DIY Lego Wedding Centerpieces

Lego Sphere Factory

This weekend was spent at RevolvingDork’s parents’ house, which they kindly let us turn into a Lego sculpture factory.

Basement Spheres

We had a total of 12 people over on Saturday attempting to make 15 Lego spheres. Each sphere is about 25cm (10ish inches) in diameter. They follow a pattern I created using Blender and the techniques/scripts described here and here.

We used a lot of Legos. Approximately 22,000. Most of them were sourced from BrickLink, though we did buy a few sets new from Toys R Us. When build day came we realized we didn’t have enough, so RD made a last-minute trip to the Lego store. He was able to talk the staff into letting him buy a few boxes in bulk.


In order to make the build process easier, we laser-cut jigs out of foam core for each of the 27 layers. The jigs served as templates for each layer, avoiding the frustrating and time consuming counting I had been doing when building them earlier. We didn’t use a script to output the vector cut paths, RD just traced them by hand in Illustrator.

Building with a jig

To put it plainly: assembling these is hard. There are lots of overhangs and ragged edges where you really need a 1×1, but of course those aren’t very structurally stable. The first few layers are definitely the hardest, and there are a number of tips and tricks we figured out along the way to make things easier. And by easier I mean possible.

The spheres were built mostly hollow, though thicker at the top and bottom for structural support. A few folks incorporated a center column to make placing the top easier. Personally I found it easier to start thickening the walls around the top 1/3rd and using long 2×8 pieces to mesh in the top.

John decided to get fancy with his; rather than a simple mottled pattern he made an artistic swirl.

John and Sphere;

After 12 hours of work on Saturday we had 6 complete spheres and a number of half-finished ones. On Sunday RD, myself, and my soon-to-be mother-in-law finished up the leftovers, for a total of 13 spheres completed this weekend. I’m pretty impressed, and honored to have the sort of friends who would give up their Saturday to assemble these ridiculous sculptures.

These were used as the centerpieces in our wedding, and the ones that survived the evening intact were given to family and friends (with first dibs going to those who made them).

DIY Lego Wedding Centerpieces

Crafting, lased, LEGO

Meta Lego Storage

In need of a way to organize and store my Lego obsession, I made a bunch of acrylic boxes which not only hold Legos, but also stack and interlock similarly:

Each brick box holds 64+ of the same-shape piece. So the 1×1 box will hold 64 1×1 bricks, and the 2×2 holds 64 2×2 bricks. The larger ones hold a few more due to how the sizing works out. The 1×1 box is 40mm per side (external dimensions).

I posted the patterns on Thingiverse should anyone wish to make their own. No,  I’m not going to make and sell them. They’re time consuming to make, and plus I’m pretty sure Lego would sue me. If you don’t have access to a laser cutter, I’d suggest using a service like Ponoko.

The patterns were generated in OpenSCAD using the following code. Change “rows” and “cols” to get the lego size you desire. By the way, I’m teaching a class on OpenSCAD in Brooklyn next weekend!

fundamental_unit = 0.8;
thickness =3;
h_pitch = 10;
v_pitch = 12;
tform = 5;
knob = fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform;
module side(rows){
	lwidth = rows*fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform;
	lheight = v_pitch*fundamental_unit*tform;
	difference() {

		square(size=[lwidth, lheight]);
		translate(v=[10,0,0]) square(size=[lwidth-20,thickness]);
		translate(v=[10,lheight-thickness,0]) square(size=[lwidth-20,thickness]);
		square(size=[thickness, 10]);
		translate(v=[0,lheight-10]) square(size=[thickness, 10]);
	translate(v=[lwidth-thickness,10]) square(size=[thickness, lheight-20]);
module top(rows,cols,holes){
	lwidth = rows*fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform;
	llength = cols*fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform;
		translate(v=[lwidth,0,0]) square(size=[-thickness,10]);
		translate(v=[lwidth,0,0]) square(size=[-10,thickness]);
		translate(v=[lwidth,llength]) square(size=[-10,-thickness]);
		translate(v=[lwidth,llength]) square(size=[-thickness,-10]);
		translate(v=[0,llength]) square(size=[10,-thickness]);
		translate(v=[0,llength]) square(size=[thickness,-10]);
			for (i = [1:cols]){
				for (j=[1:rows]){
				translate(v=[j*knob-knob/2,i*knob-(fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform)/2,0]) circle(r=fundamental_unit*6*tform/2);

rows = 2;
cols = 4;

h_spacing =  rows*fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform+10;
l_spacing =  cols*fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform+10;
v_spacing = fundamental_unit*v_pitch*tform+10;

translate(v=[ rows*fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform+10,0,0]) side(rows);
translate(v=[0,v_spacing]) side(cols);
translate(v=[ cols*fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform+10,v_spacing]) side(cols);
translate(v=[0,2*v_spacing]) top(rows,cols,true);
translate(v=[ rows*fundamental_unit*h_pitch*tform+10,2*v_spacing]) top(rows,cols,false);

In the next batch I’m going to make the nubs a little smaller than the holes. They work now, but it’s a bit fiddly getting everything to line up just so. A little more forgiveness would be nice. Also, OpenSCAD does strange things with circles. Rather than simply write a circle in the DXF, it represents it as a bunch of line segments. I’m not sure if there’s a way around this, but it’s marginally irritating.

You can download a .dxf for a few different box sizes on Thingiverse.
I’ve also created a Flickr Collection for my various Lego stuff.

Meta Lego


More Legos From 3D Meshes

Mushroom Thingy

I’ve been doing more Lego building from models. This time I made sort of an abstract mushroom tree forest thing. More photos are available on Flickr.

Here’s the original model (left) and the resulting cubeified model after running it through AddCells (right):

I realized of course that with everything grey, it was very difficult to determine which bricks of which color were needed where. So I un-joined the primitives in the original model and ran AddCells on each one individually. I used different colored “cell” blocks for each one, and the resulting models kept the color:

Each peice needed to be moved a little bit so that all the blocks lined up, but other than that it worked pretty well.

Because each piece is separate, I couldn’t use the hide tool to “slice” each layer. But I did find out something interesting: each “cube” in the new models is actually a vertex. I honestly don’t understand a ton about how that’s pulled off, but basically instead of being a point on a line, each vertex represents another object, the source cube.

In order to slice up the model, I wrote a script to delete all but a given layer, with layer 1 being the bottom layer, up to however many layers of cubes are in the model.


import Blender, BPyMessages, BPyMesh
from Blender import Scene, Mesh, NMesh, Window, sys, Group, Object, Draw
from Blender.Mathutils import \
	Matrix, Vector, ProjectVecs, AngleBetweenVecs, TranslationMatrix

def trimToLayer(selected,layerNumber, blockHeight,offset):
        toDelete= []

        mesh = selected.getData(mesh=1)
        tmesh = NMesh.GetRawFromObject(
        #Delete verticies above the current layer
        for v in tmesh.verts:
            if[2] > blockHeight*layer:
        if layerNumber > 1:
                #Delete verticies below the current layer
                for v in tmesh.verts:
                    if[2] < blockHeight*layer-1:
        toDelete = list(set(toDelete))


if __name__ == "__main__":
    selection = Object.GetSelected();

    layer = Draw.PupIntInput("Layer",1,0,100)
    Blender.SaveUndoState('Kill Everything')  
    print "\nTrimming First Layer"
    for s in selection:
	bbox = s.getBoundBox(1)
	print bbox[0][2]


There are a couple problems with the script: primarily, I couldn’t find a way to get the software to save a screenshot (ctrl+F3 normally). Because of this, I couldn’t loop through the whole thing at once, I had to go through one layer at a time, running the script, hitting ctrl+f3, saving the image, lather rinse repeat. It was tedious, though not as tedious as manually cutting up each layer. But almost.

The resulting MRI-like were used to build the model. The exact placement of which bricks and where is left as an excercise to the reader. A few layers (from the bottom, middle, and towards the top) are shown below.

This is my first attempt at a Blender script, and admittedly one of my first times using blender, so any feedback on how to streamline this process would be appreciated.


From Polygons to Voxels to LEGO: A Utah Teapot

It was only after hours of searching that I finally came up with what I was looking for: a way to take a polygon mesh (OBJ or similar) and convert it into a blueprint for building LEGO sculptures.

Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of tools out there for LEGO CAD. But strangely none of them mention being able to go from a mesh to a LEGO layout. It’s surprising, since it seems like such a natural fit. The rise of 3D printers has rejuvinated interest in voxels, voulmetric pixels, and as evidenced by all the LEGO sculpture artists we seem to be in a golden age of LEGO.

Armed with Blender and a giant LEGO collection, I set out to get the computer to do the hard work for me. I used Blender, graph paper, a pencil, and of course lots of LEGOs.

Step 1: Voxelizing a Utah teapot

Let me preface this by saying that the Blender UI is not for the faint of heart. I took classes on Rhino and 3DSMax in college, and thought to myself “how different could it be?” The answer: very. If you’re new to blender, don’t fear the manual. You’re going to need it, particularly the parts on installing/using python scripts.

To voxelize the teapot I used a script called Add Cells which covers the surface of any object with any other object. First I imported the teapot, and scaled it up a bit. Then I created my “fundamental unit” of LEGO. LEGOs have an aspect ratio of 6:5, so I created a 1×1 LEGO, a 0.6×0.5×0.5 rectangular prism in Blender.

Selecting both the teapot and my 1×1 lego I ran the Add Cells script (go to the Scripts menu –> Add -> Cells). I chose the Teapot for my object to be voxelized and the 1×1 LEGO as my voxel model.

Tada! A blocky teapot!

Step 2: Graphing each layer on paper

In order to make the build process easier, I went through layer by layer and drew a map of each layer on graph paper. This way when building with LEGOs I could shade in with a pencil each voxel I’d built. It sounds redundant, but when things all start looking the same after a few minutes and something isn’t lining up, it’s very helpful.

To see one layer at a time in Blender I went into Sculpture Mode, side view, and used ctrl+shift+right mouse to select and hide all but the layer I wanted to see. Then I switched to Top view and copied the layer onto my graph paper. By the end I had a sheet of paper full of wobbly circular outlines.

Step 3: Building it with LEGOs!

The completed model uses 244 LEGOs, many of which are tiny 1×1 and 1×2 bricks. The model is hollow, but the walls need to be fairly thick to be able to support the top. As it is I probably should have made things a little thicker; putting the last two layers on was a delicate operation.

I built each layer sequentially. There were a few overhang pieces near the bottom which I had to append to the layer above them, since they couldn’t anchor to anything below.

Overall the project took about 4 hours, with a break in the middle for breakfast, church, etc.

Total LEGO count for the project was 244 individual bricks, distributed thusly:

  • 44 2×3 Bricks
  • 46 2×2 Bricks
  • 58 2×4 Bricks
  • 27 1×2 Bricks
  • 17 1×3 Bricks
  • 8 1×4 Bricks
  • 8 2×2 L shaped Bricks
  • 33 1×1 Bricks
  • 1 2×8 Brick
  • 1 2×6 Brick
  • 1 1×8 Brick

My First Lego Ovoids

My first lego ovoids

After ordering a few hundred bricks from bricklink, I started working on what is for now a top secret project.

Step one was to practice making spherical and organic LEGO shapes, and I’m pretty happy with the two sphereoids I came up with while catching up on House. PS, Dr House is a huge jerk.


And another note on LEGO

Another thing that bugged me about the LEGO store…

One of the employees was enthusiastically telling us all about LEGO (as employees ought to), and showed us a magazine dedicated to “Adult fans of LEGO” or AFOL.”

He then went on to explain that within AFOL is a subgroup, AFFOL or “Adult Female Fans of LEGO,” a rare and mystical breed of AFOL. He proceeded to flip through the magazine to show us a photo of a REAL LIVE LADY who ACTUALLY BUILDS WITH LEGOS!

I wasn’t in the mood to pick a fight over nomenclature, but really? When are people going to realize that singling out women in a male-dominated field, be it work or play, is counterproductive? I’m not an AFFOL any more than I am a “girl gamer.” Drop the extra adjective, people.


Hundreds of LEGO bricks

I’m in need of many, many LEGO bricks for what is currently a SECRET project.

This week I went to the LEGO store in Paramus, NJ. It was a bit of a let down, and not really worth the hour of fighting traffic it took to get there. They didn’t have any big tubs o’ bricks, just kits, and their pick-a-brick selection was pretty limited (I was looking for 1×2 bricks).

What I DID find was an amazing resource, Brick Link. Bricklink is like eBay for LEGO bricks. You can find pretty much any size/shape/color. Their interface is a little clunky, without integrated shipping or payment, but it gets the job done.

I ordered roughly 700 red LEGO bricks for $40, most of which was the cost of shipping. It’s marginally cheaper than the cost per brick of a big tub, but I was able to hand select the colors and shapes that I wanted.

More details when I get the LEGO bricks in…