Playing with ... Blender - Part 1

About a week ago I decided to get back into Blender and, instead of doing complicated stuff, practice some easy basic modelling and manipulation skills.

The goal was to simply create a object using primitive shapes, and then build upon that by duplicating the object and placing it around the scene.

The LEGO brick

A single "Bright Red" 6x2 LEGO brick

After some thinking, I ended up on trying to create a LEGO brick. I’d always loved playing with them as a child and in their most basic form they are just the default blender cube with a little cylinder on top. I did some minimal research to get an idea of sizes, so it had roughly the right shape and proportions and ended up with a rough 1x1 mold object that all my bricks would be based on. Finally I made the pieces itself by duplicating the mold and editing the mesh to get my final lego brick. Then I made the a dozen base bricks bith single width and double width in lengths up to 8. As far as I could research, the only odd-numbered lengths are 1 and 3, the rest are even numbered lengths. This fits with what I remember being young and playing with the physically, but LEGOs have come a long way since then so I’m not sure if this is still true.

I made a basic shader that mixes diffuse and glossy to imitate plastic, and then duplicated it with different colors plugged in. I found a reference image online with the 2016 lego palette and all bricks were assigned a color taken from this palette.

Mario and friends

With the initial bricks done, the next step was just to start playing with them. I duplicated a few and did what you would normally do with LEGO bricks, started stacking them on top of each other. This made me realize that I could maybe create figure or something and, since my goal was not to practice blender skills instead of creative LEGO building, I found a figure online someone had made of the Nintendo classic figure Mario and recreated it with virtual bricks.

The classic Mario character build with LEGO

It turned out that playing with virtual LEGO were just as fun as playing with regular LEGO, so after Mario I built the mushroom, Goomba and a stacked version of the questionmark block. I realized that I almost had enough pieces to put them into a proper scene from Super Mario Bros and figured that the opening section from level 1-1 would be suitable. A few more tiles had to be constructed and I realised that while my original questionmark block was nice, I had no way of realisticly hanging it or any other tile in the air like the level design called for. The solution was to have another vertical LEGO baseboard fuction as the sky and stick bricks to this instead so it would appear the blocks were hanging in the sky. This worked out nicely, but ment the questionmark block had to be redone with bricks rotated 90 degrees. I also had to use single width bricks on the skyboard, as the doubles messed up the graphics.

As a final touch, I added a few background itms like a few bushes and a sky, and “signed” the scene by writing my name in the sky, all using bricks.

Final scene

Final rendering of Super Mario Bros 1-1 LEGO version

A classic Mario scene of a Goomba, Mario and a red mushroom on a dirt brown surface with a couple of spent coin bricks, regular untouched bricks and two question mark bricks above them, and “ESPEN”, a white cloud and two light green and one dark green hill or bushes on a light blue background. The hills/bushes and characters are built up out of vertically (the ‘nubs’ aimed towards the top) stacked virtual LEGO bricks mounted to the brown surface base plate, whereas the bricks, name and cloud are horizontally (the nubs aimed towards the camera) stacked pieces.

~ Image description contributed by FiXato

This is the final render of the Mario scene (HD version). It consists of two large baseplates to simulate the ground and the sky, and approximately 1500 LEGO bricks of various sizes, duplicated and individually placed. It was rendered in Cycles instead of Eevee because since the bricks are separate from each other and gaps exists between them, it created weird light effects in the models that didn’t look good. The gaps between the bricks is what creates the faint black lines and allows you to spot a few of individual LEGOs in the models.

So that’s the writeup on the LEGO Mario scene. I guess the personal lesson learned here is that even when doing 3D art, complexity does come from simplicity. You can create a nice scene even with simple models, by building it up step by step. Just apply a generous helping of patience and basic skills.