Friday 12 November 2010


I'm just back from a few days away in the sticks. It was a fantastic trip, but a bit of a LEGO lover's nightmare - no LEGO, and not even reliable access to my favourite LEGO-related websites due to patchy internet access.

So what's the LEGO obsessive to do under such circumstances ? Well, salvation was at hand in the form of LEGO Digital Designer, or LDD - LEGO's computer-aided design package. LDD, which works on Mac and Windows, can be downloaded for free, and basically allows you to build LEGO virtually, giving you access to a palette of LEGO parts in various colours, and enabling you to select the pieces you're interested in, rotate them to the right position, and slot them into place alongside other pieces until your virtual model is complete. It's pretty cool, actually. The piece de resistance is that once you've completed your virtual masterpiece, you can upload the design to the LEGO company who will work out what pieces it contains, dump those pieces in one or more boxes, and send them to you in the post so you can recreate your virtual masterpiece for real. The application even makes up a set of step-by-step building instructions for you to facilitate the building process.

I thought I'd try this out for myself a couple of years back, so I designed a LEGO college building which I hoped wouldn't look too out of place alongside my LEGO modular buildings and uploaded it as instructed. I was then walked through a pretty simple process for designing the box art for my 'set', and after paying a (fairly hefty) fee to cover the cost of the pieces, packaging and postage, the 2 boxes below arrived at my door a week or two later :

I made this !
The boxes contained a big pile of LEGO bricks plus a rough print-out containing a full inventory of parts for my model and a link to the online step-by-step building instructions. I quickly dived in, and not long after I was able to admire my creation - MOC LEGO College :

LDD + my imagination = MOC LEGO College 

MOC LEGO College - close-up

OK, so it's not Green Grocer, but it's not too bad for a first effort using LDD. The LDD application certainly has it's idiosyncracies (some of which have apparently been ironed out in LDD 4.0 which was released a few weeks ago), but it must be pretty user-friendly if a newbie like me was able to get respectable results with it the first time I used it.

Anyway, back to the present. Once back in the hotel room after spending the days out and about, and without any LEGO to play with, I fired up the laptop, clicked on the LDD icon and started work on a new LEGO project. I'd already given the project some thought prior to going away, but hadn't really gone much beyond the thinking stage. Basically, I've accumulated a number of LEGO trains over the past few years, and I recently decided that it was about time I designed a decent semi-permanent layout for some of them to run on. After pondering for a while, it was clear that even a modest layout would take up a lot of space, so I started playing around with the idea of a layout on two levels, with a subway train running 'below ground', and a LEGO city above featuring another oval of track on the outside which would enclose a central area. The central area should include some roads, some railway sidings, and a collection of my favourite 'official' modular buildings, plus perhaps some MOC buildings as well. I'd also like to include a small rail tunnel on the upper level running through a LEGO rock formation, and I want to landscape the upper level so that it doesn't just look like a bunch of baseplates chucked together with a few buildings on top. Finally, just to complicate matters, I want to make the whole layout modular, so that it can be relatively quickly and easily deconstructed, transported and reassembled. Why would I go through this additional hassle ? Well, if I do ever finish designing and building it and it turns out to be any good, it'd be cool to be able to display it somewhere other than the inside of my house. It was seeing some of the superb LEGO layouts at a couple of recent events that I attended which provided me with additional inspiration to start this project, so I'd like to return the compliment if my creation ends up being worth looking at and let others see it.

I think it's going to be a long haul; I have a pretty good idea of the dimensions of my planned layout and I think I've found some suitable display tables, but beyond that there's an enormous amount of planning to be done. Still, thanks to a few evenings tinkering with LDD while I was away I've made a good start on the design of the subway level at least. It'll be cut-away so that the train running within can be clearly seen, and it needs to be sturdy enough to support the upper city level. As the design process progresses I'll post some pics on here, so watch this space for updates.

And as for LDD ? It's great, but no substitute for bricks !


  1. Anonymous12/11/10

    Wow that really turned out great! The box art didn't really do it justice.

  2. Thanks, AJ ! It looks pretty good next to my 'official' modular buildings, even though I say so myself, although it could do with being a bit taller. I keep promising myself that I'll revisit the design and add a lower ground floor but I never seem to get round to it - so much LEGO, so little time.....