You won’t have missed James Garret and Mark Smiley’s Rolling LEGO BB-8 because they won the internet the second the story broke. But what does it take to create something like this and kick start a viral campaign that’s taken the world of brick by storm? James and Mark spoke to Rebelscum about their creation.
With all the different versions of BB-8, what made you think that there was room for one more?
It boiled down to simply wanting a BB-8 that was more than a static toy, and less expensive than a full on RC option. At the moment, that middle of the road option wasn’t available in stores… so the fidgeting with LEGO began.
Have you had any MOC build before or is this your debut?
We have, but none that have been posted to the net before. Our first joint venture was working on making a LEGO Futurama set. We made a prototype of the Planet Express ship, Nibbler’s Kitten Class Attack ship, and the Nimbus. We created clay heads for about 10 Characters including Nibbler and then custom decaled LEGO bodies to go with them.
Can you explain the design process?
Lots of experimenting, lots of fidgeting, lots of trying everything from two, three, four different angles. This BB-8 was a challenge. The initial goal was to make it omni-directional… something we are still working on using two approaches. Approach one is a passive 3 axis gimbal made of joints and swivels that would still hang from the two holes in the hemisphere halves of the body. The other is to use rollers that would be weighed down and sit on the bottom of the sphere and hold up the magnets. The only rollers LEGO makes use breaker marble sized metal ball bearings, and even though they help with the weight, they have a lot of inertia and friction that resists sprightly movement.
While omni-direction is still in the works, we resorted to a single axis to get the ball rolling. It may seem simple, but it is still a struggle to find the right balance between weight, magnetic strength, and size. The heavier the head, the more magnetic strength we need to keep it attached, but more magnets strength creates more friction on the wheels which can result in the head holding the weight up, rather than the other way around. The more weight that goes into the head, the more weight we need in the base, but space is limited. Because of this, the first design goal was to find the maximum weight we could cram into the lower half of the body. Turns out to be 3 LEGO boat weights and various bricks to fill in all the empty spaces. After that, the issue was designing a head. We considered brick built, but even the simplest designs weighed too much. We ordered one of every different dome shaped piece LEGO has ever made off the net for hands on experimenting. We have several different head prototypes, and could easily get most our design goals in if we used glue and modified some parts, but with the aim of going pure LEGO, we landed on the head design shown on our projects page. We are still working to find a way to reduce the head’s height from off the body. We would love to have an antenna on the head, but with no dome parts having studs on top, its going to have to weight on the back burner.
What were your first steps in the build?
My initial approach was to try to get the weight to sit on some wheels down in bottom of the sphere but the issues were endless. Going for the central axle method was a life savor and pushed the whole thing to the realm of actually being possible.
What gave you the idea to use the cylinder hemispheres that LEGO used for the Buildable Galaxy Collection?
I had bought the Tatooine set just to get Sebulba into my collection, and grabbed some of the other planets and Death Star to see if they would look good floating in my little Star Wars LEGO display. I didn’t have a place to put Tattooine yet so it just sat on my desk and was used as a toy for our baby daughter. Once I found out there was no non-motorized Rolling BB-8 toys available on the net, I set out to build one. I started out with the Tattooine from the start; it was an obvious choice I thought. I did end up trying out the Gyrophere parts from the Jurassic World sets.
What’s the next stage of evolution – can you motorize it?
Will we aim for motorization? For our own personal fun… maybe. That would likely be a triumphant challenge if you were to stay with only genuine LEGO parts. Cramming in at least two motors, two wheels, some sort of RC/IR receiver, and a battery pack… with the LEGO parts available, I don’t think that would possible. The hope for the project posted to LEGO Ideas is not to compete with Sphero, but rather to offer a mid point between static model and fully functional RC. If LEGO picked the project up as it is now, and priced it similar to other Star Wars kits with around 200 parts, it would be in a much lower price point than Sphero.
How will you celebrate if LEGO picks the set up?
If LEGO picks the set I’ll be treating myself to a trip to Steve Sansweet’s Rancho Obi-Wan where I’ll be donating an official LEGO Rolling BB-8 set to the cause.
So, if you like the design and want to see this joining the ranks of the Back to the Future DeLorean, the Ghostbusters Ecto-1 or Disney’s WALL-E then please, please, please head over to the LEGO Ideas website and register your vote today.
Forget about all this Super Tuesday nonsense and cast your ballot where it really matters!
This post originally appeared on Rebelscum.com on the 2nd of March, 2016.
Fervent documentarian, effusive AFOL and founding partner, Jeremy manages the daily news content and set reviews.
Having enjoyed playing with LEGO from his earliest years, Jeremy started collecting LEGO Star Wars in 1999 when the theme was first released. He has shared his thoughts and opinions on LEGO via a number of websites – including starwars.com, rebelscum.com and brickset.com – contributed to the LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary series and served the LEGO Ambassador Network as a Recognised LEGO Fan Media representative.