Brick Built Life-Sized Dalek — and what they did wrong

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Now let me first emphasize that this is not a LEGO built model. It was created by the Character Building Company and made with their building blocks.

For this year’s Toy Fair, a 280-kilogram, 2-meter-tall plastic Dalek will be unveiled to strike fear into patrons’ hearts. This project required four people, 328 hours (almost two weeks) of effort, and 157,460 separate Character Building bricks.

Via — io9.com

As a Doctor Who fan, seeing a life size Dalek built out of bricks is cool.

But watching the video as a LEGO Master Model Designer, I see a lot of things wrong with the model. Not that I want to bash them too much mind you, but they made that model way, way too heavy. 280 kg is just a little over 617 pounds!

When I, or any other properly trained Model Builder, designs a model we want to make it as light as possible. Even when they are only made of bricks, with no metal armature, a large model can get heavy very quickly.

If you’ve watched the video all the way through, watch it again. On this second go round, notice the interior. They’ve built solid walls criss-crossed to give structural support. Although this will give support, it will also make it much heavier than it has to be.

In contrast, look at the hidden interior of my Perot Museum
Interior Bracing

Granted this is a smaller model being only 2 1/2 feet cubed, but you can clearly see the difference in sheer quantity of brick used. My model is just as structurally sound but instead of being hundreds of pounds, it only weighs about 60.

For further perspective check out this life-sized Ford Explorer made by LEGO

You can see that there are spaces in the interior structure, allowing strength with less weight. Even so, the Ford Explorer still weighs about as much as an actual car. ;)

As more and more companies have a building brick line (clearly copy-cats of our beloved LEGO) they want to create their own “impressive” large models. This has been done with mixed results. I’ve seen some that resemble what they are supposed to be but that do not have the beauty and well crafted design of a LEGO sculpture. This Ironman by Mega Bloks is a good example:
P1210802
(although I’m hoping for a stunning Super Hero model to surface now that LEGO has the DC and Marvel licenses. :D )

This Optimus Prime created by Kre-0 really impressed me at Comic Con last year
P1270675

But, in talking with the designer, I found out that she is also a former LEGO model builder.

I’m not saying that only LEGO trained Model Builders can build great models — the vast array of MOCs (My Own Creations) created by Adult (and child) LEGO fans is proof of that — but it helps. ;)

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4 Responses to “Brick Built Life-Sized Dalek — and what they did wrong”

  1. Purple Dave Says:

    Heh. I did that same thing when building the internal structure for the lifesize Tony the Tiger that we supplied to the now-defunct Kellog’s Cereal City museum. To be fair, though, we were having the armature welded up based on how we’d built the model, so we needed to be able to feed the sections down on top of the armature posts. While I probably could have cut down on the bulk for the support walls themselves, the sleeves that the posts fit through really needed to be solid on all four sides or it could have been very difficult to actually fit the pieces down over their respective armature sections. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  2. Mariann Asanuma Says:

    Yes, the armature is always designed based on the model design. You don’t need to make the entire thing solid, just as solid as it needs to be. ;)

  3. Jason Spears Says:

    I suspect it is more of a matter of experience. The first or second time you make a model this big, you over do the support structure. I’m fairly certain that Snap & Crackle that I did had solid interiors as well. But the support structure in my larger buildings are technic, to get as much strength as possible with as little pieces.

  4. Purple Dave Says:

    @Jason:
    I never saw the inside of any of the other KCC models (or Tony’s head), but Tony’s body had two 2-stud walls running from front to back, full height. On each of those walls there was one sleeve, sized to fit a 1″ square tube. The rest was hollow, mostly because we would have had to order at least two more K8 sized boxes of bricks to make him completely solid. Snap, Crackle, & Pop all had pretty tiny bodies compared to the size of their heads, so making the bodies solid would have saved a lot of hassle with figuring out how to build the outer shell, the internal supports, make them both strong enough, and blend them together.

    @ Mariann:
    I don’t think I was clear enough. We built the entire model first, then took measurements from what we’d constructed, and _then_ had the armature welded up. The lower armature was bolted onto the pedestal, and Tony’s legs were lowered down on top of it. The upper armature was bolted to the lower one, and the torso was lowered down onto that. There were two arm sections that then had to be bolted to the upper section at some point, and the head just slipped down over a post that was left sticking out of the upper section. Now, from what I’ve seen, when MBBs do this sort of thing, they know what the finished model is going to look like (we didn’t), they have enough experience to know how the armature needs to fit inside (we had none, and I realized we’d forgotten to include armature sleeves at all until we were almost to the split at the waist), and I believe you would always build the final model around the preexisting armature. There were three of us working on the Tony build, and none of us had ever built large organic sculptures like that ever before (well, Spencer had to build the mini-Tony model for preapproval before we got started on the big one, but I’m not sure that counts), nor were we fortunate enough to have access to any sort of software to help us out.

    I do have one question for you, as a previous MBB. Four people, 328 hours, and just shy of 160k bricks. How different would those numbers be if this was done at LEGOLAND? We can give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that number includes planning time.

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