“…And he does not share power!”
As I mentioned in a blog entry on my Middle Earth Micro Models, Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings are some of my all-time favorite films. So when I found myself facing “builders block” with an ongoing project, I naturally turned to that cinematic epic for inspiration. In the end, I designed the Dark Lord Sauron in his humanoid form, and I’m quite pleased with how my version of this iconic character turned out!
Read on to learn more about the design of this 13” (34cm) figurine, or click the button below to purchase its comprehensive building guide!
Before the Build
As an artist, I aspire to fluidity and ease in my creative process. Sometimes, blissful ease happens—I feel like a conduit for, rather than a source of, creative energy—but other times, flow just doesn’t come. Personally, when I feel stumped on something, I find the best remedy is starting a different project, even if it’s just a quick one, to shake things up and clear my head.
Before working on Sauron, I’d been laboring away at a self-conceived project, i.e., one without any reference material I could turn to. In the wake of that thing’s frustrating conception, I craved the structure inherent in LEGO-izing something that already existed. I decided it would be fun to select a subject from a book, movie, etc. that I admired, one that a lot of people would know. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was the first thing that occurred to me, and I decided to run with it.
What, I pondered, could I build from LOTR that would:
Be feasible, in terms of my available time and bricks?
Present me with a new challenge as a builder?
Let me cover fresh ground in the larger fan community?
Building a replica of Sauron satisfied all of these line items:
I knew that I probably had most of the parts I’d need for a figurine build, and that such a design couldn’t be too time-consuming!
I'd never attempted a well-proportioned humanoid build, especially not one that was largely built in regular System, rather than BIONICLE/Hero Factory, elements.
For all the fantastic Middle Earth builds out there, I hadn’t seen anybody else address Sauron at the scale and level of detail I had decided to attempt.
I loved the aesthetic of this famous character, and relished the prospect of tackling his unique design.
So I set to work. The first thing I did was look through my myriad sorted boxes for elements in flat silver (the most current, versatile, and appropriate hue of silver LEGO has produced) that I thought might be useful. I kept all these elements organized on my desk in piles, like an inventory, so I knew how many, say, silver 2x2 curved slopes or 1x2 grille tiles I had on hand. As I built, I’d periodically re-sort and tidy my work surface; this both helped with my efficiency in locating parts, and made my eventual cleanup much faster.
The first part of Sauron I designed was his helmet. There were two reasons I started with the head, as I’ve done with other figurines like my Balrog and Lord of Change: first, because heads and faces are often the most recognizable part of a character, and it’s critical to capture the character’s essence there; and second, because once finished, the head determines scale for the rest of the body. Setting aside frequent tweaking and minor color adjustments throughout the build process, my Sauron helmet underwent just one major redesign, which occurred when I thought to use the concave edge in those new Ninjago blades to delineate his signature nostrils. Although I had to sacrifice the perfectly round eyes I’d achieved on my first helmet design as a result, I’m much happier with the silhouette and feel of this bladed redesign.
Next came Sauron’s arms. While I eventually had to lengthen these, the basic design stayed essentially the same throughout my build. The trickiest parts here were integrating Ninjago sickles into his elbows without jeopardizing flexibility too much, and balancing adequate coverage against creating excessive mass in his upper arms. Although Sauron is the “big bad” of Middle Earth, he’s not portrayed in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as having bulging biceps! I sought to land on a slimmer, more proportional body type that would also be more accurate to the film version.
Another proportional challenge emerged in the torso, where I had to get creative to avoid giving Sauron a triangular, top-heavy physique with a too-slim waist. It took a handful of redesigns at the deepest level to hit the right breadth in his shoulders. I’d say that capturing Sauron’s signature pauldrons, with their arc of spikes and angled front/back coverage, was the hardest part of the whole build. I had to find a solution that would be relatively accurate, of a proper size and shape, and—as I decided early on that I wanted to produce instructions for this build—as stable and easy to replicate as I could manage. If ever there was a point where I wanted to call it quits, it was working on those dang pauldrons!
It was once I designed the legs that I had a good sense of where the character was going, and found myself able to better forgive small inaccuracies in favor of an overall Sauron impression. As with the upper arms, the difficulty in the calves came with finding stability and decent accuracy without extraneous bulk or boxiness. I knew I needed to taper the legs down to their 2x2 round ankles, after all.
I armored and solidified Sauron’s torso pretty late in the game. For the longest time I left it sketched out, sized properly with its necessary joints in the right places, but not finalized. I procrastinated on the torso, I’ll admit! I chose to forego front and back flexibility in his waist (there’s a click joint in there) and stick with pure pivoting out of a desire to keep maximal coverage and breadth at what would otherwise have been a too-skinny section. The tasset armor and chain mail dangling from Sauron’s breastplate were the final sections I built on the body.
Last but not least, I designed Sauron’s mace, using LEGO Star Wars constraction figure Lightsaber handles for its stalk. While I initially included a clip on Sauron’s left palm to secure the mace there, I discovered that the fingers I’d built actually worked perfectly at holding the weapon on their own. I removed the extra connection, as it was no longer necessary.
Like I mentioned earlier, flat silver jumped out at me as a clear choice for primary color on this build. It looked the most accurate to me, and also offered me the best selection of available parts. I say “best” and mean “lesser of two evils;” LEGO’s metallic colors aren’t famous for their general part availability! As such, I had to use other, far more available colors—light and dark grey—for building most of the structural aspects of this figurine. I included black in places to replicate sparse gaps in Sauron’s armor. While I toyed with having some gunmetal grey present in the build, and though it looked decent, out of a desire for uniformity I chose to stick with flat silver everywhere.
As much as I could in limited space and with limited elements at my disposal, I tried to suggest the overlapped construction of this suit of armor. I found that the smoothest possible coverage, which might technically have followed Sauron’s film appearance more accurately, looked too futuristic and didn’t convey “suit of medieval armor” very well. So some of the armor textures are a bit accentuated on purpose.
Although the eye holes of Sauron’s helmet are traditionally empty, dark spots, I chose to make my Sauron’s eyes stand out more in transparent red. In a helmet design with so many crevices, and with eyes that are unavoidably a bit “taller” than expected, I wanted to do something to make clear that yes, these areas are Sauron’s eyes. Given how the trans-red 1x1 round plates are boxed in, they don’t shine too brightly, so I think they provide some nice depth and a sense of life.
My favorite bits of this design: the perfectly layered forearms; the point of the toes; the flexible chain mail skirt; the head of the mace; the crown of spikes; and, of course, my use of blades for the nostrils. Parts I wish I could have done better: the shaping of the bottom of the helmet, which is slightly too pointed for my tastes; the lower calves, where I would have liked to have integrated silver more; the upper calves, which bulge forward a bit too far; and the back, which—while hidden with a cape most of the time—is nevertheless sort of boring.
Speaking of the cape, it’s made from two different official LEGO fabrics. The lower/inner fold is from Vezon and Fenrakk (2006) while the upper/outer fold is from Chi Sir Fangar (2014). Since the two capes are both rare and expensive, I decided to include 1:1 templates for them in my instructions packet, allowing prospective replicators of my design to cut their own capes from any black fabric.
Taking pictures of Sauron was both a challenge and a pleasure. The challenge lay in creating the ambiance I wanted—the feeling that these pictures came, maybe, straight from the heart of Mount Doom—without ending up with images that looked too dark. The pleasure came in tossing all kinds of specialized lighting at a creation that was largely silver-colored, moderately reflective and very sensitive to specialized lighting effects.
It took maybe an hour of playing around with different things before I hit on my solution. I ended up using a few extra elements to make these shots look moody and fiery. I’m pleased with how the images turned out, especially since my special lighting made digital edits for the main, “atmospheric” image (at top of the post) a real breeze.
For a base, I deferred to my regular setup: four daylight bulbs hitting the diffusing walls and ceiling of a 3’ white photo tent. Unaltered, my regular setup creates an excellent, “sourceless” cool light, perfect for clarity and product-style images. I threw in some yellow from the right side by building a reflector cone out of yellow poster board around the right side bulb. I partially filtered the left lamp through a piece of red fabric to get a subtle reddish hue coming from the other side. I also set up a regular, warm-bulbed house lamp in front of the photo tent and shone it forward, which helped to combat some of the coolness of my ambient light.
To get the dynamic red splashes and highlights, I employed a few LED flashlights, positioned on the ground in the “lava river” (a portion of the foreground poster board I covered in red instead of black). I blocked the LEDs’ business ends using LEGO trans-red elements, ending up with some makeshift gels that did the trick nicely!
Thanks for reading! If you have any other questions or comments about this model, feel free to leave them in the comments below.