Wood Ducks and Plastic Bricks

DU engineer designs LEGO® wood duck

Michael Baker

© Michael Baker

Michael Baker's LEGO® wood duck next to a wood duck decoy.

Take a Ducks Unlimited engineer, add a love of LEGO® building blocks, throw in an abundance of pandemic-driven free time, and the result is a waterfowl work of art.

Michael Baker is director of engineering services for DU’s Great Lakes/Atlantic Region, designing complex infrastructure that manages large volumes of water on wetland complexes. This spring during quiet evenings inside, he blended his love of waterfowl and technical know-how to build a wood duck decoy of out 1,250 plastic bricks.

However, just using spare pieces from his son’s LEGO® kits wasn’t acceptable.

Baker's final design in LEGO® Idea Studio software.

Photo © Courtesy of Michael Baker

“I am not artistic. I have a wood duck decoy that I used as the model for the design,” Baker said. “So, I did a high-quality 3D scan with an iPhone, took that scan and converted it into the computer and manipulated thousands of XYZ coordinates in Excel.”

Using imagery, Excel and the software program LEGO® Idea Studio, he converted thousands of data points into a manageable, build-able wood duck. The labor of love took more than 40 hours.

“I approached it like a typical Ducks Unlimited engineering problem. I started with data collection similar to a project survey, did clean up and design, and then worked to optimize it,” Baker said.

Smaller pieces cost more than bigger pieces by volume and he didn’t want to spend a fortune, so much time was spent determining how to use the largest bricks to achieve the look. The program provided a materials list and basic instructions. He spent $150 on the pieces, then had to endure the most difficult part of the process: waiting.

“I signed up for text alerts, it took three and a half weeks to get here,” he said. “When I got at text it was delivered, I went straight to my mailbox.”

With pieces in hand, he and his son went to work. The actual build took about three hours. Baker said he learned a lot from the process and is pretty happy with the results.

“Giddy is probably the right word.”

Baker is an avid hunter. Yes, the duck floats, but no, he doesn’t plan to add it to his flotilla of working decoys.

Baker and his son, Christian.

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