21 Aug 2014
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LEGOLAND Secrets: Lemonade Day

When life gives you lemons, make Community Lemonade in Long Beach with me. Day 56 - I found out some secrets about LEGOLAND and I'm going to share them with you!

. I'm taking the opportunity of this unplanned time off to connect with the many artists and creators in this wonderful city that I love. Come with me on my 100-day odyssey of art and creativity in Long Beach. I call it .

I've heard about LEGOLAND's top secret model shop before.  It's a place overflowing with creativity.  A place where LEGOLAND's Master Builders work on models for theme parks in exotic destinations like Carlsbad, Florida, Tokyo and Malaysia.  Today I saw some of the work that was generated in the secret model shop as I visited some old friends and made new ones at LEGOLAND.

To my friend : A secret message in the photo album.

August 26th and 27th were Days 56 and 57.  I attended the LEGOLAND Ambassadors' 2012 Master Builder session. Then I wrote about it.

LEGOLAND's Master Builders

LEGOLAND's Master Builders have every LEGO enthusiast's dream job. Why grow up when you can play with LEGO for a living?

It's a competitive field, one which requires you to constantly prove yourself by making creations, modeling from real life and your imagination. The proving begins before you are employed. As I understand it, competitive sessions are held where job seekers are tasked with building scale figures, miniature shapes. The winner gets the job.

A position in the LEGOLAND Model Shop is esteemed indeed! There, you get the opportunity to play, and prove yourself, even more! The prize? The opportunity to design and build the models that will eventually be placed at LEGOLAND parks and locations around the world: Malaysia, Tokyo, Florida, Denmark, the United Kingdom and yes, California. The location is secret. If I could say this in small print, I would whisper to you “I found out today, it's in Carlsbad.”

This morning's Master Builder session consisted of four sub-programs, each covering a different aspect of building with LEGO.  The familiar faces of Gary McIntire and Ryan Ziegelbauer were there, of course.  Gary's been delivering Master Builder sessions since we purchased our first Ambassador membership six years ago.  More recently, Ryan has designed some of the Master Builder sessions.

Today, I met many more of the Master Builders who work in the Model Shop at LEGOLAND and at the top secret off-site location where new models are designed and created.  A top secret location that many LEGO enthusiasts would love to visit.

Steel, Lighting, Integration and Motion (SLIM)

Fradel Gonzalez gave us some secrets of Miniland and the larger models in the park, with a special focus on models that move.  Not all of the models are solid.  Some of them are hollow inside.  Where there is wiring for motion or lighting, you may find a steel frame, used for reinforcement, movements and as conduit for wiring.

He pointed out the value of the translucent bricks when they are combined with simple  LEDs (lights). Add a standard 12 v or 6 v power supply a resistor to balance the load... Voila! Lights on! A little secret. Frosted bricks can be used to hide the steel behind the bricks. There are 2 sizes of LEDs that you need to know about. LEGO is built on the metric system. The opening for LEGO hands is 3mm. If you want to place an LED in a LEGO minifig's hands, look for one that is 3mm around. LEGO studs are 5mm.

The miniland models are often on raised platforms, whether or not they appear to be so.  Something as simple as minifig using a jackhammer can be supported by a substantially larger contraption below.

Simple toys, such as remote controlled cars, can be re-purposed by wrapping them in a shell of LEGO bricks.

Design by Hand

Nik Ehm and Joel Baker talked about designing with brick paper.

I'd seen this at the very first Master Builder session I attended, where a sphere was the project. Brick paper is like LEGO graph paper. It is sized to 1x1 LEGO plates viewed from the side. To the uninitiated, take the thinnest LEGO brick that you can find, one that is a square shape when viewed from the top, and only contains one stud. It will be 1/3 the height of a regular LEGO brick. This is a 1x1 LEGO plate.  There is another type of brick paper, sized to a 1x1 LEGO brick viewed from the top.

They showed a sphere, and how the technique could be used to create a light (elongate one side of the sphere), a football (elongate both sides of the sphere), a head... well that's a bit more complicated... but you get the idea.

They introduced LEGO Digital Designer, which can be downloaded for free. This permits computerized modeling. The version used by the LEGOLAND Master Builders is an advanced version. Secret. That's all I know.

Mosaic Design

Sam Curtis and Model Shop Supervisor Tim Petsche talked of the mosaics in the park.  On display were a couple of the park's mosaics.  Marilyn Monroe in four color schemes.

Sam talked of the three ways to build mosaics.

Studs up - Studs are placed facing up, and the mosaic is smooth, viewed from the side of the bricks.

Studs out - Studs are placed facing out, giving another type of texture for the artist to use.

SNOT (studs not on top) - This is enabled by the advent of bricks with studs on the side.  There are more possibilities when these types of bricks are used.  Consider that a plate can then be turned 90 degrees and therefore used to form a long, thin line (as opposed to a short, thin line).  And a secret... all lettering in Miniland is SNOTted.

He talked a bit of the pixelation that occurs when you zoom in on a photograph in Adobe Photoshop.  Making a mosaic is done by replacing aggregates of pixels with the colors in the LEGO brick palette.

Miniland Scale Figures

Our final station was hosted by Chris Scheunemann and Tim Sams.  Chris and Tim presented the basic instructions for making a minilander.

In Miniland, the figures are made larger than Minifig scale.  This is because minifigs are just too small to be seen on that scale.  The secret here is that the Minilanders are three times the size of a minifig.

Several of the Minilanders that were created for Miniland Malaysia were on display, as well as a horse.  This is where I discovered that a Minilander scale galloping horse is one of the hardest figures to build.

Tidbits, Things, Trails

  • Some of the attendees were a bit disappointed that there was no make-and-take project, but the presentation was pretty stellar, and I loved hearing all of those secrets!
  • I think that all the adult LEGO fans go to the LEGOLAND Clubhouse after the presentation.  I did, and I met a couple of new friends there, Jason Daubert who introduced me to his LEGO group, and an unnamed friend who introduced me to a new piano design.
  • No visit to the clubhouse would be complete without a hug from Renate, who is a fixture in the LEGO Factory and clubhouse.  I found out yesterday that Renate's time at LEGOLAND is longer than the park has been open.  She started before the park opened, managing one of the food areas and since moved to the Clubhouse where I've known her for many years.
  • LEGOLAND Ambassador Resort membership costs $2500.  It provides lifetime admission to LEGOLAND, LEGOLAND Water Park and LEGOLAND Sea Life Aquarium.  Additional benefits include four free LEGOLAND Resort admission tickets each year and an invitation to attend the Master Builder's session.  Substantial discounts on food, as well as discounts on merchandise and free parking for life in the super-convenient Volvo lot are also included.
  • The last secret?  I heard that the Top Secret LEGOLAND Model Shop might be open to visits from the media.  I wonder... wonder... if I will be able to schedule a visit!
  • To those who may be concerned that I will give their secrets away when we talk, rest assured that I requested and received permission.
  • My Meetup group of Long Beach Makers hopes to bring those who make and those who want to make in Long Beach together.  Please join if you want to know about what we will be doing... gatherings we will have.  Just a few days old and we have 21 members already!  You can be #22!  Our first meet up is scheduled for Sunday, September 2nd at Colorado Lagoon.  Bring a project to share and some lemons or sugar.  We will make Lemonade and discuss what we can present!

Want more lemonade?       

Next up:

I've got a few things in mind, but am not sure which I will do tomorrow.

If you would like to contact me, please email me at  info@handmadepenguin.com

Trish Tsoiasue writes as herself about creative and maker topics for and as Handmade Penguin for the Handmade Penguin Blog.

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