Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Building the Bestiary #15: For the Birds

Penguins from the Friends theme (left) and Minifigures Series 16 (Penguin Boy, center [with head replaced]; and the Wildlife Photographer's penguin, right).
This week's column looks at birds and bird-like creatures, from small mundane avians to large winged monsters.

Small Birds

The LEGO group has produced a number of small single-piece birds (some of which were touched upon in Tiny Creatures). The picture below includes a falcon, a parrot, two styles of owls, a chicken, a seagull, and crows. Most of these birds have anti-studs in the base, making them easy to mount on bases to use as miniatures. A few need additional work: the falcon/parrot requires a brick to give space for its tail, and the crow has a small pin, sized to insert into a hair or headgear part, instead of an anti-stud. (I've used a helmet and a ladybug as perches for the two crows shown here.)

Many LEGO sets also include small birds built with bricks, such as the ones shown below:

(A cockatrice can be made by replacing the chicken or rooster's tail with a vine or other serpent-like piece.)

Additional birds of this size can be designed easily with just a few small plates, tiles, and SNOT bricks, such as my turkey and penguin below.


One of the main challenges of larger bird models is the wings. These can be built to be either stationary or poseable; the latter will require hinged parts of some kind. The white bird shown here uses some of the simplest possible wings: single tapered plates attached to hinged plates.  (Note that the tail and feet are attached to the same bar by two different clip plates.)

With a few changes, this basic model can become different species of birds, such as this giant vulture.

Larger birds will require more elaborate wings. Some simple wing models are shown below. Above a certain size, you will probably want to add a second hinge, to get the classic upside-down-W shape associated with birds in flight.

Winged People

In a fantasy game, there will be many races that look more or less humanoid but have wings. The Legends of Chima theme has made building these races much easier by including clip-on wings that can be attached to breastplates. Since then, some Nexo Knights and Superheroes sets have used the same wings, but replaced the bulky breastplate with a small, clear piece that is mostly covered by the minifigure's head and clip-on wings.

Members of the Raven, Phoenix, and Eagle Tribes (Legends of Chima)
Raven Tribe characters without wings make excellent tengu, kenku, or dire corbies. Winged Eagle Tribe characters make good aarakocra (particularly the D&D Fifth Edition version, which have separate wings and arms).

The collectible Minifigures theme has also provided a few bird-winged characters, such as the Flying Warrior (with Chima-style wings; Series 15) and Chicken Suit Guy and Penguin Boy (whose wings are their costumes' arms; Series 9 and 16).

Some sets (like 76076 Captain America Jet Pursuit) include fixed wings that are a single piece that fit over the neck post. They look great for a creature in flight, but the wingspread could make the model awkward to move around on the game map. In a pinch, a patterned cloak can serve as folded wings, as shown in the harpy on the right in the next photo.

Harpies with fixed wings (from 7307 Flying Mummy Attack) and folded wings (cloak).
If you don't have any of these prefab wing parts, or want wings of a larger size or different style, you can attach brick-built wings to a minifigure. It's possible to build a replacement torso that includes clips to attach the wings. The angel below is based on a winged god model that I designed several years ago, before feathered wings of any kind were available. It uses a 1x2 brick (to attach the legs), topped by two 2x2 L-plates (for arms), four 1x1 plates with clips (two to attach the wings, two to serve as hands) and two 1x1 plates (to fill out the shoulders), and a jumper plate (to attach the head). Change the colors of these bricks to suggest armor or other clothing. This build makes the character about two plates taller than a normal minifigure, but it's certainly less awkward looking than the weirdly top-heavy Axl character from Nexo Knights. And that extra height is well-suited to Large winged characters, such as solars.

Larger Birds 

Larger prefabricated LEGO creatures exist for birds such as Fawkes the phoenix (Harry Potter), ostriches (Prince of Persia), and great eagles (Lord of the Rings/Hobbit). A Pathfinder phoenix is much larger (Gargantuan), but Fawkes can be used for other Medium or Large birds. The ostrich can also serve as an axe beak (Bestiary 3), but you may wish to replace the (conveniently removable) head with a brick-built one with a more fearsome-looking beak. The great eagles are just about the perfect size for d20 or Pathfinder giant eagles.

Similarly, some figures are available for hybrid avian monsters such as Buckbeak the hippogriff (Harry Potter) and pegasi (Elves). Buckbeak's wings are perfect for attaching to other winged creatures, and are bigger than most minifigure wings. (See Four-Legged Friends about building your own pegasus.)

The following two models show examples of larger birds built with bricks. Both have stationary wings, but poseable legs and tail. They have been mounted on bases with clear risers in order to show them in flight; this height also makes the wingspan less of a problem when moving the mini around a battle map that holds smaller, land-based creatures.

The first bird, a monochrome eagle, is a fairly simple model that focuses on the outline of the wings and tail. It uses two SNOT bricks (a 1x2 brick and a 1x2 plate, both with two studs on one side) to attach the wings and tail. A hinge is used at the hips to attach the legs, and allows the bird to be posed in either a horizontal or climbing position.

The blue and gray bird below uses large wing/feather pieces (from Legends of Chima) to form the wings; two pieces are used per side to give the wings more bulk in proportion to the rest of the body. A pair of these wing pieces can also be substituted for the shorter style of clip-on wings on a minifigure, if you want bigger wings and don't mind them being fixed in position.

With either model, replace the bird's head with a minifigure or animal head to create a hybrid monster such as a siren, simurgh, or peryton. (Chima characters, with their helmet-like headpieces over standard minifigure heads, are excellent choices here.)

The following LEGO sets (mostly from the Legends of Chima theme) give examples of much larger bird models suitable for Gargantuan or Colossal birds:
  • 31004 Fierce Flyer: The main bald eagle model (shown below) is pretty much perfect as-is for a Gargantuan roc miniature. To make it serve as a mount, replace one or more of the sloped bricks on the back with plates with exposed studs, so that minifigures can be attached.
  • 70000 Razcal's Glider makes a nice Huge raven or vulture.
  • 70003 Eris' Eagle Interceptor is easily Colossal in size. This model is a bird-shaped aircraft, so the cockpit should be replaced with solid bricks to convert it into a creature.
  • 70124 Eagle Legend Beast can be used as a Huge or Gargantuan bird. The wings are more fanciful than realistic, but the head and claws are very nicely detailed, and the model is designed for a rider.
  • 70221 Flinx's Ultimate Phoenix is a very nicely designed model featuring many large flame pieces, but is a bit oversized for a Gargantuan Pathfinder phoenix.

Set 31004 Fierce Flyer

Appendix: Past "Building the Bestiary" Columns

#1: Humanoids
#2: Underwater Races
#3: Giants
#4: Undead
#5: Tiny Creatures
#6: Four-Legged Friends
#7: Oozes
#8: Spell Effects
#9: Elementals
#10: Devils
#11: Aquatic Animals
#12: Vermin
#13: Non-OGL Monsters
#14: Plants

1 comment:

  1. Because these columns focus primarily on the first PF Bestiary, I forgot to mention that Buckbeak the hippogriff also makes an excellent hieracosphinx!