14 June 2020

LEGO® Brick Sketches: Interview with Chris McVeigh

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Chris McVeigh, now a LEGO® Designer after many years as a freelance creative and fan, spoke to us at Fan Media Days about the new range just announced: LEGO Brick Sketches.

Chris, can you start by giving us a bit of a rundown on how this new series of models that you originally designed as a fan came to be an official product? Did you bring it to LEGO or did they suggest it to you? Because a few people have been like, “oh, we saw that coming. That's why TLG hired him…"

Chris: It certainly wasn't like that! Everything I've done with the company has been by the standard processes... there hasn't been any anything that's just like "hey yeah, let's do this because we like what you do”. So it was me who brought it to the company. When you first get to LEGO, every day, every week, it's a new adventure. So after I had been there a couple of months, people started to get excited about this event. It’s what we call Creative Boost, and it's where we designers can propose different ideas and whatnot. And I thought, I don't have time, I'm invested in what I'm doing right now, I’ll just have to wait until the next one... but towards the end of week, I said to myself, no, just remake some of your Brick Sketches!

Remake? You didn’t have the ones you made earlier?

Chris: Well, I didn't bring any of my stuff with me [from Canada] so I had to remake everything. I couldn't just run home and grab them and set them up. So I remade a few and submitted them as part of this internal process that we have. And I was very fortunate enough that they saw merit in the idea, and then we started to roll forward with it a bit after that.

Did you just follow them letter for letter or did you make them with new elements?

Chris: I had LDD copies of most of my files, so I grabbed a bunch of them and just put them together as fast as I could. It was really it was very last minute pitch.

I'm guessing it was a little outside of the usual for the company to figure out a line to suit the idea?

Chris: Those weren't really discussions that I was privy to so I'm not sure what what I can say on these things. But it ended up over at LEL [Licensing & Extended Line], and Mel Caddick, myself and Kayleigh Kirby sat down and we had a couple of conversations about defining what Brick Sketches would be, as an official product.

Are you allowed recolours in LEL?

Chris: That varies from project to project. So it's not exactly the same as over my main department. I can't really tell you specifically about that.

Are there any recolours in the final sets?

Chris: No, best as I can recall every part that I used is already existing, I think. That's actually not that difficult for me because, of course, coming from outside the company, you get inside, and you're still in this mindset of "oh, you know, this doesn't exist this colour, so I can't use it." You don't really think like, "well, I could just… I could just change that colour!” So I've gotten used to that now but you know the first couple of months it was a very interesting thing for me to wrap my head around that, you know, there was some flexibility.

What other kind of stuff like that – being the fan and then "oh, wait I'm LEGO now” – has cropped up since you got there?

Chris: Well as you know I used to write for New Elementary, and I was very interested in new parts and recolours! I still fondly remember scanning any images that the company released to see what interesting new elements I could find. It’s a bit different now that I’m inside the company because obviously I know about most of the new elements that are in the pipeline. That's good for me as a designer, but I definitely miss that excitement of being surprised by what’s coming.

I guess it must have been an exciting moment when you arrived though, seeing a backlog of new elements and things that were yet to be introduced publicly?

Chris: It was amazing, and a lot to take in at once. My mind immediately started spinning, so many possibilities. That’s tapered off now, of course, but on occasion I am still surprised by an awesome new part.

Are there any elements now available that you put into those sketches, that weren't in the originals?

Chris: Ah yes. That’s one of the fun things about revisiting older Brick Sketches! There’s a couple of the new wedge plates that are in both Batman and in the First Order Stormtrooper, and I recall thinking ”Oh my god, I can use this right here!” It’s funny to think, but back when I started creating Brick Sketches there weren’t any small wedge plates or corner tiles. There’s just so many parts now that allow me to add nuance to these characters. If you look at the Batman Brick Sketch, you can see very subtle detail where the cape comes over the shoulder, then you've got the quarter tile just kind of bending it down. A very simple detail that a couple years ago wouldn't have been possible. So revisiting the Brick Sketches and figuring out how I can add extra detail with new parts, well, that’s a lot of fun.

You always struck me as an AFOL who wanted to follow the LEGO way of doing things. Were there other adjustments that you needed to make to meet LEGO standards?

Chris: Exactly. So there wasn't anything specific that I needed to do to meet the company's standards. It was more about sitting down with Mel Caddick and Kayleigh Kirby and deciding what Brick Sketches should “be”. Outside the company, I'd already established a couple of core things that were the Brick Sketch DNA. The first was the size: 12 [modules] wide and 16 tall. The challenge is how much detail, how much nuance, can you squeeze onto such a small canvas? The second was a nod to my [marker sketch] inspiration: cut corners that are meant to look like a background that hasn't been fully coloured in. And the third thing was that the face is always looking directly straight ahead.

How did the concept develop from there?

Chris: One thing that we decided, very quickly, is that most characters would have shoulders. I think this was a good evolution of Brick Sketches, and it’s always been necessary with a character like Batman who doesn't really exist without the cowl. Every Batman sketch I’ve created has had shoulders. We chose to carry this forward to other characters, so the Joker has shoulders, the First Order Stormtrooper has shoulders, and BB-8 has most of his “ball body” anyway. It was a fun thing to add that extra detailing. The other thing – and I don't know if anybody's noticed this yet – but we changed the coloured backgrounds from plates to tiles to give a bit of texture variation. Almost all my original Brick Sketches just had regular plates as a backing, but once I had swapped in tiles I was like, "Yeah, I think that's a good evolution."

And how about the actual faces, have you evolved those?

Chris: We decided to standardise human or humanoid faces at 10 wide. The original Batman was eight wide, and that was in part because I wanted to show more shoulder. With other characters I would just vary them as necessary. So we decided to standardise it at 10 wide for humanoids, which made sense. It allowed me to completely reinvent the Batman. And it gave me the flexibility to put all that detail into the Joker. Of course, it needs to vary for non-humanoids. I mean BB-8 wouldn’t really work with his head at 10 wide, and many other characters have vastly different head-to-body ratios. But I think for humanoids it's a really good starting point. As it turns out, many of my original Brick Sketches already conformed to that head width; it was only a few odd ducks like my original Batman that didn't fit that mould.

It sets Brick Sketches up as a sort of sub-brand like BrickHeadz, do you think it could have that sort of longevity?

Chris: Well, I can't comment on future products, but I definitely feel that we're putting this out there with the best of intents.

How do you how do you feel about a torrent of AFOL-created Brick Sketches now appearing? Was anybody doing them back when you made the originals?

Chris: A handful of people did experiment with the format, yes. I think it's one of those things that kind of breathes life into the format, I mean the sheer amount of BrickHeadz fan models is overwhelming. That people are inspired by the format is really more important than anything else. And I'm hoping that's what happens with Brick Sketches, as well. I've seen a couple already pop up, which has been very encouraging for me.

‘How is this model going to look on the box’ is usually a very early conversation that product designers have. How much involvement do you or have you had with packaging of your models?

Chris: I guess it's always something that's there in the background when you're designing a model. I got into the habit before I was hired, when I was developing my own custom models. I was constantly thinking “How will this photograph? How can this be presented?”. The perfect example of that are the Christmas ornaments that I designed before joining the company, which were a real challenge to photograph. An ornament on a tree kind of gets lost in the deep shadows of the branches, and not all geometric shapes can be conveyed well in a picture. So I started designing ornaments that would photograph well. I think this approach, this line of thinking, has continued since joining the company.

Ornament © 2015 Chris McVeigh
Did your design background inform how the actual LEGO Brick Sketches packaging would look?

Chris: On that I had no involvement.

So, obviously there's nothing you’re allowed to talk about re Creator Expert… or whatever you call your team these days. That is all to come!

The one thing I can say about that is; it's been extremely rewarding for me to work with that team. And I'm so anxious to continue that. But that tells you nothing about new products, of course!

Thanks to Chris and the team at LEGO AFOLET for this interview. We will have more Fan Media Days interviews for you soon!

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1 comment:

  1. It was nice to get more background on the Brick Scetches sets, as well as the designer and his thought process! Great article!