Adventures making custom LEGO designs

I needed a project to get my mind off the Ukraine-Russia war, and I also follow a Twitch streamer who has a new interest in building LEGO, so I was inspired to make my own LEGO design. Last time I built anything LEGO related was when I was a kid (except for some LEGO building in engineering school to learn Lean production). But these days LEGO is not only for kids - but also for adults. When you look at some new LEGO design boxes they are actually labeled 18+ even though there's no nudity/violence in them:

People have them as decorations like a painting on the wall. Moreover, if you have an idea for your own LEGO sculpture, you can submit ideas to LEGO and other people can vote on the ideas: LEGO Ideas. And if your idea gets selected you can actually make a little money from it depending on how successful it is. I have no idea how much you can make because according to Google that is a secret! 

LEGO is and always has been very expensive. So my plan is to experiment with digital LEGO bricks. When researching the area, there are multiple software you can use - I even think LEGO has its own. The one I picked is called LeoCAD. The reason is picked that one is because you can export your models from LeoCAD to Blender to make them prettier. I have explained this process in more detail in an earlier article: How to make your ugly LeoCAD LEGO models look good in Blender.   

Original design 1: South African Stream House

The first design is a house:

LEGO South Africa: Design of a South African House With Box Art

This house exists in real life in South Africa and belongs to a Twitch streamer, hence the name "South African Streamer House." Some of the design is obviously made up because I have never visited the house, and it's LEGO so some simplifications have to be made. You can view making original LEGO designs as a puzzle: how do you find the bricks needed to make this LEGO object look like the actual object? 

Why did I make this house? First of all, a lot is going on around the house. You can find all kind of animals, including hadada ibis, dogs, cats, frogs, spiders, snakes, mice, monkeys, and beetles. Secondly, they stream from their house so it is really easy to find reference images - and we all know how important references are when making an illustration! 

In hindsight, some objects could have been improved (especially the computer parts and some chairs) but those are lessons learned I will bring with me to the next original LEGO design! YES, it was really fun to make it so I will make more designs! So this article will be updated as I add more designs!

You can find this project on Artstation: LEGO South Africa: Design of a South African House With Box Art

Original design 2: Swedish student streamer

Original LEGO design: Swedish student streamer

Next LEGO design is also related to architecture: an apartment belonging to a Twitch streamer I follow. You can by now spot a trend: LEGO designs inspired by Twitch streamers. I follow many other Twitch streamers, so more designs will follow. But the other Twitch streamers I follow travel around, so they are not stuck in one house, making it more difficult to find ideas for dioramas.   

This streamer is always streaming from either her kitchen or bedroom (and sometimes her bathroom for fake hot tub streams to troll the Twitch viewers who are actually interested in hot tub streams). So instead of making an entire house I just needed to make three rooms. By just having three rooms I could add more details to each room. So you can find details like cans of corns (these are a big part of the stream), vegan Nutella, Pringles, and a lot of veggies in her kitchen because she's vegan. 

Overall I'm not as happy with the design as I was with the design of the stream house - most likely because all of the apartment's walls are white. But I learned a lot that I will bring with me to the next design! 

Update! I realized that the reason the apartment looks bland is because there's no ambient occlusion. Yes, I checked the ambient occlusion checkbox in Blender BUT apparently that checkbox is not adding ambient occlusion to the scene. To add ambient occlusion you can either use the ambient occlusion node or a post-processing effect. I picked the post-processing alternative because it is much faster. Now the apartment looks like this (I also added more realistic plastic material):

You can find this project on Artstation: Original LEGO design: Swedish student streamer.  

Intermission: Learning how to make realistic LEGO brick materials

After making the second original LEGO design I realized I needed to learn how to make more realistic LEGO materials. The first idea I had was to remake a LEGO set that exists in real life and compare it with the photos from the LEGO website.

The model I chose was this 1970 Ferrari 512 M. So I downloaded the instructions and started building it piece-by-piece in LeoCAD. Luckily all pieces except two existed in LeoCAD, so I had to make the missing pieces on my own after exporting the model to Blender. I also had to paint the stickers on my own because neither they existed in LeoCAD. After a million renders where I tested all possible material settings, light settings, environment textures, I came up with a render that looks very close to the photo you can find on the LEGO website (The left one is from the LEGO website and the right one is by me):

Learning how to make realistic LEGO materials

Both models look very similar to each other! Perhaps too similar? What if the model from the LEGO website also is a digital model because it's way too smooth to be a real model! This is most likely the truth because I know IKEA is also using digital models because it's much simpler to make changes: When You Flip Through an IKEA Catalog, 75% of the 'Photography' You See is CGI.

To improve the Ferrari I vacuum cleaned Google on articles how to make realistic LEGO materials. The result was this pirate guy:

Learning how to make realistic LEGO materials

…and if you are interested in downloading the material, I'm giving it away for free here: Blender LEGO material. When I added the realistic material to the Ferrari car - no changes could been seen because the realistic details are very small and can't be seen from far away!

You can find this project on Artstation: Learning how to make realistic LEGO materials.

Original design 3: Cosplay streamer

Original LEGO design 3: Cosplay streamer

Next up is the cosplay streamer, currently cosplaying Ciri from the Witcher series. She's also doing cooking streams, but after making two kitchens I had zero energy to make a third kitchen. Instead I focused on making the LEGO character look like the actual streamer - and not just the traditional LEGO standard smile and yellow color. 

The second focus was to experiment with light settings. You can buy custom made lights to some of your LEGO products from Light My Bricks, so adding lights is not far from the truth. 

I also tried to apply the material from the "Learning how to make realistic LEGO bricks materials" but my computer was too slow to handle it, so I will stick to flat surfaces for now. I think it might look better as well? 

I'm extra proud of the LEGO office leather chair I made. If you click on the link to Artstation I've included images of it from different angles if you want to build it yourself!

LEGO office leather chair

You can find this project on Artstation: Original LEGO design 3: Cosplay streamer.    

Original design 4: Dance streamer

When making the South African stream house I was supposed to add a wall that wasn't perpendicular to the other wall. I had no clue how to make such a wall because LEGO bricks prefer to be perpendicular to each other. When making this LEGO design I added an angular wall by using hinges. This looks good from one side, but not from the other, but I think using hinges is the only solution. 

I also experimented further with realistic lights. I've come to the conclusion that using spot lights instead of emission produces the best result! 

Original LEGO design 4: Dance streamer

You can find this project on Artstation: Original LEGO design 4: Dance streamer.    

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