LEGO master model builder from Bartlett and his role in new Star Wars exhibit
By Mike Danahey email@example.com February 18, 2013 4:18PM
The gallery of the coliseum if filled with familiar characters including Jabba the Hut in the Star Wars Miniland exhibit opening March 8 at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago at the Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg.
The grand opening of the Star Wars Miniland exhibit will take place in conjunction with LEGOLAND Discovery Center’s LEGO Star Wars Days, March 8–10. Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and at 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Star Wars Days activities also will include a meet and greet with members of the Star Wars 501st Legion; building LEGO creations in a workshop; and photo opportunities with life-sized LEGO Star Wars Darth Vader and LEGO Star Wars R2-D2.
For more information on LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago’s Star Wars Miniland model display or to book discount tickets, visit www.LEGOLANDDiscoveryCenter.com. The center is located in the Streets of Woodfield.
Updated: March 20, 2013 6:12AM
The force certainly is with Andrew Johnson of Bartlett.
A year ago he took what most kids and kids at heart would see as a dream job, becoming the master model builder at LEGOLAND Discovery Center Chicago in Schaumburg.
Now he’s in the midst of a big project as part of a team preparing an exhibit that is sure to be one of the center’s most popular — a walk-through, interactive, room-sized miniland recreating the sights and sounds of “Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace” that opens March 8.
“We’re looking at upwards of 500,000 LEGO bricks, 2,000 Star Wars minifigures and 1,500 man-hours to create it,” Johnson said.
While film critics and some die-hard Star Wars fans were less than thrilled with what they believed was a cumbersome plot and wooden dialogue of “The Phantom Menace”, the set designs from the 1999 film were state of the art.
For the LEGO exhibit, designers in California worked to replicate the rolling hills of Naboo, with its domed city and waterfalls; the terrain of the desert planet of Tatooine; a hangar where the heroes kept their flying machines; and a Ben Hur-like coliseum where a pivotal pod race took place.
“The recreation of the pod racing scene captures the coliseum-feel. It’s massive and intricate,” Johnson said.
Johnson aid fans also will be able to work controls allowing them to take part in the race that set Anakin Skywalker on his course from rebel to evil overlord, and also interact in a “Droid Destruction” game that recreates the movie’s climactic battle.
The scenes are being built in three sections, Johnson said. He estimated that dozens of people are working to put the pieces together. His primary duties will be overseeing the installation and then maintaining the exhibit, which will be in Chicago through December before moving along to another LEGOLAND.
Voted by fans
The idea behind the Star Wars Miniland came from a January vote in which the public was asked to choose between Star Wars and other LEGO favorites including a cityscape, hero factory, racers and the Technic line for the theme they wanted to see turned into a large-scale interactive exhibit.
“I had a feeling Star Wars would win handily, and it did,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that he was a kid when the first Star Wars-related LEGO kits came out, and that he still has a kit or two, albeit with a few missing parts.
Johnson has been making LEGO creations since he was just 3. A graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, Johnson sent in a one-minute YouTube video of himself building LEGO art to qualify for the competition through which he earned his master builder job, a role in which he develops new models for the center’s displays.
He is one of only eight individuals worldwide with the same title. He bested a field of eight to win his position by building the Lorax character in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday in one round, and then in others he built a violin and hands-free harmonica that hung around his neck.
Johnson said highlights of the job thus far have involved “Star Wars” events last July, a pirates event, a Halloween “Brick or Treat” festivities in October that included a workshop where participants made a vampire and a group-build of a town for monsters, Merlin’s Magic Wand Days last fall which were created for children who may need an extra bit of encouragement and attention, and a superheroes effort in February.
“Events are a favorite part of my job. I love the freedom and creativity,” he said.