Monday 23 December 2013

"We're ready to believe you"

So, with my MOCs of ECTO 1 and the Ghostbusters HQ building now completed (you can read about them here and here respectively) it's time to wrap things up with the piece de resistance - the Ghostbusters themselves.

I had initially intended to make do with generic minifig parts for the guys, but after spending ages fruitlessly scrolling through pages and pages of minifig torsos, legs, heads and hair on Bricklink desperately looking for something suitable I decided to admit defeat and call in the experts., owned and run by minifig customization gurus Nick and Caroline, had previously supplied me with custom stickers for my ECTO 1 and Ghostbusters HQ models, and prior to that they made me some excellent custom Watford F.C. minifigs, so they were the obvious choice. They were happy to design me a set of Ghostbusters minifigs from scratch, and a few weeks after I contacted them the minifigures below arrived (click pictures to enarge).

Peter...."He slimed me"

Egon....collects spores, molds and fungus

Winston....."Ray, when someone asks you if you're a God, you say YES !"

Ray....."Symmetrical book stacking, just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947"

The torso designs, which are stickers, are superb, right down to the individually named overalls and the walkie talkies hanging from their belts. I also love the shoulder patches. Care has obviously been taken to find heads and hair which approximate the appearance of the characters - Peter is suitably sneering and slightly dischevelled, Winston has his little 'tache, Egon is clean-cut, calm and collected, and Ray has obviously seen a ghost.... You can see the guys posing together below in front of their HQ building (click picture to enlarge).

To complement the set of Ghostbusters minifigs I thought it'd be cool if I could come up with a design for Slimer (below), surely the most readily recognisable ghost from the movie. I played around on LDD for a while in order to try and come up with a LEGO version of the gluttonous, mucus-distributing phantasm which would be at least vaguely reminiscent of the real thing.

A Class 5 full-roaming vapor (from cinemascope-blog)
Once I'd arrived at a design which I was reasonably happy with I contacted and they agreed to have a crack at customising it. I therefore went ahead and sourced the parts, built Slimer, put him in an envelope and sent him to Sheffield, and below you can see what Nick and Caroline sent back (click picture to enlarge). My Slimer consists of just 7 elements - a lime green robot body sandwiched between a 2 x 2 dome top and a boat stud, with phone handsets for arms which are joined to the body by way of Technic half pins. He's then been beautifully brought to life by a couple of custom stickers - I have to say I'm delighted with him !

To finish things off there was one last thing I needed - the Ghostbusters' equipment, and specifically their backpack particle accelerators. I quickly threw together a simple design for the backpacks at the same time as I was experimenting with designs for Slimer (LDD screengrabs below - click to enlarge).

Ever since the release of Series 11 of the Collectible Minifigures I've had the Welder stood on my desk, and I was never in any doubt about which element I'd use for the Ghostbusters' wand, or particle thrower, which fires the charged particle beam. The only downside was that I couldn't find the element ("Minifig, Utensil Welding Gun") in LDD in order to add it to my design above, so until I finally got to assemble the backpacks out of real elements I just had to use my imagination and hope it would turn out OK.

You can see Peter Venkman complete with his particle accelerator backpack and wand in the pictures above (click to enlarge). That welding gun works pretty well I reckon. The main downside of all the kit is that once the backpacks are attached the Ghostbusters need to be mounted on a minifigure stand, or stuck on a baseplate, to stop them toppling over. All four guys plus Slimer can be seen posing below with ECTO 1 (click picture to enlarge).

With everything finished I could finally bring together all the different parts of the build - ECTO 1, the Ghostbusters HQ building, the Ghostbusters minifigs and Slimer - and take the photograph below (click to enlarge). I've obviously taken a few liberties with the design and relative scale of the various components, but all things considered I'm pretty happy with how it turned out in the end.

So that wraps things up, then. I hope you've enjoyed reading this series of Ghostbusters-themed posts, and if you have any comments or feedback about the models then please feel free to share. Anyone interested in getting a set of Ghostbusters minifigs (or indeed any custom minifigs) should drop Nick and Caroline an e-mail at All that's left is for me to wish all Gimme LEGO readers a Merry Christmas - have a good one, folks - and I'll be back with my annual round up of the best and worst of the year with the 2013 Gimme LEGO awards.

"I ain't afraid of no ghost !"
< -- Ghostbusters HQ                                                                                 Model on Display -->

Monday 9 December 2013

Spook Central

Having focused my previous post on the Ghostbusters ECTO 1 Cadillac, my attentions now shift to the Ghostbusters HQ building. Before I get into that, however, I need to apologise for the title of this post -  I'm well aware that "Spook Central" is actually 55 Central Park West, the Ivo Shandor-designed super-conductive antenna inhabited by Dana Barrett and Louis Tully rather than the Ghostbusters' converted firehouse, but Ray Stanz's "Spook Central" quote has stayed with me ever since I first saw the movie so I couldn't resist....

Finding photos of the building wasn't too hard, although that's assuming that all you want to look at is the front and the left side.... If however you're interested in the roof, back and/or right side of the building then you're probably out of luck - I couldn't find any images of these aspects at all. As I trawled the web for images and information, I was interested to discover that up until recently the building still functioned as a working firehouse. That may however no longer be the case - according to this article it was threatened with closure back in 2011 due to budget cuts (sniff). Can any locals give us an update ?

Design-wise the building's basically an elongated box with a big, arched front door and lots of windows. As such, I figured that it'd be reasonably easy to come up with something that looked vaguely similar to the real thing, with extra brownie points available for managing to imitate some of the more distinctive details. One of my biggest headaches was the question of scale. My plan was to build a model that wouldn't look too out of place alongside LEGO's range of modular buildings so that I could eventually display it alongside the modulars as part of my LEGO City Layout, but I also wanted to try and build it so that it'd fit into one of the showcase cabinets that LEGO brand stores make available to LUGs to display their own models, similar to what I did with my City College building. In the case of the showcase cabinet, it'd mean not making the building any deeper than one and a half standard baseplates, or 48 studs. With this in mind I powered up LDD and got to work, arriving at the design below after a few evenings (click pics to enlarge).

In terms of scale, it's a bit of a fudge. The finished model should hopefully (just about) fit in a LEGO showcase cabinet, but it'll probably be a bit small for my City Layout; when it's time for it to take its place in the layout I'll therefore consider stretching it by half a baseplate in length which should hopefully do the trick. Other design choices included a decision to go with dark orange for the upper level of the building as I thought it probably offered the best approximation of the real thing. In the absence of any photographs to guide me otherwise, I chose to make the two long sides of the building fairly similar but deliberately included a few differences which I'll mention later. I also decided to put a large window into the back wall, in order to avoid it being blank and boring. Talking of windows, I really wanted these to be light bley but was dismayed to discover that the parts I'd need to get the effect I wanted weren't available in that colour. After some experimentation I eventually decided to go with black windows, a choice which would allow me to design the windows as I wanted them without hopefully compromising the look of the building too much. Finally, I decided not to add interior detail, at least initially, as it wouldn't be readily visible in the finished model and would slow me down a lot. Reasonably satisfied with the overall look of the building on LDD, and able to live with the compromises, I moved on to the job of sourcing the necessary parts to build it.

As described in my previous post about ECTO 1, an inventory of parts was obtained by generating an html building guide via LDD, the last page of which consists of a parts listing. Then it was once again a case of raiding my loose parts stash for as many of the 2,440 parts as I could find and getting the rest from various Bricklink stores and LEGO's own Pick a Brick (PaB) and Bricks & Pieces (B&P) services. I initially feared that the dark orange elements might be tricky to source, but most of them were actually surprisingly common and affordable via Bricklink; a few were admittedly a bit of a pain to track down, but they were definitely in the minority. I ended up getting most of the window elements from PaB and B&P as they turned out to be considerably cheaper direct from LEGO. Given the sizeable number of elements in the model I sorted the parts into 3 clear crates to make the build a little more straightforward - one crate for elements 2 x 2 studs or less, one crate for larger plates, and one crate for bricks and everything else - and you can see the crates containing all the sorted parts laid out below (click picture to enlarge).

The LDD building guide took absolutely ages to generate - at least 30-40 minutes, believe it or not. Once finally completed, it broke the build into an eye-watering 1250 steps which helps to explain the long wait I guess. You can see a couple of sample screenshots of the building guide below (click pics to enlarge).

In marked contrast to some MOCs I've assembled from their LDD building guides, I have to say that construction of this model was a pleasure - straightforward, relaxing and therapeutic. I've captured some snapshots of the build at various stages of completion below (click pictures to enlarge) so you can see how it all came together. The base of the building consists of a couple of layers of dark bley bricks and slopes, upon which the light bley ground floor is constructed. The main difference between the right and left sides of the model is the absence of doorways on the right side; other differences are more subtle and only likely to be evident to the most eagle-eyed of readers - I'll leave you to find them ! The ground floor windows are mounted on jumper plates and offset backwards from the outer wall by half a stud which I think makes the model look a bit more interesting. The blue structure protruding from the middle window is presumably some sort of air conditioning unit.

Prior to 2012, the eye-catching dark orange colour utilised in the upper part of the building hadn't appeared in official LEGO sets in any great quantity, and I'm therefore indebted to LEGO for releasing Set 10224 Town Hall last year as this has helped to ensure that there's a decent quantity of affordable dark orange bricks in the hands of Bricklink sellers. The paving effect on either side of the windows on the upper part of the building is something that I'm rather partial to and have used in previous MOCs such as my City College building. The technique has also been utilised in official sets such as Set 10197 Fire Brigade. It's achieved by stacking 1 x 1 headlight bricks and attaching bley tiles to their forward-facing studs so as to create a paving effect on the outer surface of the wall. The downside of this technique is that it requires a whole lot of headlight bricks - almost 400 of them were needed for this model.

You can see a number of pictures below (click to enlarge) of the finished model taken from various angles. It's a fairly sizeable build - 38 cm (15") long by 26 cm (10") wide by 38 cm (15") tall - and it's heavier than I expected. Because of this it's rather cumbersome to transport, and in hindsight I should probably have constructed the model in three stackable levels similar to what LEGO do with their modular buildings. I'm not sure why I didn't think of doing this from the beginning, to be honest, and I don't think it would be a difficult modification to incorporate, so I may do it at some point. 

Having recently aquired a small supply of silver metallic 1 x 1 round tiles I was pleased to find a use for them as decoration on the small air conditioning units (picture below - click to enlarge) that you can see protruding from some of the windows on the upper level. I'm not sure they provide much from the perspective of realism, but they do add some welcome bling....

Once again the finishing touch came courtesy of who provided me with custom stickers of the Ghostbusters logo to stick onto the sign hanging above the front entrance. The upper level of the building is supposed to be flying the U.S. flag; I'll probably try to dig out an official LEGO U.S. flag from one of my old sets when I get a chance, but for now a couple of pennants in red and blue are doing the job well enough so there's no hurry.

You can see the finished Ghostbusters HQ building below together with ECTO 1 (click to enlarge). So far so good, then, but we're missing an essential component - the Ghostbusters themselves ! Have no fear, however - I'll bring you Pete, Egon, Ray and Winston in the final instalment of my Ghostbusters trilogy in a couple of weeks time, so check back then.

< -- ECTO 1                                                                                   Ghostbusters Minifigures -->

Monday 25 November 2013

Who Ya Gonna Call ?

Having recently finished up and publicly displayed my reproduction of cavegod's massive 6,200+ piece UCS AT-AT, I figured it was about time I got to work on a MOC of my own. I did initially think about cracking on with my LEGO City layout, but given that there's still some sorting out to do in my LEGO room before I can comfortably work on it, I decided instead to tide myself over with a new, shorter project while I freed up the necessary space. The question, then, was what to build, and it didn't take me long to come up with an answer. Having recently been impressed by some of the Ghostbusters-inspired MOCs on Cuusoo, and also having coincidentally initiated my youngster in the delights of the first Ghostbusters movie, I thought I'd have a go at designing and building the iconic Ghostbusters ECTO 1 Cadillac and headquarters building.

Perhaps surprisingly, I felt more daunted by the prospect of building the Cadillac than the Ghostbusters HQ. Buildings are often well suited to being translated into LEGO form given their angular morphology, and the Ghostbusters HQ is no exception. Cars, however, with all their vehicle-specific characteristic features and subtle curves and contours, are a totally different story. Builders such Ralph Savelsberg a.k.a. Mad Physicist have spent years taking LEGO vehicle design to a different level, while I hadn't meaningfully MOC'ed a car since I was a kid. I decided to face my fears and start with the Cadillac.....

Image from
One of the concerns I had was that I'd agonise endlessly about every little detail of the model and end up never getting the thing done at all. I therefore made a conscious decision up front to fight my natural instinct to get everything perfect and instead just try to capture the essence of the subject matter and not obsess too much about getting every little detail included and accurate. I figured that once the thing was built I could tinker with it to my heart's content if desired, but the primary objective was just to get something built and "good enough".

My first job was to track down some half-decent photographs of ECTO 1; this proved harder than expected. While an internet search yielded an enormous number of images, most of them appeared to be die-cast models of the vehicle, LEGO renditions of highly variable quality, or horrific attempts to turn real-life respectable family saloons into ECTO 1 with just a lick of paint and a few decals.... I had initially hoped to find some reasonable quality movie stills, but these seemed to be few and far between. Eventually, I stumbled across a useful posting by speederice on containing a ton of useful ECTO 1-related information and some usable photographs including the one above which I could use as a reference. Without any further ado I powered up LDD and got stuck in. When designing a new MOC, some people prefer to just dive in and experiment with real pieces, but I find that the almost infinite choice of elements available via LDD, compared with my limited selection of loose LEGO, means I can just get on with the design process without wasting lots of time searching for parts.

I spent a few hours on LDD over a couple of consecutive evenings designing and refining, and you can see a couple of LDD screengrabs of what I came up with below (click pics to enlarge). I predictably struggled with aspects of the design; while the passenger compartment and roof look pretty good to me, the front isn't quite right - it looks too narrow. Also, there's supposed to be a pair of headlights on each side rather than just the one, and the blue hose is supposed to insert lower into the bodywork. Even so, I felt that the design captured the essence of the vehicle sufficiently well and was "good enough" to be going on with. From a technical perspective, incidentally, I couldn't figure out how to detach the control sticks from their hemispherical bases on LDD; if anyone knows how to do this then please let me know.

The next job was sourcing the 310 parts needed to build the Cadillac; Superkalle has written an application called LDD Manager which can, amongst other things, take an LDD file and export a list of the constituent parts into an Excel spreadsheet which can in turn be imported into Bricklink as a wanted list. It only runs on PC, however, so as a Mac user I had to resort to a more cumbersome approach, namely using LDD to generate an html building guide, the last page of which contains a parts listing. I printed out the parts listing and systematically went through it, digging out those elements I already owned from my loose LEGO stash, and adding those I didn't to a Bricklink wanted list. During the process of trial and error that ensued, it became evident that a few of the elements would be best sourced direct from LEGO, be it their Pick a Brick (PaB) or their Bricks and Pieces (B&P) services. The remaining elements were eventually sourced from a bunch of diferent Bricklink stores and the aforementioned LEGO services and gradually arrived over the next 1-2 weeks. You can see a picture below of the 310 parts (click to enlarge) - doesn't seem to be a great deal to show for all that hassle....

Once the parts had been sourced it was time to boot up LDD once again and enter building guide mode in order to generate a building guide from the Cadillac's LDD file. For the uninitiated, this is an automated process available from the LDD menu at the click of a button, and in the case of a relatively small model like the Cadillac it only takes a few moments. The resulting guide differs from the html building guide described earlier in that it's possible to rotate and zoom the images on the screen at every step, thus allowing the builder to look at the build from multiple angles; this can be especially handy if it's a complex build. The building guide for the Cadillac consisted of a total of 145 building steps, and you can see a selection of the steps below (click to enlarge).

With the building guide up on the screen it was finally time to get building with real bricks. Having previously extolled the virtues of LDD, I do have to admit that one disadvantage of using it is that I sometimes end up virtual building with it in quite ridiculous ways, doing things that I wouldn't dream of doing if I was building out of real bricks. Unknowingly using seven elements where just one would do, for instance. I merrily go along adding more and more bricks to my designs, quite oblivious to all the brick-stacking crimes that I'm committing until I come to actually trying to translate the design into real bricks, and it's only then that the extent of the bizarre building techniques becomes evident. It can make for some unstable builds, not to mention higher-than-necessary part counts. Thankfully, notwithstanding a few idiosyncratic brick combinations, the build was fairly quick and reasonably sensible on this occasion, and the finished model held together OK; you can see a couple of pictures below (click to enlarge).

So nearly there, but something's missing.... Regular readers will be well aware that I'm no fan of stickers, but I knew from the moment I started to design the Cadillac that it just wouldn't look right without the Ghostbusters logo plastered onto it. Given this, there was only one place to turn; Caroline and Nick Savage, a.k.a., have quickly made a name for themselves as designers and purveyors of excellent custom minifigs, but they also have the necessary equipment to produce custom stickers. Having sourced the Ghostbusters logo from the internet and e-mailed it to them, they were able to make me some perfectly-proportioned stickers for my Cadillac. An advantage of their stickers over those produced by LEGO is that you can wet the part that you want to stick them on to and slide the stickers around on a thin film of water until you're happy with the position, at which point you dab the stickers dry and they stick fast. It took a matter of moments to apply the necessary stickers to the Cadillac, and you can see some views of the finished vehicle below.

In an ideal world I would have loved to have ended up with a faithful reproduction of the Cadillac, but it was never really on the cards; as I stated up front, the objective was to capture the essence of the subject matter, and I think I've done that at least. I'm very happy with the passenger compartment and roof rack containing all the ghostbusting equipment. Less satisfactory is the fact that the rear wheels are more hidden than I'd like, the front is too narrow, and there are supposed to be two headlights on each side rather than one. Also, the blue hose is supposed to insert into the bodywork below the red stripe, not in the middle of it. There's certainly room for improvement, then, and I may yet do some more tweaking at some point, but all that having been said, it's "good enough" for now, and I'm delighted to even be able to say that given my initial misgivings.

Next up : Ghostbusters HQ. Stay tuned....

                                                                                                       Ghostbusters HQ -->