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Playing with LEGO® for a living sounds like a job dreamed up by every child that grew up building entire worlds with the tiny interlocking bricks. For a lucky few, though, it’s a dream come true.
The Danish toymaker offers the perfect job to AFOLs (or, for the uninitiated, Adult Fans Of LEGO), employing a full-time LEGO Master Model Builder at each of its 8 LEGOLAND® theme parks and 22 LEGOLAND® Discovery Centers located around the world.
These lucky folks go to work each day and create all the cool models and installations you see throughout LEGOLAND, living the dream of every LEGO-loving overgrown child!
But just how exactly do you become a LEGO Master Model Builder?
I spoke to Kevin Hintz – LEGOLAND Discovery Center San Antonio’s very own Master Model Builder – to find out.
1. Know what the job involves
If you think that Master Model Builders spend their days playing with LEGO, you’re absolutely right. But they’re not given free rein over what to build. ‘We work closely with our leadership, marketing and events teams to decide what models are needed,’ explains Hintz, who’s been working as a Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND Discovery Center San Antonio since 2019. ‘Then it is our job to turn the concept into a finished LEGO model,’ which can range from simple, small installations to life-size reproductions.
‘The largest model I’ve built solo was a life-sized holiday tree that’s nearly 10 feet tall,’ he says. ‘I’ve also built several giant MINIFIGURES that are five, six feet tall. However, I’ve also worked with a team to create a few models that are even bigger than that, including buildings inside of MINILAND San Antonio.’
There’s a lot more to the job of a Master Model Builder than just building models out of LEGO, though. As a Master Model Builder, you’ll clean, repair and maintain existing LEGO installations, while you’ll also take on a PR and marketing role as you participate in media interviews, create instructional videos for social media and lead virtual building classes.
But it’s not necessarily all fun and games. Like any other job, being a Master Model Builder comes with its very own unique set of challenges – for one, despite a seemingly endless supply of bricks, Master Model Builders are prone to running out of specific LEGO pieces they need to build a model, much like us mere mortals.
‘The most challenging part of the job is the fast pace and heavy workload,’ says Hintz. ‘I’ve learned it is important to stay patient and have a positive attitude. It also helps to plan ahead and manage time wisely.’
2. Hit the bricks
Chances are you’ve been building with LEGO since your early childhood, ever since you got your hands on your very first set. But there’s no better way to learn the knots and bolts of building with LEGO than by creating MOCs (short for ‘My Own Creations’, a term used to describe any uniquely self-designed model).
Hintz agrees. ‘Build outside the box (literally),’ he says. ‘Building the sets is fun and also helps you learn new building techniques, but creating your own cool models is where you can really let your creativity shine!’
Indeed, there’s a lot more to LEGO than just stacking bricks, and you’ll come across many different building techniques in official LEGO sets, which you can master by creating your very own models.
Some of the most popular techniques to learn and experiment within your MOCs include:
- SNOT (or Studs Not On Top), where the studs of bricks don’t point upwards – this technique is laced throughout the 21054 The White House set [paid link].
- Offsetting, where a half-stud offset is created with a 1x2 plate with one stud.
- Lettering, where the SNOT or standard building technique is used to create letters and numbers, as beautifully demonstrated in 10260 Downtown Diner [paid link].
- SNIR (or Studs Not In a Row), where zig-zags and diagonal lines are created with bricks
You can also come up with your own techniques, just like Letranger Absurde, who used book-binding and book cover bricks to create some beautiful-looking LEGO furniture.
3. Get the appropriate education
Sadly, there’s no Hogwarts equivalent for LEGO Master Model Builders – although, if there was, I’m sure we would all eagerly anticipate our 11th birthday on the outside chance of receiving an acceptance letter in the mail.
The good news is that you don’t need a bachelor’s degree to become a Master Model Builder. That said, you’ll still need to complete secondary education: if you’re serious about becoming a Master Model Builder, ‘a minimum of [a] high school diploma, GED or equivalent is required’, says Hintz.
While at school, you should focus on relevant subjects that will help you develop the knowledge needed to succeed in the role. Beyond the obvious art and design classes, concentrating your efforts in maths, physics and science is the way to go. Indeed, possessing an understanding of basic scientific and mathematical principles is essential in designing and building with LEGO.
Although formal university education isn’t necessary to become a Master Model Builder, it’s certainly advantageous, as it will help strengthen your application and give you a competitive edge over other applicants. That said, there aren’t any LEGO-specific degree programmes available you could complete, but a bachelor’s degree in a subject like art, design or education, or even in engineering, construction or architecture, will prove worthwhile.
4. Develop the right skills
Building with LEGO for fun and building with LEGO as a Master Model Builder are two very different paths. And if you’ve chosen the latter, you’ll need to develop a specialised skillset to be considered for the role (and succeed in the position).
One of the very first things you should do is familiarise yourself with the LEGO Digital Designer (LDD), the official LEGO design software, which lets you build models using virtual LEGO bricks. Master Model Builders use a similar software program to design their creations and becoming acquainted with LDD (which is free to download) will give you a glimpse (and perhaps even a head-start) of what’s to come.
‘It also helps if you have experience in model making [and] 3D/CAD,’ says Hintz, so it’s a good idea to enrol in a relevant course, such as the CAD and Digital Manufacturing Specialization offered by Autodesk through Coursera. ‘Of course, the more you love LEGO and children, the better!’
Indeed, as a large part of the job heavily involves guiding, mentoring, teaching and coaching young builders, you should be able to get along well with kids and be extremely personable. Strong communication and interpersonal skills are, therefore, essential.
5. Build your portfolio
As with any creative job, a well-organised portfolio showcasing your best work can be immensely advantageous when applying for the Master Model Builder position. Indeed, a portfolio acts as a demonstration of the design skills you listed in your résumé. Essentially, you show, not just tell, hiring managers at LEGO what you can do and why they should consider you for the role.
First, identify four to six projects you think are worth including in your portfolio. You shouldn’t throw in your every single MOC (after all, your portfolio should feature your best work, even if that means just two projects). Once you’ve decided which projects to include, take high-quality photos of your creations from various angles, bringing focus to the methods and techniques you’ve used – this might mean investing in a good mirrorless camera, or even hiring a professional photographer.
The next step is actually designing your printed portfolio. Ideally, it should contain some form of introduction, explaining why you’ve selected the specific MOCs within and providing a little background information about you and your love of LEGO. You should dedicate one to two pages for each selected project, which should be accompanied by five or six photos and a short blurb giving hiring managers some insight into the individual MOC’s concept from design to execution.
Whether you choose to create a print or digital portfolio, it’s essential that it has variety. While you may prefer building a certain type of MOC (like buildings, animals or vehicles, for example), you’ll be expected to build models of varying size and complexity as a Master Model Builder, and your portfolio should, therefore, showcase your range, creativity and flexibility as much as possible.
6. Compete in Brick Factor
Landing the LEGO Master Model Builder job isn’t your typical hiring process.
‘The job interview for a Master Model Builder is a LEGO building competition called Brick Factor’, Hintz says. ‘Contestants come from all over the country to compete in a [two]-day build-off, with the winner receiving the title and position of Master Model Builder.’
‘The contest is broken down into timed elimination rounds, with contestants battling to make it through Day 1 and into the top  finalists,’ he explains. ‘The top contestants come back on Day 2, and each participates in a formal interview prior to a final [one]-hour build round. After much deliberation, the judges select a winner based on their creativity, building skills and how well they interact with the public during the event.’
Hintz was one of over 100 applicants competing in Brick Factor in 2019. In the first round, contestants had 20 minutes to impress the judges by building a model around a SEA LIFE Aquarium theme, while the second round featured a 30-minute challenge with a Texas theme. The big finale on Day 2 had the finalists create a model that best represented themselves. The contest ended in a full-blown celebration as he was crowned LEGOLAND Discovery Center San Antonio’s first-ever LEGO Master Model Builder: ‘When I won [...], I got a LEGO brick shower and a trophy in addition to the job and title of Master Model Builder!’
Brick Factor contests are few and far between, so you’ll need to regularly check your regional LEGO Discovery Center website or MerlinCareers.com for advertised positions, while it’s a good idea to prepare a compelling résumé (in addition to a standout portfolio) to keep on standby. (On that note, if you’re struggling with presenting your experience and qualifications on paper, our expert writers can take away the stress and time required to write your résumé and craft a job-winning document for you.)
‘The Master Model Builder position truly is a dream job,’ says Hintz. ‘I really love that I get paid to play and build, but what’s even better is that I get to teach and play! Seeing the creativity and love of fun keeps me inspired!’
Do you want to join Hintz in LEGO’s Master Model Builders hall of fame and get paid for playing with LEGO? We’d love to hear from you – drop us a comment below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 2 January 2018.