Virtual Building

After the post-Christmas deluge of new-set-building has worn down, I’ve been considering what I actually enjoy about Lego-construction. Perhaps it’s the uncontrolled dust in the house, but I’ve never been one for “displaying” models permanently. I certainly enjoy mechanical models and any type of unique movement. But many times the “spark of joy” moment in building a model comes from seeing what the designer came up with as a method for creating something unique. I’m watching my kids build Diagon Alley and enjoying all of the tiny details that go into the models even though I didn’t put them together. I realized that I might get just as much fun and as many “aha” moments by building models digitally, especially since I’ve enjoyed creating models in BrickLink’s Studio several times before.

So I did an experiment…. with gingerbread on the brain, I built the tiniest gingerbread house set I could find. It took about 5 minutes and sparked a little joy. For fun, I did a slightly larger gingerbread house. And another. Both also fun! I eventually worked my way up to 10267 – Gingerbread House from 2019. This obviously took a bit longer (and disappointingly, most of the minifigs weren’t supported) but was an absolute win. Not only did I get to see how a little rocking horse and snowblower were built, but I was challenged in getting all the odd angles of the roof segments to join (not to mention colorblind challenges with the roof colorings that I eventually gave up on – just make ’em look nice!).

I then shifted onto bigger builds – the Modular Building line drew me in last fall and while I might never splurge the $400-500 for some of the original sets… I can now virtually build them for absolutely nothing! Plus some of the older sets even contain minifigs! (Every photo on this page is from my own rendered Studio build of a set)

10182 – Cafe Corner – 2007 – 2058 parts

The very first modular building to be created had some great detail…on the outside! I love the brick-built transparent “HOTEL” sign, even though I’ve already built similar signs IRL for 10218 – Pet Shop and 10232 – Palace Cinema. The standard layout of 32×32, sidewalk tiling, lamppost, and technic pin connections between buildings remains the same even 14 years later. Lego originally kept the interiors of these almost completely empty. There are stairways between floors, but beyond that you’re supposed to use your imagination to build up the interiors (or, I don’t know… just buy all the buildings and make a city out of them with no interiors….). All I know is this was an excellent proof that I can enjoy building old sets virtually! Plus this one had all the minifig parts as well, so it’s a complete model! Moreover, I got to experiment with “flexible” parts – an aspect of Studio I hadn’t experienced…nor do I think I quite fully understand even several models later…

10190 – Market Street – 2007 – 1250 parts

Technically part of the “Factory” theme, this shares many characteristics with the Modular Building line and was thus adopted into it. Being self-modular in its own right, each of the upper floors can actually be rotated not just 180 degrees, but 90 in either direction; and the split-baseplate means the “market” can go on either side of the building.

This one really started causing me to pull out hair. Studio has a “collision” detector that typically prevents you from placing pieces “inside” one other (in a way that would be physically impossible). You can disable it if you want, but I like to keep everything as clean and “proper” as possible. The spiral stairs on the 1st level were frustrating. Having built these in the past, I know they nicely align perfectly, but Studio was extremely pesky about them! Eventually a couple of pixel-shift-offsets had them all happily non-colliding. The “hoses” on the balcony, however, were a nightmare. Likely I just need more experience with the “flex” tool in Studio, but in the end, they intersect just a tiny bit into the bricks of the walls behind them. Also the “whips” over the market entrance were not flexible, so I couldn’t fold them according to the instructions. I think I found a suitable alternative, though!

10185 – Green Grocer – 2008 – 2358 parts

Seeing the interest and success of the Modular Line, Lego next introduced the Green Grocer. This one had a pretty detailed 1st level. In fact – the challenging building experience from this build was getting all the fruit and vegetables to fit in their containers. When you’re building in real life, you just dump things in. But on a computer, where the software wants everything to “snap” together, you have to do a lot of manual adjustments! The “Cherry Box” with 8 different cherry pieces was my most proud accomplishment. I think it ended up looking even identical to the instructions.

Not a ton of detail on the inside, though the grandfather clock and fireplace were fun mini-builds, and the rooftop balcony was also nice. I also liked the challenge of getting the fire escape stairs to line up properly between levels. This build was also where I started following the original PDF instructions numbering properly – creating submodels where needed and even sub-steps if the model was complex enough.

10197 – Fire Brigade – 2009 – 2236 parts

Finally Lego decided to do a fully-detailed interior on this one… not to mention a separate vehicle which was a nice addition that is repeated in several later Modular Sets. Some might complain that it seems Lego cut down from 3 floors to 2 in order to add the detail, but I think this looks great next to the other buildings (not that I’ve done that in Studio yet, but I think it’s possible). Besides, there’s always the Ghostbuster’s set if you want to spend a ton of money.

I laughed at interesting uses like frogs as hat-hooks, and the tree-build on the front was fun. The 2nd floor contained great builds like the fridge and ping-pong table – another instance where I just had to pixel-by-pixel shift the paddles to just the right locations… only to discover in the next step of the instructions they had been “stored” away into the stairs handrail. Doh! Oh well, in my model, the firemen have left things sitting out.

The bell tower proved a bit of a challenge – again manipulating a flexible rope into just the right position, but I was rewarded with the treat of adding a bat to the belfry once it was all said and done.

10181 – Eiffel Tower – 2007 – 3428 parts

Taking a break from buildings (lest I finish them all within a few days), I thought I’d try some of the Creator Expert lines. I also recently discovered the somewhat hidden but extremely useful Studio feature of “copy and mirror”, so I thought I’d tackle this behemoth – a set I would probably absolutely detest building in real life. There was, indeed, a lot of copying and pasting, but even with that, there was so much repetition, especially in the 3rd portion. And you couldn’t just copy the previous step because each level things became just a little bit narrower. But at least the base produced a great feeling when I could just copy the entire 1st half of 30 steps I had completed. Surprisingly, though, I discovered it was build slightly different than the other half. One benefit to building these on Studio is you can import a set’s parts list. When I was near the top and missing some tiles, I went back and discovered the tilework was slightly different on each side. Weird, but…okay.

The elevators were particularly challenging as Studio kept wanting to “snap” them into place. I haven’t discovered a keyboard command to “rotate” as manually as you can shift with the W-A-S-D keys, so it was a bit of trial and error to get the angle just right.

In the end, I was definitely glad I only built this virtually. Beyond the constant repetition, there were several steps where a long fence or plate were held on by only a single stud. It seemed strange to not have more support, and I can only imagine how fragile this thing must be while assembling in the real world. Probably fine once completed but, whew!

10187 – Volkswagen Beetle – 2008 – 1626 parts

Also in my break from buildings, I thought I’d try a vehicle. At first, I wanted to do the DeLorean Time Machine, but after discovering a large number of unavailable parts, I swapped to the old Creator Expert Volkswagen Beetle. Certainly very “blocky” compared to newer revisions like 10252, this definitely pronounces itself a Lego vehicle! I love that evokes images of “Herbie” (and with a 3d model, I can swap up the colors as much as I want to achieve the same effect).

The “plate-built-3d-curves” of the fenders look nice on the finished product, but they were a nightmare to build from a sometimes-dim PDF! Once again I was thankful for the “copy and mirror” functionality, but there were often times I had to squint pretty hard to figure out where the 1×2 plates vs 1×1 vs 2×2 corner plates were placed! I also found myself trying to zoom and rotate the PDF the same way I can do in Studio…. oops!

In Conclusion….

I built 7 large models in 7 days! While the “thrill of the new” meant that I probably spent more time than I should have, this experiment certainly proved that I enjoy building these things virtually. Not everything is doable – as I mentioned sometimes parts are just missing from the catalog; certainly stickers are not available – though they can be created if you put in the work…mostly I don’t care about stickers all that much. And the mechanical operations aren’t as fun – I still have my huge Technic collection for that. But this certainly saves money…. in the vein of my last post, these 7 sets would’ve cost $950 new or $3,500 if I bought the cheapest complete set of each on BrickLink (the modular buildings are ridiculous….very likely you could buy the individual parts more economically…but I digress). In my ideal world, I’d build big Lego sets and then turn around and sell them to someone else to enjoy. In the meantime, this is the next best alternative, at least to me. I’m having fun…. maybe I’ll do the Death Star next?!

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