LEGO For a Living: Conversation With a Master Builder

Geek Culture

This past weekend LEGO held a Grand Opening for their new store in the Annapolis Mall. My wife and I took our geekling down for the events, including the construction of an 8 foot tall R2D2. While I was there I snagged a few moments with the LEGO Master Builder in charge of the construction of the R2D2.

LEGO Master BuilderLEGO Master Builder

Photo By: Brian McLaughlin

This was a fascinating conversation, this chance talk to a person who gets paid to build LEGO models. One of the first things I was curious about was the total number of blocks required to construct R2D2. This, as it turns out, is a closely guarded secret. LEGO likes to use those kinds of numbers for contests where the goal is to guess the number of blocks used to build a particular model. Even when the winner is announced at one of these competitions, the only information given out is that the winner is the closest, the exact number if guarded as long as possible. The giant R2D2 is actually based on a smaller R2D2, who was present for the construction. The builders know the kinds of blocks used to build the smaller model, and then have volunteers at the demonstration build scaled up versions of the blocks out of the smaller blocks. It is a fun and fascinating process to watch.

Another curiosity I had dealt with the design of LEGO models, both the demonstration models and the models available for purchase. I assumed that the Master Builders had access to an amazing LEGO CAD system that they used for designing. This assumption was both true and false. It is true that they have an advanced LEGO CAD system that features all of the blocks ever available in the LEGO line and information on their production status. It is false in that it is generally not used for the design work. Most of the work is still done as more of a LEGO art project and the CAD software is used after the fact to document the final model. The art of this work becomes very apparent when you see something like the life-size Indiana Jones model that was also on display for the Grand Opening. The Master Builder said that the creation of features, such as the hands and the face, were a delicate art project to get all of the detail just right.

Photo By: Brian McLaughlinPhoto By: Brian McLaughlin

Photo By: Brian McLaughlin

After answering the questions I had, the Master Builder set back to his task of constructing the R2D2 model and we headed in the direction of the LEGO store to get ready for the day’s opening. There was already a line forming and we got our place in the first dozen or so spots. Buy the time the store opened, the LEGO team was working with mall security to formalize the long line so as to not disrupt the traffic flow. The line was full of families and it was wonderful to see everyone from the youngest to the oldest excited to have the store in town. After a brief delay to handle a computer glitch (during which the store was good enough to hand out $5-off coupons to the folks standing in line) the floodgates to the store were opened and the LEGO team continued to work crowd control. The team did a great job and there really seemed to be order within the chaos. We grabbed an X-Wing model and a couple other items and made room in the store for others. After we grabbed some lunch and went about some other shopping, we went back by the store and the line was still very long, still filled with families and excited faces.

The opening was a lot of fun and my wife is already thinking about a dedicated LEGO budget. If any of our readers were there, please leave comments about your experiences. Welcome to Annapolis LEGO!

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