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Scan of the Month: Lego Minifigures (scanofthemonth.com)
505 points by bookofjoe 71 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 99 comments

Legos are truly a marvel of engineering in terms of design, robustness and longevity. Dimensions are constant across time and parts last forever. Legos 40 years ago work well with today's pieces.

You think Lego are incredible, check out Gundam Plastic Models. They have runner's made of multiple colours, and ready assembled hinges that are cast in a single injection mold.

The RG models in particular are insane!

Check out this video of Adam Savage making one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xfmD1yYqP6k

There's a comment on YouTube explaining how the ready assembled hinges are made:

> Michael Karnesis > 1 month ago > I'm coming here way after the fact even though I missed the boat on the first wave of comments because nobody has explained the leg inner frame correctly.

> The leg inner frame is molded in sequence in ABS plastic, which is semi-crystaline and only bonds to itself. The second plastic is in Polypropylene which is fully crystalline and also only bonds to itself. This creates working joints without having to have radically different thermoset temperatures because the two plastics chosen simply don't cling to each other. No additional coating of release agent is required at all, it just uses the plastics' innate properties.

That's awesome!

They have to transfer the plastic between the two molds though? Any differences at all would cause problems. It's not like they can use release pins like the coloured runners?

I know nearly nothing about injection molding, but my understanding was that the part stays in the same mold but they inject a different plastic to fill a different cavity.

But I don't know enough about this process, by a large margin. I didn't even know co-molding was a thing.

He notices one of the hinges at around 6 minutes

I built a $15 snap together beginner gundam model.

The build time doubled as I was marveling at the precision involved and the thought put into the design and instructions.

I can only imagine what the larger "perfect grade" stuff is like.

My kid impatiently wanted his robot already...

thanks for the video link that was really cool

Quality on vintage Lego is usually better than what you buy today. They claim they haven't made many changes to the process, but a yardsale batch of Lego usually has less color abnormalities (aside from the age yellowing) and brittleness than a box right off the store shelf.

Perhaps QA isn't as rigorous anymore.

IIRC they switched to some kind of biodegradable plastic a few years back. I'm pretty sure they're softer, but it might be in my head.

What'd help way more with waste is if they would stop making like 75% of the part count of modern sets short 1x1s and other really tiny—often flat-topped, because the box photo mustn't display any nubs, I guess—pieces. If my kids take some legos outside, those are what get lost permanently. I get them to pick up what I can, and make a pass myself for any they missed, because as toys go they're gold, but some of those tiny pieces are for-sure buried in my yard.

That'd also make the sets more playable—repairing play-induced damage on a modern set is hell because of the fiddly little constructions they use, and there are few exposed nubs to connect things to for expanding/customizing/having-minifigs-stand-on-it, without tearing off a bunch of pieces.

I'm personally fine with the term nubs and know exactly what you mean.

In some AFOL circles, they'll jump down your throat for not using the "correct" term "stud". The canonical term for the "flat-topped" is tile.

My personal gripe is just the explosion of special purpose pieces that Lego vends today. Less is more Lego.

> My personal gripe is just the explosion of special purpose pieces that Lego vends today. Less is more Lego.

I've personally been amazed at the possibilities that seemingly single-purpose parts open up in the hands of a skilled builder.

One example is the "stud shooter" -- a utensil for minifigures to shoot out 1x1 round plates. Check out what these folks did with it:


New Elementary is a gold mine for creative uses for "specialized" parts.

> I've personally been amazed at the possibilities that seemingly single-purpose parts open up in the hands of a skilled builder.

And this is great, but when you have small children who just want to join things together, a lot of the modern sets have a fairly limited ability to customise.

It’s frustrating. They sell plenty of simple sets, it’s just so attractive to buy the fancy ones recreating some movie.

My son did exactly that with all his 'specialized' pieces. The way he repurposed those in his own designs used to crack me up, and he was doing that when he was only eight or ten years old. The imagination didn't fixate on what the part was originally used for, he only saw it as a raw shape to serve some purpose.

Wow - amazing link. Thanks!

Ah, cool, thanks for the corrections. Yeah, I'm not into online lego fandom enough to know the correct terms—I just played with them for probably low-thousands of hours as a kid.

I do like how many bigger modern sets come with a "brick tool". I always wanted one as a kid when, but they were a separate purchase and I never wanted one bad enough for it to make my wishlists, over more sets. Even the $80+ sets (in 80s/90s dollars!) back then didn't come with them. They are handy.

> My personal gripe is just the explosion of special purpose pieces that Lego vends today. Less is more Lego.

Lego has significantly reduced the number of special purpose pieces it uses since the 90's. Back then, the number of specialized one-off pieces Lego was using helped nearly sink the company. That's partially responsible for the increase in the number of small parts they use now -- it allows them to recreate some of the intricacy you could have with an equivalent larger piece.

A lot of the weird/specialized pieces Lego puts out these days are minifigure-related in some way.

The new bioplastic is only used on flexible parts like vegetation. Most bricks are still made from ABS (although they're continuing to prototype other plastics)

It's also not biodegradable; it's chemically identical to the polyethylene used before. It's only the process and materials sourcing that changed.

Hey, random question from someone who isn't a parent, do you have any read on whether home 3D printed legos are cool to kids? I guess it's hard to match the look and 3D print the majority of your pieces while buying special boxed sets that your child wants.

I walked past a lot of Legos last week and I was thinking "these are very cool, but wow my parents spent so much money on legos". I also used to paint some of the Games Workshop Warhammer figurines in my teens. If I ever had the urge to get back into something like Legos or figurines later in life, I think I'd definitely go the 3D printing route.

3D printing, at least typical FDM, does not have near the tolerances required to snap onto the real bricks, but I found that the “LEGO technics” side of things (with the pegs and holes) is much more forgiving since the real lego pegs are flexible, they can snap into rigid 3D printed parts once you get the scale right.

Years ago I was teaching a robotics class where I asked the kids to customize their robots’ faces by drawing new parts like mustaches and eyebrows with markers, and then used Inkscape and Tinkercad to model the parts in 3D. If you scroll down to the last pics in my blog you can see the result: https://coltenj.com/learning-with-social-emotional-robots/

It doesn’t have the tolerances to create bricks that play at all like real Lego, but it’s not that hard to make parts that will snap onto real bricks or to offer studs onto which the real parts can snap.

I’ve made many a custom kids’ name tags as parts that can plug into Lego bricks. No one thinks they plug as nicely, but Lego doesn’t have the kids’ names either, so…

This is a good answer. As a kid there were always ideas that I wanted to build, but I would for example not be able to construct the shape required in the working space that I had.

For example pieces like angle switchers, mixing holes for axles with other pieces, parts that allow things to slide etc.

1) Seconding used as an option from the other post. That's great.

2) Big Buckets of legos still exist and are pretty cheap, actually.

3) Kids may like the sets on the shelf but my kids have treated them like puzzles: they're really excited when they get them and put them together once, play with them barely if at all, then as soon as they get a little messed up, just destroy them and go back to making whatever, and never put them together again. I've seen very few modern sets (but there are a few!) that look like they'd support the play-style I had as a kid. Even the "big" sets with huge part counts are tiny compared to large 90s sets, and have rooms and such that are almost too small even for kid-hands to play in, plus the aforementioned problems with so many of the pieces being tiny, so much of the construction being really fiddly (relying on all those tiny pieces) rather than straightforward so it's hard to fix if part of it gets broken, or you deliberately disassemble part of it for some reason. Few exposed studs plus the fiddly-construction thing makes expansion/customization and "kit-bashing" tougher, which was a big part of what I did. I suppose the modern ones appeal really well to kids who like to assemble lego sets, then display them, rather than playing with them. I knew a few kids like when I was a kid.

I don't know whether 3d printed lego replacements are any good.

Look into bulk used LEGOs from online stores, it's probably cheaper than printing your own and helps reuse existing plastic parts.

3D printing is awesome for figurines! Although they're banned at official Games Workshop events, it's one of the best ways to casually play 40K IMO.

Fair point about reusing the existing legos!

Great to hear that about 40k - I'm fine avoiding the official events, I mostly enjoyed the painting and exploring the universe with my friend. Would love to have a full army in the future without having to pay a few grand! [I know you can buy used armies online, but then you don't get to put it together!]

3D printing is great for a lot of little plastic toys but it also teaches you about the mechanical perfection that is Lego. Even the cheap offbrand bricks probably fit more consistently than what you can print.

not exactly, i have been printing FFF parts with a tolerance of 50 microns with a .25mm nozzle. it all has to do with part design and quality filament.

When my 6yo saw the custom jetpack for figurines I made on an SLA printer, his eyes got wide. I think it was half because it was a piece he had only imagined, and half because he thought now he could have all the Lego he wanted for free. Ultimately his imagination does a lot of the work so custom parts aren’t that important. But the SLA printer ($200 AnyCubic) can make snappable bricks.

Based on my old Lego from the mid eighties, I have a different experience. The old bricks now fit together rather loosely, compared to my children's brand new Lego. Most of the colors are also not what they used to be, besides having been stored in an UV-free environment most of the time.

No telling what the new bricks will be like in 35 years of course.

I concur. My childhood LEGO from 1980-ish (now my son's) have noticeable color and fit variation. Still usable, but definitely not as nice as the new stuff.

A thing I see a lot in the new bricks is that the color isn't true all the way through a brick. It's almost like a gradient, where the dye wasn't mixed into the base white ABS plastic very well

I'd imagine that after 10 years of plugging and unplugging, washing in random liquids, biting on them to get them loose etc., folding characters legs in and out until they become floppy any set would be a bit run down.

But I'm sure tolerances today are higher than ever before.

Same here, some going back to the late 70s.

They will be holograms. We will be too.

Or just that QA didn't scale with multiple factories around the world?

or QA notices but is told it's not a problem to be fixed

Modern mini-figures from the past 10 yrs or so develop cracks in the arms where the hand fits, making them fall apart very easily. None of my old ones from the 80/90's develop them. Large blocks have been modified to use less material, so thinner walls and different structures to gain back the rigidity. They may not have change the process, but it feels like materials certainly have.

On the other hand, vintage Legos contain cadmium.

Quite an alarming claim!

Looks like regarding to Cadmium, "vintage" means up to mid-to-late 1980s [0]

> Apparently The [Lego] has been aware of this concern for at least three decades (hence the switch to Cadmium free plastic colorants sometime in the mid-to-late 1980s)

[0] https://tamararubin.com/2019/05/vintage-1970s-legos-test-pos...

Maybe a good time to ask...what do you actually do with lego bricks once you've built whatever is on the box? I have a terrible imagination, and I find the replayability factor abysmal with these kits. I'm sure there are people who can take a box of 500+ random pieces and have fun, and I wish I could as well. These things just never clicked for me.

When my son was really interested in Lego, he built each kit exactly once, admired it for a couple days, then immediately took it back apart, and put all the pieces into one giant bin.

After that, he was always building stuff from his own imagination, using combinations from various kits. He and his older sister used to film short stop animations with the things he built. It was crazy.

The people that bought him kits as gifts wanted to see the finished kits when they visited, and he could never quite understand why, when it was so much more fun to just play with the pieces.

When I was a kid I would built the kit when I got it. After playing with it (e.g. as a car, house, helicopter or whatever) then I'd take it apart and build my own things (houses, towns, spaceships etc).

Sometimes they'd be static, or other times I'd try to use the pieces in a way they weren't intended, for example to create a sliding gate that a motorcycle could drive through (based on a tv show at the time) etc.

Then once a year during our big December holiday I would sort all my Lego and then rebuild all the original kits and play with them again.

I only ever lost 1 piece of Lego, a flat red 4x1 which I accidentally swallowed (which was funny because I really struggle with taking medications). Forever after my fire truck had a missing side piece.

I've found the 3-in-1 Creator kits can provide more play opportunities for kids.

My 9yo son will regularly dismantle and rebuild sets, but also make random things. Sometimes if we're playing together, we start with a 4x4 plate and make micro worlds with various themes - a snow scene, lair with lavafall, space tower, forest setting. Or we pick a colour scheme and each make little robots or mechs. Or make an alien in each colour.

A fun game we tried recently was to isolate all the pieces from a set. Then I was blindfolded and my son faced away from me with the instructions and had to describe the instructions/pieces well enough for me to make the set. Good team building game. Yet to try reversing the roles.

There's two directions you can go: 1) you could just glue the pieces together and keep it as a model. This can also apply to models you find online.

2) you can sort and sell or give them to someone who will enjoy them. Sourcing sorted pieces is actually a big function of the used market.

It's perfectly acceptable to not enjoy a kind of toy. To each there own. I also tend to struggle with open-world games if there isn't some sort of goals set up

We had thousands of pooled pieces between my set of friends when young and had whole worlds we constructed. Vehicles, ships, spacecraft, cities, fortresses, whole dramas. Can’t do that anymore, but I think programming satisfies similar imaginative creativity. I’ve recently started to integrate the physical work back in to this world via electronics and having a blast with it.

I build a lot of technic models that have functions. I like to both improve and motorise them, or use them as a base to make a model closer to something I want. I like truck cranes and 4WD/trial trucks the most

I have one random lego knock off item on my shelf, it's a monkey. I don't particularly like legos, or monkeys for that matter, but I keep it because it was pretty fun to build it and it reminds me of that.

Seems like you could amplify this by about a million with a set that is both intricate and of a subject you are really into.

Or disassemble it and make new stuff. As a kid we never had sets, it was all in a big pile.

This is a really fun format.

It seems that this is their first month in posting --- I spent a minute looking for older scan, before checking the wayback machine.

Hopefully, in the future, they add some background information on how they do the scan, etc as well. I find myself just as interested in that now.

The page mentions it's a CT scan. But from the looks of it, not the kind one would find in a hospital meant for humans. Probably something for research/industrial applications on much smaller samples, the materials science people at my university have one. They spit out a pretty usable voxel format (DICOM).

DICOM is also the format used at hospitals for medical images. At least in radiotherapy.

The machines are called "micro CT"

My first thought was neutron radiography, but this makes more sense. Neutron X-ray hybrid scanning can capture some amazing images.


Beware if you load this on a mobile device with metered data!

This animation is implemented by loading a large number of ~200KB PNG files, each 800x800px, such as this one [1] and then drawing them into a <canvas> as you scroll.

Having scrolled through the entirety of the animations, Firefox reports that it transferred about 220MB of PNGs on top of the 3.4MB of JS and an inexplicable 202KB of CSS.

Maybe I do not understand some key requirement. Shouldn't it be possible to encode a high quality video file, embed it with <video>, and control it from JS, and still come out with a much smaller file size? Perhaps there's just a requirement I'm missing but that's an eye watering amount of data being served by Cloudfront to every visitor, and Cloudfront isn't exactly the cheapest.

[1] https://d11poao410tx6l.cloudfront.net/616f05008e9fa70027fff3...

edit: I got nerd sniped and downloaded all the frames. Considering only the largest animation (da2783d9-383d-43ec-8778-9b52f984c35a):

  - 230 PNG frames: 51MB
  - WebM (VP9, alpha, lossless): 6.7MB (-86.7%)
  - WebM (VP9, alpha, crf15): 2.3MB (-95.5%)
Instead if I use all the frames in one big video:

  - 1087 PNG frames: 271MB
  - WebM (VP9, alpha, lossless): 39.0MB (-85.6%)
  - WebM (VP9, alpha, crf15): 12.0MB (-95.6%)
I used ffmpeg 4.4.1 with the following commands:

  ffmpeg -i 'frames/%6d.png' -c:v libvpx-vp9 -lossless 1 lossless.webm
  ffmpeg -i 'frames/%6d.png' -c:v libvpx-vp9 -b:v 0 -crf 15 crf15.webm
To my eye, crf15 is very very good quality, but I included lossless encoding so there can be no quibble about quality differences :)

And yes I know Safari can't do VP9 but there's no reason you couldn't also encode a HEVC and AV1 version and list multiple <source> elements and let the browser decide which format it prefers

edit to the edit: It seems that smoothly scrubbing through a <video> element is more tricky than I originally knew. Still, a lot of mileage could be gained by encoding the individual frames as AVIF or WebP and using them in supported browsers

> This animation is implemented by loading a large number of ~200KB PNG files

Wow, you're not joking! I counted ~1000 requests for PNG files. Not only expensive for the user, that has to be expensive for the people who built this too. 1000 visitors scrolling through the site and promptly forgetting about it's content would mean 180GB, that's ~10 USD per month just for that page (according to https://calculator.s3.amazonaws.com/index.html).

If you use something like Cloudflare you can eliminate bandwidth costs.

AWS way overcharges people on bandwith in general.

Cloudflare absolutely does not eliminate bandwidth cost. There is a transfer cap, and if you go over it, you will be asked to upgrade to a paid plan or be dropped.

>There is a transfer cap

What is the transfer cap? Based off searching it seems that it is unlimited. You can also avoid paying for bandwidth by using other services.

Interestingly, apps like TinyPNG are able to bring down the size of that file by −74% (255.3 KB -> 67.5 KB) in a way that is invisible to the eye.

Someone should have compressed their files better.

Very possible to attach an event listener to the scroll event and use that to scrub a video

From the console:

All 181 images loaded.

All 230 images loaded.

All 154 images loaded.

All 50 images loaded.

All 230 images loaded.

All 242 images loaded.

I was wondering why the text I was reading didn't match up with the background image - it hasnt fully loaded and there's no indication !


Such a awesome idea! Such a poor implementation. Why is the scrollbar deciding where in the scan you are? Seems to be made for people on Apple hardware, where scrolling is very smooth, but people with normal mouse or using keyboards, are out of luck to see the details. My mouse wheel scrolls seemingly like pressing on the down arrow, so I can't really see the details without having to result to "grabbing" the scrollbar with the mouse, and slowly move downwards. Problem with that is that the page is very long, so each mouse movement is bigger than the scroll I actually want to do.

I hope in the future they implement a slider that allows you to actually see the details, because they are there, but the implementation makes it really hard to see.

Such an interesting idea though, and I really like the results. That Lego itself is so interesting helps a lot as well :)

I don't usually like this kind of design, but in this case I like the way it works, and how the text pauses at interesting bits. Just my 2 cents.

EDIT: I just tried with the arrow keys and agree that that's not a nice experience. For me, scrolling with the mouse is much more fine-grained than using the arrow keys

It works well for the bits that are annotated, yes, because the scan stops "scrolling" at that point even if you scroll. Problem happens when you're interested in something they haven't annotated.

not sure if its the same for you, but for me each arrow up/down is equivalent to about 15-20 scrollwheel notches of my mouse, which is enough to see the other parts.

I'n on a 2020 MacBook Air with the defaults for scrolling. When using the keyboard, each press of an arrow key moved the scan nearly to the next annotation. There was no way to see the parts in between.

Breaking the law in Missouri and viewing the source of the page finds lots of class names that are Apple-specific. Whatever library is being used, ReadyMag, seems to favor the fruity variety of hardware. Not sure if there's some checkboxes to add more/less.

Oh god, you're not joking about Missouri. I just read about how it came to be, and - well, I don't know what to say.

i personally will be trying to ensure this lives on in infamy through sarcasm at every opportunity. i'm in texas, so it's not often some other state does something as just obliviously dumb as the texas govt. except florida. it's neck and neck between texas and florida


Major sites (The New York Times, for one, and the BBC, for another) have been doing this for "interactive stories," for a while now.

In some cases, I like it. In others; not so much.

On windows, you can click the middle button and move the mouse to scroll smoothly.

This site (and its beautiful images) only worked in Chrome scrolling on a trackpad for me. Not Safari, nor Firefox, nor Chromium, but Chrome. Truly it is an IE of the modern age.

(As an aside, I'd love to download the dicoms and explore them at my own pace!)

Worked fine for me in Safari (mobile) and in Firefox on a Linux desktop (with mouse scroll wheel).

Worked for me with Firefox and a scroll wheel (on a Mac). I don't know if it looks better on Chrome, but it was definitely functional for me.

It works very poorly in Firefox on Mac as well. Scrolling is jerky, if I go back the page turns white, and my fans go crazy.

I usually prefer to do a Middle-Mouse wheel click drag to scroll a page.

It's smooth and doesn't need a lot of mouse mouvements.

I read the page on an Android phone in Chrome and it worked perfectly.

Everyone in the comments discussing the UX of scrolling in this setting- this is exactly how you look through a CT scan! And in the different planes, as in this page. Sure a slider is useful, but I think this is really authentic.

Does anyone know of a company that offers this CT as a service? Ideally I’d like this in China, where a machinist is producing tooling for plastic parts. Once the mold is produced, the test part is shipped back to the US, where dimensions are validated. If I had this CT scan of the initial parts, I’d have the data prior to the parts arriving four days later. The physical part is ultimately required, but the CT data would be sufficient to validate the most common failures weren’t encountered.

The keyword for this is NDT - non destructive testing. There are X-ray, computed tomography, and other modalities. Micro CT is frequently used. I personally use X-ray a lot but can't recommend any vendors in SE Asia. Delphi Precision is a high end vendor in the US. Some cool animations here: https://www.delphiprecisionimaging.com/aerospace-ndt

I'm not one for fancy UI frontend, but in this case it is appropriate and well-suited for the content. Medium, meet message.

I had some trouble with the images getting loaded properly while scrolling. Scrolling back and forth a couple of times seemed to show more images. I noticed that when the text appeared not to be in sync with what I was seeing in the images.

But I agree, it's a nice experience.

That's because it's loading individual frames as 200kB PNGs and drawing them into a <canvas>

There is a great video on plastic injection molding by 'engineerguy' on YouTube.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMjtmsr3CqA

That is the first time i have seen someone change the scrolling behavior and it actually feeling like it works.

Love it!

If the author's here, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the upcoming scroll-linked animation api[1]

[1] https://drafts.csswg.org/scroll-animations-1/EXPLAINER.md

Back in the mid 1970s I had a friend that worked at Kodak on the molds for Instamatic cameras. His job was to build up the wear areas in the molds so that they could be re-machined. I cannot recall the exact process, but it was some form of plasma spray welding. Only fractions of a mm, so that the process of re-machining was easy.

The plastic they used was abrasive to the molds, and the bodies had to be quite precise to generate acceptable image quality. I forget how many cycles the molds could run before being swapped out, but it was only days, not weeks.

I really appreciate the writeup associated with the page. It's always interesting to see behind the scenes details on how things are manufactured. Back in college, the manufacturing professors had us bring things to them if we didn't know how they were made, which was always a fun discussion ruling out possibilities based on little details.

I had no idea about the L and R on the legs, and wouldn't have guessed that for sorting in the factory despite being an industrial engineer myself.

They got me to signup for future scans. Does anyone have other solid manufacturing type blogs, breakdowns, etc?

Nothing will ever convince me this is good UX. Makes it hard to find exact frames in the scan, breaks very fundamental expectations on how text works both on the internet and in real life. Stop it. It was an incredibly long and tedious fight to kill Flash, let's not relive that.

Killing flash was not about UX. The issues with it were technical.

Flash was not the UX for systems, but for fun little games and a means to tell a story in a way which wasn't available on the Web 20 years ago. This UX is fine as it is IMO. Cool even.

Sorry, but this is completely ahistorical. Before the iPhone came along (which did, thankfully, put the final nail in the coffin) there was a decade long battle between the web usability community and Flash designers over much more than just games. I know this because I worked on both sides of that divide in web agencies and beyond in the late 90s and early 00s. In all the tests I've conducted of these fancy scroll-driven UIs, users perform worse in navigation, information retrieval and comprehension tasks. It's boring to fight the same fights over and over again.

I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to find exact frames. It’s clearly editorialized.

And I think the ship has long sailed about fundamental expectations on how text works on the web. This is a standard pattern now.

All UI, especially fancy dataviz, should be about "what questions might users want to ask of this?" not just "can we make it pretty?" It's just bad.

This is gorgeous. If the author's reading, it's jumpy if you have a clicky scrollwheel mouse, and jittery if you drag the scrollbar (on Firefox, at least).

Could you add a slider or something to help with fine control? There's so much detail to look at.

It does not scrolls well using keyboard arrows :/ I have to rely on my very imprecise touchpad.

Wish the site had RSS.

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