02 January 2020

LEGO® Speed Champions 2020: Designer Interview with Christopher Stamp

Posted by Admin
Way back in May 2019, we spoke to LEGO® Speed Champions Design Manager Specialist Christopher Leslie Stamp in Billund where he thrilled us with a secret glimpse at the 2020 line and its new elements. Now that the sets are available, we can share our interview with you.

Hello Chris, how long have you worked on the Speed Champions line?

I was on the design team for the first launch, so I was lucky enough to work on those products. I was the main designer on the second launch and I worked on several of the third launch. And that's when we actually first started looking into the 911 Porsche. But we don't just pick a car and do it straightaway. For example, although we started looking into the Porsche in 2016, we thought we'd keep for 2017. Actually, we kept it until 2018 because we kept working on it for so long, and then I went off and I did Ninjago for a little bit.
What did you do on Ninjago?

I was heavily involved in The Ninjago Movie and worked on a lot of those models; I did the Destiny's Bounty, Ninjago City one and two. So mechs, things like this. Very different. And then came back [to Speed Champions] as the design lead. So I still design some of the products and I'm involved with all of the products as well from a design direction and go through all of the builds. And now, on to the future! We’ve evolved for 2020. One of the things we do with Speed Champions is that we're always trying to include new types of cars, but also new types of brands. So we've got a supercar, we've got drifting for the first time, a Nissan for the first time, a rally icon with Audi, then we've got Lamborghini which has been a huge fan request for many years: their sports GT version, and then we've got the Urus which is their racing SUV, their biggest thing in 2019 and 2020. It's also the first time we've ever worked with Jaguar.

And you have a beautiful display of the new 2020 moulds!

All of these elements come in on 1st January. As you can see they are still prototypes so it’s still super-preliminary with spray-painted elements because we haven’t got them moulded yet.

How did the change from 6-wide to 8-wide vehicles come about?

Authenticity is very key for us. We also spend a lot of time listening to our consumers, and listening to the fans. So that could be watching YouTube videos; that could be reading the news online; that could be reading views on – anywhere we can get information and feedback, we’re like a sponge for it. We want to know how well things are received and if we can do better next time. We are designing these for the fans, so if we were to ignore them that wouldn’t really get us anywhere because if we just create vehicles that nobody is interested in… well, what’s the need? What we’re trying to do is create things that people are really interested in, that people are going to enjoy playing with or even displaying.

So what was the feedback that led to this change?

From day one people said our cars are maybe a bit too thin. So let’s focus on that. From day one people said, “okay, Speed Champions cars? I like them but… they have one or two…STICKERS here and there?

I hadn’t noticed!

Ha, people keep saying it and I don’t know what they mean! No, but of course what going up in scale allows is that we can get those proportions correct which is more authentic, we can include two minifigures so you can actually get a driver and a navigator if its rally, you can do asymmetrical vehicles if the driver’s on one side of the car and the other side doesn’t even have a seat, you can create an interior – something we haven’t done previously. You can get a handbrake and a gearstick which we’ve never done before because you’ve always had a central driving position. You can put the steering wheel on the left or the right depending on which part of the world you’re in. That’s kind of what we were looking for because yes, these cars are normally seen from the outside but if you’re playing with it at home and it’s a kid’s favourite toy, the inside is important as well. Or at least, that’s one thing that’s important to us.

One of the things we achieved very well with the 6-wide is that it’s a toy. It isn’t a die-cast. It has a lot of charm. The good thing about the 8-wide is that it’s still a toy because kids can still pick this up; it’s not too big that they can’t play with this on the walls and the kitchen floor and the ceiling. But then when you’ve got them on your shelf and you collect them – and we know that kids collect these, they line them all up on their shelves – they’re a lot more presentable now because they’re even more authentic. That’s very important to us because – going back to the stickers – yes some of these cars, like if they’re racing and they’ve got liveries, they’ll still have several stickers. We can’t avoid that: it’s race cars, the real things are covered in stickers. But by going up in size you create more space for yourself to use bricks instead of stickers to capture certain details. And that is where we are wanting to be. This is just the first launch; who knows where the future’s going to take us?

Can you explain the thinking behind the development of this big new chassis piece?

The chassis, I am so proud to present to people. We went through 22 versions. I still keep them, I keep all of them. The good thing about this that we didn’t want to a new chassis every year for every car. Certain cars have different-sized wheel bases; certain cars are different heights; certain are longer and certain are shorter. So what we wanted to do was design one that looked like a “one size fits all”.

For example, the Audi, once you put the wheel arches in, you get only six modules between each wheel because of the wheel arch. What you can also then do is, you can extend it and it's designed so you can put a bracket over on the studs. So then you've got seven in the middle; the Lamborghini Huracán has this. If you do the same at the other end you get eight.

We don’t just make any element we can think of – we need to think long term and we need to think across projects. So this chassis was designed for Speed Champions but this could be used in IPs. There’s nothing to stop Ninjago using this if they want two drivers next to each other. Okay, it’s for car but maybe they’ll use it in a plane? Or maybe a speedboat or a rocket ship. The element needs to be as reusable as possible, and this is reusable across the whole portfolio. It can still be used five or ten years down the line.

Are those Technic holes in the base?

They are, they’re the same as we have on existing chassis. The reason we do that is thinking not just about building but about ‘re-buildability’ with these elements because yes, you want to build with them but what about about when you want to take them apart? For example what you can do with [the row of offset studs in] this chassis, if you want to get back in System, you can use jumper plates or you can use plates. That’s why these are hollow studs; you can build it up and then you’re back in System. But if you put a whole line of plates in there, how do you get that out with a brick separator? What you do is, if you’ve got a cross axle you can just pop them out. That’s why we go through 20 versions of this element. Some of the other elements aren’t as exciting! If it’s a brand new thing like the chassis – that is like a product in itself. It’s really exciting.

Perhaps the 2x3 curved slope is an example of a not-so-exciting element! I see you have it on this other baseplate of elements – was you guys that introduced it?

Yes, this baseplate shows the history of Speed Champions up to 2019, year by year in the grey sections. Actually, I personally spent ages on that 2x3 slope, and while it looks like such a simple element, even a simple element like that goes through so many discussions.

And yet it's just the double-width of an existing element, the 1x3!

Absolutely. We took it to quite an extreme and then we pulled it back to something quite similar to what people already recognise. I think there was about seven or eight different versions of just that element because we had so many internal conversations about how many cutouts for plates should be under that curve.

I remember seeing a lot of prototypes for slope bricks in the late 1990s that never came out, that had two- or maybe three-tiered cutouts like the 2x4 curved slope has.

Absolutely. When we develop elements we have what we call internally 'element families'. So for example an angle on a plate lines up with the same angle on other plates because LEGO is all in-system. So we have certain rules and stuff. Like these two wheel arches, obviously you're in the same family but they're also very similar from a design perspective.

Why was the decision to change to this design taken? Because they are very similar!

Oh, we keep the old one as well – we still use that on new cars. But what we did with this one is, because we started doing a few more older vehicles, what you'll find is with older cars is that their body tends to curve under the car a lot more, that more '60s look, kind of streamlined rolled metal and you can't get that with the new ones. The new cars kind of go quite close to the ground for aerodynamics. This allowed us actually curve under the car. We did that for Ferrari in 2018 in the Ultimate Garage set.

And then a new one again in 2019, which is a lot slimmer?

Yeah, basically because we knew we wanted the Mini. We'd built the smallest Speed Champions car we ever did, arguably against the hot rods, but we can probably say the Mini was slightly smaller because of the wheels. We built so many versions of it. And LEGO obviously is a blocky medium, couldn't get that curvature, that cute look. We could get it 80% there but around the wheels we just couldn't crack it. So this was a perfect opportunity for a new wheel arch. When we started investigating, in your mind you think there are so many LEGO pieces so you think, "there'll be a wheel arch for that wheel, because the wheel exists!", but wasn't. And that size wheel we knew was perfect for that size car. So this is the first wheel arch we made that fits that wheel, because they're all they're all bigger. Even the LEGO City wheel arch, which is like a two by two brick with just the outside, they're all following the same 4-wide style.

A lot of people were frustrated that it has a 2x2 plate to connect rather than 1x2, was that simply for stability?

That's the only way we could build it. Because the car itself is 5-wide, it doesn't follow the standard "even" look. So to actually build that in, this was the only way that you could actually do it, because then it allows you to go over the wheel and then connect behind the wheel. So it follows the same style as others because they're all 2-wide, even the City ones.

And then, this other new 2019 element, the wheel rim, why was that deemed necessary?

We invented this element for two reasons. One thing we get questioned about by a lot of our partners is whether we can decorate the tyres. And we say, from a quality standpoint, that's something we don't do because they're rubber and whatever you decorate will just wear off straightaway. And that's not a quality that we want to give – to child consumers especially – you play with the car once and it fades away. So that element allows us to get some branding on the wheels; it's not 100% accurate branding because, you know, different IPs and different partner logos. But it still looks quite authentic. Because no matter what that word is, that yellow line – especially when the wheel is turning – is the iconic part. But also you could use it for example in a car where you don't have decoration and it gives you the impression of wider wheels. This allowed us to get that effect in a subtle detail but it also allows for an element that could be used again as a ceiling fan or a chandelier or something in a Creator Expert model or an engine in an Avengers jet.

So that's one reality of designing a new element; it's not just making sure it's got a rationale for your theme?

As you can see across the Speed Champions assortment, a lot of the elements that we've previously done are very much 'System' elements. That's a lot to do with capturing details, but that's also because we want one element that's going to work across several different brands, several different products. Because what works for McLaren also needs to work for Ferrari or a Porsche.

And so each of those cars has to meet expectations for people really into cars, yet you have to maintain consistency?

Yeah, exactly. One of the things is, these cars should be appealing to kids who don't know what the brands are and just think these cars are cool. But one thing about teaming up with such strong partners is that these cars are appealing to the people who are such fans of Porsche and Ferrari. So if you don't get those details right, it's not really the best tribute because then you could do another car that looks similar but isn't a Porsche, so that's not the kind of attention to detail that we really pride ourselves on.

You may be wondering why we discussed older elements when there were other 2020 elements to chat about: sadly, the interview recording cut out!

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  1. The article is pretty interesting but there are quite a few mistakes and the pacing is very odd. It's also an old interview so it really comes out as a rushed post that didn't get any check reading or corrections...

    1. I share your frustration with it being "old"... we were forbidden to post it before jan 1, despite the cars being released weeks ago, and others posting images of the prototypes at that time. I'll take the rest of your criticism on the chin as admittedly my enthusiasm for the whole thing disappeared after they refused to lift the embargo sooner, so no I guess it didnt receive the same amount of polish as other interviews.

  2. Great interview, I love the in-depth focus on the parts and the motivations behind them. I was really surprised to learn that so many parts were introduced because of the speed champions line.

    1. Me too! Some great universal ones there among the novelty ones.

  3. You lost the audio from the back half of the interview? Oh, dude...that sucks. I once got offered the chance to interview Nathan Furst (son of Stephen Furst of Animal House, Babylon 5, and St. Elsewhere fame) when he scored the first Bionicle movie, and it ended up being a phone interview. I'd never done anything like that before, so I first had to go find a headset that would allow me to feed the audio from my home phone into my computer where I could record it, and then figure out how to make everything work on very short notice. I got lucky and it went off perfectly, but I was paranoid the entire time that I'd lose the entire interview. Doing it by e-mail would have been _sooooooo_ much less stressful at the time, but the whole thing was being arranged through some PR firm that I'd never heard of before or since, and they didn't present me with a list of options.

    1. It was in the middle, perhaps why others found this transcript disjointed. The room was so noisy I held my phone, and like a dim wit put my finger over the microphone for a bit :( Next year we will use two phones!!

    2. If this is something you plan to do regularly, it might be worth exploring options that would allow you to use actual microphones (either clip-on or hand-held). There are fully digital equivalents to the old micro-cassette recorders that news reporters used to rely on, but I suspect by now there have to be options that can be used with a smartphone. If nothing else, the better the clarity of the recording, the easier it must be to transcribe the interview.

  4. Nice Article Many Thanks Tim

  5. 22 versions!? Wow. So the holes are indeed there to make it easier to remove parts that are put inside, makes sense even though it doesn't look good.
    I'd love to read more about the creation of new parts and the thinking behind it!

    1. It doesn't really take much to produce a pile of rejected prototypes. One of the most famous ones to come out of Billund was a multi-cavity tooling for a 2x4 brick that demonstrated a few rejected alternatives to the tubes found on the bottom of all 2x bricks (one had X-shaped bits like the old 2x2 round tile, while another had a cluster of what looked like standard bar-diameter rods). Every minor tweak, like adding a bit of reinforcement, or tweaking the amount of clutch, and you've got another one to add to the pile. And that's just for structural integrity. For this, they were probably playing around with how to make the element as versatile as possible, hence the ability to lengthen or shorten the wheel base. The holes are one thing that I expect was _not_ responsible for increasing that total, as we've seen other parts in the past that had the same problem. There's a 4x10 car base for sets in the "4+" range that has a 2x6x1 pocket in the center. It's surrounded on all four sides by brick-height walls, and has three Technic holes in the center. Apparently if you put a 1x2 or 2x2 in the very end, there's enough clearance for a Type II brick separator that you don't need two more Technic holes. A number of years ago, there was also a LEGO Wiimote game controller that had channels that you could build into. At the top, there was a sideways L-shaped cavity, and below the D-pad there was a huge, inverted A-shaped cavity. Since both of these were surrounded on all sides by a raised surface, and there was nowhere to put Technic holes that would allow you to push them up from below, they added one channel to the side of each cavity that allowed you to get in there with a minifig crowbar (supplied with the Wiimote, as a tiny tile-only alternative to the brick separator). The design is imperfect, however, as it's really only set up for tiles and other similar parts that have a lip around the bottom edge that the crowbar can catch on. If you fill these cavities with the right combination of plates, they will be nearly impossible to remove, short of latching on to the studs with pliers.

    2. I myself would find it very interesting to see all the prototypes. I myself am not a fan of the switch to 8 wide (I build 5-7 wide cars/trucks), I am quite impressed by the design of the new chassis.

  6. "....we're always trying to include new types of cars, but also new types of brands. So we've got a supercar, we've got drifting for the first time, a Nissan......"

    Wait a sec...drifting? Was this a misquote or is there an upcoming 8-wide drift vehicle for 2020?

    1. There's mention of a Nissan right after the line about drifting. I don't know if I've seen pics on any of the AFOL sites, but I just got the latest S@H catalog in the mail today and there's a Nissan GT-R NISMO. The set description on S@H confirms that it's based on the car with the "record for the fastest drift".

    2. Thanks! Yeah that seems to be it. I was hoping maybe we'd get an 8-wide speed champions AE86 or something.