About Ralph

Ralph Savelsberg, also known as Mad physicist, is an actual physicist, but he's not all that mad. He has been building with LEGO ever since he could first put two bricks together. He primarily builds scale models of cars and aircraft. You can find most of Ralph's stuff on his flickr pages.

Posts by Ralph

The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling [Review]

In the last two years, my fellow Dutchmen Dennis Bosman (Legotrucks) and Dennis Glaasker (Bricksonwheels) have been working on a book titled The art of Lego Scale Modeling. It is one of a number of new titles released this fall by Nostarch Press and currently costs $21.74 on amazon (down from its normal list price of 29.95).

"The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling"

Both of these guys have been building scale models (primarily of trucks) for years and are long-term members of the LEGO community. For their book they have enlisted the cooperation of no fewer than 22 other builders, from all over the world, to present high-quality photographs of some of the best Lego scale models of vehicles you’ll ever see. I got my copy just before the weekend, because I was lucky enough to be able to contribute some of my own models for this title. I obviously cannot be completely objective here. Then again, no reviewer ever is.

The excellent photographs of the models themselves are accompanied by short bits of text, giving some information about the real-world vehicle, and the builds. These are interesting, but the photographs are the stars. If you are a regular reader of our blog, you will already have seen a fair few of the models, such as the Ferrari 458 Italia, by Nathaneal L.. The top-notch photography shows them in a new light.

Ferrari 458 Italia in Art of LEGO Scale Modeling

Although there probably are other scale models out there of similar quality, the Dennises have made a really nice selection of trucks, including a few by the authors themselves, cars, motorcycles, race cars, cranes, aircraft, military models and ships. A few models were built specifically for the book, such as the wonderful Scania by Ingmar Spijkhoven (2LegoOrNot2Lego).

Model Scania 143M Torpedo by Ingmar Spijkhoven

If you are expecting a detailed explanation of how to build models like these, this book will disappoint you. There’s a brief section on how to build them, with a few useful pointers, but a look at the biographies of the builders included in the back of the book will tell you that most of them have been at this for years, if not decades. You can’t learn to build models like these by reading a book; it takes experience. If you’re looking for instructions, you’re not going to find them either. The instructions for some of the individual models alone would be enough to fill most of the book’s 204 pages. You will find plenty of inspiration, though.

As usual with LEGO books from this publisher, the cover and binding seem pretty sturdy. The pictures are nicely printed in a matt-gloss finish and are printed on decent quality paper. This is what you would expect from what’s essentially a coffee table picture book. What I didn’t expect is the size of the book. I would have liked to see it a bit larger (it is about 20 by 25 cm/ 8 x 10 inches). This size was probably chosen to keep the book affordable. The pages are still large enough to give you a good view of the models and to appreciate most of the details, but some would definitely look even better on a larger canvas. This is a minor niggle. If scale models of vehicles built out of LEGO are your thing (and if not, why not?!), this is a title you definitely do not want to miss.

LEGO Creator Blue Power Jet 31039 [Review]

For a few weeks now I’ve had Lego set 31039, Blue Power Jet, sitting on a shelf in my LEGO room. It’s currently $69.55 from amazon. I picked mine up from the LEGO Store in Tyson’s Corner back in August after Brickfair, because, as an aircraft builder, I figured I would enjoy building this and be well-suited to write a set review. However, subsequently, I didn’t get around to it. Fortunately, my father helped me out here. He stayed at my place for a while a few weeks ago and, some of the time together was spent with me building my Men In Black Ford and with him building the jet. The review, however, still went nowhere.

Lego set 31039, Blue Power Jet

For the record, the set contains 608 parts and the instructions to build the jet or, alternatively, a powerboat or a helicopter. My father, who never had LEGO as a child, enjoyed the build, although the dark blue, dark grey and black were a bit hard to identify in the instructions. The model looks great and construction of the wings clearly shows the masterful hand of Mike Psiaki, who, before becoming a set designer, was already well-known for his ingenious aircraft models. The jet has lots of play features, such as an opening cockpit, a folding undercarriage and moveable control surfaces, yada yada yada. I’m ill-suited to writing this review (and not just because I didn’t graduate from The Eurobricks Reviewers Academy; for a more detailed review with lots of photographs of the model under construction, I suggest brickset). As nice as the finished jet is, I don’t enjoy following instructions for anything and the main reason why I like this set and pretty much the whole point of any LEGO set is that I can use the parts to build my own models. This one is a wonderful parts pack. Just look at all that lovely dark blue. Preciousss!

As LEGO fans we’ve all probably heard or read it many times: according to lots of people who used to build with LEGO as children, back in the sixties and seventies LEGO only made simple bricks in boxes with no instructions, but nowadays, if you look at the LEGO shelves in your local toy store, all you’ll see are licensed products and sets full of parts that can only be used for the model in the instructions. This allegedly kills children’s creativity. Have these people looked at the Creator range at all? One would think that the fact that there are instructions for three different models is enough of a hint that the parts aren’t single use. This doesn’t only apply to an arguably fairly expensive set such as the Blue Power Jet, but also to the smaller sets in the range. Furthermore, just because there are instructions, doesn’t mean your children have to follow them. Radical, isn’t it? What kills creativity is having them build the model from the instructions and then not allowing them to take it apart and mix up the elements with all the other parts, because a few might get lost or because, eventually, your children may want to rebuild the original. Have them improvise! I betcha Mike used to build his own stuff when he was a child.

The Chogenbo is coaxial coolness

Over the years several people have constructed mechanisms to get coaxial rotors on their helicopters to spin in opposite directions, including Henry Oberholtzer. Recently one of his ingenious creations was successfully adopted by Matt Hacker for his AH-5 “Chogenbo” (Japanese for Kestrel). The end result is one of the coolest and most believable near-future helicopters that I have seen in a long time. Matt unveiled the model at Brickfair Virginia in August, where it won the ‘Best Military’ category. I have been eagerly anticipating him posting pictures of it ever since.

AH-5 "Chogenbo"

Let me apologise for the info dump in advance, but there is no denying that I am a bit of an aviation geek. (It’s fewer than 4000 words, I promise.) Coaxial helicopters are cool. There is a fundamental limit, of about 400 km/h, to the forward speed of conventional helicopters. This is essentially set by the blades being swept forward reaching the speed of sound -this is a bad thing- and the blades being swept aft, also known as the retreating blades, moving too slow through the air to generate lift. This is called a retreating blade stall and is also a bad thing. That going faster is difficult is evidenced by the longevity of the current record, set by a modified Westland Lynx as long ago as 1986. If you want your helicopter to go faster, you’ll have to get creative. However, coaxial helicopters, with two sets of counter-rotating rotors on top of each other, do offer the promise of considerably faster flight. The retreating blades on a coaxial helicopter do suffer from retreating blade stall, but the resulting loss of lift is compensated by the lift generated by the blades of the other set on the same side of the helicopter moving forward. To see the coaxial rotors on Matt’s helicopter in action, check out his video.

Remember the little red button? Push the little red button

“We are the best kept secret in the galaxy. We monitor, licence and police all alien activity on the Earth. We’re your first, last, and only line of defense. We live in secret, we exist in shadow.”

Men In Black Ford P.O.S.

Men in Black is a 1997 hit movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as agents ‘K’ and ‘J’, who are part of a secret US government organisation that deals with extraterrestrials living on Earth. Their standard mode of transport is a nondescript black Ford LTD, called a Ford P.O.S. by ‘J’, that turns into a gravity-defying rocket ship at the push of a red button.

I’ve been meaning to add this vehicle to my collection of cars from movies and TV series for a long time, but I didn’t want to build a boring black sedan unless I could make it transform. In the movie this was done using CGI and, to my knowledge, there are no transforming toy versions of the car. This made recreating it in the real world a bit tricky. However, after Optimus Prime I felt fairly confident I could get it to work, albeit with a bit more fiddling than merely pushing a little button. I also decided to post the model only after I made the video showing the transformation sequence.

Thunder run

When Andrew Somers posted his M1A3 Abrams on flickr sometime last year, I was impressed by the details and its shape. However, I did not like it being grey when real tanks rarely are.


The model is still as grey as ever, but he has taken it to another level by adding a completely brick-built backdrop, complete with rubble in the street and a realistic-looking explosion; an effect that is enhanced by the depth of focus. This just goes to show that you don’t always have to photograph your model against a neutral background to get it blogged here!

Laugh it up, fuzzball!

Cute is not the first word that springs to mind when I think of a wookiee, although this is arguably a pretty rare occurrence. Fuzzball, as in the quote from Han Solo, seems rather more appropriate.

LEGO: Chewbacca (8inch)

Using lots of 1×2 curved slopes, Flickr user umamen has managed to capture Chewbacca’s shaggy looks and, yet, somehow there is something cute about the end result. I think it’s in the facial expression.

Review: Brick Wheels by Warren Elsmore

Brick Wheels: Amazing Air, Land & Sea Machines to Build from Legois the fourth book by British builder Warren Elsmore, who, together with his wife Kitty, is also the driving force behind the Afolcon/ Brick LEGO events due to take place later this year in Birmingham and London.

Brick Wheels Review

This is a substantial book, with 258 pages. It is crisply printed on sturdy semi-glossy paper and it has a flexible cover. It looks and feels like a quality product, which, given the low price point of just £12.99 in the UK, is pleasantly surprising. The US edition, called Brick Vehicles, costs only $13.

The book consists of five chapters. The introductory chapter covers such topics as names for parts, where to buy LEGO, on-line resources and sorting. This is probably mainly useful for builders who are just discovering that there are more people like them out there or as a guide for parents whose children are getting into building. The other four chapters deal with, respectively, road vehicles, trains, ships and flying vehicles. This is where things get more interesting, with pictures of inspirational models built by Warren himself and by friends of his, including about a dozen by yours truly, interspersed with pages of instructions for mostly smaller models that readers can build themselves.

Brick Wheels Review
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Mecha plus Countach equals coolness

A long time ago, not long after I joined the online community, I upset a number of people by openly declaring that I don’t care much for mecha. While I can appreciate quality when I see it, mecha still aren’t my cup of tea. However, make one that can transform into a cool car, like Andrew Lee‘s Lamborghini Countach, and you’ve definitely caught my attention.


This is Andrew’s first working Transformer and he describes it as total pain in the ass and quite the learning experience. I can sympathise. He is no stranger to building mecha, though, as many of you will know, and his experience shows, because the articulation on his model is truly exceptional.

Do the shooty dance!

He talks about this and about LEGO transformers in general in the latest episode of his video podcast, aptly titled Bricks and Beers. Cheers man!

Armies on the march at Waterloo

A few weeks ago, Nannan posted The Defense of La Haye Sainte Farm at the Battle of Waterloo. While impressive, this was only a small part of a much larger diorama that was unveiled at Brickfair Va., to commemorate the 200th anniversary of this historic battle.

Battle of Waterloo Diorama

This impressive display was a collaborative effort by Joshua Brooks, his father Gary Brooks (Gary^the^procrastinator) and Casey Mungle, Ken Rice and John Rudy, with further contributions by several more members of Wamalug. It was not only large, but also tremendously well-researched. The formations of figures and their uniforms were chosen to be period-accurate, for instance. The size of the diorama had the consequence that, when sitting at one end and looking at the other, it was impossible to focus your eyes on the whole thing at once. This made the hundreds of sometimes fairly rare minifigures really look like armies on the march. In fact, there were so many figures on this display, that this may be the very reason why some of them have become so rare!

Edit: The guys from Beyond the Brick have posted an interview with Gary at Brickfair, which is well worth checking out.

His Cadillac is vulgar, but that’s how he likes it

There are many similarities between Europe and the United States, but yet I never feel quite as European as when I’m on the other side of the Atlantic. US car culture, for instance, is completely different from what I’m used to. Even a fairly standard American tow truck, full of little lights and chrome, can look pretty garish to me. Fellow Dutchman Dennis Glaasker (bricksonwheels), however, is totally down with US car culture. His latest creation, a pimped-out lowrider Cadillac, is downright vulgar.

Cadillac Fleetwood Le Cabriolet 1/10 in Lego

I mean, just look at it! The are chromed parts all over it, it has custom printed parts, horrible gold-coloured rims and a totally chintzy white interior. The ride height is completely messed up too. Even the name is cheesy: the Fleetwood Le Cabriolet, as though using some French can save it from being tacky as hell. In other words: it’s perfect!

If scale models of real-world vehicles (from gaudy to utilitarian) interest you, the upcoming book Dennis has written for No Starch Press, together with Dennis Bosman (Legotrucks), may be just your thing. It is titled The Art of LEGO Scale Modeling and highlights models built by some of the best LEGO scale modellers from all over the world. It will be released in September and we will be reviewing it then, but you can pre-order it now.