Friday, 28 November 2014

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester: Meet the Master Model Builder

The LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in Manchester is a hands on, interactive experience for children who love LEGO. Recently it was time to launch the annual Christmas Bricktacular, which will kick up a gear with the unveiling of a giant LEGO Advent Calendar in December. Resident Master Model Builder Alex Bidolak took the time to talk to All About Bricks about all things LEGO and share a day in the life of a Master Model Builder.

When visitors enter the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre, they leave the Barton Square area of the Trafford Centre for a world that immerses them completely in LEGO. From walking through a giant Minifigure shaped archway, to going up in the LEGO elevators and coming out in the Factory…it’s like stepping into a LEGO world. And this is the world that Alex Bidolak, Master Model Builder at the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre, inhabits.

For Alex, this is more than just a job but also his passion. “It was getting that LEGO set as a child that just sparked my interest in LEGO. There was something about the intuitiveness of building that just stuck with me throughout the years.” Like many he returned to LEGO after his own ‘dark ages’, and has been the Master Model Builder since the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester opened and has “never looked back.”

On entering his office, it’s immediately apparent that this is a creative space. There is order here – such as sorting trays filled with specific bricks - but it’s buried under finished models, bags of elements, LEGO posters, photos of LEGOLAND Discovery Centre successes, an official LEGO colour chart… “I like to refer to it as the Operational Master Model Builder Workshop with all the LEGO pieces and different elements at your disposal,” Alex explains, differentiating it from the classroom environment which is also known as the Master Model Builder Workshop. If you’re looking for a film analogy (and why not?), it’s reminiscent of the way that in Jurassic Park Isla Nublar is for the guests, whereas the actual science behind the magic takes place on Isla Sorna. 

The "I'm a Celebrity" model celebrates the new series
Daily Mirror
This particular morning Alex is working on a model of the “I’m A Celebrity” contestants to celebrate the launch of the new series, which has since been unveiled in the Daily Mirror. The model includes little touches such as Ant’s forehead being that bit higher than Dec’s. Alex and the team keep good relationships with other local institutions, and it came about thanks to ITV’s base at Media City in Salford.  “Each Model Builder tends to be from his respective region. So for example, if they’re going to open a LEGOLAND Discovery Centre in Australia in the future they’ll recruit an Aussie, they’ll get the local spiel so hopefully they can build things to cater for that local area. For example we have the Manchester Christmas Markets, so last year we re-created the Christmas Markets out of LEGO.” 

There’s more than building to the role of a Master Model Builder, however. “If you went to a LEGOLAND Theme Park that’s a different job title altogether. Probably a similar role but they’re called Model Makers, which is the world of difference to what we do. So as a Master Model Builder here you’re doing the same job as a model maker which is designing, building and maintaining. But we also, actually host the LEGO Building Workshops in the classroom based environment which is also called the LEGO Master Model Builder Workshop.” The many opportunities to get hands on with LEGO bricks at the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre are reminiscent of the way the LEGOLAND Windsor theme park was back when it opened, many which have since given way to rides and other attractions. Alex sees this as a key part of the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre’s appeal. “When we first opened we didn’t actually have any barriers around Miniland and it was just a free for all because that’s what LEGO is all about, it’s all about hands on experience.”

The practicality of the number of visitors means that guests can get hands on LEGO in the main hub, at the Racers area, in the Master Model Builder Workshop and elsewhere, but Miniland has had to relent and use barriers. “We wanted to preserve this display. If you calculate the amount of man hours, it took us a year to build Miniland. There was a team of ten model makers working on it at various studios around the world. In fact our Manchester Football Stadium, that was actually designed in LEGOLAND Billund, in one of their studios and it was shipped over here.”

Continuing our tour of Miniland, which spans two areas, Alex explained a recent poll that the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre conducted. “LEGO Ideas actually asks fans what they would like to see built out of LEGO and get it recreated as an official LEGO set. We actually offer that here at the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre. It’s great for us because we actually engage with the community, so we have social media competitions. The most recent one was a new model for Miniland.” The choice offered to the public was between the Imperial War Museum, the new Co-op Building or the Beetham Tower. 

The new Imperial War Museum North model
Since the votes were tallied, Alex has been working on re-creating the preferred option with LEGO bricks. “The nature of our Miniland area, it’s not the model or the building in its entirety, it’s a section of it. We describe it as a 3D dimensional montage, it’s a flavour of Manchester. It’s not a true representation of a particular building, which would be great, it’s just a section. So you take Manchester Town Hall, you just build the clock tower. So this model won the competition, this is a section of Media City, Imperial War Museum North.”

But does allowing the public a say mean a Master Model Builder ends up with a challenging project when they have to build what the voters selected? “To be honest this was one of them. Because it’s so irregular, you know the shape of it. It was designed by Daniel Libeskind.” A further limitation was that the rest of Media City already had a home in Miniland.  “Because I was given a particular space in Miniland to work in, so that’s giving you restraints, creative restraints of what the shape of it’s going to look like. So this is going to be positioned in Miniland eventually.”

When demonstrating the location of the Imperial War Museum North in Miniland, a young LEGO fan was keen to see a Master Model Builder adding to the display. Seeing the way that Alex makes time and interacts with the target audience shows another string to the bow of a Master Model Builder. As well as meeting children around the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre, Alex leads the Master Model Builder workshops, hosts classroom based events and meets the public at various exhibits. “When we first opened I was in the workshops probably most of the time because everybody was learning the ropes. Everybody’s really confident now in hosting the workshops themselves. So the classroom based workshops have been given to the guest experience team, you know these guys you see operating the rides and the cinema. That’s a huge help because we all work as part of a team.”

So with help on the interactive side of things freeing up his time, Alex fills us in on what he is currently working on. “I’ve been in my Operational Workshop creating and designing new models. We’ve got a marketing schedule every year, we’ve got our annual events, it’s on our map here. We had Brick or Treat, Christmas Bricktacular, LEGO Legends of Chima, LEGO Ninjago, LEGO Friends. These are all just little weekend events or seasonal events and the Master Model Builder sometimes builds models to cater for these events. For the Christmas Bricktacular this year I built a giant Duplo Advent Calendar and we’ll be getting that out on the first of advent and each day we’ll be releasing, well there’ll be an opportunity to win prizes and things.”

Which is great news for anyone looking to visit with children over the festive period. But for those without kids, who still want to check out what the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre has to offer, AFOL Evenings are an initiative that allows adults to visit the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre (adults entering during regular hours have to be accompanied by children). “There’s all kinds of issues when you’ve got a children’s attraction from a child protection perspective. That has to paramount on everything we do, the safety of our children. But LEGO Group have acknowledged that there’s a community that exists, and actually sometimes officially endorses all these gatherings and groups,” Alex explains. “We’ve started to cater for that, with the advent of our AFOL evenings. We’ve got a steady following, there is interest out there.” 

It’s no surprise with such an ardent LEGO fan in the Master Model Builder’s chair that AFOL Evenings have been introduced. With such a hands on role, there’s no doubt Alex has plenty of models to design and guests to meet, but images appeared online today of the LEGO Detective Agency modular set – and he still manages to find time to be poring over the images, zooming in and checking out all of the details, just like any other LEGO fan. Leaving this immersive LEGO world through the Star Wars Miniland, it’s hard to imagine that this Master Model Builder could belong anywhere else.

A huge thank you to Alex for taking the time to talk about the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre. 

The current event at the LEGOLAND Discovery Centre is the Christmas Bricktacular. To book tickets or find out more about the attraction, visit

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