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Justin Ramsden Discusses SDCC Exclusive LEGO Sets, Career as LEGO Designer

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Justin Ramsden has been a senior designer with LEGO Group for the previous five years. I spoke with him at Comedian-Con in San Diego last week about his profession at LEGO and his work designing LEGO Group’s SDCC exclusives.

Sean
Just to begin, can you say who you’re and what your job is?

Justin
My identify’s Justin Ramsden. I’m a senior mannequin designer at the LEGO Group.

Sean
So how did you end up with that position? Did you initially build with LEGO bricks like as a fan, and then your work received observed? Did you come by way of product design?

Justin
It’s an extended story but we’ll attempt to condense it. So pretty much ever since, yeah, I might break my brother’s fashions, it actually hooked my mind and I used to be obsessed by LEGO bricks and LEGO products. And yeah, so I used to be a fan all my life, properly, all my childhood, I’m still alive, so fan all my childhood.

And then the LEGO  Group ran this factor referred to as the within tour where principally you go behind the scenes and get to satisfy designers and you’d go and see the manufacturing unit and also you go and meet Kjeld [Kirk Kristiansen, former CEO of the LEGO Group] and you’ve received to go to the vault and simply all these actually superb issues. We still run it to today.

However I went, I used to be fortunate enough to go on it first, as that was again in 2004. And it was then that I noticed that LEGO design is actually a thing. As a result of before then it was like LEGO units simply seem at Christmas time, and it was made in Santa’s workshop and that appeared to be the norm.

And then I was like, oh, I have all these faces and names and this man designed LEGO Racers, and this man designed LEGO Technic. And that was crazy. So, from that I asked the query, how does one turn into a LEGO designer? And what do I have to study? What does, and had all these, this set of expertise and, right. Okay, I’m going to comply with these to the letter. And I was lucky enough to have an internship in 2007 on the Billund mannequin store.

Whereas I used to be at school, I was building loads of big-scale sculptures just for my artwork follow and for coursework. After which I acquired invited to return right down to an interview in winter for LEGOLAND as a grasp model builder and I stated, “I’ll never get it, I’ll never get it.” And then I assumed, okay, perhaps I’ll attempt so I made a decision to use for the job there. Came down. I used to be up towards the candidates, like 500, it was crazy. And, spoiler alert, received the job and labored there for just about 5 years, building all the large scale things around the parks. I’ve acquired models in multiple nations and there was a wild experience.

And on the similar time, I made a decision to go to college. So I studied design at Goldsmiths College of London. After which you recognize, at some point I used to be like, properly now I need to pursue different adventures. I’ve carried out LEGO building for a very good time period. I’m still a fan. And let’s see what else there’s since I’m only young, proper?

But behind my mind, it was all the time LEGO designer, LEGO designer, LEGO product designer that is. I’ll by no means get it, I’ll never be ok. Because it’s like one in one million thing. That is the dream job, proper? And then one night time it just hit me like, why don’t I just apply. Prefer it’s not going to value me something. And, the worst factor that you simply’re going to say is, okay, nicely you didn’t get it, but that’s not gonna stop me having a passion for the brand. I’m nonetheless gonna be obsessive about LEGO building and LEGO products. And so I decided to apply and then yes, spoiler alert, obtained the job. So, it’s a very long-winded factor. And then been there, yr, almost five years now.

So it’s loopy the truth that we’re here at comic con, I get to do a signing. Individuals queued in a single day to get my latest set. It’s mind-blowing… This is crazy! I’ve obtained goosebumps occupied with this, how loopy it’s.

Sean
It’s superior to listen to your passion for that. You mentioned the individuals waiting at comedian con overnight. Are you able to speak a bit of bit concerning the sets that you simply’ve designed for this show?

Lego exclusives Comic-ConCaptain Marvel SDCC Exclusive LEGO Set

Justin
So for this present, I was fortunate enough to design the Captain Marvel and the Asis, which is a comic con unique for the Marvel manufacturers. And that was lots of fun. Just to, simply design a spaceship that has been in such a well-liked movie and it’s just so related. And the truth that we put a Flerken in the set as properly. So the cat with the tentacles, it’s referred to as Goose, it’s by no means been finished earlier than in a LEGO set.

And so it’s superb. In reality that folks queued overnight to get their arms on it, it’s just, yeah, superb. It’s mind blowing. After which additionally I labored on the Stranger Things set, so was lucky sufficient to signal a couple of of the bins that folks again have bought out of. We’re bought out. There’s no extra of the units.

However then additionally on the show flooring I’ve also designed the large Hogwarts Citadel that we’ve obtained, and there’s a Spider-Man accent pack as properly there, that I was fortunate enough to design.

Lego Exclusives Comic-Con

Sean
Since you’ve been capable of construct both, what’s the distinction between designing for shopper units, versus designing for set up? What are a number of the variations in the way you strategy them?

Justin
In fact. I mean finally they both use LEGO bricks. That’s the straightforward part. But the, it’s totally totally different as a result of with the installations and the large scale builds, typically they’ve a metal armature inside to make it possible for they don’t crumble or they’re secure enough to move all over the world. And in addition you’re building a unique scale. So I used to be fortunate sufficient to construct a mini figure scale. That’s 1:45 scale, but in addition minivan scales, so 1:20.

So that you build a huge scale buildings and like automobiles and the whole lot that you simply see in, that populates the miniland world, which was great to work at totally different scales because then it provides you a perspective of using LEGO parts in new and exciting methods.

After which, yeah, so you additionally need to make them resilient to the climate if the models are outdoors. You need to ensure that they’re childproof so like if a toddler leans over, they will’t snap one thing off, or they will’t impale their hand off…

Sean
And simply to be clear, once we’re talking about these totally different scales, we’re still speaking about sculptures at LEGOLAND?

Justin
Yeah, that is nonetheless giant scale. We have now to make one thing simply more resilient because on the finish of the day, it’s still going to face on a plinth or a podium. But you see, behind here we’ve been a Sith trooper and individuals are touching and grabbing bits, but we use glue. That’s the, obviously the spoiler. Whereas once you’re building merchandise, you need to make sure that they’re secure, but without utilizing glue and in addition kid pleasant, they’re playable, they’re fulfilling to construct. That’s the one factor as a result of whenever you’re constructing large scale fashions, it may get quite tedious in the event you’re just stacking home windows.

Whereas we would like all of the LEGO products that we’ve designed to have this circulate and this pleasure and this adventure that you’d go on if you open the box. I imply that’s the, that’s the primary thing of the product. I imply, yeah, you might have a set at the finish of it, but one of the best half for me is constructing it.

Sean
If you’re designing a shopper set, and you are attempting to ensure it’s fun to build, how do you determine, for a given age group, there ought to be so many steps, and so many elements? Is there a distinct components that, for a 13-year-old, there shall be X number of pieces? How do you make an “easy” set versus a “hard” one?

Justin
It’s extra items and more durable methods. However we work with multiple teams of people. A type of is model coaches. So, they’re skilled designers or ex-designers and in addition they’ve their heads wrapped around age marks and is this straightforward to build?

After which also constructing instructions developers. So individuals who design the instructions. So we sit down with these individuals once we’re designing the model and literally inform them every step that we need to do in our head.

So once you, if you read the LEGO building guide and also you see okay, the first step is that this, step two is that this, we now have to try this. Which is nice if you’re working on a smaller set. But once you’re engaged on one thing like Hogwarts, the second largest set we’ve ever launched, that takes a couple of days.

Sean
Do you start with a selected step rely and a picture of what you want, and work backwards? Or do you do you do something totally different?

Justin
It works both ways. I mean some individuals, everybody works in a different way. Like for me, I like to only get the bricks and pour them on the ground, get on my palms and knees and start constructing. And be type of in your head, you realize, okay, that is going to be this worth point and it’s going to roughly match this, and ensure it matches on the field as nicely.

We additionally design for a way the field appears and okay it will do and this measurement. Due to course, it’d be superb to release big, big sets each time that we release units. But I imply I’ve no room in my home so like I design to what matches on my cabinets. We sit down with these individuals and we type of talk about what the age mark could possibly be and it’s completely totally different when you’re constructing for them.

Somebody requested me once, oh, is it onerous? Is it straightforward to build the extra adults sets or the older age mark units and no it’s a completely totally different kettle of fish. Because with the straightforward ones, the decrease age mark, it’s troublesome as properly because you’re making an attempt to figure out, oh, can a child of have five years previous truly construct this mannequin? Whereas like 16 plus would a youngster or an grownup fan of LEGO, would they take pleasure in this step or this system and is it nonetheless construct in a position for them? As a result of, yeah, you could be 16 plus, but you may be model new to LEGO constructing, or you would be a seasoned veteran. So we’d like to ensure it’s accessible.

Sean
You’ve labored on licensed units before. What position does the license holder have within the design? Do they provide plenty of enter into the design, or do they allow you extra freedom?

Justin
We work actually, really intently with our partners. But we get sent, the reference prematurely. We get to typically learn the scripts [for the movies], go to the sets. I imply that’s loopy. That’s on prime of constructing LEGO units, I get to hear what happened in Endgame earlier than the rest of the world. And so it’s superb that we get to work with these incredible licenses and in addition, yeah, these superb companions.

Sean
Once you’re designing these shopper sets, what are the most typical challenges you run into? For instance, on your Captain Marvel set, what’s probably the most difficult half to get proper?

Justin
It varies on every mannequin. With the Captain Marvel set, the form of the spaceship could be very, very weird, nevertheless it nonetheless has a type you can build out of LEGO brick. However I’ve worked on merchandise where I’ve spent days just making an attempt to determine how this little factor after which considered one of my colleagues will stroll again and go, oh, have you tried this? And goodness. And that’s the great thing about working in Billund and working there where you have got 300 designers.

I imply we’re one massive group, but in addition I’m working with a few of the greatest designers within the enterprise for LEGO design. And that’s once more mind-blowing. And so once I was there engaged on the Stranger Issues set, the entire upside-down flip, and the power to flip the set, I worked with multiple individuals across the workplace because we simply needed to ensure it’s going to sort of be secure enough.

That’s the most important drawback. Stability. You can also make probably the most superb wanting things, but then you definitely contact it and all of it falls apart. Or it makes use of rubber bands to wrap around and hold a tile on the top, and then it simply gets too messy. It’s a fun challenge.

Sean
I knew that is the query everybody dreads being asked—

Justin
Properly, you haven’t requested it but, so we’ll see.

Sean
Is there a selected set that’s your favorite that you simply’ve designed, or that you simply’re proudest of?

Justin
All of my youngsters are my favorites proper now. It’s loopy as a result of I fall out and in of affection with every set whereas I’m engaged on it as a result of yeah, you get caught on these issues. You understand, you slave hour an hour. And even if you depart the workplace, you’re still serious about it.

I imply, I used to be working on the LEGO Movie 2 and built the Statue of Liberty. And I keep in mind distinctly cooking, and I was cooking sausages and I stated, oh, what if I exploit sausages as the eyebrows for the statue?

And so inspiration comes in all places. But I mean I keep in mind being in the office for a time period and just slaving away. Simply, you’ve put so much ardour, a lot power into it. After which whenever you’ve finished, you don’t really understand that you simply’re accomplished until the set comes out on the show flooring, the store flooring.

So I don’t know, every set has its stories and has its reminiscences and I even keep in mind the music that I used to be listening to once I was designing this set or what I used to be considering and where we have been going once I did this one. However I imply, in fact, yeah. My first set can also be my favourite as a result of it’s the primary time you get to-

Sean
What was your first set?

Justin
It was truly a comic con unique, which I still haven’t acquired. So I’m hoping to get my arms on it. I just want to attend for the prices on the secondary market. It was the Throne of Ultron, for the Avengers film. And that got here out 4, three years ago, four years in the past. Clearly having a conference exclusive as your first set is, is a very massive deal. Nevertheless it makes it very onerous to get multiple copies.

Sean
So everyone else will get to play together with your set?

Justin
Exactly, or perhaps they don’t open it. We don’t know. That’s the great thing about conference exclusives.

Sean
Is there anything that you simply’d need to build? Do you will have like a dream set that you simply want you would design?

Justin
It’s humorous, like clearly going into the job, you will have these set concepts, okay, I need to design this and I need to design this.

And the LEGO Group is in a interval now where something’s potential. Properly, it’s all the time been attainable, however the fact that we get to staff up with Netflix and do Stranger Issues … The fact that I set to work on LEGO yellow submarine for the Beatles…

I mean these are large issues, and large ardour factors for me. And so the truth that we’re bringing in these new licenses and simply actually loopy issues, oh, let’s do the Delorean from the Again to the Future. Let’s do the Ghost Buster automotive. I mean, these are superb issues. So I don’t know what’s next. And that’s scary, but in addition actually, really superb because I might be working on LEGO anything, whatever it’s. And that’s loopy.

Sean
One question concerning the engineering work that goes into a set, you mentioned stability, is there any type of formal stress checks or engineering exams for the fashions?

Justin
We have now a drop check and that’s usually by simply getting your model and chucking off the desk to see the way it survives. Especially issues with Stranger Issues. All of them. That’s the great thing about working on all these loopy licenses and all these superb partnerships is, yeah, once I was working with Netflix, the variety of individuals that might just come by your model within the workplace and check it, it was superb trigger I’d depart the desk and it’d be the wrong way up once I came back in, because we’re all the time always enjoying, all the time continually getting a hands-on.

We obviously have play exams for brand spanking new fashions. The designers, they may all sit down and check one another’s fashions and then we will usher in youngsters into the office because, oh, my pal’s son is here. My pal’s daughter is right here, in order that they get to play as properly.

The LEGO system is examined to like to an inch of, or not an inch of, like a millimeter of a millimeter. That’s the primary thing, making sure the tolerances work and just, it’s great. That’s a completely totally different department.

It goes back to the fact that method, approach back when LEGO bricks first started, I mean the quality was all the time there. I keep in mind fondly this story the place only, so the founder like, he made this duck and it had three lacquers, three coats of lacquer on the duck, and Godtfred, the owner’s son, goes “oh, but dad, what if we, if we put less coats on, we could obviously make more. It takes less time. We can get them in the hands of kids faster.” And he was like, no, the standard needs to be there. So he truly made Godtfred go back to the practice station to get all the ones that he’d solely coated with two lacquers and Godtfred needed to spend all evening painting these ducks and get them again on the trains that they, they made it safely to wherever they have been going.

So even back within the thirties, I mean that quality was there and that was additionally key. And that caught with the brand. And to say, properly I can strongly say that the quality nonetheless stays and that’s everlasting.

Sean
One thing that stunned me was learning most of the bigger fashions don’t have any sort of metallic, it’s simply LEGO bricks.

Justin
Exactly. I mean, on the end of the day we attempt to make it as buildable as potential. Yeah, okay. Things yeah, might move over time or they should be shipped to comic con. They need to be transported wherever. So typically that’s the place the steel is, however I keep in mind, yeah, not one of the buildings that I constructed. They only have LEGO items bracing it throughout as a result of, on the finish of the day, it’s a robust product. Why not use it, it’s an amazing system.

Sean
Thanks so much of your time.

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