During the early planning stages of our wedding, Cassie sent me a link to a Lego wedding cake topper that she thought looked cool. We were wondering what we should do about that – we thought it would be fun to have an interesting cake topper (these details are all very important) but we’d seen so many “quirky” ones that were just crap. The “bride dragging the groom along by his hair” trope is very common, and very very lame.
When I saw the Lego figures, I was inspired. I loved Lego as a kid, and I had a big box that started out as my sister’s, then my brother’s. My Mum said that she could tell I was “playing Lego” in my bedroom, because of the distinctive rattling rustling noise caused by my rummaging in the box for that elusive piece.
I did some research into the current state of Lego development. I had heard of LDraw, which allows you to create a model in 3D, export it to POVRay, and render it as a photorealistic image. But how could I obtain the bricks themselves? I knew Lego allowed you to buy individual bricks online, but it would be crazy to do it one-by-one for an LDraw model.
Luckily, Lego provide their own modeling software, Lego Digital Designer, which allows you to create a model, generate step-by-step building instructions, upload the model to the Lego website, create a custom box, and order kits to allow you to build your model for real!
I downloaded LDD to the Macbook, and got to work. The interface is very nice, very instinctive. You have nearly all the brick types available, and when you select one for placement on the building area, it makes the distinctive noise I mentioned above, which is a cute touch. When laying the bricks down, they automatically align to each other, so it’s easy to build quite complex models. You can also use the Hinge tool to move and rotate parts in relation to each other.
For the design of the figures, I decided to make them blocky and simplified – stylized, in fact – rather than complex, because I think some examples had too many parts which made them look too knobbly. I tried to make them look like Cassie and me as far as possible, within the limits I had set myself. I decided on yellow skin, in honour of The Simpsons, Lego minifigs, and kidney failure.
I also tried to create a model of Gordon, our dog. I think he came out OK, although he is a little large compared to the human figures. He didn’t make the cut, but I kept the model.
Once the model was complete in the software, I clicked ‘Buy’, and it calculated the cost of creating the model. It came to a very reasonable <$30, so I went ahead. In addition to the model itself, the software allows you to generate step-by-step instructions. It does this intelligently, as long as you group certain parts of the model together. For example, in my model, I had made the heads into a “subassembly”, which then had their own instructions.
The software also allowed me to create my own box for my creation. It does this by displaying a 3d rendered image of your model, and then you can choose a background, and some graphics and text. I did a pretty crude one, to be honest.
Once I had finally hit the ‘order’ button, I waited about a couple of weeks, and then the box arrived in the mail. The label showed that it had been quite busy on its way – manufactured in Poland, imported by Denmark, tested in Hong Kong, and compliant with all relevant parts of the Code of Federal Regulations regarding toy safety. The box was just as I had designed it, the parts were all in a little bag just like with a real kit, and the instructions were printed nicely in a booklet. I wasted no time in assembling it – it looked great, although the tan-brown colour brick I used for part of Gordon looked more orange. That might be an issue with the display, or with my colourblindness.
When we visited the venue to arrange the meal and cake and so on, I brought the model parts and the instructions. On the day, when the cake was brought out, it was great to be able to see my little creation perched on the top.
Verdict: They came out very well. It was really nice to able to include something I had designed myself – and something that had such a strong memory of my home and family for me. Here’s the instructions for your own use, in case you want to make your model:
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