Introduction: Large Collaborative Lego Displays

About: I currently am working as a software quality assurance tester. I have enjoyed woodworking since I was a kid and have started to build up my tool collection. I love to make all kinds of things and enjoy all of …

In this Instructable I will go over the steps in creating
large collaborative Lego displays. Why collaborative displays? Well most people simple do not have enough Lego to make giant displays. Plus, it is extra fun to see what other people will come up with in design to meet a shared goal. The example I will use is my creation Project M-Tron. I am currently president of IndyLUG, an adult club of Lego enthusiasts and they help me create this huge Lego display. Our display is different every time we show it and it just keeps getting larger. I will go through how I made an idea happen.

Step 1: Theme and Idea

So you have decided to create a Lego display. The most
important thing is to first come up with an idea and theme. This will lay the foundation for all other decisions on the project. Perhaps you want to do a castle themed layout or maybe you want to re-create Tantooine in Lego. Maybe an Old West train display? A pirate cove. The possibilities are endless.

Building sci-fi themed is my favorite area to build in and I wanted to make a Space colony. I chose M-Tron as my theme for several reasons that I will cover later. You probably don’t know, but it was an official Lego theme in the 90s that incorporated magnets in the set designs. I have always thought of them as engineers and miners so I decided the theme would be M-Tron and we would build a Space Mining Colony.

Step 2: Build Modularly and Create Rules

Ok you have chosen a theme, the next step is decide on some
rules for the contributors to follow. This is very important and it does several things. First it give a guide to follow, many times your fellow builders need a little push to start building. Rules allow them a framework to build off of. Second rules help create cohesion in the finished layout. Everyone has their own build style and if you don’t work to tie things together things will be a mess. The next important reason is the ability to come together and have things work together. Creating wall standards or terrain requirements allows seamless integration. Sometimes rules provide another possibility, there are times when a creation is just not good enough or doesn’t fit the layout. You need to be able to say thanks for the effort but you just don’t meet the rules.

Build modularly. Project M-Tron uses the large grey baseplates as the base standard. These are approximately 14 inches square (48 studs by 48 studs). These provide an easy way for contributors to build what they want as long as it is based on the baseplates. Enforce this rule! There will be people who for whatever reason won’t follow this rule and it makes set up a nightmare. Lego also offers baseplates in 32x32, 16X16. I highly suggest you pick one as your standard.

Your buildings and structures will almost always have to be transported. Make sure they can be partially disassembled for transport. As your skills advance you will come up with ways to speed strategic disassembly with seems and such. In no way should you have to completely destroy or rebuild during setup and take down.

Everyone should build their own creation separately. Sharing pieces for parts of a build can work but will make your life so so much harder. If person A wants to build a power station they should build the whole power station otherwise I guarantee one show someone won’t be able to attend and you will have half an item.

Step 3: Color Scheme

The next important thing to decide is color schemes. The
goal is a seamless final display and nothing accomplishes that better than to be color coordinated. A space themed creation is easier to determine a unifying color scheme because it can be anything you can imagine. Other builds like historical may have colors dictated by reality, but with all the colors Lego comes in your desired blue has many many options.

If you can do a unifying color choose 1 main primary color. This is your primary color. Project M-Trons main color is red. This color should be used the most on the layout. This color should be used at over 50 percent.

Choose a second color that compliments the first color. This should be used less than the primary but should still have a significant presence on the layout. Project M-Tron’s secondary color is black. This should be at least 20% of the colors present.

Choose a highlight color. This color should pop when next to the other colors. It should be used at less than 20 percent coverage. Project M-Tron uses transparent neon green as its highlight color.

Incidental colors – These colors are used in discreet areas and are typically shades. White, greys and blacks can be used with almost everything. Project M-Tron allows these in small doses.

These colors were chosen because they matched the official
sets. Also these three colors are very cheap to buy on the secondhand market and are available in large quantities.

Step 4: Getting Participation

Even belonging to a Lego club where we had already done many
collaborative displays, getting participation was not easy. Summing you have people who have some Lego how do you convince them to build your theme and not the own? The easiest is to first build a MOC (My Own Creation) that follows the theme. If it can knock their socks off even better. The better built the more your vison will collect others. It also gives them an idea to match to.

Secondly, hold a build contest. Give them a few months to create something and provide a prize. Preferably more Lego. A prize turns fence sitters into doers.

Over the course of the life of Project M-Tron I hold a new contest every time I think the creations are getting a little stale or I think we need to expand the size. It costs me a prize but I gets lots of results. I increase the size of the prize based on the number of valid entries I get.

Step 5: Tell a Story

It is important for the layout to tell a story. The best way
to do this is with small scenes or vignettes scattered throughout the layout. Here is where the Lego minifig really shines. There are now so many different faces and accessories you can convey almost any emotion and attitude.

We like to do some fun things. Since all our minifigs have the same company spacesuit we have to play with faces and placement. One fan favorite (mine a well) is having a huge conga line. We also like to have a small battle scene of an invading force. An accidental building collapse was saved by a Hulk minifig “smashing” the building.

Step 6: Create Harmony With Repetition

The layout needs to look like one big layout not many small
layouts bunched together. We went over color and rules, but another way to do that is to make multiples of buit items. These don’t have to be big creations. Our layout uses lots of small containers and knickknacks to spread over the base. The key is to have them the same. We add rows of radio towers spaced evenly on the layout, and it pulls the layout together.

Step 7: Height, Light, and Motion

Creating tall building, having blinking lights, and motion
even if simple ups the wow factor exponentially. Create a balance of high and low details. Our main tall tower can be spotted across a large display hall. Sitting on the table it towers over 8 feet in the air.

We have motion everywhere we can on the layout. We have a train running around the base, we have a moving monorail on elevated track. We have spinning radar dishes and drills. We have a set of gun sentries that track movement and “fire” at the movement. The more motion you have the bigger the awes. Everything we do with motion is all done with the various Lego systems including the Mindstorms robot kits. We have also created a M-Tron Chinese Theatre that shows stop frame Lego movies on its screen.

Lights just add in that little something extra. Every year we display at Brickworld Chicago where there is held a Festival of Lights where the main hall lights are turned off and all the creations are lit by themselves. As an added super bonus, the transparent neon green florescence under UV light. We have UV lights built into the creations and in the dark Project M-Tron shines in blacklight glory.

Step 8: Plan for Growth

It is important to keep in mind whether or not you want an
ever growing display or not. I recommend a first display only tries to cover two or three 2.5’ X 8’ tables. Project M-Tron started with 3 or 4. The latest show we did we had 15 and the next show we are going to have 20. That means our layout will be 8 feet wide by 50 ft long! Everyone keeps on expanding their contributions and new members join in.

Our next showing (and likely the last in 2014) will be at Brickworld Ft Wayne in Ft. Wayne Indiana

I could not do this display without lots of help from my fellow IndyLUG members. Thanks to all who help with Project M-Tron.

Step 9: Project M-Tron Rules

These are the rather simple rules I first created to get the project off the ground. Those attending Brickworld Chicago can join us with this open collaborative display. I am the coordinator for this display and if you follow these rules you can join up with M-Tron today. Feel free to run your own Project M-Tron display somewhere.

Project M-Tron

Building and Structures M-Tron should be considered a scientific company based primarily based on mining and engineering. Their specialty is using magnetic based devices in their designs and workings. Due to the hostile nature of the free space conglomerates, weapon design is also pursued, mainly in defensive systems. Each building module must follow these requirements: This is a minifigure scale collaboration Structures are based on large gray base plates. May include any number of large base plates. No overhangs. So, all modules should be mounted to or sit on a grey base plate or multiple grey base plates Acceptable colors are mostly red and black, with gray, dark gray, white and transparent antifreeze yellow accent colors. See Lego produced models for look. Buildings cannot be square or rectangular on all sides. Triangles, Hexagons, and Octagons should be considered but feel free to build what you wish. Multiple modules, ships, or vehicles are encouraged.

Vehicles & Ships

This is a space mining colony with self-defense capability. Vehicles need to adhere to the theme with vehicles/ships. Vehicles and ships shall also adhere to the M-Tron color scheme of mostly red and black with gray, dark gray and antifreeze yellow accents (and occasionally a white accent).

Road sections

A road section is 48 studs long. It is 15 brick heights wide. It is made of black bricks with a dashed transparent yellow center line. The outermost edges will be built with 2x bricks to elevate the road. The center 3 bricks worth of road including the center line must be of 1x bricks. This is to form a channel to run lights down. The other bricks can be whatever(but black) The center line is made up of alternating 1x2 black bricks and a single 1x2 transparent yellow plate sandwiched between two 1x2 black plates. This makes a nice dashed center line. Each road section should be separate and not attached to the building base plate.

Ideas for building

Think mining camp.

Heavy equipment storage

Power plant


Landing strips/pads

Equipment repair

Ore processing


Train depot

Monorail bay

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