Lettering, meet Lego

7,600+ lego bricks, 60 base plates, 24 solid hours

With Dropbox’s 2014 Hack Week around the corner, we built a gigantic lettered wall mural out of over 7,600 Lego pieces. Because this is such an unusual design medium, we ad libbed when we had to - from using medical tweezers (what we just had on hand) to pry and fling off misplaced Legos, to using a semi-archaic blueprinting program to map it all out. But in true hackathon spirit, I had a ton of fun (and got little sleep) while making this this past weekend.

Starting out

ps_legos

In every lettering project, I first start with a sketch in Photoshop and then head over to Illustrator to vectorize and clean up.

gridmaster_white

We then plugged the illustration into Pic2Brick, a handy little program that allows you to input your file as well as the sizes of bricks that you’d like to use. It very helpfully spits out the most optimal combination of bricks to minimize time spent building (ie. it’ll grid out space for a 1x8 instead of eight 1x1s if possible). This may seem like a small optimization, but when you’ve got thousands of Lego pieces to coordinate, cutting eight arm movements down to one is pretty key.


And then began the most fun part - building! We printed out a nearly life-size version of the design with a grid applied to it that mapped to the baseplates, which measure 32 by 32 points, or 10 by 10 inches. I also adlibbed this system where I would count out the negative space distances from the corners to make sure these were where they were supposed to be, so even if I messed up within a grid, at least the edges would all still line up.

Building layers

I should note that it is pretty key to order as many extra smaller units as possible. For instance, I ran out of 1x6 yellows toward the end (simply because I hadn’t properly adhered to the blueprint in the beginning) and ended up freestyling the bottom 1/6 of the board. Thankfully these were swashes and so a bit more creative freedom can be taken with them (vs. actual letters), but if I had ran out of the smaller pieces I would have been in trouble as you can’t break a large brick into smaller ones (but you can use smaller ones to comprise larger units).

Adding the second layer was actually a lot easier than the first because it’s a simply a lot harder to begin drawing on a blank canvas without any references. Plus, the first layer was harder to remove directly from the base plates - without an actual Lego remover I ended up scrounging around our first aid kids and used sharp medical tweezers to fling the misplaced bricks off five feet in the air.

Finished, and in time!

Hacking Lego

1. Preventatively bandage your fingertips because after your 7000th Lego motion they will seriously hurt.
2. Don’t forget about stuff like: transportation (once you stick 7000 Legos onto a board it will be a lot heavier than when you started) and mounting (you don’t want all your Lego pieces to fall off after your hard work!).
3. Having a blueprint was key. For those who don’t have access to bigger printers, you can just grid your design up as you would by baseplates and then print out each individual grid. That may end up being less cumbersome to reference when building, anyway.
4. I’d recommend looking into third party vendors to see if you can get a local bulk discount on ordering bricks and stuff - and definitely get one of these things.

We spend so much time at our computers these days that having an excuse to work with such a simple unit - and a beloved throwback to our childhood, no less (I’m looking at you, 90s babies) was just such a treat. Happy hacking, yall.

Note: This project first and foremost was inspired by the amazing folks at Invisible Creature and was originally Tymn’s brilliant idea. Thank you to Don of IC for giving us some invaluable advice on planning. The incredible Sam and Drew also helped procure, assemble, and spray-paint the base for this, which is a lot harder to do than one might initially think in windy San Francisco (read: leaves and grass blowing all over wet paint).

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