Back in the Red

Hang in there Red Dwarf fans, only a couple more months before Series 11 airs! In the meantime, feast your eyes on this totally spot-on Red Dwarf custom LEGO play set designed by Bob Turner. The dance-ready Series 8 version of Blue Midget shuttlecraft is definitely the star of the show here, but it’s the smaller details that really make this scene a real fan-pleaser:

Of note are the brick-built scutter, the inclusion of the Holly Hop Drive from Series 2, and most importantly a set of custom Red Dwarf minifigs. Each one is accurate and immediately recognizable. And in addition to the main crew, Bob has even included minifig versions of popular alternate characters Duane Dibbley and Ace Rimmer.

Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be back for breakfast!

Custom LEGO Hatsune Miku minifigure

Having already delighted us last summer with his mosaic of everyone’s favorite holographic vocalist Hatsune Miku, Chris Rozek does it again with this cute minifigure version – well, Friends “minidoll” version to be precise. We’ve featured customized LEGO Friends before but it’s always nice to see more customizers using them to recreate well-known screen characters.

This was Chris’ first try at custom sculpting hair pieces. The hair is made from 6 pieces of carved and sculpted resin. The entire figure took around a week to complete.

How-to: Tools of minifig customization – Confessions of a customizer (Part II)

In our first guest post from Jasbrick, we learned about how to get started with minifig customization. Now, let’s hear what he has to say about the tools of the trade.

Now that you have a concept and have gone as far as you can by conventional means it is time to bring in the tools. The range of customisation techniques mean that even with limited tools you can get some pretty impressive results without breaking the bank.

Painting and re-colouring

RAF 100th Steamsuit SquadronI use painting to add details or re-colour parts that would not otherwise be possible.

For example the following minifig fits the steampunk genre with its almost rust / bronze coloured metallic effect which would have been impossible with the original bright white Buzz Lightyear original scheme.

Those of you who have everything you need but with parts that are not quite in the colour you want have two options: Dyeing or Painting.

Dyeing using vinyl dyes works well with parts that you want to change completely, but is limited in colours available and achieving a particular tone can be tricky.

Painting can offer more flexibility in colour choice and coverage, however the biggest downside is that painting plastic is difficult. I see examples every day of great custom concepts that are ruined by the quality of the painting. As painting is a favourite technique of mine I will go into much more detail on this and how to avoid creating a dull, streaked and unconvincing paintjob.

The key tools you need for painting are shown in the image below:

Painting Equipment

  1. Spray undercoat (essential for smooth painting on a plastic surface);
  2. Games Workshop Foundation paints (high opacity paints that give a good coverage with a single coat;
  3. Games Workshop Normal paints (good range and availability);
  4. Privateer Press P3 paints (slightly better quality than GW paint in my opinion, smaller range of colours and poor availability);
  5. Vallejo Paint (Excellent range of paints that also has colour range that is named after military colour schemes e.g. Lluftwaffe Blue);
  6. My device for holding helmets / heads for painting;
  7. Games Workshop brushes of various sizes.

The most crucial of all is the spray primer, as painting a smooth coat onto plastic is virtually impossible without it. Spray primer covers the part with a very thin layer of paint which is much more likely to bond with the plastic and not scratch off easily. Subsequent coats of paint adhere to this base and settle without streaks or chipping. So if you want a minifig helmet to be a nice shade of dark blue to match your plan for a Judge Dredd figure then you need to spray it before applying the perfect paint colour.

Your choice of paints is also important and I suggest you experiment with different types before applying to a Lego part. Characteristics like price, coverage, mixing, drying time, finish and colour choice all need to be considered. I personally use the Games Workshop model paint range as they score highly on all of the above criteria (except price). Games Workshop also have a great range of inks for washing and foundation paints for good coverage. Other good ranges are Vallejo and Privateer Press P3. All of these sell starter sets which contain a good selection of paints and brushes to get you started.

With paint brushes it is not just about size but how you use them that counts… You will need to have good quality model brushes in three main sizes: fine detail, standard and basecoat. Working out the right brush for the job is essential as a small brush will not cover a large area as smoothly as a basecoat brush. As with most things brush control improves with practice and it is advisable to test your new skills on something less precious than your rare minifig part. The following is an example of fine brush work:

Luchador: British Bulldog

This wrestler’s mask was painted freehand with a fine detail brush in multiple layers.

Jasbrick Joker V2

The joker here has face details that were painted on freehand and the hair which was primed and then painted with a dark green colour using a basecoat brush.

Painting detailed designs requires not only brush control but paint control as well. Another obvious problem in some custom work is the thickness of paint application and poor layering. Experience in handling paint can be shortcut by the use of a tool known as a Wet Palette. These are so easy to put together and it is definitely going to improve your paintwork. Quite simply all you need is a small tray, about the size of an 8 x 16 brick, and some absorbent cloth or paper towel. Put the cloth in the tray and then add water to it until the cloth is completely damp… That is it, now all you need to do is transfer your paint to the wet palette before painting on the part. The damp cloth waters down the paint slightly, keeps the paint from drying and also allows you to mix with more control.

There are a whole host of tutorials on the internet for how to create a wet palette and how to paint, however I hope to bring more Lego-specific tutorials to you in the near future.

An important part of painting is the final finish. Paint applied properly will be more resilient than you think possible. However, to seal the deal you can use a varnish to protect your work. Varnishes can be matt or gloss, with the latter being particularly useful for returning a shine comparable to pure unadulterated plastic.

How-to: Confessions of a minifig customiser – Part I: Getting started

As we say in our AFOL jargon glossary, purism is “a form of religious fundamentalism.” LEGO fandom includes a broad range of preferences for what’s “legal” and what’s not. In the spirit of broadening our horizons, we’re very pleased to bring you the first in a series of posts about LEGO minifig customization by master customizer Jasbrick.

Light Tent TestContrary to popular belief customisation of minifigs is not a dark art and even established purists have tried their hand at slapping some paint around (albeit on the Friends Mini-dolls). Some will never stoop to the mutilation of their favourite brand of ABS plastic, however I do believe that if done properly it can at least be appreciated by all.

The Brothers Brick have given me the opportunity to introduce you to some of the tools and techniques of my trade to help those amongst you that have the desire to walk on the dark side for a while. In later posts I will go into specific techniques that I developed in my time as a customiser. Hopefully you can benefit from avoiding the pitfalls I fell into and get a few projects like these underway:

New Gears of War 3

These minifigs involve more advanced painting techniques and some third party accessories.

Monster Manual Player Power

This group utilises painting, combinations, third-party accessories and printed decals.

Establishing a strong concept design

One tool a customiser must have is a highly developed imagination (something pretty common in the Lego community); everything else is optional.

Off to Afghanistan!Those moments when putting a particular combination of parts together and a perfect fig pops out are wonderful, but about as rare as chicken dentures. The key to a good custom project is pre-planning and a well defined concept. This does not have to be something completely new, as for example computer game concept art offers a rich seam of material to be interpreted, or real life inspiration can be just as good. The minifig on the right was created for a Green Beret Major currently serving in Afghanistan who sent me a photograph of himself to copy.

But if you want to start from scratch then a sketchpad is your best friend. You don’t even need to be good at drawing to develop a decent concept due to the simplicity of the design of our little friend the minifig. As this series develops I hope to be able to share with you some of the concept designs that I have developed and how they become a reality. Alternatively you can sketch your concept over a template like this:

Collectable Minifig Design Interview

Once the concept is set (not in stone, but pretty solid) the next step for me is to determine how much of this can be achieved with standard parts or by utilising third party accessories. I will be delving deeper into how to get the best from suppliers such as BrickArms, BrickForge, Brick Warriors and Arealight later, but I highly recommend checking out these companies as they offer a great range of products that can serve as inspiration in themselves.

Parts Library

As an AFOL who has amassed quite a large collection of minifig parts and accessories I have a library that I can dip into that can make most custom projects a matter of tweaking to get the final effect rather than building everything from scratch.

The following image is a recent group of minifigs that I put together that are without any noticeable customisation. I managed to achieve a lot with just the combination of parts and a few third party accessories thrown in to tie the concept together:

Odysseus Crew need ship

I recommend that you take a close look at the Minifig and Minifig parts areas in the catalog on Bricklink and see which figs / parts speak to you of further opportunities. Developing an inventory of useful parts is essential to allowing you to get projects moving swiftly before your enthusiasm for the concept dies.