Inside ‘LEGO Masters’ Special ‘Star Wars’ Episode & the Grand Finale
Let’s build! Fox’s competition series LEGO Masters, based on a British series of the same name, takes the iconic brick-building toy to new heights as LEGO enthusiasts sculpt and create visionary pieces based on challenging prompts.
Good news: there are still four exciting episodes of the competition, hosted by LEGO Movie star Will Arnett, coming up. Tonight, Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Terry Crews swings by. Also on deck? A Star Wars-themed episode (April 8) and the grand finale (April 15) during which the LEGO Master will be crowned.
Below, we chatted with LEGO artist and series consultant Nathan Sawaya about his love of the colored bricks, and the many set pieces (including the winners’ trophy) that he was responsible for building. Plus, check out an exclusive peek at the Star Wars fun to come.
When did your love of LEGO begin?
Nathan Sawaya: I got my first set when I was five-years-old, so I took to it pretty quickly. I had LEGO growing up, but then I went to college. I wanted to be an artist, but what does a budding young artist always do? Well, we go to law school, of course. [Laughs] I practiced law for a few years and I came back to LEGO as an outlet while practicing. I was coming home from long days at the law firm and I needed a creative outlet. Sometimes it was drawing, painting, and then one day I thought, ‘What about his toy from my childhood?’ So, I started sculpting with LEGO and threw a site together that became my virtual gallery and eventually I left the law firm behind to become a full-time artist.
What was your first thought when you heard the concept for this show?
It kind of goes all the way back to Legoland. Legoland had a contest I think back in 2003 or 2004. I participated in it and as did Jamie Berard, who is one of the judges [on LEGO Masters]. So, it kind of took me all the way back there. They were doing a nationwide search for the best builder, and it was a lot of fun. For me, that concept of having this LEGO building contest and to make it into a show 15, 16 years later is amazing! I was just excited to be a part of it and that Jamie was a part of it. It was just really fun how it’s all come together.
Awesome. Now, you’re not appearing on the show in any way, right? You’re strictly behind-the-scenes guy?
Right, no I’m just a consulting producer, kind of an artist-in-residence. I build a lot of the set pieces and stuff for the contestants to use during the different challenges, though I don’t appear on the show.
My life is as an artist at work in a studio in Los Angeles and every day I’m creating art, so it kind of just makes sense for me to be on the creative side of things.
I read that you are the only LEGO Certified Professional in the United States. How many are there in the world and how did this happen for you?
I think there’s 14 in the world. And yeah, it was such an honor. It was something that was bestowed on me over 10 years ago now. It was really LEGO, they had seen what I was doing and reached out, and started the dialogue. What it really means is it’s just a good business relationship. I still buy my bricks just like everybody else, but I have the ability to buy them by the hundreds of thousands. And that’s something that really has helped me with my art and with something like this show. I have an inventory of about 10 million bricks. So when I get a call like, ‘Hey we need X and Y for tomorrow’s episode,’ I don’t have to worry about getting the bricks. I know I have it in inventory so I can just go.
What kind of pieces did you build for the set and the series that you can talk about?
Oh, a lot of different things. There’s a big LEGO Masters sign that you see as they open the main doors in every episode, that’s all built of LEGO. A lot of the signage on set is actually built of LEGO and a lot of times you can’t even notice because the camera isn’t getting that close, so it just looks like a sign. One of the first challenges they did was to build a theme park. And they had to build on something, so we built this [setting] that they could build upon. Or a better example maybe, a few weeks ago we did a Mega City Block challenge. We built all of those buildings to make the city populated before the competitors came in and built it up.
Though you haven’t spoken directly to many of the contestants, what kind of advice would you offer for these builders?
I have little advice to give – they’re doing great! They’re all at the top of their game. The biggest component I see during the challenge is time management. It’s always going to get you. Building with LEGO is super fun and you can get caught up in it and not realize how much time is going by.
Speaking of time, how much time did they give you to build all these pieces—did you have to start months in advance?
Yeah, you would think! That would be the way to do it. As an artist, I’ve spent years working on some of these things. Some sculptures have taken months. This is television, and I’ve learned very quickly it’s a little different. So, I was finding myself getting requests for tomorrow and that sort of thing. But we made it happen and it looks great. I wasn’t going to put anything out there that wasn’t top-notch, but it was a very different schedule. It was a lot of building in a short amount of time, and a lot of bricks. But it was a fun challenge. It’s so different from what I was doing day-to-day previously. I love starting new collaborations and projects with other artists, but this was something that was brand new. It was a way to challenge myself in a whole new way.
Is there a work that you’re most proud of that you’ve created over the years, or is that an impossible question like choosing a favorite child?
That’s crazy! How can anyone answer that? No, I do get that question from time to time, but for me, really my favorite piece is the next piece. What I’m working on, what I’m working on next, because that’s where my focus is. Over the course of the show, I really didn’t have time to have a favorite piece. I was onto the next thing, with other things coming up, and then I was very excited near the end of the season. And then I got to work on the trophy. So that was fun as well. But to pick a favorite, it’s pretty hard.
What can you say about the trophy? How many bricks did it take?
Four to five thousand, something like that. And it kind of glows. I used some transparent elements so that it could glow from within.
Now, the show hasn’t been renewed yet for Season 2, but I’m hoping the set is still in place because I imagine it would be heartbreaking to see all this work of yours torn to bits?
Eh, you know, Episode 2 they were blowing up LEGO creations and dropping them from heights. I’ve been approached by friends and colleagues that were like, ‘How did you feel? Didn’t that upset you?’ and you know, I think any time you use a toy, or this product which is so universal in a new way, I’m fine with that. You put a lot of time into these projects, and you hope people enjoy them for what they are, but if there’s enjoyment taken from that aspect of it, then let’s do some fun stuff with it.
Anything else about the last couple of episodes that you can tease?
I was very excited when I got to meet R2-D2 on set. That was very fun. You can tell my age though because I kind of pushed BB-8 off to the side. The Star Wars episode that comes out is pretty exciting. They all have crazy challenges coming up.
Exclusive peek at the April 8 Star Wars episode:
This might be a weird question, but is there a brick or a color that you gravitate towards while working? Do you have a favorite?
Yeah, I don’t think that’s a weird question! It probably changes from time-to-time. How familiar you are with LEGO lingo? [My favorite is a] 1×2 stopper plate. Certain elements are very helpful to capture detail in a sculpture. Those elements I tend to lean towards. And as for a favorite color, that’s something that has changed over time as well. For me, I really like grey right now. I’m kind of feeling grey these days, I guess.
Right? It’s kind of a grey world out there right now.
But, you can always watch LEGO Masters to cheer you up!
LEGO Masters, Wednesdays, 9/8c, Fox