A Real-Life Lego Master Builder on How You, Too, Could Have One of the World's Coolest Jobs
The "Master Builders" are the superheroes of the new smash hit "The Lego Movie," a film that relishes in cultivating a new mythology around these expert creators voiced by the likes of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, and Morgan Freeman.
But unlike Superman, Batman and Iron Man, however (kids, please stop reading at this point), Lego Master Builders are real.
Connecticut's Paul Chrzan is one of 40 of them in the world, and only seven in the U.S.
"It is funny because we're superheroes now," Chrzan told Yahoo Movies. "It was never like that. We had minor celebrity [status] with 9-year-old boys, and that was fine. We could go and do building events. They might've heard of us, but we were kind of anonymous. This is opening us up."
[Related: 19 'Lego Movie' Easter Eggs to Look Out For]
So how does one become a Master Builder?
Chrzan, who spent time on the set of "The Lego Movie" crafting the pivotal final set piece (if you've seen the movie, you know what we're talking about), confirms there is no Hogwarts to speak of for aspiring Master Builders. There are no college courses dedicated to the craft.
"I tell people just build, build, build," Chrzan advised. "Just keep playing with the bricks. Don't build the house and the spaceship. Build your family pet. Build a family portrait. Go beyond what people usually do with the bricks. Because that's what we do."
In other words, don't follow the instructions on the box.
"Take it wherever your mind can take it," Chrzan added. "Just be imaginative. And build something that no one else has built before."
Chrzan, who started with Lego in 1988 and became a Master Builder about five years later, said most of the Denmark-based company's 40 MBs have a background in sculpture, engineering, architecture or some other area of "three-dimensional design." He studied theatre, set design and costume design at Central Connecticut State University for two years and didn't graduate.
"I was also very lucky that my mother was Danish and she bought us the toys before most people had them."
There are no conventions, secret handshakes or fancy sport coats for Master Builders. All are full-time Lego employees that work in different model shops around the world.
And of course one thing they do possess is a vast knowledge of the seemingly endless cache of bricks, of which Chrzan said he recently heard totaled up to 1800 different shapes (not counting color variations).
"It's impossible to keep up with [every shape]," he said. "Because they're constantly making new elements every year. Every time there's a new theme or line that comes out, often there are new pieces that are created specifically for that line."
Chrzan is also constantly tasked with difficult and complex projects, like the one he's currently working on: "Technically it's a kinetic energy sculpture. But it's like one of those ball machines you might see in a children's museum, where you see bowling balls rolling down tracks and setting off chimes and bells and bouncing on trampolines. I'm building something very much like that for our kids set where there's gonna be little balls going up conveyor belts and falling down shoots. And those things take a lot of time and experimentation to get right. They have to work every time."
As for the creation Chrzan is proudest of, that's easy. In 1993, he built a life-size Lego replica for the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital, recreating a scene from one of Laurent du Brunhoff "Babar" books, with Dr. Babar leaning over the bed of a sick elephant baby.
"That model was done many, many years ago and it's the one thing that keeps coming back to me," he said of the creation, which measured 8 feet tall, 8 feet long, and 7 feet wid. "When I do events around the country people will bring up that they saw that model. And I always know that they saw that model because something tragic was happening in their lives, and it brought them a lot of joy that their kid could see this amazing Lego model."
It was the creation of a superhero long before he was portrayed in such light onscreen. It was also the creation of a man who clearly has one of the coolest jobs in the world.
"I can't believe it," Chrzan said. "Every day I get to come here and I've been doing it for a very long time and I still love it after all of these years."
But now that he's been immortalized by Hollywood, can he still walk down the street without the paparazzi chasing him?
Chrzan laughed. "No, unfortunately, I can still walk down the street without a problem."