Over the past few months I noticed a customizer on the Eurobricks forums who was sharing some unique, custom items that appeared to be produced in a novel and innovative way. I started to do some investigating and ran across Woody's Minifig Customs. I reached out to Woody recently to better understand both his interests and his approach in creating custom accessories.
Woody has been a member and contributor to the Eurobricks customization community for some time. He's also experienced in selling custom creations, recently reaching a milestone of more than 3,000 items sold.
Inspiration for Woody's creations often come from three main sources:
1. Historical items from the late 17th and 18th century
2. Input from Eurobricks and other members of the community
3. Other dedicated customizers with whom he collaborates
So far it sounds like a fairly standard approach to creating custom accessories, right? Well that's where the story gets interesting...
Woody uses a company called Shapeways to develop prototypes and products using 3D printing techniques. 3D printing is just like it sounds - a three-dimensional model is created by having the machine put down successive layers of material until the desired object is created. Sounds easy right? Well, yes and no. Woody has been working at this process for some time, and has even designed his own custom software which helps him develop the models. Let's take a look at Woody's Lobster head gear to walk us through the process.
The first step involves designing a three-dimensional computer model of the item you want to create. The model must meet certain structural specifications, otherwise the 3D printer can't create it. Woody uses two to three different software programs to accomplish this.
The file is uploaded to Shapeways where its verified as a suitable design. If the model meets all requirements, Woody can put it up on his store within minutes. The process is on-demand, so nothing needs to be created until the orders are placed.
Currently there are two main types of materials that Woody works with, a polyamide substance named 'white, strong, and flexible' and an acrylic-based photo-polymer termed 'detailed' on the Shapeways site. The 'white, strong, and flexible' option is less expensive and can be dyed in several colors, but can sometimes appear fuzzy in pictures. The 'detailed' material is much smoother and results in a nice finish. Detailed is only available, however, in white, black, and transparent. The picture below shows the Lobster using the white detailed material. Although not currently used by Woody, there is an ABS option in grey labeled 'grey robust'. The robust option is priced in between 'flexible' and 'detailed'.
Although there are still some drawbacks to this approach (i.e. not all colors are available) this can be a relatively inexpensive way to produce your own custom accessories given investment in some modeling software and learning the ropes.
Woody is looking to the future with the development of Bren light machine guns, gas masks, field caps, pilotkas, pakols, and epaulets. He's also hoping to do as many products as he can using the 'detailed' material.
If you are interested in finding out more about 3D printing, you can visit the Shapeways website. If you would like to see more from Woody's Minifig Customs you can check out his Shapeways store or Flickr stream. He also has a Facebook page for you social media savvy individuals.
A big thanks to Woody for taking the time to walk me through his process!