Luke Phillips can’t remember a time when he wasn’t making cars and robots out of Lego. Now, the 26 year old is a master model builder at Legoland Florida Resort, located one hour southwest of Orlando in Winter Haven. As the resort’s only on-site designer, he’s responsible for building intricate tabletop models of the park’s lands. He also built the five-foot-tall, 5,000 piece Lego guitars for the Heartlake City Stepping Tones Fountain—where you step on icons surrounding the fountain to create your own music. For two years, Phillips has been adding models throughout the resort, home to a Lego-inspired hotel, theme and water park. Here’s how he pieces it all together.
Q: How do you become a master model builder?
As a potential master model builder, we have to go through assessments. They put Lego in the middle of the room and we’ll be given assignments such as, “build something that represents yourself.” There’s no one skill set they look for, they’re looking for people who have backgrounds in structural engineering, architecture, model building, set design, electronics, lighting. The biggest thing is having a creative mindset.
Q: What’s an average day like?
When I come in, I’ll check our Miniland, which are representations of New York City, Florida and California, on a 1/20th scale, and make sure none of the buildings or Minilanders—the little people that populate our cities—are damaged. For the rest of the day, I’ll repair any damage. When the park is closed, I work on installing new models and updating our current ones.
Q: How are the models built?
We use a special glue to keep the models intact and we hammer down the Lego so most of the time it sounds like Santa’s workshop. We recently redid the Daytona International Speedway model to match a renovation of the actual stadium. It took about three months to have it designed, built—it took around 300,000 pieces—and installed. When it’s a huge addition we’ll have an off-site team build it and our on-site model builders will help with installation and upkeep. So, we didn’t build the stadium but we did a lot of the detail around it, which was mostly my design.
Q: What’s new at the park?
On May the 4th, we’re unveiling a giant new model based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The scenes take place in the desert so there’s real sand around the model. This display will have built-in buttons that children can push to cause pieces to move. There’ll be sound effects and music from the film. What’s unique is the giant 20-foot-long spaceship that will be [hanging] six feet in the air.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of your job?
Taking something that either never existed, something fanciful or something that only existed as CGI in a movie, and bringing it to life in a three-dimensional Lego model. We use real Lego pieces. We don’t cheat and manufacture special pieces, we don’t paint the pieces or cut them. All of our models are made out of pieces that were already in production for standard retail sets.
Phillips’ Legoland Must-Dos
1. Imagination Zone
Filled with thousands of bricks, the indoor Imagination Zone is where visitors can build their own creations, like sea animals and robots, out of Lego.
2. Gold Brick VIP Experience
For an additional cost, visitors can get front-of-the-line access to rides and visit the Master Model Builders Workshop to build an exclusive model with the masters.
3. LEGO Ninjago The Ride
This interactive 3D ride is based on Lego’s ninja-inspired series and sees theme park visitors battle villains with fireballs and ice while spinning through the dojo.