Jamie Berard has been a celebrity in the LEGO fan community for more than 15 years, ever since he went from AFOL to LEGO designer. He figured out what a build for adults should be with the first ever modular building. Recently, he has become an actual household name as one of judges on LEGO Masters USA, while continuing his day job heading up the LEGO design team that works on adult models.
It makes him the person best placed at the LEGO Group to talk about how the adult product offering had evolved over the past 16 years, from a handful of sets a year to dozens of massive boxes covering a huge range of subject matter. He has gone from working on the unproven concept that was 10182 Café Corner, to supervising the development of enormous sets like 10307 Eiffel Tower.
As it does for most fans, Jamie’s LEGO journey began during his childhood in the United States. ‘My first experience with getting a LEGO set was the usual red fire truck or something. When my parents saw just how much I responded to it, they were like, “oh, we’ve got to get more of this.”’
Those ‘real life’ sets most appealed to the one-day professional designer. ‘I got the LEGO Airport for Christmas. It was really hard for my parents to be able to get any of these bigger sets, but they were so proud to give it to me. I loved that set, then I took it apart and I built it into so many other things. The following Christmas I asked for another airport. I actually missed having the airport as an airport. Already, as a young child, I had realised the value of having multiples of a set; one to build, one to keep, that type of thing.’
Thanks to having a lot of family around, Jamie was the recipient of hand-me-down LEGO collections as those close to him stopped playing with the brick. Complete sets, tubs of bricks, random collections all went in his direction and allowed him to continue to explore the System. ‘I had a very encouraging environment,’ he explains. ‘Everybody saw it as something special for me. I had parents that just saw it as a gateway to whatever I wanted to do in the future.’
That encouraging environment meant that the young builder avoided a dark age. ‘Even through my teen years, I was still building with LEGO bricks. I became known as “the LEGO guy”. I never had any sort of experience where I was trying to hide what I was doing. Since I was probably a young child, every year, every birthday, every Christmas, every moment of my life has had some connection with the LEGO experience.
‘As I got older, I wanted to try things that I didn’t see the company doing. I started to try things with motors and functions – that’s when the fairground theme was very attractive to me. Every year, whatever my parents’ tax return was, was our vacation. They would say, “good news, we’re going down the street to the local amusement park” or “we’re going to Disney World,” which was huge. Having our gathering of family every year based around a theme park really got me into theme parks. Being able to try to replicate these amazing rides and movements was super inspiring for me. I would come rushing home, trying to do these things.’
It wasn’t even just holidays he went on that had a LEGO connection – Jamie’s parents went away to Europe and returned with precious cargo. ‘They came back with chain links that they had found in Switzerland. I had never seen chain links before; my mind was just blown. They were imported from Europe and oh man, I treated those things like they were currency and tried to change my rides to use chain links and gearing. I think that’s where probably I evolved the most, still a lot of reality-based builds, but trying to give them more depth and presentation.
‘That carried all the way into my fan years as an adult, where you go to shows and you find very quickly things with movement or lights immediately draw the attention, they get the crowds. When I was working with others on the theme park area, it was always the bigger draw than the downtown area that might have been static. Even though there are beautiful builds there, it was the movement that really excited people.’
To read about Jamie’s adult fandom, how he got his job at the LEGO Group and the process behind starting the modular building collection, you’ll need to buy Issue 100 of Blocks, the monthly LEGO magazine.