Minifig Battlefields are educating school children about the trenches of WWI, with intricately detailed dioramas built using 3D printing and LEGO bricks.
Based in the UK, Minifig Battlefields is a small company with a big mission: to promote creativity, learning and education through the medium of customised minifigs and accessories for well-known brick brands like LEGO.
How can they achieve this? For starters, with a set of model soldiers and artillery from several military campaigns which have captured the imaginations of historians, hobbyists, and school children alike.
For another, with incredibly detailed recreations of battlefields from the era of World War I, featuring craters, trenches, tangles of barbed wire, and more besides.
The Minifig Battlefields are more than just expensive toys, however. Users are encouraged to tell stories with their soldiers and dioramas, whilst also developing storytelling skills through stop-motion animation and visual art.
Making Military Minifigs as Authentic as Possible
The challenge for the model designers at Minifig Battlefields was to create accurate replicas of the trenches and battlefields of the Western Front, and to build and model the template so that the diorama could be manufactured cost-effectively.
However, the team found that when it came to more detailed parts such as the ladders, barbed wire, firesteps, trench cladding and duckboards, the traditional method of thermoformed plastic was neither practical nor cheap enough for small-scale production.
Each scene also required the creation of little plastic studs to enable their military minifigs to stand and move so they could be animated.
Finally, to make each British, German or French minifig soldiers as historically accurate as possible, they needed custom headgear, weapons, backpacks, and other accessories so the visual storytelling could be as authentic as possible. Without this attention to detail, the educational value for the classroom would have been greatly diminished.
Taking all these factors into account, Minifig Battlefields turned to 3D printing as a solution.
Minifig Battlefields: “3D Printing has been our Game Changer”
The company chose a Ultimaker 2 for their 3D printing needs, and are more than happy with their decision. “3D printing has been our game changer,” they explained in a case study for the Create Education Project (which is affiliated with Ultimaker).
“We knew 3D printing was emerging as the technology that has the potential to fundamentally change the economies of scale for small, innovative enterprises like ours. What we didn’t know was that in less than a year we would be able to go from creating a simple ladder to designing and producing a sophisticated 18 pounder British artillery gun.”
Initially, they looked at a range of desktop 3D printers, applying a number of key criteria, ranging from ease of use, flexibility, reliability in hardware and software, resolution, size of build plate, footprint, customer support, and cost.
In the course of their research, Minifig Battlefields devised an ingenious test. They had already created a simple WW1 trench ladder model (with free to download 3D modeling software) to fit their trenches and enable the military minifigs to hold onto it. This STL file was used as a benchmark to see which 3D manufacturer could print it most accurately.
At a 3D print show in London, the team at the Ultimaker booth were quickly able to print a ‘pink ladder’, which fitted perfectly in the hands of a British minifig soldier. This was the eureka moment for Minifig Battlefields:
“We knew then that 3D printing would be our manufacturing solution to produce our products in a cost effective way with the quality, detail, accuracy and variety that hobbyists, collectors and school children would require.”
StiknKlik Animation Tool created on Ultimaker 2
In order to successfully animate each diorama, the military minifigs needed to be able to perform a basic action like climb out of the trenches and walk across the battlefield. To make this possible, the company used their Ultimaker 2 to create a tool called Stiknklik.
Bundled with each diorama set, Stiknklik is a collection of accurately printed studs to which each minifigs can fit and walk. Applied in whichever path is required for a given scene, it empowers each user to create a unique stop-motion animation of their very own.
Minifig Battlefields have since been working with schools so that students can learn and tell their own stories about the Great War:
“Our Minifig Battlefield in education has inspired the children to compose a storyline; to augment their history learning; engage them in creative technology through the media of animation and to help them embrace the endless possibilities as future designers, engineers, artists, scientists, inventors and writers.”
By adopting 3D printing into their business, the company is now able to design, create and produce a wide range of accessories and collectibles. Whether for hobbyists or students; whether it’s for a collectible WW1 artillery model, or someone who just wants to tell a story; Minifig Battlefields is a fantastic extension of the LEGO universe.
License: The text of "Minifig Battlefields recreate WWI Trenches with LEGO and 3D Printing" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.