This is the story about how I stumbled on a new button in Tinkercad, dug up an old point cloud of my friend, mashed them all together with a little LEGO magic, and surprised the godfather of disruption and his wayward son with a little bit of maker jazz.
Step 1: Pick a Friend Who Has Been a LEGO Fanatic Since He Was a Little Kid...
Even if he grew up to be an ugly cuss of a man, he'll still look adorable as a LEGO head.
Step 2: Scan Your Friend Using a 3D Scanner
I used a Sense structured light scanner from 3D Systems. Here is a link to the one I used https://www.3dsystems.com/shop/sense. There are other scanners out there and some apps that don't need extra hardware but this is my old standby (its basically a Kinect camera in a special case with some good software.) As a note, when scanning people have them take off their glasses and try not to have too much fly away hair as that just confuses things (and there isn't a good way to turn the wisps of hair into LEGOs, yet).
Bonin's was easy, his hair is a living sculpture!
Step 3: Separate Out Key Features
You don't want to use a ton of LEGOs but you do want to make sure the final bust looks like your friend.
Use different colored LEGOs to define key features. For Bonin I wanted to use his hair, beard, eyes, and eyebrows to define him. So I loaded his head into Meshmixer and separated out those features as individual models. Meshmixer is free and you can get it here. http://meshmixer.com
Here is a little more detail on how to generate complex objects and split them up into separate objects. https://www.mmmanual.com/complex-tools/
Ultimately you want to be able to import the key parts of your friend's head into Tinkercad as separate objects.
Step 4: Import the Parts Into Tinkercad
Now you're ready to import your friend's head into Tinkercad. I started by just loading the whole head in and playing with the size of the head (I wanted it to be life-sized, but he has a massive head that can barely fit thru a door, so I had to scale it down a bit).
I also found that this version of Tinkercad is a little picky about really skinny objects (like the eyebrows and beard). So I ended up making multiple copies and piling them all up on top of each other with a little offset until it generated a cool looking LEGO model.
But wait, you say, how did I turn the imported objects into LEGOs???!!????
Step 5: Click That Little Button in the Upper Right of the Browser Window...
See that little button labeled "Bricks?" Click it now!
By the way you can do this with any Tinkcercad model, but it's way cooler to make a LEGO sculpture of a friend or family member. Bonin was having a very special birthday so it seemed like time to surprise him.
You'll notice that there are three buttons to upper left now that let you choose how big (and how complex) the LEGO version will be.
The good news is that the "1x" size will make the actual LEGO sculpture exactly as big as the model you made in Tinkercad. So use the main TInkercad screen to scale up or down the head to the size you want before clicking on the "Bricks" button.
Step 6: Changing Scale and Complexity
I went with "1x" but here is what "2x" looks like (takes longer to compute.)
Step 7: Here Is "3x"
This is what his head looks like at "3x" the scale.
Warning! The "3x" size is giant and made of thousands and thousands of LEGOS (if you're really patient this would be a pretty awesome effort... or want to enlist all your friends for a week of craziness!)
Step 8: Previewing the Layers
You'll notice another button at the top of the screen labeled "Layers," click it to see how to assemble your LEGO head.
I've included a short video clip of me sliding through the layers from 1 to 27 so that you can see what it looks like.
This is a good way to see the complexity of the project and learn how many layers you'll need to make to finish it.
Whew, 27 layers, am I up for it? I'm not even sure I like Bonin anymore.
Ok. I'm in, mostly to see the look on his face.
NOTE: The sculpture may not look perfect. This is where I started going back and forth from the main view in Tinkercad to the "Bricks" view and adjusting the eyebrows, beard, etc. and playing with duplicate copies to make stuff stand out. I also played with colors and checked online to make sure I could get the right LEGOs to make my masterpiece. It may take some tweaking. Also, don't worry if it's not perfect. You'll be building the sculpture out of LEGOs and can always modify stuff while you're building to add details or play with expressions, etc.
Step 9: Get a Bunch of LEGOs!
You may already have bins and bins of LEGOs in your secret lair. I lost most of mine through various moves and frankly because kids keep stealing them. Rotten kids. So I trekked to a LEGO store to see what I could find. Turns out the stores don't have too great a selection so I bought extras and figured I'd do a little LEGO hacking for those parts they didn't sell. More on this later.
NOTE: there is an online store where you can order LEGO parts, but it'll take a number of weeks for them to deliver the parts and I didn't have any time at all (his birthday bash was only 3 days away!) Here is a link to LEGO's "Pick a Brick" site... https://shop.lego.com/en-US/Pick-a-Brick
Step 10: Time to Start Building!
It's always good to prepare your workspace. I setup an area with a cutting board (the little sheet of plastic in the upper left of the picture), piles of each type of LEGO, a "blank" LEGO sheet to build on, and print outs of each layer as cheat sheets.
I also kept my laptop close by so I could spin around the Tinkercad "Brick" model and slide the "Layer" slider back and forth to see how I was doing.
I've included a downloadable PDF of the layers you need to build a bust today if you'd like to try your hand at building a Bonin-Head (be sure to post your version and mess with his hair, he hates that.)
How did I make that PDF? Good question. Have you ever heard of "TinkerPowers?" I will say no more but leave it to you to try to figure it out. Not for the faint of heart! Jump over to Tinkercad and let your voice be heard, maybe future versions will have a new button!
Step 11: Add Layers...
This is where you'll want to recruit a friend or two. I had a ton of help getting this done because a good friend of mine decided to jump in and save me from myself. Plus the team at Tinkercad taught me a Tinkerpower or two!
As you add layers you'll notice that there are interior areas that you don't need to fill in or can fill in with any color LEGO you happen to have around. I started by using the same colored LEGOS but near the end I started running out of black and brown and had to go back and pull out some LEGOs from the inside and refill them with other colors.
NOTE: Some LEGOS are floating in space. The other quirky thing about building a TInkercad LEGO sculpture is how to deal with over hanging parts. Since you're building from the ground up there are occasionally LEGOs that need to be snapped on from a previous layer (I saw this quite a bit when trying to build his afro). I just went back and forth from one layer to the next and began to use a marking system with a red pen to note the floating bricks on a particular layer so that I'd remember to go back and snap them on when I built the next layer.
Step 12: Eeeek! Gotta Get on a Plane and I'm Not Done!
Ok, you may not have this happen to you, but I don't always plan out my time very well. I ended up running out of time before I had to leave for Bonin's big 40th Birthday bash so had to pack his half built head into a suitcase and keep the show on the road. No TSA did not even ask me about the head I had in my bag. Yes I did end up sitting in a hotel room cutting bricks and spending far too much time styling his hair. Did I stray from the instructions by the end and just go freeform? Yes. That is after all the fun of making things! Should I have just gotten him a card? Definitely.
Step 13: Party!
Bonin and I have always made crazy things together and he has been a huge inspiration for me as I've learned how to use creativity to disrupt things/teams/organizations/mindsets. So it was fun to cause a little mayhem at his party.
Ultimately he got a little freaked out and teary eyed when he saw his own head as a LEGO sculpture. LEGOs where one of the gateways he found as a child to see that he could create new ideas from almost anything and use making as a secret super power. His mom started him on the journey but wasn't able to be there in anything other than spirit. But the rest of us all got together and celebrated 40 years of his life.
In the second photo you can see his dad Martin was there as well. Martin is another incredible influence on Bonin, his brother, me, and my son (and countless other lives). Martin saw Franklin Delano Roosevelt come to town as a child, played with Sun Ra and other Jazz greats, and dedicated his life to Jazz, improvisation, reframing the way you look at things, and making things.
Ripping your friend into a cloud of points, mashing it up with CAD tools and jamming it back into the physical world with a little LEGO magic is really just Jazz by another name. Go forth friends, make some noise.