Digital /Virtual LEGO Building Primer Masterclass Neil Marsden, Pennyforge. Interview

In this video interview Neil Marsden aka Pennyforge presents a primer masterclass on virtual/digital LEGO building (originally presented at London AFOLs April 2020). Neil discusses LEGO modelling, rendering and instruction creation comparing current software tools such as LEGO Digital Designer, Bricklinks and LDCad. Other software touched upon includes Blender, MLCad, Modo, Sketchup and Maya

Neil gives an overview of taking a traditional 3D model and converting it to real LEGO via voxel data. Pennyforge also covers scripting and touches upon the opensource nature of ldraw, underpinning all this digital LEGO building. Scripting has also been used to build words and fonts out of LEGO. A discussion of machine learning is had (so if you are able to contribute, be sure to get in touch).

A PDF of the presentation can be downloaded from:

Hastings Pier on Lego Ideas Website:

GitHub – Python Script to Convert Magica Voxel .vox file to Lego .ldr LDRAW files

Create Lego Letters in the LDRAW file format


Brick Battling bots – Robot Wars:

Brick by Brick by David Robertson

Blender 3D

Syd Mead – Visual Futurist of Tron Light Cycle and Blader Runner


Eurobricks: Bricklink == LEGO Color Translation Table

London AFOLs

Cult of the Brick Blog:

Get in Touch:

See below for time codes to various parts of the interview. Topics and Discussions covered include:

0:00 Introduction

3:50 Start of Digital LEGO Masterclass

5:45 LEGO Modelling – Lego Digital Designer

8:20 and Bricklink Integration

10:10 LDCad – High end LEGO Cad tool which supports flexible parts, power functions, custom decals => tool of choice albeit quirky. Work through tutorials on LDCad website

11:30 MLCad – Good for minifigure design and custom decals

12:00 What is LDraw – basis for all the tools, open standard/source for LEGO and has all the pieces

13:00 OpenSDraw – scripting model creations, powerful but complex. Works with libraries of LEGO parts.

14:00 Python and Ldraw directly. Writing scripts to create imaginary that would be difficult to make manually ie figure placement, models from designs/fonts / voxel data. Built using python and creates lovely and unusual images

15:00 Rendering … how to make it look nice.

15:30 BlueRender, works with LDD – LEGO Digital Designer. Can leave areas grainny but works

16:20 render – big button that says ‘render’

17:00 – animation sequences. As move towards animation, takes longer to create and render.

18:00 POVRay – Persistence of Vision – grand daddy of LEGO renderers. Can be hard to configure and been superseded by other renderers. Still good for rendering from a command line and auto-center LEGO models – LP3… surprising hard to do.

19:30 Blender – comprehensive modelling and rendering package that you can do just about anything with. Can import LDraw models through a simple add-on.

20:00 Pumpkin – vs Blender Render

20:40 From Blender to Modo, Sketchup, Maya and Brickalo (renders piles of bricks) – . Once moved model out of LDraw into a standard format, then can move around lots of powerful standard 3D tools

21:00 LEGO and Unreal Engine – access to physics and collision engines

23:00 Instructions – need to have built a digital model. Make sure you build your physical model with the instructions you make before distributing. Flexible parts always a challenge

24:30 LPub3D – can include flexible part elements.

26:10 Links from presentation

27:30 Digital to Physical … very expensive and cost challenges

28:40 Mario and Yoshi – from 3D model to LEGO Voxel Pipeline – High level pipeline

34:00 Virtual Background and building with no gaps

35:00 LEGO Letters created from a Font – Merry Christmas

36:45 – mixing bricks and plates digitally – surprisingly difficult. Computer building a pile of LEGO bricks were each piece is connected by at least 1 stud, frame the pile of bricks and create a nice render of it.

41:00 LDraw spatial arrangement

42:00 SNOT – Studs Not On Top in digital building

43:20 – Current & Future Projects. Extending letter building code to create logos out of LEGO that are self supporting, with holes and non-square designs. Investigating Unreal engine further due to the underlying physics engine

45:50 Machine Learning and its ability to understand LEGO shapes and studs. Give a machine a pile of LEGO bricks and put them together in away that works would be a challenge

48:00 If anyone out there knows about Machine Learning and wants to apply to LEGO, get in touch

49:00 – Autoframing/ Camera Centering of Models – really difficult to do. Looking for a scriptable tool to be able to do. If you know how to do, or the code, please drop a line

52:30 Robot Wars, working with kids in a teaching environment / Scout Groups

54:20 Iterations and design development … and then smash them up. Watching the evolutionary design process of kids designs

57:10 Tips for Rendering LEGO bricks in Blender. Add ldraw pluggin / addon, use import function. Environment background setting that turns everything pink. Remove the environment background. Soften shadows. Keep light setup simple.

1:06:00 Transferable skill development from working with digital LEGO – Python development.

1:08:30 Scripting and LEGO. Making it useable by others.

1:09:50 Rapid Fire Round – Favourite Set

1:10:50 Favourite Theme

1:11:30 Least Favourite Theme

1:12:40 Like Technic or Not

1:13:15 MOC that you are proud of: Hastings Peir. LEGO ideas website, which lead to radio appearance. LEGO models that people have relationships with.

1:14:45 How big a space for LEGO

1:15:35 How many LEGO pieces?

1:16:36 Any Theme you’d wish they’d bring back

1:17:55 Favourite LEGO build of the last year

1:18:50 Tron light cycle design by Syd Mead, who was the visual futurist / concept artist on Tron, also Blade Runner. Originally a Ford designer in the 1960s who recently passed away.

1:20:45 Favourite LEGO Resource

1:22:00 LEGO set you wish you bought but never did

1:23:20 AFOL Groups you are part of? London AFOLs

1:24:30 Contact Details and websites

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