Yargh, welcome to part two of Episode #12 of 'Behind The Helm'. Last week I left ye with only half an interview with LEGO set designer Jamie Berard. But the wait is now over, and the 'Behind The Helm' crew is pleased to present Part 2 of this interesting interview.
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Cutlass_Iz was kind enough to type this one out, so here the written version is!
When you were building 10194 did you learn any new techniques?
Oh certainly, when you build a new model you always come across curiosities in the system and Emerald Night was definitely one of them. We had exceptional challenged trying to match the motorisation wit the aesthetic, and things just like the pistons are extremely difficult. [laughs] I had no idea. Because in reality the connection points should be a bit lower than it actually is. So I was trying to get that balance between the technical side and the aesthetic. But as far as techniques, I am quite happy with how the boiler turned out, because traditional LEGO trains have always used the 45 degree slopes, I have never really seen those a being like a realistic train, the lines are to sharp when a boiler is a round object. So I was quite happy that we were able to use the 2x4 bow slopes to get the right feel and we were able to print on them as well which was quite fun. I build the doors for the wagon, I think that is kind of interesting, it’s a new expression that we have really used on trains in the past, because we always used the train doors, so why not open it back up again and say ‘do we have to?’ The reason I actually built them was again out of necessity, the engine was determined at a set height, once that height was set we couldn’t have the wagons taller than the engine. If we were to add the train doors to the wagon it would be taller than the engine, therefore it automatically opened up the option to build doors. Just to get them that one plate lower. [laughs] so that way it looked a bit better.
Ahh, I was been running the Santa Fe loco with the World City high speed carriage, and they is a bit of a height difference there, but it’s fine. [laughs] Are you a member of any other LEGO groups other than the official one?
I’m still a member of NELUG. The New England LEGO Users Group, but unfortunately I am only able to see them once or twice a year when I go back to the states. Luckily we have an active online forum so I try to participate of and on there, but it’s not quite the same. I’d say that is the only group that I am a member of actively if you can call it that. [laughs]
Do you have a favourite LEGO brick?
Ohhh there is so many. It depends on the set that I’m building, there is a 1x1 headlight brick, http://peeron.com/inv/parts/4070 well call it an ‘Erling’, after the guy who designed it back in the 80’s. It is really amazing, there is so many things you can do with that, I’d say that is probably an element that is always on my desk, and I’m almost always using.
Okay, I’ll have to look that one up on Peeron, you’ve got me curious now. Do you have any tips for our community? Building tips?
Any tips? Hmmm, I can say that the best thing for me is to have the most random selection of bricks on my desk, and always to look at them from every angle. When I’m building I make a skeleton, say if I’m making a building or a train, I will make a shell, something on the inside that can just hold pieces. Then I will just stick things on the studs on the side, I will just have things as placeholders, and then I can very easily manoeuvre things, it’s almost like a touch screen where you can move, say you have a house, you can put your finger on it and move it around or make it taller or shorter, I actually do that with the bricks, and will quite often get the scale, shape and proportions right with a lot of holes and spaces, just pieces really hacked together and quite often it’s in white so I don’t focus on the colours or anything. So it’s just getting the form and shape right. Then I slowly start to fill in all those spaces, then I start to think, okay how can I attach this? I know I want this brick in this direction and orientation here, I don’t know how I’m going to put that on there, [laughs] but that’s how I want it. Only then do I start filling in the ways of attaching bricks and all that stuff, and so far it works quite well for me, so it might be a good trick for people to try, because otherwise you can get so caught up and always be stuck on the ground floor of a building, you can lose sight of the options and exciting potential of the rest of the building, because you can get bogged down in the rest of the details. Instead I just make the details completely on their own, just stick a window here, stick a roof there, a chimney of something and then fill it all in later. I don’t know of that is a tip or a trick, but it’s just a different way, perhaps of building.
Yeah righto, well that was all the questions that I had written down, but our fantastic Train Tech moderator TheBrickster, has written down a few questions that he would like to ask on behalf of the Train Tech community, so quoting from him, “Jamie, it is really a pleasure to have the opportunity to ask a few question for the benefit of EB Train Tech fans who I know love the Emerald Night, the Emerald Night is the crown jewel among Lego trains and is a fantastic model, do you consider your self a ‘train head’? Had you like trains from an early age? What got you started with LEGO trains, and do have any other train related hobbies?”
Hmmm, that is a good question and quite a nice compliment. I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘train head’ I am an aspiring ‘train head’ is the best way I could describe it. [laughs] As early as the 80’s I thought that trains were just the most amazing things that LEGO had done. I saw the catalogues and they showed sets in Europe but we couldn’t buy it, and they said ‘look there’s a TGV’ and all these crazy things, I was like ‘uh! Those are amazing!’ but in the end because I didn’t have much access to the trains I made a concise decision to not buy them, because I knew if I bought one of them then I would want all of them, it’s like somebody who has a weakness for candy, and you give them that first M’n’M and they have to eat the whole bowl. [laughs] So I always knew I had that side of me that loved trains, But never the financial means to support it, and I have to say I was able to hold back and I resited trains all the way until the Santa Fe, and I just broke down and I had to buy it, and I bought it and then I bought the BSNF train, then the TTX thing, and I went back and I bought the Metroliner, and I knew that I had opened up the floodgates and I started retroactively buying all the trains I should have bought before. Now I had a little more money because I was in College or whatever, Ugh! It was a slippery slope. Now I am holding back, and trying to resist Ebay and Bricklink, because it is a very expensive hobby, but there are so many brilliant beautiful things, and I can appreciate them but I can’t claim to be a train builder, because I am very new to discovering trains. I think with the building the Emerald Night, and talking to ‘train heads’ really didn’t help, because now I want trains more than ever. [laughs] They are more expensive than ever to try to get and I’m getting there, I’m catching up, very very slowly.
[Laughs] Okay, TheBrickster also asks, Why the Emerald Night? Where did the name come from?
I think we just had a brain storming session and we new it was based on a British Train style and colours and all that. So we kind of wanted to give it a British feel in it’s naming. We just said you know it’s green, what are names for green? Okay there is green, lime, emerald, and things like that about the colour. Then we did a whole thing about, what are some other trains out on the market? You know, there is a whole list of names there, we started thinking that it was just green it was dark green, so what is dark? Night and mystery and we started naming all these things and it was a matter of crossing then and mixing on with another. It was originally going to be Emerald Knight, but that was a too obviously British [laughs] so we decided to give it a little more poetic name at our creative leader the time and the decided it would be best to take the ‘K’ off and call it the Emerald Night and it would have this air of mystery around it. I think it works quite well.
Certainly does, if you had the opportunity to build it again, what would you change in the design of things? Are you happy with final product? How about LEGO, have sales been good? Would LEGO like to see another Emerald like set?
Hmm, I would say that’s a lot, [laughs] as far as what would I change on it, or course every time you get to work on a model for another loop it gets better and better, so another loop or two I think I could have refined a few things, but more specifically approaching it as a whole it has become very clear we need more wagons and if we can’t offer then as a separate set, then we should have considered adding at least two or three wagons in the train. It’s always that balancing act, you don’t want it to get too expensive, but it sounds that people would have preferred an engine with more wagons than just one. One almost seems like it is just teasing people. [laughs] So that is definitely learning from there. The sales of it I can’t really comment on, but I can say it has been well received by the train fans, we didn’t have an optimal launch because the power functions items weren’t available at the time because of the remote control wasn’t able to ship right away. I think that definitely didn’t help [laughs] launch the train, but now all of the components are available, and we are going into the Christmas season so very are very optimistic, again Reviews on LEGO.com have been quite favourable, just speaking with train fans we have gotten quite a lot of good input on it. So we are optimistic that it will do quite well. I’m not sure if I forgot other parts of that question [laughs]
[laughs] No, that was about it. Yes well now we know that there are no other cars for the Emerald Night. How do you honestly feel about the new Power Function system? What is the future of Power Systems in Lego trains? Will power functions be used in future designs? Is there nay hope for 9v trains?
[laughs] I love all these 12 part questions. Okay, let’s see. Power functions. Yes, power functions are the future for LEGO trains, but not just train for the LEGO Company. There has been a very conscious decision from higher up that we do not want to make specialized elements. It kind of goes back to your comments about making to many big, or specialized pieces. We are going through all of our bricks, not just the Power functions to make sure that everything is as versatile as possible and can be used across platforms, whenever possible. Trains are no exception, they are really trying to make it so that the components that power trains, can be used elsewhere. Traditionally things that are only trains can get quite expensive because we don’ have the sales numbers for trains that we do for other product lines, because they tend to appeal to a more niche group of consumers, or they just don’t have the distribution so perhaps trains are very appealing but they just are available in all the toy stores so people aren’t exposed to them as much. When we are making the Power Functions components we have to make then as useful as possible for other products to keep the cost down and to make it more feasible to make these things. Yes, it’s the future, I can see definite strengths in the Power Functions system, when we saw the Emerald Night at the NMRA show in Connecticut, and it pulled more wagons with a single engine than any train I have ever seen. It’s super powerful, which it a huge advantage, and the remote control options offer tremendous potential. There is a lot of potential for sidetrack; you know fans can do so much more with this. With the 9v everything was on one power source, it was on or it was off. There is many strengths with 9v’s, you have unlimited power, so you never have to worry about batteries and all that stuff. So there are advantages with both systems, but as far a Power Functions, I can see it getting better as time goes on. Which is another thing to comment on, that this is the beginning of Power Functions, we now have a system established, a framework on how things will go towards the future. So, perhaps you are looking at what we currently have available and you are saying ‘Yeah, you have an extra large motor in the Emerald Night, that’s too big for the train I want to build.’ But we also have a medium size motor, does that offer potential? Maybe, because they are called medium and extra large, maybe in the future there is an option for large motor or small or super extra large, you know we now have the frames set up, so when we finally are ready and in a position to launch those we know how we can deliver them, and know that they are compatible with the system. I think it’s good that it’s more systematic now, the best thing I can do is hope that the train fans just keep working with them and innovate. And also find what are those missing link components that would really make things easier for them, and feed it back to their ambassadors and help us, when we are defining where the system is headed, because it does have all that growth potential.
Okay, just another question that I have just thought of, that isn’t one of TheBrickster’s, what sort of train are we going to be getting in the future? More adult orientated ones? Or cheaper, maybe less detailed trains for a younger audience? What can we be expecting in the future?
I think there is room for both, I think when many people see the Emerald Night they say, there is no way that a child could build this, and they are probably right. [laughs] We definitely pushed the limit, for making it for adults. But that is not the only way to build trains with the new Power Functions components; I think there is room to simplify it. And with simplification it will allow children to get into the train hobby. Because in the end in my opinion, you don’t end up with an adult train community unless you capture them when you are young. You almost have to start the excitement of trains when they are kids, that way when they grow up they will still be with it, there is no reason why we need to wait until they become adults but it does require a simplifications of things for sure. Anyone who has built with the Power Functions system is probably aware that it is not like the old 9v system where you just snap a motor underneath and it goes. So it does take a little bit more creative thinking to bring it down to our target audience. That is younger children, 6 year olds or something. So I do see that LEGO can explore that, because there are definite options for that, but also we do have a tremendous adult fan community that we want to support as well. I see us making a hobby train like the emerald Night specifically geared for adults, or we would have to make it fairly simple for children to be able to work with, so there is room for both. I mean it’s that same thing we have done since we did the Santa Fe, we did the Santa Fe that we would acknowledge or adults, then at the same time as we have the City line, World City trains, I think at the time. Then the battery trains when at the same time there was the BNSF train, you know, there is room for both.
How long do you think it will be, if you know till a few more trains sets are out on the shelves?
Errr, we can’t talk about any future or hypothetical products that would come out but we do have the Emerald Night and the flexible track right now. Yeah we have that; I have to leave it at that. [laughs]
You have to understand that in my world, we are sometimes working on things that are many years down the road and we do have a strategy that we do want to support the adult train hobby. But when is it appropriate to do new launches? That I really cannot comment on, but a lot of it has to do with how well current sets perform. So, just as we made the decision about the wagon, it’s very difficult to launch them on their own, due to sales numbers, it’s the same with the modular buildings, if people stop buying them it makes it harder to launch new ones. So we hope that people are supportive and buy what interests them, then when something is interesting, of course we want to make more launches in the future.
Definitely, another question from TheBrickster: What is next for you and LEGO? Will you have the opportunity to design another LEGO train without giving us any hints, what might be next for you?
I am based in Creator, I do have some products that I work on are for the kids in Creator, but then I also work in the Lego exclusives. So, first without talking about any specific products coming out, I can say that next year for sets coming out I have a mix of Creator and Exclusive items. Exclusives can be any of the ones you can see in the back of the catalogue; they are geared towards adults and tend to be, quite large or quite detailed.
[laughs] Exactly. But I am happy to say that I am still in that realm, although I did have the opportunity to help out on a project, which is VERY different to anything I have done in the past. Without giving any specifics, it was another opportunity to keep things fresh and interesting and go outside my comfort zone. So, I think we have some pretty good stuff lined up for next year.
That is not so great news for my wallet.
[laughs] Yeah, remember I’m right there with you, I do get the discount, which is nice, but it is still an expensive year for me.
Well thanks for joining me; it has been very interesting to talk to you, about the Emerald Night in particular and about being a LEGO designer and the Lego Company in general. Are there any parting words you would like to share?
Yeah, Thank you for the interview. And also I’d just like to tell the fans that LEGO is listening now more than ever, it really is a hey-day for The LEGO Company, I have never seen anything like this as a LEGO fan my whole life. To actually be on the inside and see how much the company values and listens to the fans. I read the forums as much as possible and there are some people who are sceptical like ‘Oh, if TLG were listing they’d do this or that.’ And in the end it’s a business and we have to make some decisions. And Kudos to the fans where it gets to the point where maybe the LEGO Company has to make some decisions that you don’t agree with and were business based, but at least the LEGO fans were considered as part of that decision making process, which to me is a huge step forward. Hopefully we will continue in that thread and continue to make more and more sets that you guys want.
That is definitely fantastic news. Thank you for very much for joining us, it has been fantastic to have a LEGO Designer talking to me, I am quite, feeling quite intimidated at the moment.
[Laughs] I hope not, but it has been a pleasure, I appreciate the invitation.
Thanks very much and we’ll talk to everybody for the next episode of ‘Behind The Helm’ later.
Keep a sharp eye out on the horizon matey.