Today's guest post is fromEsben Kolindwho took part in the LEGO Masters Denmark. In a short series he will share his experiences as an AFOL on the show from casting to filming and everything in between.
In the summer of 2019, almost two years before Danish LEGO Masters (LM) finally aired, I was contacted by a casting agent from the TV production company that owns the rights to produce the show in Denmark. She came across my name during her initial research in the Danish AFOL community and, as fate would have it, cast me as a candidate for Jeopardy! more than fifteen years ago! We met for a long chat about the TV format and the Danish LEGO scene.
With 5.8 million inhabitants, Denmark is a small country. Despite being the motherland of our beloved brick, the AFOL scene isn't as big as one might think with just a big LUG and a few local communities. I had seen short videos online of the impressive models from LM's first season in Australia and although I could name a dozen Danish builders of the same level would they want to participate? Would you be in front of the camera and want to build something unknown under time pressure? And would you have the opportunity (or desire) to work on the project for two months? In many ways, LEGO Masters is the exact opposite of how you normally build with LEGO bricks!
I gave the casting agent a list of experienced builders. I know she contacted most of them and some of them later ended up on the show. She was also looking for a diverse cast and didn't want 16 male contestants to be all in their 30s or 40s. Although LM is a building competition, it is primarily a primetime family entertainment format where casting is very important.
Find a teammate
When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, I forgot all about the LEGO Masters conversation until September 2020 when a message from the casting agent hit my inbox: “LEGO Masters is happening! Apply now!" I actually briefly considered not applying. My LEGO hobby has never been a secret, but did I really want to reveal my inner child in front of everyone in Denmark?
However, it was an easy decision. I'm a lifelong LEGO fan with no dark ages. I exhibited my first MOCs online on LUGNET in the late 90's and have been exhibiting large layouts at conventions for over a decade. This was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up. By the way, at that time (due to COVID-19) there was very little happening at my workplace at Copenhagen Airport, so I could take time off if I was selected.
I knew exactly who I wanted as my teammate. I consider Lasse Deleuran to be the best and most versatile builder in Denmark, having produced a large number of high quality MOCs over the years. We'd met and spoken to each other a few times at conventions and participated in MOC competitions and speed-building challenges (he's incredibly fast too!). We had never built anything together, but I felt we had the same standards and ambitions and would make a great team. I was thrilled when Lasse sent a positive response to my invitation.
Preparation for the casting
Our joint application with pictures from our MOC portfolios was well received and we were invited to a casting. Since we are both very competitive, our common goal was clear from the start: we wanted to win LEGO Masters.
First we had to prepare for the casting, but we had a little problem. Lasse lived in southern Germany at the time, I in Copenhagen. Since we couldn't meet in person, we sent each other weekly building challenges. We focused the challenges on getting out of our comfort zone, building organic models and meeting tight time constraints.
We set ourselves a series of challenges: Build a space monster in two hours. Build a 1:1 layer cake in two hours using a cut piece. Build a 1:1 ice cream cone in 90 minutes. Build up your left hand in one hour, then build up your right hand in the next hour using a different technique.
The rat and the mole
The image above shows my solution to one of Lasse's suggested challenges: build a life-size rat in an hour without looking at reference images. Then look at reference pictures and build another rat in an hour. Almost all of my MOCs are modeled after real buildings, trains or cars, so it was quite difficult not to have a reference when building.
I was quite happy with the result of my first attempt, but then I googled "rat" and found that my model didn't look like a rat at all...it looked more like a mole! The overall proportions, the size of the head, the position of the eyes...all wrong. I found it much easier to build the second version from a reference image and even had time to experiment with color variations and grill tiles for the fur. The challenge was a good LM lesson. If at all possible I would prefer to build fantasy creatures rather than real animals unless I have a very strong memory of the specific animal or have frequent access to reference images. It would be easy for the show's judge to reject an animal model if the proportions or colors weren't right.
I suggested that Lasse bring the preparation models we had built to the casting day. Bringing our models would show our dedication and serious approach to the competition.
We were the only team to bring models to the casting and while I promised not to disclose the casting process, if you can imagine it involving multiple creative building challenges with a time limit and a limited selection of bricks, you would it doesn't have to be anything wrong. I believe the experience from our weekly challenges has served us well. During the day the casting team with members of the production company, Danish National TV, LEGO and the Danish LCP (LEGO Certified Professional) visited us several times to discuss our constructions, ideas and approach, which also gave us the opportunity to show our preparation models to introduce. To be honest I don't know if bringing the models had any impact on us being chosen for the show.
As expected, attracting enough qualified builders to audition for the show proved difficult, and the casting agent had to make several additional calls for tender on LUG forums and Facebook groups, particularly for more female builders. She has also reached out directly to many builders who are putting MOCs online.
In the end, Lasse and I were selected for the show along with fourteen other wonderful and talented contestants. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had never encountered half the contributor group in the Danish AFOL community.
Prepare for the challenges of the show
With our attendance secured, preparations entered a new phase. About a month before we started filming, we started watching episodes from the international versions of LEGO Masters andtook notes. Lasse had access to the first season of the US version, while I watched seasons 1 and 2 from Australia and the Swedish version that was airing at the time. Lasse created an online shared Google Docs file called the "LEGO Masters Cheat Sheet" which would eventually grow to 73 pages of reference images and notes taken both during our preparations and the actual recording time.
For each challenge, we made a list of dos and don'ts based on our observations. Here are some of the tips and tricks we discovered for each challenge:
Megastadt:Build BIG, don't spend too much time on the lower floors, avoid big windows on empty floors, don't just rely on minifigures to tell the story, add movement and don't build in black.
Explosion:Don't build too solid... but don't build too fragile either! It must look great when it explodes.
Bridge-Challenge:Lasse simply said, "Recreate the bridge that Mark and Boone built."
Hideout of villains:Can be a diorama with two walls and one back - don't hide the action behind walls.
time travel:Don't challenge the theme and scale... and don't build a big gray castle.
Tower:Build two towers and place one on top of the other. Maybe build a telescopic mechanism?
Hanging brick:Build a hanging mechanism that allows the model to be set up on the table. Consider how to adjust the final balance of the model.
3D art: Use forced perspective (foreground, background). Objects must protrude far from the frame and sides.
We made similar notes for all other challenges we looked at. Next, we discussed what challenges we think would be most likely to appear in the Danish version and came up with ideas.
We were both confident that the first episode would feature the Mega City challenge. We therefore challenged each other to build the tallest possible tower on a 32x32 baseplate in four hours (without breaks), using different facades for each floor. The idea was to test our speed and find possible facade solutions that both look good and are quick to build. (We also experimented with facades that could snap onto a Technic core.) The image below shows my 12-story tower (about 1 meter high) with limited internal reinforcement. I was very tired after building as fast as I could for four hours!
However, we never got the Mega City challenge and I'm glad as my idea wasn't very clear nor very original. Much to our disappointment, we didn't get the Bridge Challenge on the show either, but the Tower Challenge was used as a warm-up - and our preparations definitely paid off. We knew exactly how we wanted to build the tower. We ended up in second place, about 30 centimeters behind the winning tower.
Other expected challenges were: explosion, time travel and halving. We made long lists of ideas, but none of these challenges were part of the season.
The Swedish season included a challenge in which participants built creations based on children's books by the famous Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. A similar challenge with our famous fairy tale authorHans Christian Andersen would be an obvious choice, so we've listed his most famous stories (there are many!) and prepared ideas for many of them. For the ugly duckling, I envisioned building a life size gray duckling that could turn into a beautiful white swan by flipping its wings. With different colors on both sides of the wing, the mechanism unfolds another neck and head from the body, etc.
Sure enough, the H.C. The Andersen challenge was the first elimination challenge, but the fairy tales were chosen at random. In hindsight, this was a fortunate twist of fate. The "Duck Transformer" would have been too ambitious, with a high probability of falling into disaster. We opted for a much safer, more traditional scene for our story, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, which gave us our first win of the season.
Our meticulous preparations really paid off in episode six with the Hanging Brick Challenge. Lasse was keen to build a giant dragon (actually a wyvern) and he invented the Modular Dragon Platform (MDP) for the occasion: a framework of modules made of Technic bricks allowed us to easily expand the body when needed. The wings, neck, and tail could be attached, detached, and finally adjusted to give the wyvern the perfect balance and position. We were able to set up the individual parts on the table independently, assemble them and only very late in the challenge mount the finished model on the hanging brick. This was a huge advantage while some of the other teams struggled to set up the model in the air and end up balancing it. The Wyvern secured us another episode win.
How else did Esben and Lasse prepare for the show? All will be revealed in part two, coming soon!
How would you prepare to be a part of LEGO Masters? Let us know in the comments below!
Would you like to help BrickNerd keep publishing articles like this one?Become a Top Patronlike Charlie Stephens, Marc & Liz Puleo, Paige Mueller, Brickstuff's Rob Klingberg, Beyond the Brick's John & Joshua Hanlon, Megan Lum, and Andy Price to show your support, get early access, exclusive loot, and more.