Interview with LEGO Designer Jens Kronvold Frederiksen
with Lando da Pimp
MillionairePlayboy.com: How did you get started as a LEGO Toy Designer? How long have you worked with LEGO?
Jens: I am educated as a lithographer, and build plastic models in my spare-time. When I entered the Danish IPMS (International Plastic Model Society) championship in 1997 I was contacted by LEGO if I was interested in a designer-job. So I started working for LEGO in 1998.
MillionairePlayboy.com: What is the typical day at work for a LEGO Toy Designer? What does the LEGO studio look like?
Jens: It depends where we are in the development process. When we start up we are doing a lot of brainstorming. Later we start building, drawing prints for bricks or designing / Sculpting elements. There is also some paperwork to do. On LEGO Star Wars it is about approval by Lucas Licensing etc. So our work is very varied. But of course some designers are specialized in one or more areas.
MPb: How is a LEGO set designed? Do you start with sketches? How many versions do you go through until the final product is decided upon?
Jens: On LEGO Star Wars we collect as much reference as possible on the specific model or scene. We then build a sketch model and decide if we should continue.
If the sketch model is OK, we rebuild the model until it fits the decided price-point, makes cool functions, acceptable complexity in construction, compared to the age marking on the set. Etc. etc.
There are A LOT of things that needs to be worked withso an average model is build MANY times until it is right, I think five to ten times is not unusual.
MPb: Do you start with a large pile of LEGOs when constructing a set? I know when I build LEGOs the irritating part is picking them up. Do you have people or a vacuum that picks the pieces up or are they just always lying around?
Jens: We have shelves with more or less all the different elements. So we pick them up there. And after a week or so we have a HUUUGE pile of bricks on the table (and floor) and everywhere!
Until our cleaning service gets here with the big vacuum cleaner!!! Many kids would probably cry if they saw all these elements disappear like that!!
MPb: When you are designing a set is the priority to focus on playability of the set or the realism (specifically on Movie lines)?
Jens: On LEGO Star Wars good play value is what it is about! With our play-sets, we sometimes sacrifice details, if it makes the model better to play with or better in construction. But with our big collector sets detail and authenticity is of course most important.
MPb: Over the years LEGO has started producing custom pieces for sets. How much customization are you allowed to use for a set? Do you have to stick to using existing LEGO pieces?
Jens: When we make the LEGO Star Wars products, we have a frame of new elements. We (the designers) decide how to use them. Sometimes we make "classic" building elements, but often what we need is cockpit canopies, parts for animals or mini figures. But in Star Wars we really work hard to use existing elements. LEGO is about CREATIVITY!! I think it is great fun to see a Belville phone hand set used as engine details on a Y-wing or a Scala flower pod used as exhaust on the X-wing!
MPb: Do more than one designer work on a LEGO set? What sets can you proclaim, "I designed this LEGO set!"
Jens: Normally there is one designer who is responsible for a specific set. But in the development process the models circle around in the project between many designers. By doing it that way I think that we get by far the best products.
MPb: Are you given a range of LEGO pieces that you are allowed to work with or are you given free reign?
Jens: We can more or less do what we want. But sometimes we avoid using certain pieces for different reasons: If they are very expensive to manufacture, difficult to handle for the kids or not very easy to use in other LEGO models.
MPb: When designing sets are there LEGO sets that will never be taken to final product? Can you discuss any sets that never worked out?
Jens: Sometimes some sketch models are discontinued for various reasons: If the model is not shown much in the movie, or does not have enough play value. We have also sometimes gone crazy and built VERY big or complex models that will NEVER get into trade, just for fun!!! (See photo. By the way I am standing at the front of the model).
MPb: When you design toys for the movie lines such as Star Wars Episode III how much of the film do you get to see? Are you given reference photos and a script?
Jens: Normally very early we go to Skywalker Ranch to read the script. We are then kept up to date with reference by Lucas Licensing throughout the process. We have also seen very early versions of the movies (with a lot of not finished scenes) but it of course very exciting and a great help anyway!
MPb: We see the Death Star Set as being one of those "Ultimate Fantasy Sets" that finally came true. Are there any "Someday I hope we can make the..." that you hope becomes real?
Jens: I feel pretty much the same about both the Star Destroyer and the Death Star II. We have a lot of ideas, but I don't think that we will make LEGO Star Wars set, for trade that are bigger than these!!!
MPb: The mini-figures they are pretty small. What is the scale that they are designed?
Jens: GOOD QUESTION! To be honest I don't know! When we design models we sometimes cheat a bit with the scale, either because the model would be too big or too small so the mini figure would not fit inside. But again the most important thing for us is that it is fun to play with!
MPb: Is there a Movie that you would love to develop LEGO sets for?
Jens: Yes many! But I can not go into details with this... You never know what happens in the future...
MPb: How much LEGO swag ends up in your house?
Jens: Swag?? That is not a nice word is it? Normally as designers we get a sample of the models that we are responsible for. We also sometimes get early samples of other designer's sets, which we have to build to check the building instructions etc... for errors. So yes, I have a pretty big collection at home!
MPb: What is your favorite LEGO set that you have designed? What is more exciting to work on Movie Line sets or original LEGO line?
Jens: My own favorite model of my own designs is the collector Y-Wing model #10134. Of the play sets it is definitely the X-Wing #4502. [Dagobah]
I really like working on license products. I love the challenge of trying to make a LEGO version of something seen in movies etc.
I also think that the cooperation with an external partner (here it is Lucas Licensing) is very interesting and fun.
Check out the rest of our LEGO coverage, and swing on by LEGO.com for more information on your favorite sets.
Article ©2005 MillionairePlayboy.com.