A few months ago I was approached by a fellow builder, the very talented Grant Davis, to help flesh out an idea he had for LEGO Ideas – a fully functional LEGO pop-up book. Of course, I was already familiar with Grant’s work, and was really impressed with his original pop-up book when he posted it on YouTube a couple of years ago, so I jumped at the opportunity to help him with this project.
We finally put the finishing touches on it a few days ago and it is now live on the LEGO Ideas website, so if you’d like to see it potentially become an official set, be sure to head on over there and add your support: https://ideas.lego.com/projects/151695
You can see the book in action in this showcase video we put together.
The book features a simple and reliable mechanism, built around a couple of constrained Technic axles, to raise and lower the main pop-out scene. We also added a clasp to the keep it closed, so everything remains securely inside when you are handling it.
The aspect of this project that I am most excited about is that you can completely customize the interior scene to tell any story you can imagine. I think it really expands on the core values that already exist within the LEGO system, especially exercising your creativity and imagination.
I designed a couple of interiors for the book, including a cottage and castle, which could serve as the backdrop for many popular fairy tale stories. I also have a few more in the works, which I’ll be posting over the coming weeks with some other updates to the project. Stay tuned!
Towards the end of last year, with the release of The Force Awakens on the horizon, I started conceptualizing what a LEGO BB8 droid might look like. That project hasn’t gone very far yet, but in the process of prototyping I also started working on this (much simpler) monowheel model. You can see it in action and how it works in the video, but there are some more notes and photos below as well for those interested.
The core engine of the model is designed using a counterweight system, with one Power Functions M-motor used to propel the wheel and another one for steering. The steering motor slides the counterweight from side to side inside the wheel to tilt it, which causes it to turn. The propulsion motor just rotates the wheel around the engine core.
There are some issues with the steering system, most notably there is no means of self-centering using the M-motor, which means bringing the counterweight back to center is hard to do reliably. I tried to use a Server motor in some early prototypes, but there just wasn’t enough space inside to fit it. I do have some ideas for improvements though, so hopefully I can refine it in the future.
The wheel also has a tendency to fall over due to the erratic steering. I think that’s just a matter if increasing the size of the lip that runs around the edge of the wheel track, but I’ll experiment with some other solutions as well.
The track is built using flexible tubes (also called rigid hoses), wrapped around the sidewall discs. Each tread of the track is created using a couple of curved slopes, and slide onto the flexible tubes through some Technic bricks with Axle Holes.
Despite the performance issues, it is still pretty fun to play with, and if I iron out some of the problems I’ll put together instructions for a future version.
This is a simple Spirograph style LEGO drawing machine, loosely based off an old drawing toy from the 1950’s called the Hoot Nanny or Magic Designer. It can create many different patterns by changing the configuration of the model. You can also draw multiple patterns on the same piece of paper to create even more complex designs. Check out the video to see how it works. You can also find building instructions, along with some construction notes, below.
For best results you’ll want to use a pen or marker that glides very easily over paper and can deposit ink with very little pressure. I’m using a Uni-ball vision fine point pen. A regular ball point pen doesn’t seem to work unless maybe you strap some weight to it. A pencil will also work.
If you’d like to reproduce the patterns shown in the video, you can see how the machine is configured in the following pictures. Be sure to duplicate all of the connection points of the armature and also note where the fixed anchor is located.
As I mention in the video, the central gears will result in the pattern repeating 27 times in one rotation of the paper. You can customize this ratio by replacing any pair of meshed gears. For example, instead of using one 8 tooth and one 24 tooth gear, you can use two 16 tooth gears, or one 12 tooth and one 20 tooth gear.
It’s been almost 2 weeks since we moved into our new house, and we finally finished setting up the LEGO room! Here’s a time lapse video of us setting it up.
There is still a bit to do, like adding another light above the main build table, bringing in some more shelving, and putting some decorations on the walls, but at least most of the LEGO is set up! It will be nice to have somewhere to build again.
The room is over 20′ by 14′, and I’m sure was originally intended as some sort of rec room or home theater. It will be so great to have so much space to build in. We also put together a new build table, which has a 4′ by 8′ surface and adjustable legs. I think we’ll try it out configured as a stand up desk for now, since we’re mostly on our feet anyway while building (constantly going to get parts).
My old main build table, which seems woefully small now, will now serve as a dedicated video table, though I can see it quickly being covered in partially completed LEGO models. 🙂
It’s time to say goodbye to what has been my LEGO room/office for the last 17 years.
Kristal and I just moved into a new house, and we’re really excited about it for a lot of reasons. Not the least of which is that there is a lot more space. Our old place had one room (13 feet by 14 feet) which served as both the LEGO room and office. The new place will have a dedicated room for the office and an absolutely enormous room for the LEGO (14 feet by 20 feet)! More info on the new room will be forthcoming, but I thought I would take the opportunity of my last night in our old house to do a room tour.
Not all of our LEGO is actually in the room in the video. We had already taken some boxed up models, overflow bins and unopened sets out to prepare for the move. It was actually a lot more crowded in there than what you see, which is why I won’t really be missing it.
I’m really looking forward to setting up the new room. Stay tuned!
This is Kristal’s latest model, a kinetic sculpture of a human head that opens up to reveal the inner workings of the mind. This is the second model in a series that she started a year an a half ago with ‘The Artist‘. Each head in the series opens up in a different way to depict a different aspect of the human mind.
All of the complex mechanics, as well as the light, are powered through the single crank on the side of the model. The electricity for the light is generated by using a LEGO motor as a generator connected to the crank. There is quite a bit going on in this model, through a series of 29 gears and 4 gear racks, to achieve all of the behavior. I try my best to explain how it all works in the video.
It’s been two weeks since the Maze set was released, and some amazing custom mazes have been popping up in various places. I thought I’d highlight just a few that I really liked. I’m really excited to see people embracing the customization aspect of the set, as this was one of the core components of my original idea, and I can’t wait to see what else people come up with!
Benny’s Maze Maze MAZE!
Just today, /u/Marcus_Aurelius2 posted this awesome Benny/Classic Space themed maze over on reddit. I love the use of flexible hoses for part of the track, the elevation changes and the extension of the theme to the frame itself.
John Stephens create this wonderful factory themed maze. The factory/industrial aesthetic is bang on, with some great usage of stickers and printed pieces. Some great elevation changes on this one too, and I especially love the micro scaled equipment. He even posted a YouTube video of it in action.
Star Wars Maze
I’ve seen a couple of Star Wars themed mazes, but this one by Flickr user chun-wei Cheng is particularly nice. It features a tonne of great decorative elements, including a micro scaled AT-AT, X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Death Star, Sail Barge and Sarlac Pit. There are just so many great details to look at!
Instagram user brick_rhodes created this nicely detailed golf themed maze. It features a pretty interesting game mechanic. The ball starts in a shallow depression, and you have to tilt the maze quickly to get the ball out and take a ‘shot’, just like teeing off at a real golf course. You can see it in action in the video he posted.
This maze, by /u/Yifkong, is particularly interesting in that is has a couple of cars that roll back and forth, and you can use them to transport the ball. A really interesting game mechanic that I am looking forward to trying out myself at some point.
The day has finally arrived! My LEGO Ideas Maze (21305) is now available from LEGO brand stores and Toys R Us. You can find more information about the set, with links to my previous posts and instructions for building additional mazes, over on the Maze page. For anyone in the Toronto area I’ll also be at the Yorkdale LEGO store on Saturday, April 9th, from 11am to 3pm if you want to come and hang out and have me sign your set.
The best part about this set for me is being able to design my own mazes, and lately I’ve been experimenting with other parts in my collection to see what is possible for designing cool obstacles. Kristal suggested I build a mini golf based maze, which I thought was a great idea. Mini golf courses are known for having interesting obstacles that you have to get around, and we had fun coming up some some that would be suitable for a maze. You can see the results in the video, or read more about it below.
One thing in particular I wanted to experiment with was building dynamic obstacles, and this maze features a swinging block and rolling gate that move as you tilt the maze. I also integrated one of the old 9V micro motors into a windmill to get it to rotate. I think dynamic elements like these can really add some interest to mazes. I really like the windmill and rolling gate, but the swinging block might need some work. It’s a bit too unpredictable right now, and sometimes it takes forever to get the ball through it.
I also tried using curved bricks for walls and curved slopes to add a bridge and some bumps to roll around. I really liked both of these ideas. The bridge is quite interesting, as it requires you to gain some momentum to get the ball to roll over it, and I think the curved walls can be used to make some really interesting maze designs.
I’m sure there are a lot of other cool LEGO parts out there that can be used to make some interesting mazes. I’m really looking forward to seeing what other people come up with!
In my previousposts about the LEGO Maze (set 21305), I talked about the imbalance in the tilting mechanism, and mentioned I would be putting together a tutorial on how to modify the official set to extend and balance the tilting capabilities.
Just to be clear, this will not make it any easier to solve the mazes, and is not necessary to enjoy the full awesomeness of the set. I’ve been playing with the unmodified set for the last few weeks, and I haven’t felt the need to modify my own copy yet. That being said, making this modification might expand the range of obstacles that you will be able to build. Does anyone want to try building ramps? It also might make it feel a little less constrained if you have an aggressive play style, especially when tilting the inner frame to the left.
The modification involves raising the tilting frames, so there is more room for them to tilt in each direction, and requires no additional pieces. You just need to move a few pieces around. It’s definitely easier to show you than to explain in writing, so follow along with the video if you are interested in trying it out.
One note, this modification will disable the locking feature, since there is now a bigger gap between the tilt frames and the base, so a few extra bricks and plates will be handy if you want to re-enable that feature. The modification raises the tilt frames by the width of a one stud brick, which, if you know your LEGO dimensions, is 2 and half plates. In the video I show you one option for re-enabling the lock feature, which is to split the difference and increase the height of the locking block by 3 plates (1 brick) and the height of the ball container by 2 plates. If you are ambitious you can increase the height of each by 2 and half plates by using some fancy building techniques with bricks with studs on their sides.
The picture below shows the unmodified set on top and the modified set on the bottom, which might give you a better idea of what this change will do.
When I first found out my marble maze would become an official set, after all my excitement had died down, I really started to wonder what changes would be made to it.
The model was quite large, larger than any of the previous Ideas sets. Would they need to reduce the part count? Would they make significant changes to the overall design? What changes would be required for the model to meet The LEGO Group’s design guidelines (a glimpse of which can be seen in this document created by designer Jamie Berard)?
I put together a video discussing some of the major changes that were made to my original model, and you can read more about them below as well.
I knew my original model had some shortcomings, especially with respect to strength. In particular, many high stress areas were only attached using stud connections, which would work themselves loose over time and eventually fall apart. Definitely not official LEGO set material.
The official set was designed by veteran designer Steen Sig Andersen, so I should have realized I had nothing to worry about. I was excited, impressed, and a little relieved, when I first saw the final design. The overall look and feel were retained, the tilting mechanism and control system were pretty much identical to those in my original model, and Steen had reinforced all of the major weak points of the model. Awesome!
Of course, it was inevitable that some changes were made. The ball container and travel locking mechanism, for example, were simplified and streamlined. I was really impressed with Steen’s solution for these features, and I thought the way the ball container was incorporated into the locking mechanism was ingenious. My original travel lock also had a tendency to detach itself, which didn’t actually make it very effective.
The mazes were also simplified. Gone were my fancy walls on the standard maze, built using Technic beams on their sides, which, if you delve into Jamie’s document above, you will find are all ‘illegal’ connections. By using standard bricks for all the walls, it also means it is a lot easier to share parts between maze designs.
My original mazes were also one plate thicker, with deeper holes to fall into, but they were also more part intensive and harder to build as a result. The official mazes are simpler, easier to build and much lighter, which results in the control system being much more responsive.
There are a lot of other smaller differences as well. The control wheels are gears, as opposed to the rubber tires in my original model. Most of the buildings in the medieval maze are simplified versions of my originals, and that maze itself is slightly different. The support platform that the maze rests on in the inner tray also runs along the entire interior, making it much stronger.
There were some concessions made as a result of these changes. The shallower holes in the mazes means that in some cases you can get the ball rolling fast enough to roll right through a hole. Some of the structural changes also resulted in the tilt frames being one brick lower, which is the main reason for the uneven tilting I mentioned in my previous post.
I am really pleased with how faithful the official set is to my original model, and quite impressed with most of the changes. I actually prefer to play on the official set now, which I guess really says all that needs to be said. A huge thanks to Steen for turning my original concept into such a great model!