I’ve been a fan of the Ninjago sets for a few years now – mainly from the release of the amazing Temple of Airjitzu (70751-1) in 2015. That set transcended the theme and brought out my liking for interesting architecture sets.
As the Ninjago theme continued to add great sets that had wider appeal (the Ninjago City sets for example) I also started getting into the characters and villains. They have some of the best designs of minifigures in the whole LEGO catalogue.
The Ninjago sub-themes have gone through cyberpunk, steampunk, ancient Japan and China, ghosts, and Bond-villain styles, and now with the latest releases they have borrowed from both Game of Thrones’ White Walkers and samurai legends to create evil zombie ice-warriors.
And where do evil zombie ice-warriors live/work/eat/sleep and play ice-hockey? In the Castle of the Forsaken Emperor of course.
The Castle of the Forsaken Emperor (70678-1) is a playset rather than an architectural marvel. It has a main build with some play features, a secondary tower with a massive crossbow (very GoT) and an impressive white and blue dragon (see also GoT).
I’m not here to review the build, there are plenty of other reviews out there, and there’s nothing out of the ordinary in it anyway. There are a few nice parts (I like the dark red shield parts and can see a use for them in roofs and walls in my Ninjago City extension) but the main draw for me was the minifigures and especially Akita. I’ll also take a look at how easy the set is to incorporate into LEGO photography and to use imaginatively.
When I saw the first images of the Secrets of the Forbidden Spinjitzu sets earlier this year I wasn’t actually that interested in them. I liked the look of the three-tailed wolf in Lloyd’s Journey but other than that decided I’d skip a lot of this wave.
It wasn’t until much later that I saw the Akita minifig in her human form in this set. I was immediately taken with her wolf hat and fanged expressions, her printed robes and her wonderful multi-tailed cape:
I confess that apart from the Ninjago Movie I have never watched any of the cartoon series so I am blissfully ignorant of most of the plot and lore of the series. I have picked up from the small amount of backstory you get in the set-descriptions that Akita can transform from human to wolf and back again. No idea if she’s one of many comrades who are able to do this, or if she is alone in her field of werewolf-iness. Please let me know in the comments if you have more knowledge than me on the topic!
I love the character design and was scouring Bricklink and Brickowl for her before I was offered the chance to review the set. The design is up there with Nya’s in last year’s Bricktober Ninjago set in my opinion.
Akita isn’t the only great minifig though, there are several well-designed villains in the set, along with Lloyd and Cole. The ice and snow world that the sets in the sub theme are from is peopled by Blizzard Warriors and their commanders. We get the Ice Emperor (whose castle this obviously is), General Vex, an un-named Sword Master and a Blizzard Archer who mans the crossbow on the wall.
These characters are very well printed and lend themselves to close-up portraits. I favour a black or very dark background for these types of photos, especially here where there are white or see-through elements as it increases contrast and helps the figures to pop from the surrounding darkness. I lit them with diffuse sources from both sides to minimise glare and then used a shadow box to really deepen the darkness behind. Some adjustments to contrast and clarity in Lightroom completed my photos.
The two other figures, Cole and Lloyd aren’t quite as exciting as they could be. I think only their ninja mask/head-dresses are new – Lloyds’s a new mould with wind-blown hair(?) and Cole’s a new print. Lego has returned to a one-piece ninja head-mask here, I’m not sure I like it as much as the two-piece ones that came in more recent sets.
Onto the playset and the dragon, I tried to create some interesting scenes but to be honest I don’t think I did very well. In my mind I pictured wind-swept escarpments with the castle a-top, midnight patrols of Blizzard Warriors, stormy dragon flights and whirling sword fights. My skills with the camera were no match for my flights of fancy however.
The castle itself does not lend itself well to photography. There are no easy lead-in lines to follow, no stages on which to set scenes. The angles are difficult to work with and the few points of interest are blocked off from oddly placed elements and play-features. In the end I found a few ways in and shot a couple of scenes I was happy with.
Some ice-skates and a hockey stick and puck are included in the set, presumably so the Blizzard Warriors can while-away the long winter nights. I found a few more skates and sticks and positioned the castle on a large sheet of perspex I had in the garage. The perspex doubles for ice quite well when placed over a white base, and even the dust helps (I think) give a roughed up appearance to the playing surface. The minifig reflections and those of the castle were emphasised with some extra contrast, clarity and an s-curve in the Lightroom Tone Curve config.
The dragon is great build and very impressive for a brick-built beast. The eyes are quite expressive, and the wingspan impressive. Changing the background for black instead of white helped it to stand out more.
Keeping such a beast fed, so that it doesn’t snack on hapless Blizzard Warriors, must be an important task round the castle. I decided to show the ritual feeding ceremony – this dragon is definitely not vegan!
For my final shots, I decided to try to get some action out of what is supposed to be a dynamic playset. Lloyd has a spinning whirlwind/tornado piece for his Spinjitzu attacks. I wanted to capture it in motion, using a longer exposure to get some blurred-speed into the frame.
If I had had longer to work I would have tried some fancy flash techniques to try to freeze the picture and get a more defined view of Lloyd, but as it is I’m relatively happy with the movement. It’s not an easy challenge to spin a piece of LEGO with one hand and release the shutter with the other while trying to avoid spinning it into some carefully balanced minifigs – there were a lot of binned shots. Getting the action close enough to the figures without spinning into them and scattering them across the desk was not easy!
This was my first ‘successful’ shot where I’m happy with the set-up and outcome of the spin. I like the arrangement of the Blizzard Warriors and the feel of where Lloyd has tracked past them. I made the lighting cooler in post with this shot and obviously had to remove the wires holding the minifigs in place. I wasn’t so happy with the acres of white-space in the top of the shot, and also Lloyd is too far out of the centre of the shot.
For my second set of attempts, I tried to add more interest to the background of the shot, but in doing so I think I’ve made it far too busy. It detracts from the subject too much now, and the eye can’t settle or follow the composition as easily. You live and learn I suppose.
If I was to try it again I would maybe do it on the perspex so the spinning was easier, and reflections added more interest without me having to fill the scene with superfluous objects. It would have made the post-processing and wire-removal harder, but might have been more successful an image.
I’ve had a fun time with the Castle of the Forsaken Emperor and tried out a few techniques that I don’t often mess with, so it was good that it took me out of my comfort zone. I really love the minifigures and will be using them a lot more in upcoming scenes I’m sure. Thanks for reading and I hope it’s been some inspiration for you with your LEGO photography!