Matt Graham is a master model builder assistant at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Fort Worth, Dallas. We chatted with him to gain an insight into what goes on behind the scenes at a Discovery Center that isn’t Chadstone.
Photos from CBS 11 / LegoLand Discovery / Matt Graham
We all remember our first set. Which one was yours and do you happen to still have it? My first set was 4667 from the four juniors theme and I do still have it! I got a few more from that theme before evolving into the more ‘older kid’ sets.
What sets and lines were you most attracted to growing up? I was pretty big into Ninjago and Friends in past years surprisingly! I like ninjas and bright colours!
If you could raid LEGO’s vault what would you dig out? If I could raid the LEGO vault, I would definitely take a look at anything from the adventurer’s theme, I love all of those sets, I can’t pick just one!
Matt is nicknamed Johnny Thunder by his mates.
Have you ever looked at some of the classic era “LEGOLAND” sets from the 80’s and 90s?
Yes, I have seen a bunch of those classic sets. They have a lot of very unique designs, I actually own a few still in sealed boxes as well!
We all eventually seem to have a LEGO dark age. Did you have yours? And what brought you back into LEGO? I actually never had a dark age with LEGO, I have been into LEGO my entire life
Building LEGO on a professional basis is many AFOL’s dream.
How did you come about joining up with TDC in Denver? I began working at LEGOLAND Discovery Center in Fort Worth, Dallas after competing in a competition! Had to make it through three difficult LEGO building rounds plus an interview just to get the job. Each round of competition was to build something of the ’round theme’ in 30 minutes. We had to use an extremely limited selection of bricks and we had to build in front of a very large crowd that gathered to watch! The rounds in my competition were baseball, something with a sphere, and something about you. So I built a baseball stadium seat for round one, a news anchor microphone for round two, and a small LEGO version of a local LEGO club I used to attend for round three.
Panorama of the Dallas Discovery Centre
Do you have any background in design, did you study anything related in college?
I do have some background in design and an IT degree, however, experience in art, architecture, and engineering are also very helpful in getting a job like this. Since LDCs are very small, we pretty much have to do everything, but at the LEGOLAND parks or at LEGO, each person usually is doing what they are specialized in. For example, someone who has experience in engineering would focus mainly on the steel structure of a model while something with art experience would focus more on the look of a model
Building bigfigs is a challenge, what are some that you are most proud of overcoming? While I’ve been focusing mainly on designing them, my favourite big fig build has to be a Lloyd vs Garmadon Ninjago build that shows them fighting each other
Everyone is kung fu fighting!
What tools do you use to design your big figs? I use a few programs that are exclusive to Merlin / LEGO, but I also use LEGO Digital Designer and a few other LEGO designing programs. Can you give a bit of a walkthrough how you design something? Say if someone wanted to do a giant skunk from scratch, what would your process be?
For a larger project like a skunk, we will usually be given a brief by a higher up about the project. We would then quickly put together some sketches of what it could possibly look like. Then we would construct a 3D model of a skunk in a 3D modelling program. Then we import that into one of our private software that will convert that 3D model into a giant LEGO model. Once we add colours to the LEGO skunk model, we will grab the bricks and start building!
We do sketch things out most of the time, but we don’t really rely too much on them anymore. Now we focus more on LEGO built prototypes and other test models to figure out certain design aspects before we design the final model
We use every basic brick and plate in all sizes and colours when building large sculptures. The most key parts are 1×1 and 1×2 brick and plate.
How much creative building is there for a LEGOLAND designer? There is a ton of creative building in my job, pretty much every day I have to create something entirely new.
Are there any perks for working at LEGOLAND? Do you get free rides? There’s a ton of perks! Free tickets to any LEGOLAND parks, LDCs and other Merlin attractions in the world along with a nice employee discount.
If you weren’t a LL builder what would your day job be? My main goal is to be a LEGO Master Model Builder for LEGO in their Enfield Connecticut HQ, so I do plan on moving on from being a LEGOLAND model builder to a LEGO one in the future
Do you build your own big models at home or do you try to keep that separate from work? I build large things at work and at home, I just can’t stop building haha. My projects have been pretty slow since I’ve been at home a lot for work, but I have done the Disneyland sleeping beauty castle along with a My Little Pony Pinkie Pie sculpture. I tend to design a lot of projects that I add to my building backlog that I take a while to actually build haha. I have all my bricks sorted by shape and colour, so for the most part I always have what I need. While I’d love to use the bricks at work, they are only to be used with projects that are being made for the attraction
What tips would you give to people who want to get into building big or creating their own MOC? Building really large models is pretty difficult since it takes quite a bit of time and effort to learn all the programs that are involved. Try and practice building simple shapes like spheres and pyramids to understand the basics of a 3D LEGO model. Also, don’t be afraid to restart a design! A lot of our best LEGO models took weeks of trying out different ideas before we got something that looked great
Have you seen LEGO Masters US? I quite enjoyed the US version! Got to talk with a lot of the kids visiting LDC about it and the builds in the show which made me enjoy it even more! What about the Aussie version? I actually haven’t seen that version of the show yet, it’s definitely on my watch list!
Thank you so much for your time giving us an insight into behind the scenes at a LEGOLAND Discovery Centre.
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