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.

A story of synergistic collaboration (and how a tree was built)

Gum tree Attempt 2 - With Gamborts changes

Aaron Amatnieks (akama1_lego) and I were spending a productive day in a LEGO chatroom yesterday when he showed me a tree he’d been working on. I absolutely loved the concept and went off to build one for myself.

I’ve been thinking about gum trees a bit lately so had some ideas to try out showing Azz the pictures and getting his feedback at each stage. We then both went off building and not saying much until resurfacing with much improved gum trees. And gave ourselves a pat on the back.

Today I posted some more refinements and a breakdown and Azz just featured his latest in an amusing diorama (warning! may offend the easily offended). This sharing is one thing I love about the LEGO community. Bouncing ideas from one another to make it all better.

Thus ends my story.

Ghost Gum sketch V

Sorting LEGO – how do you actually get it done?

Dunechaser's sigfigHaving a consistent system for sorting and storing your LEGO collection makes your pieces much more accessible while building. Most LEGO builders eventually figure out a system that works for them. In fact, it’s something we discuss at length among ourselves, both at conventions and on the web. Most people seem to sort by element rather than by color, for example.

What I don’t hear a lot of talk about is actually how to go about sorting one’s LEGO — other than sustained frustration about its necessity. At what point do you know you need to sort? When do you sort? How long do you spend sorting at one sitting? Where do you do it — in a dedicated LEGO space, sitting on the couch, at the dining room table? Do you have anybody to help you?

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m going through a major sorting phase, largely because my collection had outgrown the system I’d been using, and any creation not based entirely on a pre-sorted Bricklink order became painfully time-consuming.

Well, I started by taking apart the LEGO sets (and any models I don’t want to keep) that I’d built but never disassembled over the past three or four years, and dumped it all in bins. Next, my wife and visiting mother-in-law kindly volunteered to pre-sort what I’d taken apart into bricks (“Aren’t they all bricks?”), plates (“flat bits”), slopes (“slopey bits”), and “everything else.” (World Cup soccer and Seattle Mariners baseball have been good background entertainment for all of us.) When we had enough of each of these, I then “sub-sorted” into finer categories, like regular, inverted, and curved slopes.

The two major lessons I’ve learned so far from my ongoing sorting are that every extra pair of hands helps, and that the pre-sort/sub-sort approach gets pretty much everything but the “fiddly bits” where they belong fairly quickly. It’s also clear that you can never have enough clear storage bins…

So, dear readers, how have you overcome that mountain of unsorted LEGO?