2013 marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of what are now called Creator sets. Originally called Designer sets, they were groundbreaking at the time because, until then, LEGO System sets for older children were all based around minifigs and to minifig scale.
2003's line up of Designer sets included robots, wild animals, micro-scale aircraft and trucks, all without a minifig in sight. Their instruction books were very hefty, packed full with instructions and inspirational photos. My favourite from that first batch was 4101 Wild Collection, which contained instructions and photos for 63 models, surely some sort of record!
Since then I've always had a soft-spot for large Creator animal sets, be them dragons, dinosaurs or real-life animals. This year's Creator animal set is the subject of this review, 31004 Fierce Flyer, with which you can make a bald eagle, a scorpion or a beaver.
Unfortunately in about 2008 LEGO stopped providing inspiration for alternative models in the form of photographs and I heard that it was because customers were complaining that instructions for them were not provided, which is a great shame. So, we have to make do with '3-in-1' these days.
One thing that has remained the same since 2003 is that Creator sets are chock-full of standard parts: bricks, plates and slopes. There is rarely a specalised single-use part in sight, and this set is no exception. One thing you do tend to get a lot of, particularly in the animal sets, is hinges and joints of one kind or another, to provide articulation and enable the construction of angles that would not otherwise be possible, and also parts to represent claws and teeth.
The first of three models to make is the beaver. It's not a bad effort. I'm not totally convinced by the feet, but they have to be quite large to enable him to stand up and balance.
This is the weakest model of the three. The tail looks the part, but scorpions have eight legs and huge pincers, not the feeble efforts we see here. But I guess it's recognisable for what it's supposed to be, the tail ensures that.
The Bald Eagle
I believe that the process of designing Creator models starts with a single 'headline' model, which in this case is the eagle. The designers then see what else they can make with the same set of pieces, and will adjust the parts palette if needed to allow them to make decent secondary models, whilst not compromising on the design and aesthetic of the main model. I guess that's obvious really, but it does help explain why one model is superb and the others are usually just so-so.
The Bald Eagle certainly is superb. It looks stunning when perched with its wings folded. The feet are somewhat over-scale compared to the real bird but there is a lot of articulation in the joints to enable the claws to be folded so as to hold prey.
What is really excellent about the eagle is that, using a combination of click-hinges and plate hinges, the wings can be moved from a folded position to a spread configuration, as shown below.
The ends of the wings and tail look suitably 'feathery' thanks to the 1x1 tooth plates.
I really enjoyed building this set. I don't normally build the alternate models because they can be a little disappointing compared to the main model, but for review purposes I forced myself. I have to say that yes, they were disappointing in this case, but the quality of the eagle more than makes up for that; it's very cleverly designed and a superb display piece.
Creator sets may not be the most exciting models in the LEGO aisle but personally I think they are among the best and the closest to a 'pure' building experience you can get (without resorting to buckets of bricks). They are also the best value; licences and minifigs push up prices and these have neither of those.
This set costs $15/£10 for 166 pieces, which works out at 6p or 9c per piece. This compares very favourably with the similarly priced Star Wars set 75001 Republic Troopers vs. Sith Troopers which weighs in at 20p/20c a piece.
If you want to get back to basics and experience a 'real LEGO build' with a infinitely reusable set of parts, I highly recommend this set as an introduction to the joys of doing so.
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