While I usually don’t blog LDraw part updates, I’m making an exception for the latest one since, as far as I can tell, it’s the biggest yet, with 601 new parts on offer. In addition to an increase in the number of new parts available, the library of 12V train system parts is almost complete. Many thanks must go out to all parts authors and reviewers, especially those who’ve recently started, and to Chris Dee (the Parts Library Administrator), Phillipe Hurbain and Steffen for the huge work they’ve put in to this latest release.
And to those who’ve never heard of LDraw, or are interested in checking it out, please visit the forums.
Ben Beneke is one of the greats of LEGO train building, with even his old steamers still standing out as some of the best. I’d been wondering what had happened to Ben recently (he usually posts at least one new train a year) but apparently he’s been spending time making excellent animations using LDraw and POVray. An animation like this is really hard to do in POVray. I know, I’ve tried.
While I certainly don’t consider this to be my most polished model (not even close) I did think it was worth sharing as some inspiration for the forthcoming Numereji 2421collaboration at BrickCon 2011. Since I won’t be attending I thought I’d post it early to give some idea of the fun you can have with this collaboration.
Settlers of Catan is, by all accounts, a rather fun German board game. LEGO is, by all accounts, a rather fun toy. So it makes sense to combine the two.
Except Michael (suparMacho) hasn’t actually built this. He’s use SR3D builder (an LDraw editor) and POVray to render it. Aside from those people lucky enough to use LEGO’s in-house rendering tools this is the most photo-realistic LEGO render I’ve seen.
Did you know you can make a 3D laser scanner out of LEGO bricks and a few custom parts? No? Nor did I until today. Did you know you can then use your LEGO model to scan LEGO parts and turn them into 3D CAD LDraw parts to make virtual LEGO models out of? Amazing hey?
Phillipe Hurbaine (philo) is well known for his clever software, hardware, LEGOware and general LEGO-mechanical skill but I have to say his latest work just takes the cake. And as if making a 3D scanner wasn’t enough he has actually used it to model some LDraw parts. I think this is probably the best working LEGO thing I have ever seen.
The ever helpful Willy Tschager has just released an excellent tutorial on getting started with MLCAD and LDraw. If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to use virtual LEGO to create your own virtual masterpieces from nothing but your imagination and a computer this is an excellent way to cross the first hurdle.
Reviewing parts is a great way to get involved without having to get too technical. Niels Bugge has written a very handy tutorial explaining what is involved and how to get involved. If you feel you’d like to give something back to LDraw this is a great way to get started.
It is also a good start to making new parts if you wish to pursue that path. If you understand 3D software which can output 3DS format you can even get involved with LDraw part creation without leaving your known environment. Simply team up with someone who does understand the LDraw file format and make and convert a file from your preferred tool to LDraw format for tidying.
There are also other ways to get involved such as running for elected office (not for a year or so now) and helping out with the website. If you think you might be interested in these roles please contact me privately.
Remember that without volunteers the LDraw library would grind to a halt. Fresh faces are always welcome and necessary. If you like LDraw please consider helping it.
A recent discussion at LUGNET raised questions about the future of LDraw in the fan community. Oddly enough I feel I’ve seen a resurgence in LDraw work recently but of course like all of us I tend to see what I want to see so I figured I’d throw some questions out to a wider audience.
The first question is, obviously, have you ever heard of LDraw? And if you have do you know what it is? Have you ever considered using it but decided against it? If so why? Did you know the parts are all designed by volunteers?
To quickly give an overview it’s a CAD system and associated library designed to let you build LEGO models on your computer. It’s not the editors (those are things like MLCAD, LeoCAD and Bricksmith) or the renderers (like LDView) but the system all of these use and the parts library. Like LDD but more versatile. All the pictures in this article are recent creations designed in LDraw compatible software.
If you are a user I’d really like to know what you use LDraw for? Do you use it to document old models? To make instructions? To make nice pictures? To make things you don’t have the bricks for? To design models you later build in bricks? Other reasons?
Personally I feel that LDraw has enriched my LEGO hobby immeasurably and I am constantly thankful to all the volunteers who have dedicated their time to making it such a good system. I don’t ever want to see it die a slow death and I don’t think I will. I would, however, like to know what a newer and broader audience thinks.
So please, comment here, on LUGNET, or on flickr. But please do comment if you are remotely interested.
The BBC’s Teck Know section currently has an article on the LEGO hobby with a focus on LDraw and virtual building. It includes discussion with Chris Dee who is the man responsible for quality control and library management for LDraw (and who does an excellent job). It also highlights the excellent work of Warren Elsmore, creator of the featured bridge and LDraw-using designer.
One of Warren Elsmore’s work-in-progress St Pancras LDraw sketches as mentioned in the article.
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.