The Lego Master Builders not only have the best job, they have the best job title.
After begging and pleading and hours of explaining that this wasn’t a joke, Lego finally invited Maxim to their headquarters. They also made us this sweet Lego mosaic that now hangs proudly in our lobby. The Lego campus, located in lovely Connecticut, isn’t where the bricks are fabricated; that happens at their facilities in Denmark. But the Connecticut HQ is where the mighty Master Builders work. These official Lego artisans use the little bricks to make giant sculptures and mosaics. If you ever spot a giant Lego thing, chances are it came from here. Model Designer/Master Builder/Lego All-Star Erik Varszegi gave us a tour of the workshop and shared the secrets of Lego. Want to play with Lego for a living? Here’s how:
Step One: Be Lucky
Erik Varszegi: I lucked out. There was an ad in the paper, many, many years ago. They were looking for model builders. My background was in the fine arts. I was always drawing and painting. I got into college and discovered sculpting and 3D design. The whole Lego thing was a natural extension. So I came in, interviewed for the job, and didn’t get it. They hired someone else that year. But then they called me back.
Step Two: Be Really Smart About Everything
The number one question we get asked is “How do you get a job as a Master Builder.” And usually it’s the parents that are asking. The kids don’t care. They’re busy playing. But the parents ask, “What does my kid need to study?” The standard answer is: Math is really important. We do a lot of calculations for scaling things up and scaling things down. Art classes are important. Even science classes and anatomy and biology classes are important. Studying animals is important. For an upcoming project we have to build a zebra, so studying the anatomy of a horse is suddenly important.
Step Three: Get Hurt
You can see the scars all over my hands. My hands get really hurt during building events, when you’re out in the public. But that’s because I’m working with this stuff all day. I was just in San Francisco building a giant Yoda.
You’re out at the event, you have a specific time frame to build the model, and safety takes a back seat. You might scratch your arm on a brick or something. It’s rare that I don’t put a little bit of my own blood into a model. [Editor’s Note: The injuries usually stem from jamming one’s hand into giant lego bins with reckless abandon. It’s highly unlikely for this to happen to mere mortals like us and kids building regular-sized dragons and castles.]
I built a five-foot long taco. I was by myself, in Ohio, building a taco. That was strange. It was for a corporate event. Usually at corporate events they’ll have comedians or a juggler, but there I was in the corner, building a giant taco.
The Michelangelo of Lego
What I’m most known for is the Lego Star Wars Star Destroyer. That’s when my name got out on the Internet, for better or worse. It was a lot of fun to build, but I had to literally pull an all-nighter to get that out the door to Indianapolis for the Star Wars convention. There’s probably 35,000 pieces in that one. I was just a guy playing with Legos in Connecticut, and then my name got attached to that Star Wars piece all over the Web.
You can build anything. The bigger you go, the more option you have. The hardest things to build are the really, really small things. Like building a small-scale mailbox or a lawnmower for a Minifigure. You want it to be in scale with the figure. The smaller you get, the fewer choices you have with the elements to make it. You could be struggling with that little thing for four hours -- half your day is wasted, and you’re not coming up with solutions. But when it all comes together, it feels good.
Lego Doesn’t Let Go
I’ll have Lego dreams and nightmares at night. I had one sleepless night where I was trying to figure out how to make Darth Maul’s teeth.
And then I came in the next day and slapped together a few prototypes. I do have Lego Vision. I’ll be driving down the road looking at buildings and architecture and seeing Lego shapes and figuring out how to build it.
More Shots From Around the Lego Office...
At night, they all come to life, and remain quietly on the shelf.
Rearrange twelve bricks and it becomes Nicolas Cage. Guess which twelve!
"We encourage people to touch the sculptures," said Varszegi. "They’ll look at one of our models and they won’t believe that it’s actually built of regular bricks. Some people think we carve a solid chunk of plastic. But no. Each little piece is real and people have to touch it."
The rest of the whale broke off moments after we yelled, "This isn't so heavy!"
How many hours did it take to make these chickens? We don't know. They told us, but we didn't pay attention as we were too busy stealing.
The Lego lobby is fun, but less so after we stole all the green, red, white, orange, and black bricks.
"Your desks look more like a break room. Get it? Break? Like breaking off Lego pieces?” we said. “Mmm-hmm,” said the workers who then moved everything up to higher shelf because we were getting chocolate everywhere.
Lego sculptures are all over the building, including this Clint Eastwood statue.
Even the light fixtures have been Lego-ized! When we visit the Oscar Mayer headquarters, our expectations will be quite high.
You might remember this bird from the nightmare you keep having.
Star Wars is one of the most popular Lego themes. Murder, She Wrote is the least popular. (We didn't see a single one!)
The logo is made of painted Lego minifigures. We held up the tour as we gave each minifigure a name. Top row, from left to right: Jason, Tara, Oscar, Jenny, Jenni, Jennifer, Jen, Jenn, Sticky Luke, Dr. Cosby, Donna, um...we forgot that one, Gavin, Paula, Ray-Ray, Duncan...
Huge thanks to Lego for letting us see the workshop. Check out our Comic Con preview of the new Star Wars Lego Ranor Set, and if you haven't already, buy every single Monster Fighter Set that Lego makes. They are 100% great.