Today is the very first day of the last LEGO Inside Tour for 2018 and I have to admit that it is a little bit difficult to contain my excitement for this trip that has been two years in the making.
As most of you already know, the LEGO Inside Tour, or more affectionately known as just “LIT”, is a once-in-a-lifetime exclusive tour of the inner workings of the LEGO Group and getting a slot on the tour is akin to winning the lottery.
I was greeted by the wonderful Astrid Müller who quickly gave me an exclusive LEGO Inside Tour 2018 minifigure torso to build your very own signature minifigure (sigfig) as well as an exclusive LIT brick badge which you can pin to your shirt.
There was a whole tray of minifigure parts which I was like a kid in a candy store with all the elements to choose from. I wanted to use the bald headpiece but it would clash with the yellow heads so I gave up that idea rather quickly.
The day started with a quick presentation by Søren Holm who gave us a bit of a background on his 32-year LEGO journey working as a LEGO Designer and how he finally ended up in the LEGO Foundation.
We were then tasked to introduce ourselves with the sigfigs that we have created and I made one with a camera and a magnifying glass (naturally). The concept of the sigfig is rather interesting. Some use it as an extension of themselves while others, who they would like to be.
It was also one of the participant’s birthday and the LIT team got her a little LEGO birthday cake set as her present. I think it is little touches like this that makes the tour thoroughly memorable.
One of the really meaningful gifts that we received (little did we know that we would receive a lot on this tour!) was a box of six red 2×4 bricks. With just these six individual bricks, over 900 million different assemblies can be achieved.
This may just be six 2×4 bricks but it is a ingenious way to show us the endless possibilities that the LEGO brick has in store for everyone.
The LEGO Ideas House is our next stop where the coveted vault is located right in the basement. This building is actually Ole Kirk Christiansen’s original home so it is very fitting that every LEGO set ever made is housed at the birth place of the LEGO brick.
I managed to find sets from my childhood like the LEGO Space Monorail Transport System (6990) and even the LEGO Dinosaurs figures. We managed to uncover themes like Galidor, Santa Fe, Chickits, Spybotics, Scala, Paradisa and even the Znap series!
However, this is not the only treasure trove of all the sets that LEGO has in their possession. There is another larger vault that is not open to the public that also has every single set ever produced but the sets are treated like rare books where you would need special gloves to handle the boxes.
The Christiansen’s home has been converted into a museum of sorts with a walking tour of the history of LEGO. The LEGO Ideas House is actually closed to the public and was conceived as a historical trove for employees although they do allow non-employees in from time to time like for the LEGO Inside Tour.
One interesting tidbit from this tour is the motto that has been the driving force behind the LEGO brand is not exactly what we think it is.
“Det bedste er ikke for godt” is widely known as “Only the best is good enough” but in Danish, it actually means “The Best is not enough”. Both meanings essentially has the same effect but the subtle differences brings home the message a little stronger.
The house recounts LEGO’s history through the toys that they made from the first wooden duck that stepped off the production line to the latest brick set.
It touches a little bit on every aspect of the journey showing us how it transitioned from its humble beginnings of making wooden toys during World War II to the brand power house that it is today.
We were then brought into a meeting room for another presentation (the tour has a lot of these which are super informative!) on the moulding process and how the bricks are made. The bricks from the early days were very different from what we are used to.
The next stop is the LEGO Innovation House which is where all the magic happens. Sets are developed there way in advance and needless to say, no cameras or phones were allowed on the premises (not by us anyway). So this is all the photos I have from this session.
I do have to say that this is one of the best parts of the tour and it is where the LEGO Designers give us an overview on how they got to be there. Justin Ramden (LEGO Hogwarts Castle), Crystal “Bam” Fontan (LEGO Hogwarts Castle), Carl Merriam (NASA Apollo Rocket), Niek van Slagmaat (LEGO Ideas Voltron), Janko Grujic (Unikitty), Niels Milan Pederson (LEGO Minifigure Sculptor) were all on hand to give us exclusive insight into the design process.
One good thing about going on the LEGO Inside Tour in the fall is that there will be more designers who are able to share their anecdotes as their products would have been released by then.
Justin shared with us some of the challenges building a set like of that size and teased some potential future projects. Crystal furnished us with how she managed to sneak some of her colleagues into the stickers that adorn the walls of Hogwarts Castle. Niels recounted the time he was almost fired from the LEGO group for making the first ever minifigure skeleton.
It is stories and anecdotes like these that adds a more personal layer to the production process of our favourite LEGO set. As with any creation, an artist always lends a bit of themselves to the final product and it is only when you actually get to interact with them does this whole other aspect of the creation process open itself to you.
We adjourned for a break which allowed us to check into our hotel rooms at the LEGOLAND resort. Do take note that this is Denmark and most hotel establishments here do not have air conditioning. So be warned if you are ever there during the summer try to request for a fan or it can get really stuffy in the room.
Around fifteen LEGO designers gathered in the LEGO House to introduce themselves and share some of the sets that they had worked on.
There was a designer at each table and we were given the chance to chat and get to know them a bit better over a meal. It was a lovely experience as I got to chat with Stuart Harris on how some of the life sized LEGO structures were built in the LEGO House and glean a bit of insight to the extended line with Mel Caddick.
But it was the activity right after dinner that was truly one of the highlights of the entire trip which was that we got to be a LEGO designer for a few hours. The brief was simple, design a USD$20 set that we would probably like to buy.
There were endless trays of elements of all shapes, sizes and colour which meant that we could make anything we could dream of. Never before have I seen so many different elements laid out in one spot. Now I know how Charlie must have felt when he visited Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory.
The trays of elements are what the actual LEGO Designers use when they are prototyping their models. I was at quite a loss as to what to build because for the first time in my life, I literally had all the parts at my disposal and there were so many things I wanted to build.
It was also a very special experience to be able to see my fellow tour mates create their MOCs from the ground up and it was truly inspiring to see them tinker on their builds. There was a really cool LEGO Duck whose beak would be able to move up and down as it rolls forward and backwards.
One of the kids on the tour built a working windmill while the other participants came up with models that managed to incorporate a story into them. The session was scheduled to end at 9pm but needless to say that a bunch of us stayed back to perfect our builds and prolong for just a little bit our dream of being a LEGO designer for an evening.
To be continued…
(Special thanks to all those who made this possible. You know who you are! And a shoutout goes to the LEGO Inside Tour team who tirelessly made us feel right at home while we were miles away from ours.)