We were very privileged to be invited to the LEGO Store launch event for the newly revealed LEGO Creator London Bus. Not only did we get to see the set up close, take part in the Facebook Live event and of course purchase the set, we also got the opportunity to interview the designers behind set, Senior Designer Morten Graff-Wang and Creator Expert Design Manager Jamie Berard. The interview took place aboard the top deck of a LEGO branded Routemaster London Bus, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a interesting place to interview a couple of LEGO designers. So here’s our interview with Morten and Jamie, we hope you enjoy it.
BricksFanz: There’s been a few London-themed released recently such as the London Skyline and Big Ben, was the London Bus set created because of the new flagship Leicester Square store or was it a happy coincidence?
Jamie Berard: I think it is one of those as we’ve mentioned that there were several options about what cars, truck, all kind of vehicles could be the next Creator set and in this instance was just one we were building because it’s a strong icon that people have a strong emotional connection with. So it wasn’t a strategic, like when we did the London Skyline, where we knew that the flagship store was opening here in Leicester Square where we wanted to try and support as best we could. So that was a little more bit of a little more of a deliberate coordination. The London Bus is just a great icon and it has to be a set that not just people in London have to like, we also check in with Asia, the US, all around Europe and Australia, everyone raised their hand and said yeah that’s a must do.
Morten Graff-Wang: There are so many icons here in the UK that are known worldwide. The history, design and culture.
Jamie: Yeah you guys have quite the reach in world.
BricksFanz: What sort of references did you use when creating the London Bus set, did you take a look around a Routemaster, like the one we are sitting in now, pictures or bit of both?
Morten: Yes a bit of both, I was handed a sketch model and I also did a lot of research online and we talked of course about which directions we should go in, what elements were important and the also story, getting some story into a set like this. On a bus there are a lot of seats so there is plenty going on. So we work hard to get all those cool details whilst also creating a fun build. Most people who have built this have really enjoyed it, saying it’s a great fun build.
BricksFanz: As you mentioned during the Facebook Live stream, that story element of the set which involves Leicester Square store mascot Lester, travelling abroad the bus with his trusty umbrella, that’s always to hand thanks to the lovely UK weather. When suddenly Lester spots the weather has become sunny and warm. In his haste to enjoy the brief bit of British Summer he rushes from the bus and leaves his brolly behind. Is this a key part of the experience of the set, instead of just building it and having it on a shelf?
Morten: Yes it’s a small stories but also has triggers such has things that are unique to London buses, like the newspaper which has been left behind, those free newspapers are always left behind on buses and so it’s those things along with things that are always in any type of buses.
Jamie: I think it’s a degree of authenticity, when you actually go to the level of the experience, not just pictures which you can find online, but when you’ve been on a London Bus, you know there are these things laying around and then you are actually building them, you get the feeling that yeah these guys knew what they were doing, this is kind of real. I think that’s where you really know you really feel you’ve captured enough of those special moments and that we didn’t just push a singular story but more captures the overall experience of a London Bus.
Morten: And the fact we are so lucky to have so that many British designers that we can check in with, so even though I feel I know enough to get the get the ‘iconicness’ of the model, then I always check in with the experts to make sure it’s authentic to a London Bus.
BricksFanz: Does the London Bus make use of any new elements or recoloured elements?
Morten: Well it’s the wheel that was the missing design, because what we had previously had the terrain tread. We needed a tyre that had a more generic, street tyre look. People who make build lorries and trucks are going to love this new part and also I was lucky that the brick with two studs on the side (1x1x1 2/3 brick with studs on the side) came out at the right time as I was doing a lot of sideways building with the London Bus and to get enough clutch for those pieces, this was released exactly at the right time, just when I needed it. Also the tickets with the print, that was also handy to have for this set and the umbrella of course. We were wondering how to place the umbrella, then Jamie came up with the Technic connector element, it fitted perfectly.
Jamie: These magic moments they just happen.
BricksFanz: Were there any difficult parts of the design to overcome in order to achieve the iconic shape of a London Bus?
Morten: It was of course the back of the bus, because that one bow element, that we also used in the Volkswagen Beetle as well, that dictated whole the scale and the size and everything. Plus how to get the element there, that was tricky. And of course the side that goes along the spiral staircase, I’m pointing here (points to the stairwell of the bus we are sitting in) but since it’s open to the back, then how to get that strong enough by three 18 clips and the sideways building, so that was something we worked on alongside our building instruction people. So that was going back and forth to find a solution that was buildable and strong.
Jamie: Yes because this is pretty important if you are going to invite people to show off those stories inside, you have to give them a reasonable experience handling it and taking things apart and yes that back part was a particularly good challenge for Morten, but he solved it.
Morten: Yes and we have got some really good heads in the team who know the ins and out of the system and everything, how it fits and we also have engineers who can double check whether it works. Then when we have found that out and if we can actually build it like that and in sections as well, because the building instructions guys can tell us if they can do this step and this step. So I had to work closely with them especially on that part, to make sure that the set was buildable. Of course when it’s a 16+ set it helps, as you can get really advanced on the build techniques. So for me that was a really fun challenge as it’s the first 16+ set I’ve worked on.
BricksFanz: Have you had any feedback from, not necessarily LEGO builders, but fans of the vehicle such has bus enthusiasts or anyone like that who know the Bus down to the last screw in the engine?
Morten: Well we haven’t been allowed to talk about it of course, but internally within LEGO, our people who come over to me and are like “I have to get this set” and those who are fans of buses, British vehicles are also coming over to check in on what we are doing, that are definitely saying this is cool.
Jamie: We have a lot of automotive designers within the company too, this wouldn’t be one they would particularly know the ins and outs of, this speaks more to peoples emotions. And so I think it’s the icon we have captured without actually replicating a specific model, it actually represents the style of several buses, so it’s just making sure you’ve got the icon right and that’s where we can have a little fun with the name of stops and stuff like that, we’re doing it with a wink and having a bit of fun. It is a LEGO version of it and I think they were particularly enjoyable to come up with.
Morten: It’s also fun that the scale can vary, it starts with a tyre or maybe this bow piece and stuff and then you get the scale from those starting points and it can vary, because you aren’t stuck to having it minifigure-scale or something like that. So a single element can make the whole build.
BricksFanz: What’s your favourite feature of the whole build? Either in terms of the graphic design, the build itself or elements?
Morten: I would say the spiral staircase, it’s such a nice build, because you keep adding steps and then you lock it off in such good way at the top as well so it creates this really organic spiral staircase and it’s locked in and it doesn’t go anyway because we have placed stops where it makes sense to have stops but it still needs to have a little bit of wiggle room, but not so much that it’s stressing the elements, so when we found that out, as well, that was a really happy joyous moment. I yes I’d say the spiral staircase is my favourite bit.
Jamie: I just like the happy stories, it’s gimmicky I know but I love that the umbrella sets the scene, there’s so many of these little things like the newspaper that adds something.
Morten: Also the front actually how we used the frames and how that’s built and clipped on and getting the clips strong enough and everything to be flush and nice, that also was also a happy moment, so that were several of these so it’s hard to pick one.
The LEGO Creator Expert London Bus will be available worldwide on August 1st with early VIP access from July 17th and you can buy the set right now from the five London-based LEGO Brand Stores. Check out our review of the set right here.