Life-sized LEGO projects are serious business. Thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of bricks go into most, with subjects that range from towering giraffes and elephants to motorised Bugattis and decked-out Kombi campers.
Scaling things down a little, even the legendary Saturn V rocket and Darth Vader’s iconic Death Star have been rendered in huge but not-quite-life-sized form. It gets whackier, with such figures as Queen Elizabeth II and Michelangelo’s David both appearing in life-sized LEGO form in recent years.
Serious business indeed. Now, for the eight pairs of entrants in Nine’s new LEGO Masters series, airing on April 28, there’s a $100,000 prize up for grabs.
To promote the series and its involvement, major sponsor Honda has unveiled the world’s first life-sized LEGO version of its own icon, the Civic Type R.
It’s not as quick as the 228kW/400Nm real deal – indeed, its LEGO wheels ensure it isn’t going anywhere without a forklift – but with authentic proportions and fully operational lights controlled through an iPad app, this blocky Type R has plenty of appeal.
Designed and built by a team of nine crack brickies led by The Brickman himself, Ryan McNaught, the world’s first LEGO Civic Type R is the result of many examples of the word ‘thousands’.
I spoke with McNaught before his team had finished work, and he estimated there would be “well over” 250,000 pieces involved. In the end, the project wrapped up at around 320,000.
Over a thousand hours would be sunk into its build, he guessed, but the final number was beyond 1300 hours.
And, at about 1300kg in its final form, the LEGO Type R is comparable in weight to the 1390kg tare number for the real car.
The design is as true-to-life as you can get without molding a single custom piece – and you should keep in mind that many LEGO sets you can buy off the shelf include a few pieces formed specifically for that kit.
Viewing the project at what I’d guess was around 90% complete, I was lucky enough to see the car inside-and-out, from its steel frame and Duplo interior pieces to its finely detailed Brembo brakes complete with cross-drilled rotors and logo-emblazoned callipers.
Yes, all the logos are made from LEGO: there’s not a single sticker or conventional badge on this thing.
The car will appear on LEGO Masters, and McNaught himself will judge the entries, alongside radio and TV personality Hamish Blake.
To learn more about the build, Honda Australia invited me (and my little boy, who may never experience such a moment ever again) to McNaught’s workshop in Melbourne for a chat.
CarAdvice: It might just be the latest in a long line of life-sized LEGO projects, but what an epic undertaking. Tell us how you kick off with something like this.
Ryan McNaught: It’s a three-part process. The first part is design, where I sit down in front of the computer and build a digital version of what the car’s going to look like. It’s pretty much exactly like building LEGO at home, if on a grander scale. In fact, you can download the tool off the LEGO website – it’s called the LEGO Digital Designer – and you can go to town with it.
We’ve got a special version that we’ve kind of souped-up a little bit, but it’s ostensibly the same. It has some fill tools and stuff like that, but what it doesn’t do is tell you that you need ‘this’ particular LEGO bit, so it’s… the build team, it’s their discretion as to which actual pieces they’ll use and where. The actual selection of the bricks is totally in the moment.
There’s a lot of things where, when we’re building the car, we’ll go… ‘you know what, digitally it looked okay, but we’re not happy with it here’, so we’ll change it on the fly. It can be laborious, though, in that you have to let everybody on the team know, because a change on one side will need to be made on the other, too.
Ryan McNaught: In fact, with this build, we’re currently up to about the fifth or sixth revision of the car.
It’s a bit more complex than that too, because they’re actually trying to solve complex problems. In the case of the roof and the rear wing, they’re trying to bridge huge gaps, so they’re thinking about – when they’re putting the pieces down – what will it actually look like and how will it lead into the next piece. We’re not just following instructions here.
McNaught adds that the little-kid Duplo sets form a significant part of the guts of this model – not because it’s bigger and therefore means fewer parts, but because it’s incredibly strong. The design of Duplo makes it a strong component of the project.
There’s a few other tricks with that. For example, the car is almost symmetrical, so I only have to design half the car and copy it to form the other side. The differences of course are badges, the fuel cap, that sort of thing. Even the lane departure sensors, the left-aligned reversing camera at the rear… we go down to that level.
CA: That level of detail, is it something the brand asks for, or that LEGO demands, or is it mostly for your own thrills?
RM: It’s a little bit for our own thrills, but with LEGO, we pride ourselves in being spot-on. We’ve built a lot of models over the years, where subject-matter experts will come up to us and let us know if we got it wrong – or likewise when we got it right.
McNaught says there are “definitely not” any custom parts in the project. “It’s all standard LEGO bricks, and the rule we have is, if you’ve got enough time, patience and money, you can build them as well”. (This writer meets none of those requirements.)
CA: This one is on wheels made of LEGO just like the rest of it, but certainly some life-size LEGO cars do roll. What’s that about?
RM: There’s a few different ones that are a hybrid version; parts of a real car and partly LEGO, whereas we’ve gone full LEGO with this one. There’s even one, a Porsche, that was split down the middle and half was the real Porsche and the other half was LEGO. The recent Bugatti is powered, but it uses LEGO Technic motors (4kW worth) and rolls on real wheels. It goes about 6km/h, it’s incredible.
CA: How many pieces will it be in the end? I’ve guessed around 10,000…
RM, laughing: I’ve got a fair idea, because I’ve been doing it for a while; it’s well over a quarter of a million. Claire here is arguably our fastest builder, and she lays somewhere around 350 to 400 bricks an hour.
Side note: I felt moved to check how many actual bricks a conventional bricklayer can get down, and the average seems to be around 300 to 500 a day.
RM: As for time, our final is looking likely to be over a thousand hours.
That works out to 42 days, if you worked around the clock, or 100 days if you were pulling 10-hour shifts, every day.
Then there’s the logistics. While packing away the average box of LEGO at the end of the day can be as simple as throwing it all into a bucket or as complex as sorting them intro drawers by colour and type, Ryan’s team has bigger things to consider.
RM: The logistics around this are bonkers. We can’t wheel it anywhere on its own wheels, so we’ve got two holes at the front and rear, and we can put a screw-jack in and jack it up on some wheels attached to the steel frame that sits inside it. So that lets us manoeuvre it around.
Slots in the side allow a forklift to pick it up for loading and unloading as needed, during transport.
Likewise, the door mirrors slot into place, so that they can be removed for getting the Type R through the average shopping centre’s doors.
Ryan has been doing this as a LEGO certified professional since 2007, making the leap from a career in IT. He’s a father to twins, and that, combined with the full LEGO collection his mother had hung onto since Ryan’s own childhood, rekindled his love for the Danish toy.
Over time, as his nostalgia morphed into an obsession, friends and friends of friends commissioned builds. He’s now one of 14 LEGO certified professionals around the world, and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere.
“A few of my colleagues have never done a life-sized car before, though, and so they’re pretty envious,” he says.
McNaught is known as the Brickman, and he’s run an exhibition across Australia this year dubbed Awesome. Among the models on display are a 450,000-brick, 7.5-metre tall NASA SLS rocket, a life-size Harley Davidson (the only one ever made), and a host of life-sized Australian animals.
Of his team of around nine, Claire is McNaught’s longest-serving team member, working the tools for around five years now. Like her boss, she too comes from a background of computer work, specifically in the web design field.
The Type R is the second life-sized car for Ryan’s own team, the first being a model of the new-generation Toyota Camry that debuted in time for the new model’s local launch last year. That example weighed around two tonnes.
Ryan says the Type R has been a more exciting car to build, “because it has so much more detail”.
What’s next? A Star Wars project for the fourth of May, or May the fourth (be with you), but, understandably, McNaught couldn’t be moved to offer any details on that one. A black Honda NSX for Kylo Ren to drive, perhaps..?
LEGO Masters airs on April 28, with eight pairs of passionate creators to be let loose on The Brick Pit and its 2.5 million LEGO bricks.