Tag Archives: CAD

You don’t have to own a single LEGO brick to have fun building with LEGO. Software like LDraw and LEGO Digital Designer empowers people to create virtual LEGO models unconstrained by the scarcity of a particular LEGO brick (or even its availability in a specific color).

Five things you may not know about LDraw: Guest editorial by Matt Wagner

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Not quite Thomas

Andreas Weissenburg's BR78

Andreas Weissenburg (grubaluk) is a mixed virtual and real life builder who is both one of my favourite renderers and one of my favourite designers. He doesn’t fail in either regard with this beautiful rendition of a working BR 78 DRG tank engine. Not only is it an absolutely excellent render but the model itself stands amongst the best. The use of the top hat is particularly clever.

I also highly recommend going on a good perusal of Andreas’ Brickshelf account.

A box of train

Box of train

As part of my Wild West Train project I’ve been trying to vary the presentation as well as produce useful instructions for each stage. The final stage let me try a new experiment: packaging the ‘train set’ in its own satin lined wooden box. Fabric is kind of difficult to render without special tools so I decided to go for satin as the easiest.

And of course there are instructions for each part of the train: loco, passenger wagon, lumber wagon, boxcar and caboose.

How the west was won

I thought that it might be nice to do something for the community to finish off 2008 (fixed thanks). So I’ve begun a project to develop a Western Train along with some instructions. You can find the instructions here or as an MPD.

I’ll be adding new posts when I complete new stock so check back regularly.

Hope you enjoy it and may 2009 be a great year.


Hyperrealism in digital rendering

Remember Peter MorrisMammoth Tank? Dimitri recently rendered this model in stunning realism, making the creation appear no less than physically tangible in front of your eyes. According to Peter, a rendering like this takes much computer horsepower and skills and there’s only “a couple others out there that render as well as [Dimitri] does. But they are very, very rare.”

You can find Dimitri’s contact information in his Brickshelf gallery.

Drahken from the cold

Peter Morris' Drahken and base

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.