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

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s 007 with Little Nellie

James Bond is well known for his often slightly wacky gadgets. The gyrocopter used in You only Live Twice, recreated in minifig scale by Brian Williams (BMW_Indy), is a prime example. This odd little contraption was nicknamed Little Nellie and in the flying scenes in the movie, it was piloted by its designer, Ken Wallis, who was a former RAF WW2 bomber pilot turned inventor. He died last year, aged 97, and was tinkering with and flying gyrocopters until shortly before his death.

Little Nellie - Overview

Brian’s model uses a fair few BrickArms parts, which may upset LEGO purists, but in my opinion they are a great addition to the model. It just wouldn’t look complete without its rocket pods. The model is also complemented by some really nice custom stickers.

Classic Ferrari Formula One

Carl Greatrix (Brictrix) is mostly and rightfully known for his excellent minifig scale train models. However, the train layouts he brings to shows also often feature beautifully constructed buildings and classic cars. It is no surprise to me then that, now he has turned his attention to building a scale model of a car, the end result is superb. The car in question is a seventies motorsport icon: the Ferrari 312T4 Formula One racer. The model was inspired by the highly detailed plastic scale models in old catalogues by the Japanese Tamiya brand. I used to have one of those too, as a teenager, and spent many hours pouring over it looking for inspiration for my models.

Ferrari 312T4 1979 F1 Car

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Ferrari Formula One cars. Some of them are beautiful. Others, not so much, although I suppose that on a race car, “form follows function” has a certain attractiveness on its own. As far as I am concerned, the 312T4 isn’t particularly pretty either, but Carl’s rendition is definitely spot-on.

Dining in style on the Orient Express

Henrik Hoexbroe tends to build highly detailed minifig scale models. His latest model is a dining coach as used in 1919 as part of the famous Orient Express, which used to connect Paris with Istanbul.

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A single train coach may not sound like a particularly interesting subject, but this one is a bit special. For understandable reasons, most train builders build to minifig scale and guys such as Carl Greatrix and Andrew Harvey (to name just two examples) manage to pack a surprising amount of exterior detail into fairly small train models.

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Henrik has built his coach to a much larger scale, however, and this allowed him to go a step further. This is visible in the detail on the outside, but it really shows in the interior.

Good planes come in small packages

I think there are definite advantages to building aircraft models on a larger scale, certainly when it comes to details of the shape. However, It’s always a joy to see what Peter Dornbach (dornbi) can do with LEGO on a smaller scale.

Lockheed P-38J Lightning (2)

Mitsubishi A6M2 "Zero" (2)
Both his P-38J Lightning and his Mitsubishi A6M2 are instantly recognisable and most of the important bits are there. The latter even has folding wingtips.

I feel the need...the need for speed

“How’s it feel to be on the front page of every newspaper in the English-speaking world, even though the other side denies the incident?” Top Gun is so cheesy, it’s like mature cheddar wrapped in a slice of Emmental with some Parmesan sprinkled on top. Yet, when I first saw the movie as a teenager, I loved it. Not for the actors and certainly not for the scenes of sweaty fighter pilots playing volleyball, mind you, but because of the true star of the movie: the wonderful Grumman F-14 Tomcat. I have been a Tomcat fan ever since and have had at least one LEGO model of a Tomcat for at least 20 years.

I have been thinking about building a larger scale aircraft for about two years now. Seeing the excellent 1/18 F-16 by Everblack a few weeks ago, in combination with my ongoing movie vehicle project prompted me to finally have a go. If I was going to bite the bullet, it would have to be a Tomcat and it would have to be the one from Top Gun, cheesy or not.

Top Gun F-14A Tomcat (1)

The process was relatively painless. Building an aircraft at a different scale was interesting. Some of the solutions that I’m used to didn’t really work, so I had to be a bit more inventive. However, the larger scale does have advantages. I had a lot more room to work with, which meant I could incorporate a lot of techniques that I normally don’t have room for. It is 108 studs long, excluding the nose probe, and with the wings in their most forward position has a wingspan of 110 studs. This isn’t small by any means, but it’s also not quite so large that I had to worry too much about structural issues.

I know that there are some readers out there who are of the opinion that I do blog rather many of my own models and, admittedly, I have blogged a fair few. I build a lot more than the ones I blog though and, be honest, do you think the other guys wouldn’t have blogged this if I weren’t one of the contributors?

The Boeing Triple Seven is ready for take-off.

We have previously featured large airliners, but few (if any) of them built to minifig scale (Ryan McNaught’s A-380 is technically only half an airliner). Calum Tsang started designing his minifig scale Boeing 777 back in 2006, shortly after one of the real aircraft set a new long-distance record for commercial airliners. He started building in 2011 and has recently fitted new wings and engines. This dedication has paid of, because it is big and it is beautiful.

Boeing 777 Overview

The model is a whopping 200 studs long and has a similar wing span. With that size, Calum has had to use wood to strengthen the fuselage spine, as well as a few metal struts to support it, but it’s a very nicely sculpted model. One of my favourite bits is the tail fin, with a brick-built version of the logo that LEGO use for the aircraft in recent City sets.

Building prehistoric creatures with Bright Bricks

Building with LEGO professionally may sound like a dream job to many of us. Recently, whilst I was in the UK for Brighton Modelworld I caught up with Ed Diment (Lego Monster), who gave up his job as a management consultant more than two years ago to partner up with Duncan Titchmarsh, who is the UK’s sole Lego Certified Professional. Together they run Bright Bricks.

We talked about being a professional LEGO-builder and discussed their latest event. From the 26th of February to the 27th of April, the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke (UK) hosts the Lost World Zoo. Bright Bricks and various members of the UK’s LEGO community that were drawn in for this, built dozens of models of prehistoric creatures and plants, that are now on display in the museum. They were finishing the models for this during my visit and I lent a hand working on a 4 meter tall model of a Moa, which is an extinct New Zealand walking bird. They also built a massive sabre tooth tiger, which I photographed in the company workshop.

Bright Bricks workshop

Two more smaller examples are the ammonite by Tim Goddard (Rogue Bantha and a sabre toothed squirrel, built by Joe Perez (Mortalswordsman).

Ammonite

Ammonite

Visitors to the museum can also take part in activities, such as building a life-size woolly mammoth out of LEGO bricks. Yes, you did read that right: life-size. These guys like to do things big.

The company has been steadily growing. It currently employs about a dozen people working full-time, as well as several more on a temporary basis. The growth has meant having to move several times, because space in the workshop kept running out. They’re now based in a large unit on an industrial estate in Hampshire. Even though this is probably larger than all their previous workshops combined, the number of people, the large builds and the vast numbers of parts that they have in stock means that it can still be pretty difficult to move around in. The growth has also come with an increased amount of red tape. For instance, UK law requires a company of a given size to have an environmental policy and a health and safety policy, that includes having to find out how much heat is produced by a vast quantity of LEGO going up in flames. Ed probably spends more time on this and on dealing with clients and the media than he does on building. He still builds a lot, though, and with a seemingly endless supply of bricks. According to Ed, his current job is not as much fun as building AFOL models all day, but it is still definitely more fun than a regular job. Having spent a day putting more bricks together than I normally do in about a month, I can believe him (although I was still happy to go back to my day job).

If you’re in the South of the UK, I highly recommend that go check out the Lost World Zoo.