Modeling with Photography

Written by Jeramy Spurgeon on Aug 18, 2009 in - 0 Comments

For those of you who follow my Flickr Photostream, you know that I frequently use image editing software to scale and map out the locomotives I want to build.  I'm a very analytical person, so this process has really helped me, and I thought there might be someone else out there who would benefit from it.  This would work for any model, really, from locomotives, to rolling stock, to any themed MOC.  While this type of pre-building isn't for everyone, I hope that you, the reader, might take away at least another tool to add to your LEGO arsenal.

Allegheny Overlay

The first step in performing this sort of pre-build is to search for pictures of the model you wish to build. There are many train spotting websites out there, but I find I have the best luck searching Wikipedia and, oddly enough, a simple Google image search.

NZR G Class

To use as recent example, I will discuss how I went about building my Emerald Garratt. I had already decided that I wanted to build a Garratt class steam engine, but I also wanted to build it out of two Emerald Night sets, so I had to find the perfect design to fit the available parts. So while searching Wikipedia one day, I discovered the New Zealand Government Railways G Class. However, I quickly found that images, especially profile photos, of this particular locomotive are incredibly rare.

NZR G Class Drawing

Thanks to a Google Image search I was able to find a website that contained several photos of the NZR G Class including this builder's drawing.  It is these types of drawings that I specifically look for in order to create a map for building my locomotives. However, this process works with profile drawings and photos alike, so long as the locomotive looks as two dimentional as possible.

The process begins with finding a part of the locomotive that has a known size, that is to say, a section that will be built a certain way or out of a certain part so that it's size, in LEGO studs, is known.  For this locomotive I knew I would be using the standard LEGO steam engine drivers included in the Emerald Night set.

Scaled Garratt Options

The drivers come either flanged of blind, so I had a decision to make.  Do I consider the drivers 4 studs wide, so that three drivers together in the flanged + blind + flanged configuration are 12 studs in length (pictured as Option #1), or are the drivers 5 studs, making them 14 studs (including the overlap from the blind driver, pictured as Option #2).  Since I wasn't sure, I ended up scaling the locomotive twice.

Then, using this known stud-length, it's quite simple to calculate the size of other parts of the locomotive.  It's not an exact science, but there are usually several parts of the locomotive that end up being quite obvious.  For example, on the G class drawing, the forward water tank is the same length as the driver assembly, and the cab is half that.  The pony trucks are only slightly longer than the cab, which turns out is the same size as the coal bunker.

Emerald Garratt WiP 01

Now that I knew the exact lengths and sizes I wanted to make the major features of the locomotive, construction went very quickly.  The rear tank and driver assembly only took a few hours to build, and the majority of that time was my struggling with stuffing a Power Functions motor inside.  The rest of the engine followed suit, with me finishing the whole locomotive in under a week.

Emerald Garratt 04

While my goal was never to create an exact copy of the NZR G Class, I believe my finished product represents the prototype rather well, and for someone familiar with the design it's rather recognizable.

Is this process time consuming?  Sometimes.  Is this process incredibly anal retentive?  Of course.  Is it necessary to build a great MOC?  Definately not.  But for some people, like myself, it's an invaluable tool that removes a lot of guess work and saves me a lot of frustration.

All images in this article were either used with permission, have an expired copyright, or were created/taken by the author.

About the Author


Jeramy is the creator and original editor of RAILBRICKS. He currently serves as the RAILBRICKS brand manager and website administrator.


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