Here Are the Results of My LDraw and Blender Experiments

Here are a few LEGO images rendered after I found an LDraw importer for Blender.

Not quite done trying things out, I spent time the futzing around with Blender the other night. Looking around for LEGO materials, I ran across a Blender importer for LDraw files. I didn’t know such a thing existed. Intrigued, it resulted in a night of experimentation and the results look pretty good.

Starting again, with different results.

Once I got the importer installed, I started with my LeoCAD models. The importer supports a couple other formats, but LeoCAD uses standard LDraw files. Like the previous night’s fun, I started with my Mini ZX81 file. The cool part is it can import the lighting, camera and scene as well. I started with that, turning on all the high definition part options. To my surprise, that wasn’t a great idea.

The round 1x1’s ended up looking wrong with a gap in them. I spent a good half hour trying to smooth them out with different modifiers and such. None worked. Yes, I could have edited the mesh, but it was a pain selecting what I needed. I’m not good at that yet and it is something I need to work on.

On the positive side, the importer added bevels, and surface improvements. Gaps aside, the model looked better than the LeoCAD export using Wavefront. That was part of the reason I spent so much time trying to fix it. The default was still better than my exported version.

Rethinking a bit, I decided to back out and try the other options. Using standard pieces, I found the gap was gone. I could smooth out the rounds using a subdivision surface. The results were pretty good, better than I expected. I kept asking myself why I hadn’t played with this before.

[Image]Mini Zx81 - v4 - LDraw Importer by Steven Reid, on Flickr

Trying something new.

Saying that to myself, I already knew the answer. Blender scared me when I tried it years ago. Not literally, but all four screens at the start kind of stare at you. I put me off and after some short attempts, I gave up. I kick myself for not walking through tutorials, much like I did when I tried again with Mecabricks. At the time, my investment was in POV-Ray.

Back to the fun today, I was pretty impressed with the materials. That made me wonder, what would stickers look like? The problem was I used LeoCAD to convert most of the models from LDD files. When the parts didn’t exist, LeoCAD wouldn’t bring them in. I swapped out the default parts with blanks or alternatives.

I first tired to use my Sea Swallow model, but the girl’s face and shirt didn’t import. So much for that attempt. Digging through my folder, I ran across some LDraw examples that looked promising. Looking for something with a sticker, I landed on the Space Buggy. It had two: a face and shirt.

I was happy to see the model imported without issue. Well, almost none. The empty containers had axises that needed hidden. I did some subdivision of a few of the more obvious parts to smooth them out. Loading in a nice studio HDRI, the final render of the model looks pretty good.

[Image]886 - Space Buggy - LDraw Importer by Steven Reid, on Flickr

Insanity and results.

As a final test, I decided to reimport the model again with the higher quality. Although some parts looked better, others looked worse. Much like before, It didn’t help where I hoped it would. After Blender crashed while I was adjusting options, I decided to stop and call it a night. The previous results were good enough for me.

Does this mean I’m giving up on Mecabricks? That would be no. I still enjoy the online editor, the community and the results I get from my renders. Stubs does an excellent job improving the bricks and textures. I only expect them to keep getting better. But it is still fun to try out other options. Plus, I’m getting to learn more about Blender and how it works. That only helps me improve my models in the long term.

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