Did you know that you could build things out of LEGOs for a living? We didn't either, which is why we caught up with local builder Duane Hess to talk about his unlikely career. It's probably one of the coolest jobs we've ever heard of, and while it certainly takes a ton of creativity and ingenuity, we imagine it would be a remarkably rewarding experience. So we asked how he did it.
Westword:Tell us a little about your history with Lego building.
Duane Hess: My history of building with LEGO bricks started when I was young, at about 5 or 6 years of age. At that point, all I had to build with were some hand-me-downs and just a small number of sets. As I grew up, I collected as many LEGO sets as I could get my hands on. As an adult, I was able to buy more sets and continued to build whatever came out of my imagination.
Why did you decide to start working as a builder and when did you know it was what you wanted to do?
When I was about 10 years old my favorite thing to do was to build with LEGO blocks. I can still remember vividly a dream that I had where I worked for the LEGO company as a set designer. I thought it was pretty intense for a 10-year old to have a dream such as that.
As I got older, I realized the odds of landing that particular position were very slim, and my life took a decidedly "normal" direction. I relegated the LEGO passion to that of a hobbyist, until I was contacted to be a consultant for NetDevil. After much deliberation, albeit quick deliberation, I left my job and came to work in the video game industry. I had worked for NetDevil as a LEGO model designer for two years on LEGO Universe when the LEGO company offered to bring me on board. I made the transition from NetDevil to the LEGO company and continue to build models for LEGO Universe to this day.
How would you recommend someone get started in your field?
There are many areas of study that will help a person to be a better candidate for my position, most of which can be started at an early age. One of the most basic is to become as familiar as possible with the product -- which means building lots of stuff. A solid foundation in basic math and geometry will help. Any studies that are geared toward the 3D environment will be a huge benefit, such as drafting or sculpting. My career path was geared toward mechanical design and logistics.
Another point that helped me communicate my skills during the entire interview process was to have a portfolio of my creations. I would document what I built using photos and LEGO building tools and post that information to online forums. By doing that, I was able to capture nearly ten years of my building history showing what I was capable of doing and demonstrating how I was able to learn new building techniques.
Can you describe an average day?
An average day for me is not too much different from what other people experience with an office-related job, with the exception of the environment. I come in to work, get a cup of coffee and check e-mail just like many other people. What's different is that I have a model shop with millions of LEGO elements to build with. We have a very talented group of people who think of ideas for LEGO Universe. It's my job to turn their ideas into a buildable LEGO model using all the varieties of LEGO elements at my disposal.
What's the best part about your job?
The best part of my job, and the part that I enjoy the most, is talking to LEGO fans, whether they are a child or a child-like adult. There is energy and a passion that is presents that embodies the pure creative aspect of what the LEGO product is about. The look of pure joy on their faces and the excitement in their voices as they describe to me what they are building and the stories that they have created never grows old. It's that excitement that motivates me to build the best models I am capable of.
Anything you're particularly proud or embarrassed of?
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I'm proud just to be a part of the LEGO family. I've been able to take what was a passionate hobby for me and turn it into a full-time job. I know there are many other people who have the natural building talent to be able to do what I do. I just feel extremely lucky to be one of the few chosen to do it.