By Susan and Simon Veness
We recently took a back-stage tour at LEGOLAND with a visit to the Model Shop, where all of the park’s models are created and assembled. Angie Story, one of just three builders (and the only girl!) gave us the inside scoop on what it takes to be Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND Florida.
Did you play with LEGO when you were young, Angie?
I did play with LEGO as a young girl, but not nearly as much as some of my colleagues may have. I was also into gymnastics. So, in between school and gymnastics, my sisters and I spent some time playing with LEGO. It wasn’t until a few years ago when my nieces were old enough to play with LEGO, that I regained the enjoyment of playing and building with these fascinating plastic bricks.
What inspired you to seek a job as a Master Model Builder?
I wasn’t necessarily seeking a job as a Model Builder. I started at Legoland Florida as a stunt performer for the Big Test Show. A non-park related injury lead me to a light-duty position in the Model Shop. This is where I found a true love for model building and discovered I really had a talent for it. When an opportunity came to apply for a Model Builder position, I jumped at the chance and officially joined the team just over a year ago.
What sort of qualifications do you need to become a Master Builder?
The only real qualification is the love of LEGO and building. However, having an art, architecture, or computer designing background doesn’t hurt. You also need to know some math, as we do a lot of scaling.
Walk us through the process of creating a new LEGO model.
The process begins with an idea of a model. If it is a brand new model that hasn’t been built before, we start to throw around ideas how the model should look and we look at pictures and access different ways to build the model. From there, we begin building a smaller prototype of the model. Sometimes it is a trial and error process. Once we have perfected the prototype, we then have a guide to build the larger model. For models that have been built many times, we can use computer software as a tool to guide the building process which shows you layer by layer where to lay your bricks. Regardless, we build piece by piece, gluing every piece, until it is complete.
How or where do you find inspiration for creating new models?
The inspiration for a model can come from anywhere. It can be an idea that has been passed down from colleagues and supervisors, friends and family, and even guests. Ideas can even come from your own experiences. We aren’t always given a schematic. Sometimes we have to build by trial-and-error until the model is built the way we want it.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
Learning what all the pieces are and can do, as well as learning other building techniques and the software and how to use it. I have learned so much already, but I still have quite a bit to learn.
What’s the best part about your job?
I get to play with LEGO almost all day long.
What model have you worked on that was the most fun to create?
I would say it has to be the park in the Tampa section of Miniland USA. I was given freedom to build it how I wanted to. I included a children’s playground with a swing set, teeter-totter, and a merry-go-round. I also added a dog park. However, what makes it even better for me is that I personalized it. I placed my boyfriend, my dog and myself in the dog park, with my sister, her husband, and two daughters with their dog just outside of the dog park. You can find a lot of personalization done from our model builders all throughout Miniland.
Have there been any models that were really challenging?
I built a dragon that was about 1-foot tall. It was my most challenging for two reasons. First of all, I only had pictures to build from. But, what made it the most difficult was the mouth on the dragon moves. The pictures did not show the detail in what pieces were used, so I had to build it on my own. I wasn’t quite sure what pieces to use, but I did it.
When we walk through the park, what models should we look for that you created?
Many of the models I build are for events. For instance, I built the spiders, bats, and most of the gravestones for our Halloween Brick-or-Treat event. I also built two DUPLO® snowmen last year and a life-size Santa and two reindeer this year for our Christmas Bricktacular. However, there are some smaller items that are out in the park year round – the pilot friend in front of Flying School, some squirrels, four of the large crocodile teeth by Cragger’s Swamp, the bowls and vases in the World of Chima, the ice cream cones outside of Sonny’s Ice Cream Shop, the park in Tampa in the Florida cluster of Miniland USA, the bell on top of Fire Rescue Academy, and the guitars on the wall in the Fried Chicken Restaurant are just a few.
Is there a model you are especially proud of having made?
The dragon model is one that I am the most proud of because it was a challenge. However, I also built a pilot friend that I love. We have a file for the layout of the Lego friend, so I had the form. But I did not have the design. I used the LEGO pilot minifigure as the basis for him. So, I designed his look from a picture as well.
Do your fingers ever get sore from putting all those little pieces together?
Yes, sometimes. However, we do have tools that help prevent this from happening.
Give us an idea of what a typical Master Builder’s day is like.
I’m sure it’s a little different in each shop around the world. We have 10 people associated with our model shop – 4 builders, 2 animators, 2 resetters, 1 cleaner, and our supervisor. Our atmosphere is fairly relaxed. We get to listen to our music, as long as there are no visitors or tours. My day usually begins by checking Miniland. This includes walking through each cluster making sure the models are in the correct positions and the buildings don’t have any damage. After that, I return to the model shop and work on my current project. Lunch usually comes next. After lunch, there is a Meet a Master Model Builder session in Miniland. It is basically a question-and-answer session with guests, and lasts about a half hour. Right after that, Miniland is checked again. Then, I finish the day continuing to work on my project. There are also days where tours of the model shop are set up. These are usually associated with the VIP Experience. And of course, we also have to take care of any calls for broken models. And that is a typical day for me.
How long would it take to build a model such as the snoring Grandpa or the big dinosaurs at the front of the park?
The snoring grandpa, whom we’ve named Louie at our park, takes approximately 280-340 hours to build, with only one builder working on it. The big red dinosaur at the front took about 600-700 hours to build with a staff of about 12 builders working on it. Here, at Legoland Florida, we typically focus on models 6 feet and under, due to the amount of time it would take to build.
How many people typically work on a setting, such as the various settings in Miniland USA?
It really depends on the project. When it came to the World of Chima, we all had a part in putting it together. We are a very close group, and so we help each other whenever needed. When it comes to the actual building of a model, we generally work on it by ourselves. However, there are times when we assist each other, especially when it’s a larger project.
What makes the Florida location special to work in?
Our environment! Not only do we have a wonderful staff and great weather, which allows everyone to enjoy the park year round, but we have great guests too! It makes my day when I see our guests, especially children, so excited to be here, and to hear their comments when they think no one is listening. Not to mention that Legoland Florida is the only one where guests can fully immerse themselves in The LEGO World of Chima.
Is there anything else you think we should know about being a Master Builder?
There’s nothing better than being able to be a kid again, and that’s what I get to do every day. There are an infinite amount of ideas. If your dream is to be a model builder, keep building, keep being creative and pay attention to details!
We think that’s terrific advice!