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Jim posted a topic in Special LEGO ThemesIt's been a while, sorry for that, but I can finally present you with the interview I had last year during the LEGO Fan Media Days 2017 with Micheal (Mike) Psiaki, LEGO Creator and Creator Expert Designer at TLG. (sorry for typo's and spelling mistakes, it's not 100% checked and verified) INTERVIEW You are Creator Expert designer. Are you involved in modular buildings? So far my involvement with modular buildings has been more like doing some of the small details and not the building itself but in the future you can probably expect to see some module built by me...we'll see *laughs* I'm asking because we do have a lot of questions about modular buildings, but we'll just ask and see if you can answer them. One of the questions is; how do you determine the next modular building? You'll probably have a long list of potential buildings. Normally when we're developing a new model we actually kind of go through a lot of different...uhh...not necessarily committees, but a lot of different people at LEGO are involved in choosing what the new product will be. We've been pretty fortunate with the modular buildings. They've been quite successful, so all those different...stakeholders we call them ...are quite trusting of us. And they pretty much let us do what we want. So normally when you're making a new model you're coming up with a lot of different proposals and showing ideas to a lot of different people and they're giving their input and then you're narrowing it down, but with modular buildings we can essentially choose what we want to do, just as a design team. And then you just do it. So for the last, for the last.... forever, Jamie (Jamie Berard, https://www.lego.com/en-us/themes/creatorexpert/explore/designer-bios/jamie) has essentially been in charge of that and he will just make the make model that he and maybe one or two other people agree on should be the next one. As to how that will go in the future...uhhh...I'm sure Jamie will still be involved. But yeah we do have a list of buildings that we have kind of made our dream list of...eventually we need these things. We'd like to do these things in City. But then also sometimes we just have a more generic idea, like, hey, let's do a restaurant. Uhmm...trying to think what the first modular building was, that I was involved with...was the Parisian Restaurant. In that one, the idea had just started out that it would be a restaurant and then it kind of took on a Parisian style throughout the development and ended up as it was. So it's usually a very loose idea like that, that the model with start with...like the brick bank was just a bank. That's the only idea and then however that evolves was like, adding things later on, like, let's have this laundromat on this side and all that stuff is just kind of what we just add in as we please. The building style you choose is obviously depending on the model you choose. But like you said you chose a restaurant and then it turned into a Parisian restaurant. How does a process like this go? This all comes down to like, traditionally it's just been Jamie working on these models and what we do a is we just kind of build all year long, we've just seen what new elements are coming in. We're just building kind of little funny things like...uhmm...on the Parisian restaurant, there's this detail with the feathers that go along the top. You know, I think Jamie had that sitting on his desk for like six years or something. One day he got some of those and made this thing into something that could be a funny detail in a building eventually. And then those are just kind of start getting pulled together and you start to see a style emerge. It's almost just letting it happen. So taking some choice details that we want to put in and the style kind of emerges from that and then other things will change to fit that style. So I don't know that we've ever really made a conscious decision of this. You know, when we start from the beginning that this building will be this style and we'll kind of work towards that style. It's more we're going to we're going to make something that we think is cool and nice. And when sthe style kind of come in, then we'll go back and kind of refine things to match the style, if we feel the need to do that. Some generic Questions about the Creator Expert series. When is a set considered expert in the Creator series? What are your goals? So Creator and Creator Expert are two totally separate product lines at this point. So it's not like we start with an idea and then we develop it and then we decide, is this Expert or is this regular Creator? So for Creator Expert we're already thinking; this is the portfolio that we want to make for the next year and in Expert we want to make models that are for higher age fans. Adults, older kids, we are calling everything 16 plus, I think for the most part. The Winter Village ones are a little more down in age, so we start with that idea that we're building a model for more hardcore LEGO fan. What is it we do then that will make it appealing to them? It's a lot about how the model is built. It's kind of different techniques we use, but it's also about what parts we use. So we want to use fun kind of new different building techniques or just really crazy things building techniques in really wild ways. We also want to use parts that are fun or that are either in new colors or new shapes or just not seen before. Like on this one (10257 Carousel) where we're using a dinosaur tail in a City wheel arch to make the shape. It's doing things like that, that really kind of is the DNA of what makes something Creator Expert. Is it Creator Expert because it's hard to build or the use of different parts? I think it's more that it's harder to build because it's Creator Expert. Because we know we're making an Expert model, we say, whatever we have to do to make this look cool, we'll do that. It doesn't necessarily have to be super complicated but we have a way that we want things to look and generally you have to build things in a complicated way in order to get these results. Like on this car, you know, in order to get the wheel arch so smooth you have to do a lot of weird things to get stuff in it. We never do things intentionally just to make it difficult, but we find ways to make the models as appealing as possible. What are the key components in choosing a Creator Expert set for next year? For example, which percentage is driven by data? So, previous sales or simply 'that would be good to do next'? Well that's a tough one to answer. I think we are taking a lot into account of the market research that we do. It's not so much based on previous sales, but it's also that we have a lot of check ins throughout the year with different leaders in LEGO and so they're the ones that are deciding ultimately what will sell or not. We can come with an idea like, all we know about this is that we think it's cool. And then it's up to them to determine, will this sell? Do we believe that we can sell enough of these? We ourselves, we don't have to do a ton of market research, but eventually that gets done by people to determine if the idea will be getting out. For us it's a lot of thinking about what we would like. Me, I love airplanes and I love helicopters, so I'm always trying to say, hey we've got to do this, we've got to do this *laughs* For example; let's say you know there was a carousel not too long ago and there will be a carousel now. Do you come up with the idea to build a new carousel? Because it hasn't been so long before the other one was released. So a carousel sells? Well, that's part of it. But also we knew that we wanted to make this a new fairground, or another ride for the fairground, so we had the mixer and we had the Ferris wheel and we knew we wanted to do another ride. And we actually built four different models, four different concepts. And there was one of them that needed more development (red. Roller Coaster). It was too early. We didn't have the parts we needed to make it into reality and some that were a little more obscure. The carousel was the one that was the most promising to do that year. But the other part of it was that the carousel before this we actually had some stability issues. So after 11 months we pulled it off of the market. So it was a very short run. And so we saw that it was a really sought after set. So because of that we thought, if it had had its run and been on the market for two or three years then that's fine, you know, let it go, give it some time before we do it again. But then it was only around for 11 months and it had stability issues, but we still saw people were asking about it so much that we thought OK why not make one that is stable, that is good and that we can relaunch. The stability issues they had something to do with the animals going up and down? No the issue was actually that the old carousel was built on a 48x48 base plate. so it was fine when it was sitting there. But then if you picked it up from the plate and tried to move it, it would actually break apart. That's the reason you don't use baseplate now?. On this one we didn't use a baseplate. On the original carousel everything except the baseplate essentially is moving. On this one we have a ground level. This level is also stable to create a nice solid base that you can then actually, you know, lift the model up from that base. You shouldn't have any issues. That was the idea. And what was the reason for omitting up and down movement because that was pretty cool. No this has that. Oh, I was misinformed. This one is not going up and down. The other four going up and down (points at the animals on the carousel). The reason that we thought, you usually see it on the carousel where one animal is stable. So maybe that's for the grandmother or child and the other thing is, that there's also a mechanical reason for that. I wanted to have the stairs here. To sort of balance out the load of the function. It made sense to have no load on the other side as well. And actually the frog is a funny one because the frog had only the leg hopping. Are there also test groups for expert adults? We do both, that is, we were testing with adults, but also with kids. Eventhough you know it is for adults, we still want the kids to be able to play with it and have fun with it. Because ultimately when you buy it on the box then it says 16 plus, but as soon as you take it home and you build it in your home and it's there sitting on the counter, it's a LEGO model and to kids a LEGO model is for them. Are certain Creator Expert sets more popular in certain countries? And do you take that into consideration? When we make products, our goal is that we can have appeal everywhere. I don't know the data on which ones perform best in which countries. I don't actually know any of that off the top of my head. How long does it take to bring and initial concept to store shelves? From the initial concept it's about a year and a half and about eight months of that time is spent actually from the initial concept until the time we say the model is finished. And then from there it's eight months for production to get everything ready and actually have the final product ready for the shelves. So it's not like we're just one person sitting working on this for eight months but it's that we start out when we have the idea of a fairground, and then it's, ok, let's build a bunch of different concepts. Select the one that's best and do some development on that. Is that in line with a City set, for example? Yes. Everything has essentially the same development time frame. But when we choose, for example, when you're doing this one, that you're not working on another product as well. But if you're working in City you may be doing three models at the same time. Is that the reason that there's only one Modular released every year? It's not so much about that we don't have the resources to do it. It's more that we just don't know that there's that much demand for modular buildings, that people need to be bind to more than one every year. And we see it as a collection thing, that people want to collect the whole series so that if you start to release multiples every year then that's starting to be a really big.... it's a lot then to buy the whole series. So we feel right now, and it could change in future, that one modular building per year that's a good amount to have a collectible series and to build up anticipation and that is something that people could feasibly collect. So as soon as you start to put out two hundred and sixty dollar models a year all of a sudden everyone just had to double their budget in order to collect the whole series. How many Creator Expert sets are being released per year? In 2016 we had the Brick Bank, we had the Beetle, Big Ben and the Holiday Train. So traditionally we do four models a year. You might see that change. You might see it go up or down. Let's see...laughs. I can't say any numbers for this year. There will be others this year. I won't say any more than that. Do you also interact with other themes, because we also went to the Friends theme. There's a roller coaster in Friends. Is something like that possible in the Creator Theme? We all were in one big building, all the designers. I like to wander around and see what other people are working on. I don't know how well this fits with the Friends roller coaster but it is a similar theme. That one was actually being developed almost a year before this (Carousel) so it's very much different wavelengths. Our team, the Creator Expert team, we actually sit right with the regular Creator theme in one team so we interact with them quite a bit. The Friends Theme has roller coaster now yeah it's been pretty cool for the Expert team. Maybe one day we could do something like that. The release of the Caterham set, does that influence a potential release over another car in Expert series? While we won't do a Caterham, I'll tell you that, it doesn't make any changes to our plans. What we're trying to work out that we don't do cars that are too similar, so we kind of try to work together with them (LEGO Ideas) to make sure that we're not overlapping too much on the cars that we do. But it is a bit of a delicate relationship between us and ideas, what products can we do and what products are getting suggested on their site. There's quite some overlap in potential sets? Yes. Actually, the Saturn 5 rocket I've been proposing that as a Lego set five years and no one is listening to me. And then when I saw it on on Ideas I was like oh please, let it go through. I was actually really frustrated when I saw it go through because I thought that means they've already chosen the designer and they've started development on it. So what I did, is we have a digital system where we have all our models. And so I thought, okay, well let's see if they did anything good and when I looked in there to see if I could find it and there was nothing. So I immediately called up the project and I said; who's doing that model? I want to be part of it. We don't have anyone yet. So that was really cool to get to be involved in it. What was your role in the development of the Saturn? Myself and Carl (Merriam) were the two designers working on that model together. We started with the fan design and then we just turning that into something of an official LEGO set. Actually the first thing that we did was we build it that size to show how look at how cool this is so big. We actually changed the diameter of the original submission. They started to base their model on a section that covers the lunar lander and the diameter of the rocket was actually way too big for that. So we actually scaled down the main diameter, but we also found a way to build it so it's really round. So we didn't stay very true to the original model, which we don't talk a lot about. Essentially we just said we're going to make the model we want and we'll do your idea of a one meter tall Saturn V. But still I think the lunar lander and the little details are quite similar. The way that I see LEGO Ideas is that it's it's just an idea, it's just to say, to me the idea is a 1 meter tall Saturn 5 rocket built of LEGO. The specific details of how they built the engine it's not important. We do that however we find it's best to do. That's my view of it. Some people see it differently. And what do you think the reason was for not listening to you when you proposed the Saturn V? I didn't have any data to back it up. So it's just my opinion of saying this thing is cool. So in that sense I actually really appreciate LEGO Ideas that someone could say, hey this is cool and a lot of other people agree with you. And do you think it would have made a difference if you would have built a sample rocket to show them, like here's what we can do. I don't think so. I wish you could come in and see our office it's just full of so many cool models. We can go there now *laughs* Another question which may be hard to answer but it's been asked like it's been a while since there's been a Creator Expert Train, not counting the Holiday Train. Can you shed a light? You won't say yes or no but I mean; people seem to like the Expert Trains. The problem we the trains is that people don't like them that much. When we make our product line for the year we can only do four, maybe sometimes five, products in that year and then we look at what are going to be the most popular things. That's what we want to do. And every time we've done a train we always hear that people are really excited. But then every train that we've made will never perform as well as the other models that we make. And so it seems like there are two explanations. Either trains aren't as popular as people say they are or we just haven't been able to figure out how to make the right train. I think that it's more the second one that we haven't figured it out. I think the challenge with trains is that they're very kind of regional. There's very few world famous trains. Whereas with cars, everyone knows the Volkswagen Beetle and probably everyone has even driven one. But when you talk about trains; if you're from France you want a TGV. If you're from Denmark you want the Danish train. If you're from the US you want probably the Santa Fe. It's hard to pick what is the one that will have that universal appeal. We can definitely make a train. We can make a train that will be popular in France. We can make a train that will be popular in the US. We struggled to find what is an icon of a train that has universal appeal. And surprisingly the Winter Village train, that one has been quite a hit. So I think we can learn from that to figure out how could we do a train in the future. Do you think it could be option 3 that people won't buy a train because they think; well I don't have a train set. I don't have the tracks, so it's useless to me? That could be an option yeah. Generally when someone's buying an Expert model they've already bought a lot of other LEGO. So if they're buying an Expert train they probably already have tracks from other City trains that they bought. But it's a fair comment to say. I mean to your point, our holiday train, it does include track. And I think from my personal opinion the Winter Holiday Train is something you will buy because you collect the Winter Village sets. We will buy it. Not because we like trains that much or we want the tracks. So the thing is figuring out how can you get people, other than train fans, to get excited about this and that's what works at the Winter Holiday Train. You get everyone that's into the Winter Holiday sets and into trains, so maybe some train people will buy it. And everyone that's buying the Winter Holiday sets they will also be interested in that. So maybe we need a Modular Building with a train. Train Station maybe? *laughs* Some questions about miscellaneous themes that aren't released anymore or aren't released at all. I'm referring to, for example, Classic Space or Western themes, castles stuff like that. There are loads of things that aren't in current themes which could be released in Creator Expert. Do you consider making a castle or some Classic Space set in Expert? We definitely considered it. And it's similar to trains. For example, the Modular Buildings are actually part of the idea that they appeal to castle fans even though it's not a castle. It's a great way to get a lot of the parts that you would need to build a castle. Maybe more so with the older ones than with the newer ones where it got a little bit more wild with the colors, but I definitely wouldn't rule out Classic LEGO Themes. One of the questions that we have though with those is like with Classic Space is, was it so popular because there was no Star Wars? I mean when that was released there was no LEGO Star Wars. So that was the best LEGO spaceship that you could have. But now you could have the UCS Snow Speeder. So then how can we sell a classic spaceship. Will it live on nostalgia alone?Actually we begun some research to try to figure out just how powerful LEGO nostalgia is. There's some hesitation to just put a lot of faith in that, but it's not out of the question. So basically the Star Wars theme is one of the reasons that we don't have another space theme? Probably, we don't know exactly. It's not it's not 100 percent the reason that we don't do it in Creator Expert. There's other reasons as well, but having Star Wars is a reason that we don't necessarily do a second full space line line like that. And again that may change. There haven't been much Western's themes...at all. We used to have some sets, but aren't Western themes popular? I don't know about any of the market research on Western themes uhmm we'll see, I don't know...laughs. I love the old western theme actually. You know the LEGO Ideas projects made by Marshall Banana? Yeah the LEGO Western modular. I was looking at that and thinking, yes please do that. Like with the Saturn V. Please do that. I think it's the difficulty with something like that, of course they're really amazing models and they would definitely be really cool. But how do those fit in when we have the regular Modular Building line. If we introduce something like that, are we taking people away from the regular Modular Buildings. We can't just assume that when we introduce a product then people don't replace something else you know like, okay, now there's a new space theme. Now I don't need Star Wars anymore, so now all of a sudden Star Wars is nonexistent because I want to buy this new space theme. It's about striking the right balance of, we can only produce so many LEGO sets. And people only have room in their houses for so much LEGO. So when we think about making stuff for the AFOLs then it's just as much about are we giving them the elements, the bricks, in order to do what they want to do, instead of just give you exactly every model what you want just because we can only produce so many models. But we can we can make a dinosaur tale in blue. And I don't know what people are going to do with that but that's easy. You know we could make a whole car out of the weird Azure Blue color and then people can take that and they can build something really amazing with it. So for me I'm much more interested in trying to get fun and exciting elements into people's hands than just to make every single cool idea because there's an infinite number of cool ideas. you can see that on LEGO Ideas. there are so many cool projects but we will never be able to make all of them. Makes sense. Good explanation and I think you maybe right that classic feeling or that nostalgia is more of a feeling. Do you have any idea, like Bennys spaceship, did it sell well? Well I don't know the sales performance of this set. I'm really excited about the Saturn V combined with Benny's spaceship we're starting to see some real nostalgia for kind of this thing. I guess it's like the space race of the 1960s kind of nostalgia for that first journey into space. And I think that could mean a lot for LEGO in terms of what we make for products. Nowadays you hear more and more news about going to Mars in 10 or 20 years or so. Is that something that LEGO is looking into as well? Like maybe we can do Mars exploration? I shouldn't say anything about that. We're paying attention to a lot of things. How long have you been working for LEGO? In August I have been here for five years and I started on the Creator line in 2009. For the 2015 year I made the Ferrari F40 for Creator Expert and so from then until now I've been kind working half time on each and now I'm a full time only working on Creator Expert. Of course I did the Saturn V for Ideas and stuff like that. Interesting you bring up the Ferrari F40. One thing I noticed was it has different type of instruction booklet, outlining the parts you need to put on the model. I haven't seen that in the UCS Snow Speeder. Is that something that will be standard in newer instructions? I may be wrong on this but I believe we've implemented that for all Creator Expert products. Maybe not the Winter Village sets but I think all the others we now do, we outline the bricks in the right colors and that was an idea that the building construction team had when we were doing the Ferrari, because there was so much of the same color, they wanted to think of a way to highlight the parts. So did it work? Yeah because as you start building and then you don't notice it. And after a couple of pages you think; something's different. I didn't know what, so I was looking and thinking, they are outlining the parts! It's great! So I think you should do that for other sets as well. Some personal questions. How many sets have you designed? Somewhere around 20. What's your favorite? I'm really proud of the Saturn V rocket. But there's also a jet that I made for Creator. I think that's still my favorite because I love airplanes so much. Ok, thanks for your time.