kottke.org posts about Lego

Lego Letterpress Lobster

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Check out this letterpress print of a lobster made by Eunice Chiong with Lego pieces as the stamps (watch a short video of her printing process). Chiong has been working with Legos and letterpress for many months now…check out more of her creations on Instagram and in her portfolio.

See also Letterpress Prints of Birds Printed Using Lego Bricks.

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Lego Sets of Famous Moments in Psychology

a Lego depiction of the Stanford Prison Experiment

a Lego depiction of the marshmallow test

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I love these depictions of famous moments in psychology and cognitive science via @tomerullman. From top to bottom: the Stanford prison experiment, the marshmallow test, and the selective attention test.

These didn’t track as AI-generated at first…and then I tried to read the text — THE STANFORD PRESERIBENT. You can see the whole set on Bluesky (if you have access).

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Time Lapse Video of a Massive Lego Build of The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Lego master Jumpei Mitsui spent over 400 hours building a 3D version of Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa out of 50,000 Lego bricks — you can watch a time lapse of the construction in the video above. The build was included at an exhibition of Hokusai’s work at the MFA in Boston:

In order to create Hokusai’s Wave in three dimensions, he made a detailed study of rogue waves and their characteristics. He also drew on childhood memories of waves near his family home at Akashi on the Inland Sea.

The video slows down to realtime in spots, so you can see how fast he’s actually building (quite fast). And you can also see the level of trial and error involved as he builds and then un-builds the waves until he’s happy with them. (via the kid should see this)


Lego’s New Dune Set With a Loooooong Baron Harkonnen Minifig

a lineup of the Dune Lego minifigs, inclduing a super-tall Baron Harkonnen

several views of the Lego Dune set

Lego is coming out with a huge new set that’s based on Denis Villeneuve’s two-installment adaptation of Dune (or, as it’s know around these parts, DUNC). OMG, the Baron Harkonnen minifig!! It reminds me of something…ah yes:

Long Baron Is Long

Longbaron is looooooooong.

Anyway, it's coming out in February and the main build is a 1369-piece model of the Atreides Royal Ornithopter with "fold-out, flappable wings, deployable landing gear and an opening cockpit". Baron Harkooooooooooooonnen. I can't stop! I, uh, may have pre-ordered this the second I saw it. (via polygon)

Update: Absolutely perfect:

Dune Lego 03

(via @justgregb)


Cutting Up a Huge Lego Salmon

In this ASMR stop motion cooking video, a chef butchers a huge Lego salmon and prepares a salmon and rice bowl. This video is surprisingly visceral, what with the sound effects and the (Lego) blood.

This reminds me more than a little of the sushi scene in Isle of Dogs. (thx, caroline)


Can a Lego Car Roll Downhill Forever?

I just really love the hell out of these iterative Lego build videos from Brick Experiment Channel and Brick Technology. In this one, a car is repeatedly modified to roll perfectly on an increasingly inclined treadmill. I started watching and in 10 seconds I was 100% invested.

They’re not even really about Lego…that’s just the playful hook to get you through the door. They’re really about science and engineering — trial and error, repeated failure, iteration, small gains, switching tactics when confronted with dead ends, how innovation can result in significant advantages. Of course, none of this is unique to engineering; these are all factors in any creative endeavor — painting, sports, photography, writing, programming. But the real magic here is seeing it all happen in just a few minutes.

See also A Lego 5-Speed Manual Transmission, Designing a Lego Car to Cross Gaps, Engineering a Capable Climbing Lego Car, Making A Solar-Powered Billion-Year Lego Clock, and 20 Mechanical Principles Combined in a Useless Lego Machine.


Instruction Manuals for 6000+ Lego Sets, Courtesy of the Internet Archive

cover of the instruction manual for making a Lego typewriter

sample page of the instructions for making a Lego fort

”cover

The Internet Archive is an international treasure, a trove of human creative output spanning decades and even centuries — a modern library of Alexandria. Among the collection is more than 6000 downloadable PDFs of Lego instruction manuals for projects ranging from old school sets like Fort Legoredo to big Star Wars sets like the Millennium Falcon to sets geared towards adults like the typewriter.

You can also look for instruction sets on Lego’s website as well as at Rebrickable, Brick Instructions, and at Brickset. (via open culture)


Lego Stop-Motion Recreation of Iconic Scenes From The Shining

The creepy twins. Jack feverish at the typewriter. Danny riding his Big Wheel through carpeted hallways. The elevators of blood. These familiar scenes from Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining (and several more) have been recreated in this Lego stop-motion animation. The video took 50-60 hours over a three-week period to make and was an exercise in constraints:

“Mostly, it came down to choosing the right pieces,” he says. “I made this movie only with pieces I already had in my collection, so I had to do with just what I had laying around. For instance, the famous carpet pattern in the hallway could have been more realistic, but with the pieces I had, it became a little more abstract. I went with clay for the bloody elevator scene also because I do not have thousands of red translucent pieces.”

(via boing boing)


The Spider-Verse Lego Scene Was Created By a 14-Year-Old Animator

After 14-year-old Preston Mutanga’s Lego version of the trailer for Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (embedded above) went viral, the team hired him to animate a short Lego sequence for the actual film.

In the brief scene, we see a Lego version of Peter Parker as he observes a dimensional anomaly and sneaks off to the Daily Bugle’s bathroom to alert another Spider-Man about the issue. While the scene is short, it killed in my theater and it also looked as good as anything in the recent Lego films. After seeing it, a few friends of mine even commented that it must have been the same team that animated it. But nope! It was a lone teenager, actually.

You can check out more of Mutanga’s work on his YouTube channel.


Making A Solar-Powered Billion-Year Lego Clock

Ok this is kind of incredible: Brick Technology built a solar-powered Lego clock that will keep time for a billion years. It’s got various displays in the style of an astronomical clock so you can keep track of seconds, hours, months, centuries, and even galactical years (the amount of time the Sun takes to orbit the center of the galaxy). The clock is powered by solar energy, and the solar cell is connected to the clock so that it tilts throughout the day to keep facing the sun.

This is a) an extremely accessible explanation of how clocks work, b) the nerdiest thing ever, and c) I love it so much. Even if you’re not a Lego fan, you should watch this. (For more on how clocks work, check out Bartosz Ciechanowski’s excellent explainer on mechanical watches.)

The obvious thing that sprung to mind watching this was The Clock of the Long Now, a 10,000-year clock being constructed inside a mountain in West Texas. But I also thought of Arthur Ganson’s Machine With Concrete, which utilizes extreme gear ratios to turn an input of 200 rpm into a gear that turns only once every 2 trillion years. That’s slow enough that the final gear is actually embedded in concrete and it doesn’t affect the operation of the machine at all.

See also Here’s What a Googol-to-One Gear Ratio Looks Like, 20 Mechanical Principles Combined in a Useless Lego Machine, and A Lego 5-Speed Manual Transmission.


Why Lego Won

Lego did not invent the stacking, interlocking plastic brick — Kiddiecraft did. So why did Lego’s version win? As Phil Edwards explains in this entertaining video, the answer can be boiled down to two words: innovation and marketing.

The first Lego plastic mold was the same one that Kiddicraft used, and early Lego bricks were almost identical to Kiddicraft blocks, with a few minor differences. They slightly changed the scale and the studs, but as you can see, they were pretty similar. Early Kiddicraft blocks had little slots in the side for windows and other attachments. So did early Lego bricks. From top to bottom, these were very similar to Kiddicraft blocks. So with such a simple idea that had kind of already been done, how did Lego win?

See also Why Oreo Won and a fascinating look at plastic injection molding, including a bit on “how quietly ingenious Lego’s injection molding process is”.


Ai Weiwei’s Lego Version of Monet’s Water Lilies

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detail of a recreation of Monet's Water Lilies in Lego by Ai Weiwei

Lego bricks and Impressionism are a natural pairing, and so Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has recreated Claude Monet's massive Water Lilies triptych with 650,000 Lego bricks. Spanning nearly 50 feet across, the Lego sculpture is part of Ai’s upcoming show at the Design Museum in London. Here is a tantalizing behind-the-scenes view.

Ai has been creating Lego works for years now — including these Warhol-esque portraits and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — and was even denied from buying bricks from the company at one point.


20 Mechanical Principles Combined in a Useless Lego Machine

ASMR videos don’t really do anything for me, but I could watch videos of gears and mechanisms doing their thing all day long. I watched this video of 20 mechanical Lego widgets being combined into one useless machine, absolutely rapt. Bevel gears, rack and pinion, camshaft, worm gear, universal joint, Schmidt coupling — this thing has it all.

See also Gears and Other Mechanical Things and a Treasure Trove of Over 1700 Mechanical Animations. (via the kids should see this & meanwhile)


Lego’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa

”Lego

As part of the company’s effort to get more adults building with bricks, LEGO has released an 1810-piece set based on Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Here’s the only problem: it’s sold out online (and on Amazon as well). Perhaps you can find one at your local toy store?

If you were lucky enough to procure a set, Lego has produced an 85-minute audio piece about The Great Wave that you can listen to while you’re putting it together. The piece includes interviews with woodblock printer David Bull, Alfred Haft, curator of Japanese Art at the British Museum, and anime & manga scholar Susan Napier. Very cool.


A Lego 5-Speed Manual Transmission

From the Brick Technology YouTube channel, a demonstration on how to build a 5-speed manual transmission with Lego. It even has a gear stick and goes in reverse. Unloaded, 1st gear spins an axel at 384 rpm and 5th gear spins at 3000 rpm. Really impressive.

See also Designing a Lego Car to Cross Gaps and Engineering a Capable Climbing Lego Car.


Coming Soon: Muppet Lego Minifigs

Starting on May 1, Lego is introducing minifigs of The Muppets!

Kermit and Miss Piggy Lego figures

Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker Lego figures

”Statler

The Muppets are such a sprawling concern that not all your favorites are here, but you’ve got Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, Beaker, Animal, Janice, The Swedish Chef, and Statler & Waldorf — that’s a pretty good lineup.

Update: I love this Lego-ized version of The Muppet Show opening theme they did. So good.


IBM’s $300 Open Source Lego Microscope

microscopic image of a fruit fly

microscopic image of a microfluidic chip

Using Lego bricks, a Raspberry Pi mini-computer, an Arduino microcontroller, some off-the-shelf components like lenses, and 3D-printed components, IBM scientist Yuksel Temiz built a fully functional microscope to help him with his work. The materials cost around $300 and the microscope performs as well as scopes many times more expensive — the images above were taken with the Lego scope.

The microscope works so well that for the past two years Temiz and his colleagues in the microfluidics lab at IBM Research, just meters away from the picturesque Zurich lake, have been using the images they took with it in their papers, published in leading journals. They also use them for presentations at major conferences. Not all images relate to microfluidics — the area of science that involves manipulating fluids on miniscule chips in a very precise manner. The liquids can be blood or urine, used for cancer and infectious diseases research as well as understanding heart attack conditions, and more. Researchers also routinely take images of typical computer chips, and Temiz showed me, for instance, how to take a stunning close up of a fruit fly.

Here’s a quick video look at how to build your own:

The the full set of open-sourced instructions are available on GitHub.


Russian Bear Steps on Ukrainian Lego

”illustration

An absolutely fantastic poster by Polish illustrator Paweł Jońca of a giant red Russian bear about to step on a small Ukrainian flag made of Lego bricks. A printable digital download of this poster is available “by paying ANY amount” with all proceeds going to humanitarian aid for Ukraine (specifically to Polska Akcja Humanitarna).


Letterpress Prints of Birds Printed Using Lego Bricks

letterpress print of a bird printed using Lego bricks

letterpress print of a bird printed using Lego bricks

letterpress print of a bird printed using Lego bricks

letterpress print of a bird printed using Lego bricks

Designers Roy Scholten and Martijn van der Blom have created a series of letterpress prints of birds made by using Lego pieces as the stamps (in lieu of lead or wood blocks). Letterpress, birds, Lego…that’s gotta be close to a bingo on many a designer’s card. (via colossal)


Brik Font: Creating Type with Lego

Craig Ward has been creating letterforms using Lego bricks and posting the results to Instagram. The ones I really love are the anti-aliased letters — reminds me of zooming all the way in to do detail work in Photoshop back when I was a web designer.

the word 'ok' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 's' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 'f' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 'a' made out of Lego bricks

There is just something so satisfying about meticulously rendering digital artifacts in a physical medium like Lego.


Designing a Lego Car to Cross Gaps

In the second video by Brick Experiment Channel I’ve posted here in the past week, a Lego car is repeatedly adapted to cross larger and larger gaps, until it can cross a massive gap just a little narrower than the length of the car. As I said before about their climbing car video, watching the iterative process of improving a simple car performing an increasingly difficult task using familiar design objects is such an accessible way to observe how the process of engineering works.

One of the things you get to witness is when a particular design tactic dead ends, i.e. when something that worked across a shorter gap is completely ineffective crossing a wider distance. No amount of tinkering with that same design will make it work…you have to find a whole new way to do it.


Engineering a Capable Climbing Lego Car

In this video, a simple Lego car is repeatedly modified to navigate more and more difficult obstacles until it can climb up and down almost anything. This fun exercise also doubles as a crash course in engineering and how to build a capable all-terrain vehicle as it “demonstrates what you need to consider: wheel diameter, gear ratio, 4-wheel drive, tire grip, breakover angle, weight distribution”. (via the prepared)


Mindbending Lego Sculpture

Ok you’re going to have to trust me and just watch this — telling you anything else would spoil it. I’ve seen it a couple of times and I am still not 100% convinced how he does it or if it’s actually CGI or something. Solid objects should not behave like this? (thx, john)


Lego Versions of Iconic Album Covers

album cover for Nirvana's Nevermind built with Lego bricks

album cover for Madonna's True Blue built with Lego bricks

album cover for Radiohead's The Bends built with Lego bricks

”album

Check out these iconic album covers rendered in Lego by Adnan Lotia on Instagram. (thx, jenni)


App Helps You Build New Creations from Your Existing Lego Pile

”screenshots

A new iOS app called Brickit has been developed to breathe new life into your old Lego pile. Just dump your bricks out into a pile and the app will analyze what Lego bricks you have, what new creations you can build with them, and provide you with detailed build instructions. It can even guide you to find individual pieces in the pile. View a short demo — I’m assuming they’re using some sort of AI/machine learning to do this?

My kids have approximately a billion Legos at my house, so I downloaded Brickit to try it out. The process is a little slow and you need to do a little bit of pre-sorting (by taking out the big pieces and spreading your pile out evenly), but watching the app do its thing is kinda magical. When I have more time later, I’m definitely going to go back and try to build some of the ideas it found for me. (via @marcprecipice)


Relaxing White Noise Album Made with Lego Bricks

I’m always on the lookout for sounds that help you focus and/or relax; I’ve collected a number of video soundscapes here. If you happen to find the sounds of Lego bricks relaxing, you can add these videos to your routine:

The first one features the sound of Legos being poured and the second one is the sound of someone digging through the Lego bin & snapping pieces together. The full 3.5-hour album of Lego sounds is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music.

Here’s the company’s press release and a behind-the-scenes look at the album’s production from The Guardian.

The project was devised by Lego’s “head of creative” Primus Manokaran, who describes the streaming-only album as “a collection of soundscapes” designed to promote relaxation and mindfulness. Although the seven tracks, which each run to half an hour in length, are different in their granular details, essentially they were made by Lego pieces being poured out of tubs, sifted through and clicked together.

Manokaran’s team began thinking about why people love Lego during lockdown, and realised that a big hook was how it sounds. Inspired by the online craze for white noise as an aid to relaxation and focus, they began recording. “The acoustic properties of each brick was slightly different,” he says. “It was like composing with 10,000 tiny instruments.”

(thx, martin)


Building Black: Ekow Nimako’s All-Black Lego Sculptures

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

Ekow Nimako's Lego artwork

”Ekow

For his series called Building Black, Ekow Nimako uses only black Lego pieces to build fantastical and futuristic sculptures based on West African masks, folklore, and medieval kingdoms. From Colossal:

Running through each of these artworks is a fluid understanding of time and space that blurs the distinction between generations, locations, and histories in order to imagine a new reality. “We are all living proof of our ancestors, all their joy, love, knowledge, and pain. They live in our DNA,” the Ghanaian-Canadian artist says. “Aesthetically, I enjoy taking elements from bygone eras and creating futuristic landscapes, particularly of African utopias to imagine a liberated existence for us all.”

That blurred temporality that foregrounds his sculptures and installations parallels his own trajectory, as well. “My art practice developed when I was four years old, as I constantly told myself I want to do this (play with LEGO) forever, and sometimes it feels as though my future self communicated with my past self, astrally perhaps, to ensure this very specific destiny manifested,” he says, noting that the plastic blocks have remained a fixture in both his personal and professional life since becoming a father.

Vice did a short video feature on Nimako and his work:

(via colossal)


Stop Motion Lego Chocolate Cake

Watch as YouTuber tomosteen makes a Lego chocolate cake out of Lego ingredients, from cracking the eggs to the frosting on top. The little details here are *chef’s kiss*: the transitions from food to Lego brick, the way the chocolate bar breaks imperfectly, the little peaky dollop left after piping the chocolate frosting out of the pastry bag.

Don’t care for chocolate cake? How about a Japanese breakfast (featuring tamagoyaki) or churros instead?

See also Lego In Real Life or search for Lego in real life on YouTube. (via colossal)


A Lego-Illustrated Guide to Covid-19 Variants

This guide to Covid-19 variants (SARS-CoV-2 viruses that have evolved changes to meaningfully alter their behavior) by Michaeleen Doucleff and Meredith Rizzo at NPR cleverly visualizes how mutations of the virus’s spike proteins help bind it more easily to ACE2 receptors on human cells. The key to the visualization is Meredith Miotke’s illustrations of the viruses using Lego pieces to represent the virus spikes and cell receptors. The usual SARS-CoV-2 has 1x1 Lego pieces that can bind with 1x2 pieces, like so:

Covid-19 variants illustrated through Lego

But, as everyone who has ever worked with a Lego set knows, a 1x1 piece stuck to a 1x2 piece is not super stable. So when a version of the virus with a 1x2 piece shows up, it's able to form a better connection to the 1x2 receptor:

Covid-19 variants illustrated through Lego

The analogy breaks down if you look too hard at it1 but for many people, it can be a quick way to get the gist of the mechanism at work here. (via @EricTopol)

  1. This is a huge pet peeve of mine when people try to poke holes in analogies: by definition, all analogies break down if you examine them too deeply. An analogy is a comparison of two different things that are similar in significant respects. If they were the same in every respect, it’s not an analogy…you’d just be describing one thing.


Lego Version of Hokusai’s Iconic The Great Wave off Kanagawa

”Lego

Lego Version of Hokusai's Iconic The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Jumpei Mitsui, the youngest-ever Lego Certified Professional, has created a Lego version of Hokusai's iconic woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa. The Great Wave is perhaps the most recognizable (and most covered) Japanese artwork in the world. Mitsui’s Lego rendering is composed of 50,000 pieces and took 400 hours to build. From Spoon & Tamago:

In ensuring that his 3D lego replica not only payed homage to the original but also captured the dynamics of crashing waves, Mitsui says he read several academic papers on giant wave formations, as well as spent hours on YouTube watching video of waves.

You can check out the Lego Great Wave in person at the Hankyu Brick Museum in Osaka.


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