more advanced and detailed.

Even at this early stage, I might inform this was going to take a large period of time.

LEGO pieces arranged into bowls
Michael Crider

I began by separating the items by coloration into particular person bowls … then into a number of bowls as a result of the paper bowls I’d purchased weren’t large enough. Somewhat manner into emptying the luggage I noticed an error in my methodology and left the luggage that had dozens of smaller similar items alone, the simpler to seek out them later. It took me a strong two or three hours simply to get all of the items unfold out on a 4’x2′ desk … and the handfuls of bowls and luggage spilled over into one other 2’x2′ desk.

Doing Proper by the Designer

Lastly, I used to be capable of begin. I loaded up the PDF directions file on my Lenovo Chromebook Duet, an especially useful companion for this construct. However after I did, I observed that the file lacked any point out of designer Nicola Stocchi. I needed to assume that the unscrupulous vendor had stolen the design and was redistributing the directions as an unlawful obtain.

Lego Thunderjaw instructions screenshot

To offer credit score (and cash) the place it was due, I purchased Stocchi’s instructions from Brick Vault, the place I knew he would get a royalty for his exhausting work on the preliminary design and the directions themselves. The respectable PDF file (which was a bit higher organized, and had his copyright on each web page) price me $40.

That introduced my closing, whole price for the Thunderjaw to $204.52, with a median piece value of slightly greater than two cents.

The Construct

As I mentioned earlier, the Avengers Helicarrier set took me roughly 16 hours from begin to end. For the Thunderjaw, I ended counting at 20 … after I was a few third of the way in which completed.

Lego Thunderjaw skeleton
Michael Crider

Discovering the mandatory items, with nearly 5 thousand of them laid out earlier than me, was undoubtedly the largest time sink. Finally, I needed to begin subdividing my color-coded bowls even additional, as a result of discovering the precise tiny variation on a 2×1 black Technic piece amongst 300 others might take me quarter-hour or extra. I developed methods of sifting by the items, from one bowl to the opposite, nearly like an old style gold panner.

I can’t overstate the frustration that this course of gave me, particularly within the few occasions a coloured piece wasn’t within the bowl I used to be anticipating. I obtained to the purpose that I used to be setting apart notably hard-to-find items on their very own.

LEGO Thunderjaw skeleton and legs
Michael Crider

The directions didn’t assist with the pace. Studying the 3D-rendered and presumably machine-assisted directions—over 1,700 particular person steps/pages!—made me admire the care and design that goes into LEGO’s skilled booklets. At some factors steps would encompass only one tiny stud or joint added, whereas others could be a big step that may take 5 or 10 minutes simply in meeting. And there’s not one of the useful “x4, do that 4 occasions” a veteran LEGO builder may be used to.

LEGO Thunderjaw head
Michael Crider

The construct was each extra advanced and extra precarious than a typical LEGO construct as a result of the Thunderjaw is fairly spry as a creature design. The huge robotic of the sport doesn’t have to stick to precise physics, however to make it rise up by itself two toes in LEGO kind, the designer needed to incorporate a Technic weight-bearing body underneath the stomach. The “skeleton” of the Thunderjaw is extremely advanced and slightly flimsy, appearing as a body for its bow-shaped physique and tons of add-on armor items.

There are a variety of unconventional attention-grabbing selections in the principle construct. The blue machine “eyes” of the Thunderjaw are Star Wars lightsaber blades in lengthy plastic piping, and some particulars are completed out in bat wings and motorbike handles. There’s a tremendous quantity of engineering and creativity on show right here.

Stochi’s directions had been to construct the principle skeleton and physique first, full with the legs. It then has you construct about half a dozen massive add-on items, separate and with out attachment—the pinnacle, two tail sections, the “disc launchers” on its haunches, the radar array, the lengthy, spiny antennas, the 2 rear cylinders, and the machine weapons and “ammo belts” hooked up to the pinnacle. On high of that, there are one other two dozen ornamental armor “plates” that lastly end it off.

LEGO Thunderjaw secondary pieces
Michael Crider

Placing this collectively took about three weeks, placing in hours after work and on the weekends. I’m not going to faux that I didn’t have enjoyable—I wouldn’t have spent that a lot dough if I wasn’t fairly certain of a great time, and it’s not as if my social calendar is packed throughout COVID. But it surely’s simply essentially the most troublesome,irritating expertise I’ve ever had with LEGO (or certainly, “LEGO”).

The End result

I’m going to wish a much bigger shelf.

Setting apart the headache of truly constructing this factor, the top result’s wonderful. It’s 32 inches lengthy and 15 inches excessive (not counting these slender antennas), and splendidly detailed: Followers of the sport will have the ability to spot nearly the entire items they’re used to capturing off with Aloy’s arrows and devices.

LEGO Thunderjaw completed
Michael Crider

This even extends to the inside sections of the design: In the midst of that hulking beast is a mechanical “coronary heart,” which you’ll pull out and look at (if you happen to’re cautious and affected person). The dimensions of this factor is even roughly appropriate to LEGO minifigs … although if anybody’s promoting a personalized Horizon: Zero Daybreak Aloy minifig, I haven’t been capable of finding one.

LEGO Thunderjaw completed
Michael Crider

This set is spectacular not simply due to the dimensions or due to the outstanding design and engineering that went into it, however as a result of LEGO is a good medium for this mannequin particularly. LEGO makes some nice robots within the official units, like Voltron, the Hulkbuster, and even the extra “kiddie” designs in smaller sets. (LEGO even has an “official” Jurassic World robot T-rex!) Mix some care loving customized work with the fantastic artistic design that went into Horizon, and you’ve got one thing actually particular.

LEGO Thunderjaw, from top
Michael Crider

The Thunderjaw isn’t my favourite LEGO (“LEGO”) set ever—that honor nonetheless goes to the 007 Aston Martin. But it surely’s undoubtedly essentially the most spectacular piece I’ve ever personally labored on. I simply dread having to maneuver the rattling factor ever once more.

The Distinction

I’ve already talked about what a headache it was to sift by 5,000 items all of sudden, and the way it wasn’t helped by directions that had been poorly executed in comparison with an genuine LEGO construct. Finally, I developed much more methods, like mirror-building the symmetrical armor sections, to save lots of myself a while. However there are different elements that come into play that make a big MOC design harder.

LEGO Thunderjaw haunches, disc launcher
Michael Crider

Initially, the Thunderjaw is extremely fragile, even in comparison with essentially the most advanced LEGO designs. It’s undoubtedly a show piece mannequin, not a toy. Regardless of just a few items just like the neck, tail, and disc launchers being posable, if you happen to transfer stuff round with out the utmost care, it comes aside. The ball joint of the tail is nearly continually free. That is very true of the ornamental armor items, that are hooked up by only one stud or bar every.

A part of it’s because MOC designers aren’t held to the identical commonplace of engineering as LEGO designers—they will make issues slightly extra precarious, understanding that grownup builders don’t want their arms held as a lot as youngsters. I’ve made just a few smaller MOCs and constructed my very own, so I used to be ready for that. However a part of it, I’m certain, is that I used to be utilizing knock-off LEGO items, which aren’t created with the identical exacting manufacturing tolerances as genuine ones.

LEGO Thunderjaw completed
Michael Crider

On a small construct, this isn’t actually a giant deal. On a construct of this measurement and complexity, the issues of free and/or tight begin multiplying. At a number of factors (particularly on the armor items) I needed to redesign among the mannequin on the fly, making it extra inflexible and fewer versatile to accommodate these substandard items. There was just one error within the directions themselves (web page 247 and 258, a one-stud spacing concern) for which I used to be capable of alter.

On a few events, I had to make use of pliers to get items other than each other. The lengthy plastic tubes that maintain the “machine gun ammo” collectively stripped themselves as I slid the items down them. I had to make use of the Kragle (tremendous glue) at two factors on the radar dish to ensure it might help its personal weight. Yeah, there are compromises.

LEGO Thunderjaw MOC instructions
Every of those armor items is related with only one bar. I needed to redesign the highest elements: The knock-off LEGO items got here free from the one stud connection.

Additionally, the set was lacking a few dozen items. Which I used to be anticipating, to be sincere, after compromising to save lots of myself tons of of {dollars} on this construct. I used to be capable of redesign round them, with slightly little bit of substitution from my very own free LEGO assortment. (There are about six genuine LEGO items in there someplace.) What’s odd is that I had about 100 leftover items, a lot far more than the standard “spillover” in a regular LEGO set.

Among the items had been clearly used, too … together with among the huge ornamental items on the skin. One of many Thunderjaw’s huge white mandibles had very seen scratches on it proper out of the bag. Once more, it’s a suitable compromise contemplating how a lot cash I saved, and people imperfections aren’t any extra seen from a foot or two away than the lacking LEGO logos on the person studs.

Was It Value It?

The completed product speaks for itself. Even with just a few less-flattering alterations to the armor items, the Thunderjaw is the largest and most spectacular piece in my LEGO (or “LEGO”) assortment, by far. I don’t remorse the effort and time I put into it, and I believe the cash I saved is a suitable trade-off for the top outcome.

That mentioned, whereas I accepted the drop in piece high quality and the additional time it took to sift by all these free items, I actually didn’t admire the vendor straight-up stealing Nicola Stocchi’s work. Regardless that I’ve paid him myself, I received’t be shopping for a set like this once more if I’ve any feeling that it’s the same state of affairs.

LEGO Thunderjaw head
Michael Crider

And yeah, the time. The time. I’m nonetheless going to purchase LEGOs and completely get pleasure from them, however the additional time it took to seek out items and work across the less-than-professional directions means I’m not in a rush to construct any equally scaled MOCs any time quickly, with or with out genuine LEGO items.


If you wish to see what’s potential with aftermarket LEGO designs, do a seek for MOC directions  and verify them out for your self. You’ll be able to see how a lot a design would price when it comes to elements earlier than shopping for it from websites like Rebrickable and Brick Vault. My recommendation: Begin with one thing a lot, a lot smaller.



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