In my recent article Useful Building Techniques, we talked about some general tips and tricks that can be handy when you are designing your own LEGO creations. But this time I will be more specific and show you some actual building techniques that I use when I design minifig scale supercars. I think that designing a really nice looking car in this scale needs a lot of practice and tries. But you can learn a lot by doing a few of your own cars in this scale. I will use my two latest supercar builds – the Lamborghini Veneno and the Bugatti Veyron as examples to demonstrate a few things that can help you build a great minifig scale LEGO supercar. So let’s get started!
First of all, I should explain some basic terminology and geometry that is commonly used by LEGO builders for those of you who are just starting out. If you are a master builder feel free to skip to the next article Designing a Supercar II. – Starting a New Design. And if you want to learn more and get really technical about this topic I recommend you to download this very useful and comprehensive free pdf guide by Jon Craton.
SNOT is an acronym standing for “Studs Not On the Top” building technique. I didn’t even know that this technique had a name. I tend to build in all directions since my very first MOC and I can’t imagine building something great without it. SNOT basically means building in all other directions than just vertically stacking bricks on each other. This is an essential technique especially when building cars and is widely used in today’s official sets and MOCs. LEGO also introduced very useful parts like brackets and special bricks with studs on the side. But I frankly don’t know why there’s still no plate with studs on both sides. Even though many clone brands use it. This would be probably one of the most useful parts ever together with nonexisting 1×5 and 1×7 plates.
Offsetting means moving any part half a stud or less to the side or less than one plate in height. The basic LEGO units are, of course, one stud width (hence 6-wide, 7-wide etc.) and one plate height. But as you probably already know the geometry of LEGO parts is way more complex than this and allow us to offset parts in even smaller increments. For measuring this, there is a special unit called LDU (LDraw unit which is named after a popular CAD program used for digital LEGO building). It measures 0.4 mm. When you start counting in LDU the LEGO geometry suddenly starts to make sense and reveals an unbelievable complexity. That’s exactly the reason why LEGO is such an amazing medium. Here are some basic measurements for example:
- one plate hight = 8 LDU
- two studs width = 5 plate height = 40 LDU
Very detailed schemes can be found here.
AZMEP is a German acronym (aus zwei mach eins Plättchen) for half stud offset. This technique also has some dedicated parts and is probably the most common offset you will often need to do when building cars or just anything else.
Illegal Building Technique
Illegal building technique won’t get you to jail but it stands for a technique that is possible but official LEGO sets don’t use it. The reason for this is that it stresses the parts somehow and forces them to connect in a way they weren’t originally intended to. Or the connection is possible but very weak. Probably the best example would be just sticking a plate between two studs. This technique was used in some old official sets but nowadays it’s considered more or less illegal. I usually try to avoid any illegal techniques because I don’t like to stress my parts in any way and also because there are so many legal techniques that there is no need for this at all. Probably the only illegal technique that I commonly use is the way I combine wheels as I will show you later.
Purism is a very delicate topic. A purist usually uses only pure or stock LEGO elements and refuse to mix it with some custom elements like 3D prints, stickers, clone brands or 3rd party products. The reason for this is often just his/her loyalty to the brand. I consider myself also being a purist but mainly for one reason: I do tutorials that should be very easy to follow for anybody and they also should have the same bricks available. So no custom stuff or stickers for me. I also find joy in discovering techniques how to build everything from bricks on my cars even stripes and small details. This can be quite challenging sometimes but very rewarding at the same time.
Minifig scale is very important for me but maybe not so much for other builders. It just means that if you build a car and put it next to a minifig, it should be roughly the same size as a real car would be next to a real person. But this is very hard to achieve with 6-wide cars so it’s always only an estimation. I just like to build my cars as close to minifig scale as possible and still be able to fit one minifig inside.
One last important thing that can be not so obvious to new LEGO builders is, that each part has its own unique catalog number which is usually directly molded into that part. Just look at some parts carefully and you will see it. It’s tiny, but it’s there. I use Rebrickable.com to create parts lists for my MOCs and I strongly recommend you to do this too. As a designer, you don’t need to know the numbers, but you should definitely know how each and every part is named so you can talk to other designers in one common language. Rebrickable can help you with this a lot.
To be honest I do all of these things almost naturally without thinking too much about them. I don’t count in LDU units I just remember the combinations that are possible. But if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel you can use all of these guidelines to your advantage. There’s also a Flickr group dedicated to discovering new building techniques and I can ensure you that there are surely lots of them that we haven’t discovered yet.
Now you know all the necessary basics, so let’s move to the main part: Starting a New Design.