Meet the Lego Master Builder – Part Two! (subtitle: What Happens to the Old Models?)

GeekMom Toys

Just over a week ago I introduced you to a fun, creative guy named Steve, who is one of the rare people who can put the words “Lego Master Builder’ on his business cards. In my first post I shared with you how he came to work for Lego and what the typical path that leads to a job as a Master Builder looks like (hint: there isn’t one).

As entertaining as that post was to write, I actually saved some of the best stuff for this follow up post. Let’s dive right in.

My photo from Toy Fair- an amazing model!

Just as there is no typical resume for a builder, there is also no typical day at work. Some days Steve works on big models, like the life sized version of Lightening McQueen, that his group cranked out to launch the Cars2 construction sets. That project took weeks.

Other days he works on finding alternate models that can be built from standard retail sets. He (and other Master Builders) redesign the set, then create free building instructions. Sometimes he creates new concepts and drawings for possible future models.

He also spends some time on the road, representing Lego. He attends Lego events and store openings, helping children and their families build models (I’m guessing he’s really good at that, having enjoyed my time with him at the Toy Fair).

Okay, so while we’re on the topic of display models, let’s talk logistics. I’ve been to a few Lego stores, including the one down at Rockefeller Center, and they’re filled with amazing models. I’ve always wondered who builds them (Steve and friends!) and what happens to them once their shelf life is up.

For one thing, they’re all glued. The builders recognize that many children will be crawling on them and touching them and stability is important. Once a model is no longer needed in its original location it’s moved back to the company office and lives out its life next to other model has -beens (which is why, I’d imagine, the company headquarters must be an amazing mixture of themes, with Lego aliens and X-wing fighters living alongside Dora the Explorer and Spongebob).

If, by some chance, they were ‘loved’ too much and are just too worn out to retire with grace and dignity, they instead head back to the earth. They’re crushed and recycled.

The exception would be the models constructed during building events, which are not glued. When they make it back to company headquarters, they’re taken apart, sorted by size and color, then packed away to be used at another event. Yes, the sorting can be a monotonous job and yes, they accept volunteers.

Now on to Steve’s personal portfolio. He tells me that they do use computer programs to design their models, but much of the work is also done off the top of their heads. It’s always good to leave room for the creativity factor.

When asked what he found most challenging to build, the answer was a simple one. Human heads. “Generally speaking, creating a good lifelike head of a real person is about the most difficult thing we do,” Steve says. I don’t have any trouble believing that.

The biggest creation he’s ever built was a 21 foot great white shark. This is one project he didn’t mind having a little help in constructing.

Steve's great white shark.

His favorite model is a unique one. “My personal favorite  was a 2 foot long octopus,” he said. “The challenge was to create a realistic model of an octopus the way they crawl across the ocean floor with all their legs curling and spiraling over each other. While it’s not a huge spectacular model, or some kind of wild show-stopper, it’s still my ultimate “see,-these-don’t-have-to-look-square” model, and I’m still pleased with it whenever I look at it. I built it 12 or 13 years ago.”

Steve's pride and joy!

Later this summer I’ve been promised some insider pictures of the newly redesigned building studio at the U.S. company headquarters in Connecticut. Now that we all know some of the insider information, it’s time to take a peek at the actual behind the scenes place where it all goes down. Many thanks to Steve, for his candidness and humor in answering my endless questions.

As if I needed another reason to love this company that keeps my kids’ creativity supercharged.





Liked it? Take a second to support GeekMom and GeekDad on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

3 thoughts on “Meet the Lego Master Builder – Part Two! (subtitle: What Happens to the Old Models?)

  1. We made the pilgrimage to LegoLand CA last summer, and much enjoyed it. I noted that many of the models had been sprayed with some kind of protective film — which was easy to notice as it was flaking off on some of them. Maybe it preserves their color in the relentless sun?

    1. Cynthia, I emailed Steve and here is his reply –

      “Cynthia-yes, you’re exactly right. It’s sun block for the models, pretty similar to an automotive clearcoat. Especially in southern latitudes, the UV radiation in sunlight will degrade the colors with time so we give them this coating to stretch the models’ lives a bit. Incidentally, this is a good argument for sun block for people. If the UV radiation does this to plastic, what does it do to our skin? However, I do not recommend bringing your kids to the local auto body shop and having them clearcoated. ”

      Good eye!

Comments are closed.