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  Home > MLCad > Tutorial: Advanced digital building - Page 1 of 5 Last update: 18.02.2013  
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Advanced digital building with MLCad

  This tutorial will teach you advanced techniques to build digital models in MLCad. Furthermore it will show you tips and tricks and help with troubleshooting problems you might encounter. The tutorial is based on MLCad 3.4 and assumes that your feel comfortable with the program or that you have at least followed the basic tutorial on this site.
Don't be discouraged by its length, you'll be rewarded with a deep insight into the MLCad LDraw editor.

NOTE! Before we start there are some naming conventions you should be aware of: Since MLCad can be used on one hand for part authoring and the other to set up large layouts with different models; beside mosaics or fractal landscapes; I use the name "project" to describe the things you can make with the program.

Table of Content

Minifig Generator
Buffer Exchange
MPD - MultiPart Document
Custom and unofficial parts
Tweaking the Parts Tree
Clever searching
  You are going the build the minifig vignette above, getting to know the different advanced features of the program along the way. Detailed building instructions can be found in the section Building Instructions. Brick 1x3
  1. To speed up things please download the following file:

Download Playground.zip   (86 KB)

and unzip the contents to a temporary folder. At this point you should have the following files on your harddisk.
  • Sandbox.ldr (1,96 KB)
  • Tree.ldr (2,69 KB)
  • Mini Dumper Truck.ldr (1,40 KB)
  • Minifig Supergirl (1,03 KB)
  • Minifig Torso Boobs with Supergirl Pattern.dat (551 KB)

Minifig Generator

  (The screenshot shows all menus and dialogs in one composed image).
Screenshot 1
  2. Comparing the list of the extracted files with the final vignette you'll have surely noticed that the Minifig Boy is missing. Launch MLCad if you haven't already done and make sure that Grid Coarse Button Grid Coarse and Draw To Selection Only Button Draw to selection is selected. Open the Minifig Generator Button Minifig Generator by clicking the associated button in the Extras bar (or selecting Extras > Generators > Minifig... from the Menu bar). The main advantage of the Minifig Generator over stitching together a minifig in the Building Area is the skeleton feature the generator relays on. This means that some parts such as the hairpieces, the hands or the accessories are linked to their parent parts. Rotating an arm, rotates also the hand attached and the accessory held by this hand. This will save you lots of painstaking rotating/positioning.
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  3. Select the parts needed from the drop-down menus.

NOTE! A major disadvantage is that the categories are all textual and lack a visual preview until you have finally selected a part. Since you cannot switch back and forth between the generator and the Parts Tree it is good advice to browse the Parts Tree or Parts Preview prior to firing up the Minifig Generator and jot down the description of the parts you're gonna use. The fastest way to do this is selecting the Minifig category from the drop-down menu in the Parts Preview, browsing through the parts and hovering with the cursor over the part whose description you want to know: The part's number and description will show up in the Status bar below.

NOTE! The content in the drop-down menu depends on the MLCad.ini file in MLCad's root folder. For a deeper insight on how to modify the entries displayed here, please read the tutorial to customize MLCad a bit through the MLCad.ini file.

Be sure to put some effort into the pose while you’re in the Minifig Generator. Once the minifig has been added to your project you cannot come back or reload your figure into the generator again to make adjustments. Rotating a hand holding a weapon can be done in the wink of an eye as long as you are working within the generator's environment, but becomes a real pain when you want to do it via the Building Area.
  4. On the contrary no careful choices are required for the color selection. Just leave them as they are by default. It is usually much faster changing the color afterward using MLCad's Color bar than calling up the color dialog for every single part in the generator. This is most true for multiple parts of the same color such as arms or legs. It is a good rule to fix the color only for patterned parts if you are unsure how the pattern will look in relationship with the color.  
 Brick 3x3 (The screenshot shows all menus and dialogs in one composed image).
Screenshot 2
  5. In the Left leg:, Right leg: drop down menus, selecting Hips and Leg Short -> Hips: will eliminate the leg parts altogether. It further reminds you that you have to set Hips and Legs Short in the Hips: category.

NOTE! You might wonder why the labels for the drop-down menus of the legs and arms are apparently inverted. When I pointed this out to Michael Lachman, the author of the program years ago, the explanation I've got was: “The label is not referring to the right and left side of the minifig; it's linked to your point of view. Looking at yourself in the mirror you wouldn't refer to your right hand as left hand, would you?”
Well, minifigs are definitely our alter ego, in the LEGO world … kind of a mirrored universe ... so I guess he is right!
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6. Hover over the Preview area, hold down the left mouse button and move the mouse to rotate the minifig. Carefully check the parts and pose selected and remember that it will be much harder to apply any modifications once the generator has been closed.
7. Since we started with an empty project select Insert into current file. The difference between the three options is as follows:
  • Insert into current file will add the minifig at the end of the Project Parts List. You will be asked if you want to save the work you have done so far as a security measure: A backup if something goes wrong during the addition of the minifig parts to your project - though I've never ever experienced any losses since the Minifig Generator has been added years ago. In case there were no parts present before the addition, this command is similar to New file and you won't be asked: The file has been modified! Save changes?
  • New submodel will convert your project automatically into a MPD project and add the minifig as a submodel. Again the program offers to save the current work as backup before you're requested to name the file. As for the groups of parts, don't give in to your laziness and hammer in the first letter that comes to mind in the pop-up Model Information dialog – a meaningful submodel name helps to keep the project organized. MLCad automatically makes the minifig the active model. You will learn more about MPD projects below.
  • New file creates a brand new project containing only the new minifig. Obviously you will be asked if you want the save your current project if there are any parts present in the Building Area.
8. Hit the OK button to close the dialog. The parts are added to the Project Parts List from head to toe with the origin located at the base of the stud atop the torso. Recolor the little blue-haired punk or leave it as you see fit. Save the project in your temporary folder and name the file Minifig Boy.ldr.

NOTE! The Undo function will reset your project back to the state it was in before you launched the generator.

Buffer Exchange

  The next thing you're gonna do is to spoil step number 4 of the Mini Dumper Truck by adding some arrows which will show how the two 3024 – Plate 1x1 fit together. This will be achieved with the Buffer Exchange command which influences the View Mode only and is used to insert certain effects during viewing.  
  (The screenshot shows all menus and dialogs in one composed image).
Screenshot 3
Brick 4x4 9. Load the Mini Dumper Truck.ldr from the temporary folder. The Model already comes with all the building steps which have been added in the basic tutorial. Browse the Project Parts List and select the 4871 - Slope Brick 45 4 x 2 Double Inverted with Open Center before the two transparent 3024 - Plate 1x1.  
10. Add a Buffer Exchange Button Buffer Exchange by clicking the according button in the Object bar (Edit > Add > Buffer Exchange... from the Menu bar).  
11. MLCad allows to save up to 26 display states during the View Mode and to retrieve them at a later moment. Selecting A from the drop-down box and hitting OK will save the display state up to this point in an internal memory named A.
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