At some point in most LEGO fans’ lives, you make the jump from just building sets to building your own creations (MOCs = My Own Creations). If you’ve ever wondered how to make that leap, here’s the advice I always give. Personally, I went through it as a child, but some builders don’t get an early start like I did.
Phase 1: Build Sets
Building them from the instructions is the best way to become familiar with the parts LEGO makes, and to learn building techniques. Practice makes perfect. Most LEGO sets have something to teach you in terms of ways to achieve certain shapes or functionality, and the best way to learn those is to build them. If you’re trying to become a MOC builder, pay attention to these things, and try to ask yourself “what would I use this for?”
Of course, purchasing sets is also a popular way to build up your inventory of parts with which to build. When you are done with the build, and no longer feel a need to display it, take it apart and sort the parts (hint: sort by shape/size, not by color – it’s easier to find the red one in a sea of 2×4 bricks, than to find the 2×4 bricks in a sea of all red parts). You’ll need some kind of storage system to store your sorted parts so you can easily find parts you need.
Phase 2: Improve LEGO Sets
LEGO set designers are subject to a number of constraints – playability, price point, production schedules, structural concerns, ease of building, etc. – which don’t impact fan-built creations. If you have the parts, you are free to use them without worrying about any of those issues.
So when you build a LEGO set, you will probably find some flaws with it…
- Too small relative to the scale you feel it should be
- Model only has the front of the building, and the rear is open (so kids can play with them, dollhouse style, and to save on the parts budget)
- Missing details such as furniture or a bathroom
- You would like to see a better or more detailed design to some part
- Model seems plain, and you would like to add more decorations
- You don’t like the color scheme or would like to see what it’s like in other colors
As you build sets, ask yourself, “How could this be improved?” using these or whatever other criteria you can think of.
And then, do it! Build the set bigger, better, in other colors, or better decorated.
Phase 3: Build Something Similar
By using your experience building LEGO sets, you should have some ideas of how to build something completely original that happens to be a lot like the LEGO sets you’ve been building, and some favorite styles or themes to build. So the next phase is to build your own original designs, but copying those styles. Think “What would LEGO do if they didn’t have any design constraints” and build that.
For example when I was a kid I loved the Classic Space sets that were just coming out then (late 1970s and early 1980s). After building each set per the instructions, I’d reuse the parts to create grey and blue spaceships and bases of my own design. They were similar to the LEGO set models, but bigger and (in my opinion at the time anyway) better.
As with any creative endeavor, the first draft is going to suck. If you are a writer, painter, music composer, or other type of artist, you probably already know this. So what do you do when you don’t like a draft? Fix it! Don’t be afraid to tear it down and rebuild it, or if you have the parts, set it aside and build it all over again but better.
Phase 4: Completely Original Design
Once you’ve done the earlier steps a few times, it’s time to strike out on your own and step away from the styles of creations made by LEGO. Spend some time looking at other AFOL (Adult Fan Of LEGO) creations online and by going to LEGO conventions, and see what inspires you. Hopefully you will have some creative inspiration for something you want to make, and get busy building it!
As you do any of these steps beyond the first one, you’ll need ideas. As you go about your business in the real world, or enjoying TV or movies, try to spot things you can build. Do you like cars? Look at the cars on the highway. Enjoy buildings? Walk around your neighborhood and check out the architecture. Space ships or castles? Take a critical eye for design to your favorite movies and TV shows. Ask yourself, “How would I make that shape out of LEGO?” and start thinking about the pieces you have in your collection that might form that shape. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with a great idea and then you’ll have to get out of bed and build it!
Spend time looking at other people’s creations and sharing yours. Join a LUG (LEGO Users Group). Go to LEGO fan conventions. Post pictures online. Even if your stuff isn’t “good enough” remember there’s always someone out there who hasn’t gotten as far along as you have and will probably think your stuff is great. Compare what you’ve made to others and get ideas from that. Get involved in collaborative displays such as Moonbase or Micropolis.
And as you look at other people’s creations, ask yourself, “How did they do that?” Trying to reverse-engineer other people’s work is a great way to build those critical thinking skills and figure out new and better techniques. Stealing is the sincerest form of flattery. (If possible, give credit where credit is due when displaying your work.)
Remember that design is an iterative process. Every step of the way, ask yourself, “How can I make this better?” and then do that. Very few creations just flow from beginning to end. Normally you find a lot of dead ends where you have to back up and try something else. And there’s always ways you can make it better. Like Emeril Lagasse used to say on his cooking shows, “BAM! Another Notch!”
Now quit reading and start building already.