Sunday, November 28, 2010

East Block begins - Trabant

I am a big fan of small LEGO cars, especially the creations of Mad Physicst. For a long time I have planned to build cars that were prominent during my childhood. Of course in 1/22 scale. Not surprisingly, these cars are from the Eastern Block: Trabant, Wartburg, "Small Polski", Škoda and the others.

This is the first part of the series, a Trabant 601 from the 80s. I have rendered this on a computer for a start, I hope you like it. I plan to build it from real bricks as well.

The road was slow and is to become even slower. First I got the scale wrong. The real Trabant 601 is 1504 mm wide, it is almost exactly 8 and a half bricks (1504/22/8 = 8.54). The first version I have built in LDD was 8 bricks wide but I have realized that it is too small and the proportions are wrong. To build it one brick wider - well, I could start from scratch. Then I have put it into BrickSmith, I have converted it with L3P so that I can render the image in MegaPOV. And I have spent quite some time playing with the rendering settings, mostly based on Koyan's tutorial.

Well, this is the result, I hope you like it. The next one will most likely be a Škoda 120 because one of my friends is a big fan, or maybe a Small Polski. A few more images in the album.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Mad Physicist Interview, part II.

And here comes the second part of the interview we started last week. You can read it in Hungarian on

Bricksngears: Do you have to wait often for bricks to arrive before you continue building or do you have everything on stock? How many bricks do you have on stock?
RS: Because I always have a list of things I want to build and because I start planning long before I put bricks together, I usually have all the parts I need by the time I start building. There are also parts that I know I’m likely to use in the future (1x2 and 1x1 plates in just about any colour, for instance) and I try to keep lots of those in stock. I don’t really know how many parts I currently have that aren’t part of MOCs, but we’re probably talking a number on the order of 100,000.

BG: You use many special bricks in your models. Where do you get them from?
RS: I can tell you, but then I’ll have to kill you! Only joking, of course. I buy quite a lot of special stuff from people I know through Brickish. I also always check whether the particular bricklink store I happen to be using for my next project has some other useful and rare parts as well. By accumulating small quantities over time you end up with fairly large numbers of rare stuff.

BG: Do you store all your creations when ready, or do you take some of them apart to reuse bricks?
RS: In the last few years I have built a fair few models specifically for exhibitions or competitions and many of those were dismantled soon after the exhibition or competition ended. Most of my stuff stays together for a long time, however. I get attached to my models and when I have to choose between dismantling them and buying new parts, I tend to choose the latter. It’s a bit decadent, I know.

BG: How many models do you store at home?
RS: It’s been a while since I last counted them. A lot! I’ve got about 50 aircraft and helicopters and a similar number of large-scale cars and trucks. In addition to that I’ve got several minifig scale buildings and a lot of minifig scale cars; I don’t even know how many. Most of my LEGO models are still unpacked from when I moved back to the Netherlands.

BG: What are your all-time favorites?
RS: I’m practically in love with my Su-27 Flanker-B model. The real aircraft is a beautiful machine and I was really happy with being able to build one in colours that are a reasonable representation of the real thing (medium blue, sand blue and blueish grey). Another one that I am really happy about and that has been in my collection for years is my black F-14 Tomcat. It has been modified many times over the years, but I’ve had a Tomcat model for at least 15 years. I really like fire engines, particularly American ones, and one of my favourite models is my Los Angeles Fire Department Tiller truck. I have had it for many years. I knew I wanted to build it when I first saw a picture of it and when I finally managed to make it work, I was well pleased. Finally, Brickston Borough. It’s not a single model, but my own little city layout (based on London) consisting of buildings, cars and even a train. It’s a long term project and I intend to keep adding new bits over time.

BG: You have been working together with Legomonster (Ed Diment) to create aircraft for his USS Intrepid project. Do you frequently work together with other Lego enthusiasts?
RS: I have done collaborative projects with other members of Brickish and recently one with Isaac Mazer from the US, but Ed is the person I collaborated with the most often in the last four years. We like the same sort of things and we seem to have skills that complement and challenge each other. When I was in the UK we lived fairly close together and saw each other on a regular basis. His wife also likes to build with LEGO and didn’t mind having a crazy Dutchman in her house now and then.

BG: Any yet unrealized projects for the near and far future? Anything you wanted to build for a long time?
RS: I always have a list in mind of things that I might like to build. I’ve been buying parts for a large aircraft. I’m also thinking of building more helicopters and perhaps aircraft on a larger scale. Lately I’ve been building more Dutch or European vehicles, and I intend to build more of those as well. I’m particularly thinking of DAF trucks. A long-term plan would be to include many of my large scale cars in a large diorama. Unfortunately I have little time to build at the moment. I’ve got more ideas than I have time for.

BG: Do you buy bricks, or also complete sets? Any sets you bought lately? Do you have a favorite official Lego theme?
RS: I buy both loose bricks and sets, depending on what parts I need and on what I can get sufficiently cheaply. The last sets I bought were 3177 (the small city car), 8260 (a small Technic Tractor) and 6751 (a creator dragon). It’s all over the map, really, but if I’d have to pick a theme I’d go for Creator. They are nice sets with parts that are useful for many of the things I do and a decent price per part.

BG: Speaking of Lego products, do you have any preference for older 4 stud wide cars or for the newer 6 stud wide cars?
RS: Mine tend to be 5-7 studs wide, so I obviously prefer the larger vehicles. They are more realistic without getting so big that they dwarf the figures.

BG: Did you ever use Lego-compatible products from another company? Would you try it?
RS: I have. I bought some 2nd hand LEGO a while ago, and without realising it there was a Mega Bloks part mixed with the LEGO; a 2x2 tile. I accidentally used it in one of my models. Lego Monster pointed it out to me and I removed the offensive object immediately.

BG: Do you use any virtual building products like LDraw or LEGO Digital Designer?
RS: I rarely do. I usually have plenty of bricks to work with and do much of the design process in my mind. However, the Intrepid project I’m working on involved building multiple copies of each aircraft design and I did make instructions for three of the designs using LDraw and LPub. I found it easier than I imagined, but I still much prefer building with real bricks. .

BG: Do you use a separator?
RS: Absolutely. I probably wouldn’t have any fingers left without one!

BG: One of your specialty is building cars, yet you do not have a drivers license. How come? Do you plan to get one someday?
RS: I do intend to get one in the non-too-distant future. Why I haven’t yet is a long story. In the Netherlands you have to 18 to get your license and it is expensive. When I was 18 I was already a student and didn’t have enough money. During my PhD I really didn’t have time. Then I moved to the UK, where people drive on the wrong side of the road from my perspective. I didn’t fancy learning to drive there. I also never really needed a car either. I walk, ride my bicycle (I am Dutch after all) or take trains. I’m far more interested in what cars look like than in driving them. I don’t have a pilot’s license either, by the way.

BG: Thank you for your time, happy building for the future!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mad Physicist Interview

It is a great pleasure to introduce one of my favorite Lego builder today, he was kind enough to answer all my questions. I did the interview for but since I have the original questions and answers I though why not post it herer, so here it comes:

Bricksngears: How can we find you online?
Ralph Savelsberg: I’m known as Mad Physicist on flickr and use the name Ralph_S on a few other sites, such as Eurobricks. I’m mostly active on flickr though.

BG: And how about real life? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up, where do you live, what do you do? Do you have kids, family?
RS: I grew up in the South of the Netherlands and lived in the UK for a bit more than three years. I have a PhD in physics (hence the physicist part of my nickname) and I worked as a researcher at a university. I’m currently back in the Netherlands and work for the Netherlands Defence Academy, where I teach several courses to officer candidates and do research. I’m single.

BG: Do your friends and colleagues know that you are a well-known Lego builder?
RS: I suppose I am well-known LEGO builder, but I am not sure my friends know about that part of it. They do know that I build with LEGO. It would be hard to miss for anybody who has ever visited my apartment! Most of my colleagues don’t know about it. It’s not a big secret (type my name into a search engine, and the LEGO pops up ahead of my research papers!), but it isn’t something that I advertise. I haven’t had this job for very long yet and they are bound to find out about it eventually.

BG: Did you have a lot of Lego as a kid? Any favorites you remember? Did you have a favorite theme?
RS: I’ve been collecting LEGO for as long as I can remember and little else, so I did have quite a lot of LEGO as a child. If you look at what I do nowadays, it might be a surprise, but I had a lot space sets (Futuron, Blacktron I, space Police I). One of my favourite sets was the Stardefender 200 (set #6932). What won’t surprise people who know the sort of thing I build is that my all time favourite set was the Model Team Highway Rig. It’s one of the few sets of which I can actually remember the set number (5580). I remember seeing it in the catalogue in early 1986 and having to wait a few months until the set actually came out.

BG: What did you build as a kid? Did you tweak the sets you had, or did you try completely new things?
RS: Most sets would stay together for less than a week or two, before they’d be turned into something else. I used to build all kinds of things, including a lot of cars and planes, but also things I saw on TV. I used to have a lot of Transformers, for instance. Just about the one thing I didn’t build was minifig scale town.

BG: How did things change as you grew up? Did you stop building at some point to restart later?
RS: I know there are a lot of people who go through a dark age. I didn’t. I never stopped building. When I was in university I didn’t have much time or money, so I didn’t buy LEGO for several years, but even then I’d build now and then in weekends or during vacations.

BG: How did your Lego building style change over time? When did you start building cars and aircraft?
RS: I sometimes get told that my building is ‘old school’. My models trend to have studs showing and I tend to create shapes by using combinations of plates and half studs offsets rather than using fancy curved bits. In that sense my models now aren’t radically different from what I used to do many years ago. I do think I have refined things over the years. Many of my models do have things mounted on their sides or upside-down, for instance, but it’s usually not particularly obvious. I’ve been building cars for as long as I can remember. I started building planes not long after I first saw Top Gun as a teenager.

BG: Do you have a favorite style to build cars? What is your favorite stud width?
RS: I have built a lot of classic American cars, but I try to do something different now and then and lately I’ve been building more European vehicles. I don’t particularly care where a car comes from, as long as I like the shape. I don’t have a favourite width. I like my cars to have approximately the same scale. I settled on 1/22 years ago, set by the size of the wheels I had at the time. So, obviously, small cars can be as narrow as 9 studs. Big American cars often end up 11 wide. With hindsight it’s a bit awkward, because I rarely end up building something that isn’t an odd number of studs wide. For my minifig scale town models the width can be anything from 5 to 7 studs.

BG: You have built many models of army land vehicles and aircraft. Was this a conscious decision to shift towards the military theme, or did it just happen?
RS: This is a funny question in a way. If you would have asked me what sort of stuff I was really into about ten years ago or even five years ago, I would probably have answered that I am mainly a military builder. For a long time cars used to be the sort of thing I built using the colours that were left over from the military building. Obviously many of them were red, blue or yellow. It’s only in the last few years that the cars have become more prominent, in part because there are only so many planes you can build without wanting something different and in part because LEGO has made so many nice colours that are suitable for classic cars. I’ve got a pink Cadillac, for instance, and while this is not a car that I’d ever like to own in real life, I just love having one in LEGO. What also is a factor is that I joined LUGNuts (a LEGO car group on flickr). We’ve got monthly car-building build challenges, which means that I’ve been building at least a car a month since joining more than two years ago. I didn’t build any minifig scale stuff at all until a few years ago. I got back into it through Brickish, the LEGO users group I joined whilst in the UK. Their members do a lot of really neat town stuff and I got involved in that and enjoyed it a great deal.

BG: Where do your inspirations come from? How do you get ideas for new models?
RS: Inspiration comes from all over the place. Many of my minifig scale models were inspired by things I’d see around me when I lived in the UK; the type of vehicles, the style of the buildings. For most of the cars I build I get my inspiration from photo books. I have several on classic (American) cars and fire engines, for instance. I also have lots of books about military subjects. I don’t really know why I decide to build a particular model at any given time, but it is rare for me to build something that I didn’t already find interesting for a while.

BG: On a typical day how much time do you spend building?
RS: I haven’t been building much in the last few months because of work. Most of my building is done in weekends. If I do have the time, I build pretty much all day long.

BG: How does the typical building process look like? Do you plan everything on paper? Or do you prefer trying it out with real bricks?
RS: I plan things, often months in advance. Whenever I start thinking about a new project I try to work out what parts will be difficult and then I try to figure out how to build them. Usually I do this in my imagination, but sometimes on paper as well. I normally also make a drawing of the general arrangement and overall shape or I find a three-view drawing on-line and work out the size of various bits from that. .

To be continued next week. From the next part you will learn why Ralph has no drivers license, has he ever built from Mega Bloks and whether he uses a separator.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lead Sled

The Lead Sled got as ready as it could ever be (ok, I did not realize the missing piece on the front bumper when I took the photos). There is a longer story in Hungarian on And there are new photos too.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Technicopedia: 1995

The awesomest site on the internet is Technicopedia. So far it contained models only between 1977-1994, but now it got a whole new year 1995:

Some of the finest:
There is also a new section named Technic Fundamentals that contains excellent animations about gears, differentials, adjustable rotors and similar stuff.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Review: 854 Go-kart

When I read RÁJEN's blog post (in Hungarian) about his 854 Technic gokart I became nostalgic. Just like him it was my first ever Technic set and unlike I him I still have the majority of the parts. So I have decided to put it together.

I. Data sheet

Neve: Go-kart
Number: 854, also known as 948 (they are the same set)
Theme: originally Expert Builder, later Technic
Year: 1978
Number of pieces: 206
Price: about 20 USD originally, now about the same on Bricklink
B-Models: Tire balancer, Trike

II. History

When the Expert Builder series was started in 1977 it introduced four new sets that were joined by two others in 1978. The top of the range was the 853 Big Car and the smaller set (by number of bricks) was this gokart - this was the entry set of Technic. I got mine approximately in 1985 from my parents, they have bought it in Turkey as getting Legos in the Eastern Block was somewhat difficult.

I think I did not put it together in the last 15 years or so. When I built it I tried to use the oldest parts available (especially with blue bricks the shade difference is obvious). I did not use the Technic connectors though as almost all of them broke or cracked during playing with them, and the same happened with the universal joint. To my surprise I managed to buy brand new connectors during one of my Legoland tours, now I have used those.

III. Instructions

I was not a particularly caring kid when dealing with Legos. It is a smaller miracle that I still have the original instructions. When I found it I was a bit surprised to see that it has a crane on its cover that I have not seen since as a set. The actual building instructions for the gokart start around the middle, the rest has generic tips and some unrelated building guides. My theory is that the Lego company emphasized that from Technic sets one can build anything.

IV. What is in the box?

Classic Technic parts from the same era as the 853, but here blue is the dominant color. There are two Technic bricks of length 16, some of size 8, 4 and 2. There are many plates, amongst them 6 rotating plates for the steering. There are also some black parts (seat, engine) as well as some yellow and white ones. There is three 24-tooth gear and two 8-tooth. The axles are kept in position by classic bushes and connectors, it also has a universal joint. There is a sticker and two flexible tubes that are in surprisingly good condition considering they are 25 years old. Oh, and there is the steering wheel.

V. Functions

As this is an entry-level set the list of functions is not very long. Steering works as one could expect and in the back we find a single-cylinder piston engine that is connected to the left rear wheel. The designers probably thought that connecting it to both wheels would cause too much tension for the gears - I also agree that this seems more durable than the joint on the 853.

VI. Design

The design is not overemphasized, functions are more important. Despite this it looks pretty gokart-like. It has a number plate (that looks quite ok even without the sticker) and two tubes connected to the engine. It also has a seat that can be tilted a bit.

One minor nit is that real gokarts tend to have the engine on the side rather than in the back, just like on the later 8842 gokart.

VII. Score

As a final score it gets 9/10, probably heavily influenced by personal memories. I think this was a really good starter set in its era and contains largely generic parts that can be used to build almost anything. When comparing it to the 2010 entry model Telehandler the gokart is quite a bit larger. It also contains almost twice as many parts (its price tag is also steeper). To summarize, a good starter set with universally usable parts.

See also:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Review: 8045 Mini Telehandler

A Lego maniac like me cannot go on without getting random Lego sets from time to time, even if he buys enough stuff for himself :) I got this set as an anniversary surprise from my spouse, I was very happy.
I. Data sheet

Name: Mini Telehandler
Number: 8045
Theme: Technic
Year: 2010
Number of pieces: 117
Price: EUR 9.99 (Germany), USD 10.99

B-Model: Motorcycle

II. What is in the box?

This is a truly modern Technic set. We can hardly find any real bricks - only the lights and the pallet has some of those. The rest is made of beams, joints, axles and other similar pieces. Fortunately there are not many special pieces, it seems to be a good starter set for free building. The wheels are not typical Technic wheels, they rotate on axles so they cannot be used as driven wheels.

III. Functions

It is a small set having few pieces, so it concentrates on one main function: by rotating the knob at the back we can lower or rise the forks. It includes a pallet too, so there is no need to buy other sets to start playing. Raising the fork is easy but lowering it is not quite smooth. Because of the tension in the mechanism it starts to make small jumps, the pallet falls down quite easily.

The B-Model does not have any functions at all: we can build a motorcycle. At least it has a spare wheel that we can use to exchange the wheel on the sidecar.

IV. Design

Even though it has relatively few parts, it is obvious that the designer spent more time on the looks than on the functions. The loader has lights at the front and the back, even on the top. On the two sides of the chassis we find two boxes that have an aesthetic role only. On the right there is the engine compartment and on the left we find the driver's cabin. It is not large enough to hold a minifig but even so it is quite detailed - you can clearly see the seat.

V. Score

This is a perfect starter set for 7 year old boys. Assembling it is pretty quick, I could do it in less than an hour even though my daughters "helped" me. The function is simple but is entertaining. The parts are generic enough to build other things, although I have not tried that.

As a final score it gets 8/10. It has many nice aspects but it gets a small penalty because using this many parts it could have a bit more functionality. For example the 8259 Mini Bulldozer has not just an adjustable dozer-blade but also realistic treads.

See also:

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Breaking news

I finally got it! I have the 8860, the last missing Big Car. So far only online but soon in real life too. It is 66CHF (47 EUR, 57 USD) even though it has a box too.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Technic motorized excavator

By now a lot of details are available about the new sets for the second half of the year. We will have a new motorbike (8051), a container truck (8052), a new crane (8053), but the biggest thing of the year will be certainly the motorized excavator (8043) ígérkezik.

Recently the French site published a detailed review (Google Translate is our friend). But even without any French knowledge one can figure out what Lés photos" and "La video" means.

There are four motors, all of them in the superstructure.

The motors drive the functions through a gearbox-like transmission in six different ways: the whole excavator can move forward and backward, steer left or right, the superstructure can be rotated and the arm can be moved in three different ways.

It is interesting how the motors located in the superstructure can drive the threads. Like this:

The gear at the bottom is familiar from 8880 - it rotates around the axle.

You should certainly look at the photos ("Les photos"), they even have a couple of shots showing the list of all parts.

Finally, a video:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Keep it in good condition

Over the weekend I have visited the German Legoland with my family. Their brick store was as good as usual (I think it is the second best after Bricklink). 100 grams cost 8 Euros and they have many special parts too.

Since a good owner cares about his vehicles I used the opportunity to get some new parts for the set that deserves it most. I have already replaced many parts on my 8422 racing bike but the yellowish wheels were still original.

Fortunately the Lego brick store had just the part I needed so it looks as good as new now:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More steam!

If you cannot decide between model railroads and Lego, then you are in a lucky situation. Why? Because you can do both. Lego bricks can be used to build almost anything - including locomotives. (And since the fall of the GDR it may be cheaper, too.)

Reinhard Beneke has come to the same conclusion and started building the most famous locomotives of Germany. Baureihe 23 is only one of the many great locomotives he has built. But this one is very special because one of his fans has created full building instructions.

If you read the 67 pages you will find out how the driver's position looks from the inside and also how the wheels turn.

This is the full documentation:
The full instructions can be downloaded from the download page of Railbricks (11.5M).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Universe mode in Lego Digital Designer

There are many people out there who build from virtual bricks. The feeling is different but it has some pros: you never run out of bricks and spend less time searching for that brick too.

If you would like to design your model on a computer you can choose from several programs. Nevertheless, the alpha and omega is Lego Digital Designer (LDD), the official free designer tootl from the Lego Group. It has many advantages but its biggest limitation was that the available bricks and colors were very limited. Not any more.

Many LDD fans were already suspicious that LDD knows many more bricks and colors than available in one of the DesignByMe, Mindstorsm or Creator modes. Now with Lego's blessings the activation instructions has been published.

The new mode is called Universe Mode. The image below shows the bricks available before and after. The new mode does not show separate colors because there are so many bricks:

Detailed instructions are available here. It disallows me explicitly to include it here but it's all very easy, just a one line change in a config file. (Source: Eurobricks.)

Technic fans have started building immediately - this is an offroad car from parts never seen before in LDD:

| Image: zblj | album | Source: TechnicBRICKs |

Creations built in Universe mode cannot be ordered in the online shop of Lego but I hope that is not an issue for anyone. One excuse less why not start building right away!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Off road

Nice weather is coming, builders feel inspired to build something for outside - it is tempting to build new truck trial vehicles.

The first truck for today is the "TT10" from Nagy Abonyi Attila. He took a Kraz 255 as sample for his newest creation. It got so famous that even TechnicBRICKs has covered it. It uses 3 XL motors as well as working suspension and military camouflage. More images in the Brickshelf gallery of Attila and this video:

The second creation comes from Sariel who has built a double cab all wheel-drive Tatra T815 with one medium and two XL motors. As usual he has included a detailed description.

As the image shows there is a big emphasis to make the suspension like the original. More images on Brickshelf.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

USS Intrepid aircraft carrier

Lego Monster is not an average man. Of course there are others playing Lego, but he prefers scale like no one else. Judging from the dates of the photos he started before last Christmas that he builds an aircraft carrier. At scale, of course - as dictated by the size of a minifig. He already had reference material so we had little doubt that he means what he says. This is his previous project, HMS Hood:

His current project is the USS Intrepid (CV-11) aircraft carrier. She served in the United States Navy during World War II in the Pacific theater. The master started with the hull:

He spared no time to get the details right, like the air defense:

Elevator for the aircraft:

Look at this boat:

Slowly it all started to come together. As one can see, size does matter:

The crew is starting to assemble:

An aircraft carrier needs aircraft too. I could not imagine anyone better suited to the task than our old friend Mad Phyisicist. A TBF Avenger and an F4U Corsair are ready for their first mission:

Meanwhile the engineer is working on the island:

The whole project did not reach 100% yet but as I see it it does not need much more. Of course we will report when it is ready. Meanwhile take a look at the gallery of the project and stay tuned for more news bits on twitteren.