They get paid to play with LEGOs
There are only 40 professional LEGO master model builders worldwide. They spend their days creating fantastic models from the plastic bricks.
Mariann Asanuma started playing with LEGO bricks when she was 6 years old. When she talked about her desire to get a job working with LEGOs, some adults didn't think that was a realistic career goal. But she held on to her dreams. From childhood into adulthood, she kept building LEGO models.Skip to next paragraph
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Back in 1999, Ms. Asanuma found out that the LEGO Group was opening a LEGOLAND theme park in Carlsbad, a suburb of San Diego. She drove to the park with pictures of LEGO models she had built and applied for a job as a "master LEGO model builder."
She wasn't hired for the job, so she continued to work on her skills. "I knew one of the tests would be to make a LEGO ball, one that can actually roll," she says. "So I studied the 'Ultimate LEGO Book,' which has a picture of a ball, and I made that ball."
Ms. Asanuma also built a six-foot-tall mermaid and a miniature-scale comic book shop. These models helped her prove to the LEGOLAND managers that she was exceptionally skilled. Finally, she was hired as a master model designer.
Working with LEGOs
"Most LEGOLAND visitors are surprised to learn that we build our models with the same LEGO bricks you buy at the store," says Tim Petsche, the lead designer in the LEGOLAND model shop. "We just have more of them."
In many ways, what the model designers do is similar to playing with LEGOs at home. For example, first you get an idea of something to build. Maybe you look at a picture to determine the details and features. Then you dig through your bricks, select the colors you want, and start building to match the image you have in mind.
"Being a model builder is neither an artist's job or an engineering job," says Mr. Petsche. "It's a LEGO job. It's unique. It does require a good attention span and an ability to concentrate."
In the model shop, the 18 builders are assigned their own projects, but they share tips with one another to create good models. The builders work on adjustable tabletops so they can raise or lower their models without having to move them. Sometimes, if a model gets too tall, they move it to the floor to finish it.
Life on the job
But the model builders aren't stuck in the workshop all day.
"Every day, one of the builders walks around LEGOLAND and checks every single model for [needed] repairs," says Ms. Asanuma. "We're so familiar with the models that we can look at one instantly and know if a brick is out of place."
Children are often very excited to see life-size firemen, dinosaurs, pirates, zebras – and nearly anything else you can think of – made out of LEGOs. They climb on the models and test their durability by pulling on the bricks. Although each model is built with safety precautions in mind, they eventually start to show signs of wear and tear. When they do, the master model builders temporarily remove them from the park and take them into the workshop for repair.
Tips from the LEGO pros
If you'd like to become a LEGO expert, here's some advice from those who are:
• Build, build, build. There is no LEGO school. You can't be taught how to be a good builder; it just takes a lot of practice.
• Take pictures of your models so that you can see how much you're improving.
• Ask your family and friends to play LEGOs with you. It's fun because you get to share ideas and see one another's creativity.
– Yvonne Pesquera