Today we feature a guest editorial by Matt Wagner on virtual building. As some of you may have noticed I share a lot of these thoughts with Matt and find the prejudice against LDraw to be quite thoughtfree.
Anyway, I’ll pass you over to Matt.
Thanks to Andrew and Tim for the chance to share some of what I know about LDraw. First off, I want to make it clear that by no means do I represent the entire LDraw community; I’m only one of many virtual LEGO builders out there.
What I’d like to share is this:
Five things you might not know about LDraw:
- LDraw is free. Anyone can download and use LDraw (and MLCAD and all of the associated programs), and the most often-used rendering program (called POV-Ray) used to create the 3D images is also free. Get started at http://www.ldraw.org/Article126.html
- LDraw’s parts library is both unlimited and limited. Anyone who’s used the program knows that the extensive part library allows you to click and drag into your virtual model to your heart’s content. But since LDraw is not officially licensed by LEGO, all those parts files are created by everyday users out of polygons and groups of polygons called primitives. And since nobody’s getting paid for their work, the creation of parts is slow and up to the community. LDraw.org takes these parts and releases official parts updates periodically after ensuring that each part meets their quality requirements; however, no official parts updates have been released in over 5 years. Parts that are created in the meantime get placed in the “unofficial” parts library on the LDraw website, but have varying degrees of quality and mistakes until they are approved as official, and some parts that you might hope to find simply haven’t been created in LDraw yet. For example, the minifig heads with facial expressions other than the benign-looking smile, as well as all of the new male and female hairpieces, all pieces that have been available for years now in real life LEGO pieces, are still unavailable in LDraw.
- LDraw has its own unique challenges. It is true that gravity and tension are not something you need to worry about in LDraw: as the program is basically placing bricks in a 3D space, it is possible to place a 2×4 brick going right through another 2×4 brick, something virtual builders call “impossible building.” This may be why some people consider LDraw to be less of a challenge than building with actual LEGO pieces. But building pieces at an angle, something that may require only the positioning of a hinge piece or the click of a bracket in real life, is much more difficult in LDraw. Anything built using SNOT is harder than in real life. Large models become very cumbersome in LDraw. Doing these things is possible, but they require complicated extra steps involving multi-part files and careful aligning of connections and angles.
- Publishing LDraw models can also be a challenge, something that can become more complicated than photographing with a lightbox. LDView is a great program that creates a clean-looking image of your virtual moc in seconds. But for those who want to approach the realism seen in some of the virtual modelers who’ve been featured on Brothers-Brick before, you need to learn how to use POV-Ray: a free ray-tracing program. POV-Ray allows you to place light sources, floors, skies, backgrounds, and other tools to enhance your model’s presentation. POV-Ray also has a feature called radiosity which is something that adds a lot of light and realism to a render, but also stretches out render times to several hours or even days. There are a few tutorials out there on how to use some of these advanced features with POV-Ray; Brichkhelf user Koyan’s tutorial is one that I have used.
- Virtual LEGO and real-life LEGO can complement each other. Say you’re wanting to build a new model, but you don’t have all of the pieces you need. You want to make sure you can fit everything together the way you’re imagining. You can build it in LDraw first to best visualize your model. Then you know exactly which parts you need to order on Bricklink. Or here’s another scenario: you’ve just built an amazing model out of pieces that you have, but another contest comes along that requires the use of pieces that are tied up in that last creation. You hate to have buy new pieces this time, so what do you do? Build it in LDraw and save a virtual version of your model, so that you can archive it forever and free up those precious bricks. Thanks.
I hope I’ve helped broaden your views on LDraw and virtual LEGO in general, and hopefully I’ve dispelled some of the misconceptions that cause virtual entries to be prohibited from competing in LEGO contests.
The upcoming 2009 Technic set, 8259 Mini Dozer, looks very promising and has inspired eager fans to create their own before the set hits stores.
What amazes me the most is this set of animated instructions created by AVCAmpos:
Rocks: check, base: check, launchpad: check, compact design: check, fun colours: check. After admiring his recent (and tiny) Fireball I asked Peter Morris to do me the honour of building something for my Dogfighters 2137 theme and he’s more than lived up to my expectations with the bDY-210 Drahken and its base.
As an added bonus Peter made an LDraw model of the Drahken which allowed me to begin a joint CGI image featuring the Drahken and my own Verdant Fern. Fun stuff and being able to share models across the world is just amazing.
Matt Wagner (jedimasterwagner) is fast becoming one of my favourite LDrawers. As can be seen in this latest work he treats the rendering process as a means of creating artworks as well as for constructing models. I’d love to see the image he based this on for comparison.
One of my side-interests (originally my main interest) in LEGO is CAD or virtual building using the LDraw system first created by the late James Jessiman. When you have a small collection of parts it is a great way to ‘build’ models that live up to your imagination rather than being limited to your supply. LDD provides one means of creating virtual LEGO models but if you take the time to learn it the older LDraw provides a much wider pallette of parts and more powerful tools than LDD. Best of all the two programs can share files with a bit of tweaking.
I realised today that many TBB readers may not be familiar with LDraw so I thought I’d take a brief moment to promote it. Most discussions takes place on LUGNET but to make things more accessible I created a Facebook group and Flickr group too. Hopefully I’ll see some fresh faces at one of these places. The LDraw website (and organisation) organise regular challenges and contests too so be sure to check them out.
NB. The image above is by Jan Folkersma and is the winner of the LDraw Scene of the Month contest from January 2007
Matija Puzar announced back in September that he had completed his LDraw design for a LEGO version of the Croatian National Theater.
As impressive as the design may have been, the actual creation is just plain gorgeous. The capitals on the columns are particularly beautiful.
Thanks to Brick Town Talk for pointing me to the real thing.
RACHAL (RAytracing CHALlenge) is a challenge we run on ldraw.org where various people render the same virtual LEGO creation (typically a vignette like scene). The point of it is to allow people to challenge themselves on rendering a shared LEGO scene adding their own technical and artistic interpretations. The first one has just finished and it’s really fascinating to see how various people approach the same source material. If you like it you may also like its predeccesor that I ran early last year called “Remix Lenin”.
Well first I’ll say a hello to Brothers Brick readers out there. I’ve been invited to cover trains and virtual LEGO creations (raytraced, rendered but definitely not real) for the blog. I’m very new to this whole blogging thing having started my own blog a bit over a week ago and you probably won’t get many words out of me usually but I’m pretty sure I know a good creation when I see one and I guess that’s what you’re here to see.
To copy-paste my profile on the Brothers Brick “I’m a builder with a short attention span and a lot of virtual bricks. I’m probably most known as a train builder and was involved in the creation of LEGO set 10183 (the Hobby Train Box) but I do a lot of other stuff too. I’m also a member of the LDraw SteerCo and a webmaster for the site.”
Anyway, on to the good stuff…
When I was just starting out building properly with LEGO (as opposed to the mucking around I did as a kid and young adult) the train builder who inspired me the most was James Mathis. I’ve since had the honour of working with James on a couple of projects as well as the Hobby Train Box. As well as being one of my favourite train builders James has the added advantage of allowing me to introduce both my areas of ‘research’: trains and virtual LEGO.
And to give you something brand spanking new (well almost) I’d also like to show off Andreas Weissenburg’s Bird.
And I think I’ll leave my inaugaral post at that. Hope it’s all worked OK.
No, sadly, as the title might mislead, it is not a question of LEGO re-releasing the, in its days quite fantastic, Blacktron line. However, the space community more than makes up for that by producing some fun original models! First out is Ed Diment’s nicely chunky Black-CAT, a transport of sorts:
With a lot of moving parts, nice shape and a well-executed colour scheme, this is definitely something I’d have enjoyed as a kid. But no worries, I’ll enjoy it now instead.
Next up is Andrew Verner’s (aka Andrusi) Legion. At first sight one would think it is a CAD version of the original Blacktron Invader:
But lo and behold – he had us all fooled! With a few twists and turns it transforms into a robot!
Andrew has gone to great lengths to ensure that the ship mode still is modular, and he even put a .mpd file in his gallery which means that those with ldraw can take a look at how it is built (and even build their own!). Thank you for that Andrew!
And with that we end this session of nostalgia.
Back in July I blogged Tim Gould’s LDraw version of a “Maschinen Krieger UDK38 Schenkel.” Now, Tim has posted pictures of his design in real bricks, complete with a nice diorama to showcase it:
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