Visiting last year
by the KLUG interview team
Frederic Roland Andre was one of our guests from the LEGO® Group in 2018. He kindly sat down and answered some questions for us.
Q. What is the title and nature of your position at the LEGO® Group?
I’ve been with the LEGO® Group for eight years. My official title is senior designer, so my job is to make sets out of LEGO®. I’m paid to play with bricks, so it’s not really a job. My main study is Japanese language and civilization, so I came to Japan to be a French teacher, then I went back home and decided to do a bit of design studies because studying and just knowing language isn’t enough to find a proper job… Well that’s what I thought. I studied fashion design for a year and got really poor while studying. I had to find a job and I ended up with NHK (the Japanese television company) in Paris, where I was the accounting secretary for a year. It was very boring. So every night I was building LEGO® at home just to get creative and I found a recruitment announcement on the net, and they were like, ‘we’re looking for new designers’ and I thought, ‘nothing to lose’. So I made a really quick portfolio and sent it to LEGO® and they said, ‘yeah come here,’ had an interview, and they got me in a month later. That was August 2010 and I officially started my designer position in October 2010.
Q. Can you explain the designer rank system for us?
So you start as a junior designer and at the moment, the top rank you can be is a master designer—I’m not too far from there, hopefully. The higher you get the more responsibility you have, of course. A junior will be doing small models just to get the hang of it and know how the system works and usually you turn into a designer after a year. That’s what we consider is a good time to come and be on board in the company. So after a year you should know the system and you should be independent about the process of how we design. A designer will be independent, getting a bigger model and probably an outside task such as gathering all the color changes of the team. When we need a part in brown for example, that’s what we call a color change. A senior designer will have more of, it’s not management, but a design management role. So aligning the designs across the portfolio, for example, or deciding what minifigure will go in what set and explaining it to marketing and things like that. I’m working Ninjago at the moment. I’m the, let’s say, quality inspector of what we are doing. So I assist in every review we have on the models. These are quality reviews and I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the quality of what we have on the market. So making sure there’s no illegal techniques, making sure it is easy to build for the kids and making sure a kid can play with the model as well.
Q. Would a junior designer be responsible for designing something like the polybag sets?
Actually polybags for what they are, are tough to design. They are handled by a different department. It would be more like battle packs in Star Wars and things like that. The simple difference between junior and senior is, as a senior, it is our duty to mentor the juniors to make them efficient designers.
Q. So even though you are a designer, you still make MOCs for yourself. When you build for yourself you have the ability to do whatever you want, so are illegal connections all okay?
Yes and no, actually. The job has had a big influence on the way I build now so things I do are sturdier now. I could almost give them to my son and he could play with them. I used to have like one-stud-connections, one-shaft-connections—that kind of thing and I try not to do that anymore.
Q. So your job has influenced your MOCs?
Yes, and my MOCs have influenced my job, as well. I still do MOCs just to get the imagination flowing to start with and to experiment with new techniques. If you go on my Flickr, there is a MOC called “Scarab”. It’s an olive green MOC. And the way the slopes are used, I reused that in the Ultra Agents Ultrasonic Showdown . When I do a MOC and I find some shape that’s interesting, I try to incorporate it into the job.
Q. Do other people’s MOCs also influence you?
Sometimes if I find a nice shape, I might try to integrate it. I don’t rip people off, of course, but I get inspired by other people’s MOCs. I may not post things everyday on Flickr but I check it everyday because I like what the community does and I’m still a huge sci-fi fan.
Q. What are your influences?
Movies, video games, Japan! A lot of Japan because Japan is a big part of me. I play the game Destiny a lot and the design of this game is fantastic. The game might not be as good as people want it to be but the design of the game is fantastic, so a lot of what we do there, very organic shapes from the alien race and things, is something that heavily influences me, and I like it myself. My favorite movie is probably Starship Troopers. I’m into Star Wars—I’m a huge Star Wars fan. Everything sci-fi! My favorite video game franchise is Mass Effect. So I have all of the design books and sometimes when I don’t know what to do, I just go and browse those and I get ideas.
Q. You have said that you create stories for your own MOCs?
Yes, so for my own MOCs everything happens in the same universe, so I have branches here and there. I don’t have a timeline so it’s easy to incorporate things. Every time I create a new race it’s part of this universe. So I have the Ostichreans, which are a race of giant battle suit ostriches and they are part of this universe and I try every time I can to put one in my sets… I actually made the battle ostriches before I started working for LEGO®. I was in my dark age from when I was 16 to 26 and I started to browse Flickr. I didn’t realize there was a LEGO® community at this point and I discovered Aaron Anderson and he was making these robots and I started copying him and my design evolved and became the Ostricheans in the end. So you can see all of that on my Flickr. So as I mentioned Aaron Anderson, Adrian Florea are people that made me come back to LEGO® and those are people that I owe my job to now.
Q. What is your second favorite LEGO® color?
My first favorite color in the LEGO® palette is purple—the dark purple one. The second one… I used to build a lot of stuff in gold, but the consistency of this color is a bit tricky. Now it’s very metallic and a bit more dark than it used to be. I think the new one is okay compared to what it used to be, but that would be my second favorite color. When I started at LEGO® I always tried to incorporate one gold element in my models, but now that I’m doing Nexo Knights and Ninjago, gold is a bit more prevalent so I try to hide in pink elements. So next year in your Ninjago models look for the pink elements!
Q. Will we see anymore chrome pieces in the future?
We try to avoid it because they scratch and the chroming process is another process on top of the brick itself, so a chromed brick costs a bit more than all the others. But the new Voltron does have a few chrome parts. The part I’m most excited for is this big panel that is part of the shield.
Q. You mentioned Voltron. Is it common for designers to put forward ideas using other intellectual properties?
Every year we have what is called the “creative boost”. It’s a weekend where all design work is put aside and we are allowed to do whatever we want. So we present new stuff to the leadership and we decide if we should go for it or not. Every year we have a lot of people trying to push new IPs and sometimes they make it and sometimes they don’t. After that it’s marketing and licensing’s problem.
Q. Do you have a favorite model from when you were a child?
I’m 36, I was born in ’82. The first set I can remember receiving was the Cosmic Voyager . I was living in the French Caribbean at this time and my dad was going back to France every six months for his job and he would always bring a lot of toys from France. We didn’t get a lot of toys in the Caribbean. I think he was buying them for himself anyway. That was the first spaceship I can remember getting and I’ve always been into space and I’m sure I could remake it now because Batman made so many yellow transparent pieces, so I could made a proper yellow window one now.
You can find Fred’s work on https://www.flickr.com/photos/shamisenfred/