As part of the Classic Space Pocket Money Contest I thought it would be really interesting to hear from one of the LEGO designers who worked on these sets. This gave me the excuse to contact one of my all time LEGO heros, Bjarne Tveskov. If you don't know who he is, he joined LEGO in 1985 and continued at the company till 1998. In his first few years he worked on the development of the Futron, Blacktron and Space Police ranges. Some of the most iconic sets in those series are down to his genius design. Anyway, after exchanging a few emails Bjarne agreed to answer a few questions on the design process for the mini sets and their alternative models. I hope you enjoy this little treat as much as I have.
DS: How did the design approach differ when creating a mini-set as opposed to a larger set?
BT: With the bigger models there are more opportunities to "sculpt" a specific shape. With the smaller sets, the individual element becomes more important, often one can base the overall design on one ore more bigger pieces. For instance the Blacktron II 6832 set http://lego.wikia.com/wiki/6832_Super_Nova_II contains a LEGO Castle piece (Not sure of the correct english name, it's the blue one connecting the horse and the carriage.) It's fun to use elements in unexpected ways like this when doing small sets. This set also has a mailbox element from LEGO City turned 90 degrees so it becomes a storage department. Twisting and turning the orientation of bricks is a big part of making interesting small ships and vehicles. Needless to say the small sets are much faster to design; on a good day you could maybe do at least a couple of small prototypes. The big sets could easily take several days per prototype and there are more issues to consider with regards to stability, handling and so on with the big sets.
6832 Super Nova
1877 Crusader Cart
DS: How did the Lego designers go about creating the alternative builds shown on the back of the packets?
BT: Building the alternative models (or B-models as they were called) was a nice activity; Sometimes it's really nice to have a fixed element assortment - believe or not, it can be a little stressfull to have unlimited amounts of every LEGO element(plus a lot of elements not in production) in all colors at your disposal. Often the time to do the B-models was limited to a few days, so there was a much more spontaneous and casual feel when building these. And it's true; limitations are often great for pushing creativity...
DS: Was the reverse engineering required to build the alternative builds considered a play element (I loved making these models just from the pictures).
BT: To some degree, yes. Mainly it was and is a question of ressources; it's takes a lot of time and effort to create building instructions, so for LEGO play themes there were generally only one main model. But especially with the smaller sets the customers had a decent chance of reverse egnineering the B-models. I recall doing the B-models for the Blacktron Alienator, a set with a really nice assortment of elements. I still quite like this set and the alternative models are rather different from the main model. (Also like how the box design guys made the footprints on the space surface at the image on the back of the box, even though the model isn't actually able to lift it's feet from the ground!)
6876 Alienator and its alternatives
DS: Were there any sets which didn't make it to production that you were particularly proud of?
BT: Well, it's hard to remember particular prototypes after all these years, but the futuristic underwater theme which became Aquazone existed internally for a few years. I remember some really cool deep sea scifi-like sets which never surfaced (haha) . Often we would do twenty or thirty different models for the small pricepoints, and more often than not it was not ones own favorites which got picked out for furher development. I wish the pictures of all those models were still around, but sure they are all lost in time. Like tears in the rain.
DS: What in your opinion was the best mini-set you designed?
BT: Hmm, can I mention a couple of sets?
I like the wings on this one + the two detachable robots in the back
6830 Space Patroller
A robust little vehicle with two really big lasergu… I mean really big cosmic ray collector devices!
6831 Message Decoder
This set also incorporates a LEGO Castle element as a key part of the design, the blue transparent 'cockpit' was originally used in the Castle line.
Thank you David! That was AWESOME!! I would have given a years allowance as a kid to know what we all just read. I had 3 Blacktron 1 sets, including 6876 (specifically because of the fighter alternate) My first and favorite was 6954 Renegade. Brilliant work here David, simply brilliant.
Thanks to both of you for this cool interview. It's always great to get an insider look into the design process of LEGO. After reading this the 1st time I immediately went to flickr and added him as a contact. Thanks again! :-))
A fascinating insight and a wonderful surprise too! I got "The Lego Adventure Book" for Christmas, which has a bit at the end with builds by Daniel August Krenz, who designed the original yellow castle and wrote the 6000 "Ideas Book" with the story of the couple who go into space.
Great idea, Dude! Very interesting and informative!
December 22, 2012
This is a great interview. I remember getting the Alienator as a child like it was yesterday. But I had forgotten just how awesome the alternate builds were. I think I'm going to have to track down another box.
This was nice... thanks David! I agree with the piece limit pushing one's creativity. I'm currently working on something that I had a list of extras that I thought I needed inorder to complete the build... then I just decided to ditch the list and make-do with what I had and I cameup with something which, in my opionion, is much more appealling and better! Cheers! :)
Beyond awesome .... I just loved reading through the interview, especially the part about the alternate builds. And thats also excatly how i feel, having a limited amount of parts pushes ones creativity. Im not sure we are gonna get to be part of the contest, since we already before it started had begun on building a classic space diorama, but time will tell.
Anyhow, great take on putting more dimension into the Classic Space contest. This will be remembered for years as EPIC .... Thanks for posting this on MOCpages. You were my hero before now you are almost holy !! :D ... And merry christmas to you and your family . :)
I purchased close to near all of his sets! His designs were instrumental in my adolescence and how I explored my mind. The "B" sets, oddly enough, were always more interesting to me aesthetically. He also hit on the most frightening part of creativity: What do you make when every possible medium is at your fingertips. This concept has devastated many artists and glorified the elite who have the capacity to simplify to the elemental building blocks of their particular medium (as seen here on MOCpages.) I want to thank Mr. Tveskov for honing my ability to "turn off my brain without turning off my brain." And thank you to The Davids for the interview and contest. Genious on so many levels!!!
Nice interview. I talked to Bjarne last year as I was searching alternetives for a design education. If You google his name You find another big interview, that also contains his own background and how he got the dream job at lego. He also has a flickr account where he has uploaded pictures of many sets he was designing. Thanks for sharing and the time it took to get in touch with him, a real pleasure:-)
I had a dark period, a period sans Lego, I'd moved out from the parental home and my Lego hadn't. The 6876 alienator was the set that put me back on the straight and narrow. I loved it then and it still looks good now, I believe the screen in my classic space pocket money contest entry was from this very set. It's great to read the interview with the man who I guess was my guiding light.
There was already an interview of B.Tveskov available but you've come with completely different questions and this is very, very interesting !
I don't want to be mean but I could gave ten Mark Stafford designs for only one by this gentleman. A true legend (I remember the shock when I first saw the 87 catalog with the monorail, and later the Alienator, I've bought two of them !)
Thanks a lot Dave for this great interview ! And obviously thanks to Bjarne too :-)
I know this interview. This guy also developed the great sets like the Blacktron renegade, the SP I mission commander and the futuron monorail. This guy dont know, how much he was involved in so many childhoods.... :D