06 November 2023

LEGO® 80113 Family Reunion Celebration: interview with designer Niels Frederiksen

Posted by Caz Mockett
In September, I was lucky enough to attend the Recognised LEGO® Fan Media Days in Billund, Denmark on behalf of New Elementary, along with our guest photographer, Boris Vanrillaer of Stuck in Plastic.

We had the opportunity to talk to Niels Mølgård Frederiksen (above right), Associate Creative Lead for LEGO® Monkie Kid and designer of the latest LEGO® Spring Festival release, 80113 Family Reunion Celebration.

LEGO® Spring Festival 80113 Family Reunion Celebration 
1823 parts
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The transcript of this interview has been edited for clarity and narrative flow. 

©2023 The LEGO Group

New Elementary: There are some play features in this set, but is it aimed more towards being a display piece?

Niels Mølgård Frederiksen: We see this one as a role-playing set, and a lot about story-telling. It’s very much about meeting both the play but also the display.

New E: I think you’ve achieved a really good balance there. Have you been involved with the designs for other Lunar New Year sets?

NMF: Yes and no. Because I’m the associate creative lead for LEGO® Monkie Kid™ and LEGO® Spring Festival, in that regard I’m involved, but this was one I designed solely.

New E: It’s a lovely looking set. What made you decide on the colour scheme? 

NMF: Lots of chat, back and forth, lots of iterations and lots of spraying elements in different colours, and trying things out. 

Xiaodong Wen, our concept designer, is mainland Chinese and has an amazing understanding of Chinese aesthetics, culture and history. If I had just a snippet of that in regards to Danish culture I would be happy! And then we have almost daily communication with our colleagues in our hub in Shanghai; using their insights and knowledge to see how to land this as correctly as possible. It is tricky, because we tend to forget just how big China is; from east to west, there are huge differences in aesthetics and design.

New E: Is this a bit of a hybrid or is it aimed at one specific area?

NMF: No it’s a hybrid. I think that’s the best approach, making it a bit generic, but something that everybody can recognise themselves in.

New elements

©2023 The LEGO Group

New E: I like that new window piece - what made you push for that one to be included rather than just using the regular square ones? (Fence 1 x 4 x 2 Ornamental Asian Lattice with 4 Studs , Design ID 32932.)

NMF: It’s a matter of trying to hit Chinese aesthetics a bit more, whereas the other one derives from LEGO® NINJAGO®, which is not directly but is more based in Japanese aesthetics. Although they are in many ways similar, there are still differences. I think that was the idea both for LEGO Spring Festival, and also for LEGO Monkie Kid where it is also being used, to amp up the aesthetics and differentiate us a bit more.

New E: How long did it take for its development, from deciding that you needed one to it being good to go?

NMF: That’s a good question! A couple of months, probably. There was a bit of back and forth and some different iterations. We tried out a lot of different designs and shapes to see what works best; also because it was something that we really wanted to add to the family. Typically some of the element designers can throw something together in like a day! We can fairly quickly do some iterations, and getting prototypes with 3D prints is way easier. We can also get something that we can try and put into our sketch models quite early, which is quite nice, and helps to speed up the iterations. 

New E: How many sketches do you think you did for this model?

NMF: A few actually. Not as many as I used to, but I found the footprint and then iterated from that one. Let’s say four that were significantly different. I think back in the day when I did Rey’s speeder, I had about 30! A lot of it was done digitally.

 New E: Are there any recoloured elements in this set that you can think of?

NMF: Yes the 1x1x5 pillar, we recoloured that in Sand Green, and then there's a 1x12 in medium nougat. I think that’s it. We were more focussed upon the new elements and putting some novelty into the minifigures.

New E: So the new window is being used in LEGO Monkie Kid, but it is your element? Or was that theirs? 

NMF: We’re the same design team, so it was developed for the team and then used across both, but this one is where it is used the most.

New E: You mentioned earlier that it is used 19 times in the set?

NMF: Yes! So in that regard you could say it was very much developed for this one, but of course, also used in others.

New E: How much co-operation is there between teams when you think you'd like an element in a new colour? Is there much cross-talk about that?

NMF: It varies a bit. We try to have an overview of what’s happening and get new elements into our digital software as soon as possible.

Oh! I’ve just remembered another colour change, a bracket I had to change to reddish brown. Initially I didn’t, because that had been taken by another project. I think they postponed, which meant that this would be released first. Then I own it!

New E: So it’s on your budget and the one that releases first owns it?

NMF: Yes, because it comes down to when it has to be in production.

New E: Is there a list of which elements a designer has owned?

NMF: No, it’s more on project level. So these [fences] are created by LEGO Monkie Kid.

New E: LEGO Monkie Kid has been great for new elements. When you think, “I really can’t do without making a new element,” what’s that process?

NMF: That’s a good question! It varies a lot, actually. I’m probably not the right one to ask because throughout my history, it’s not like I’ve actually asked for a lot of new elements. But now, being part of the creative process and a lead, it is something we try to do pretty early on [in the design process]. 

As soon as we have some sketches, we see if there’s a need for something specific because it would improve the detail or the stability of the build, or for something like LEGO Monkie Kid and the LEGO Spring Festival, because it ties into some aesthetics. So some of them we agree on quite early, saying “this would be nice to do” to build up our library of LEGO Monkie Kid specific elements, and then some are more tied into a specific need for the build. For LEGO Spring Festival, we knew from the start we wanted to do this dragon helmet, because it’s a building tradition.

New E: You’re doing a new helmet every year, aren’t you?

NMF: Exactly. So that one was kind of a given. It is something we need to do fairly early on because the production time for elements is different to when we are designing the sets.

New E: I love that dragon head, it’s amazing! And we also have a new moulded peach?

NMF: It turned out really well. 

New E: How much influence do you have over the new element designs?

NMF: Due to my role, I have a lot, but we have designers in the team who are so much more into the LEGO® System than I am, and so let them have their say on what works. And also, when an element is  tied into specific aesthetics, then we use the voices on the team that know better than I do. I give my input but I try to be the one making all the ends meet, and have the more pragmatic approach in the communication with our element designers and element leads.


New E: Are there any good stories you can tell us about the characters?

NMF: The interesting part about these characters is that some of them have followed us through the sets. The couple were also in the Parade. We play around a bit with that, and them having a romantic dinner on the rooftop, and then we have the family again.

New E: I remember the older couple from one of the first sets.

NMF: Yes, exactly. We had some talk about, should we do the “LEGO® Friends Move” and step up one generation? But I like that we have this family, because this is key in these sets. Chinese New Year is very family-orientated, to a level that most of the rest of us don’t understand, because it is one of those times of the year where they really have the time to sit down, enjoy each other’s company and celebrate together. So therefore we definitely want to have the entire family. 

New E: Oh, this is cool! A space logo with a dragon on the back!

NMF: Yes the upper torsos for the couple, for the waiters, the chef, and the grandad, and daughter and grandma are new, and the head for the dad.


New E: Is there a sticker you think is very important?

NMF: The main sign here, with a small Easter egg to 1932 [the year of the founding of LEGO] is quite nice, but in general the stickers made by our graphic designers are all super nice.

New E: What do the signs mean?

NMF: I need Xiaodong right now! I don’t remember specifically but it’s to do with prosperity or longevity, good luck, good health and good life. They are the typical greetings around New Year. One refers to the Heavenly Realm, so there’s an Easter egg referencing LEGO Monkie Kid, and the same with the karaoke screen - it’s actually Monkie Kid and Mei singing on the screen. There are also two Easter eggs referring to the current two LEGO Spring Festival sets - one is a picture of the Lunar New Year Display (80110) and this one shows the chef and his son visiting the float parade (80111 Lunar New Year Parade).

Details in the model

New E: What’s your favourite part of the model?

NMF: There are a couple actually. One of the things I really enjoy is the fish tank. I like fish, but I don’t have a tank - I wish I had - so I am quite fond of the level of detail I managed to get into it, only being 3 modules deep.

New E: That's crazy actually! Any recoloured fish in there?

NMF: Yes, but not by me! The fish is coming in red now. 

NMF: I’m also fond of the staircase. There were a lot of iterations to that, finding out what would be the best layout for the staircase. I tried both straight and corner, U-shaped and L-shaped and whatnot, but ended up with something that both works aesthetically and takes up as little space as possible.

New E: But it’s still functional.

NMF: Yes! And there is play potential in it. 

NMF: And my last [favourite thing] is the stove where we’ve built it upside down, using the turntables. I quite like the way that ended up.

New E: The other things you have outside the restaurant - the peach stall and the flower market - are they significant in terms of Chinese culture?

NMF: Yes! Flower arrangements and flower markets are quite big around Chinese New Year. The Money Tree is also something tied very much into Chinese culture, resembling wealth and prosperity.

New E: Is that kind of information conveyed in the instructions? There does seem to be quite a lot of cultural background info in those booklets, for people who aren’t from that heritage.

NMF: I haven’t seen the final version, but yes, there will be some information.

New E: How many noodles are in this set, and what flavour are they?

NMF: Seven! Well that flavour depends on where it is located. If they’re a bit spicy, well that’s my favourite!

New E: Are there any personal Easter eggs from you in the set?

NMF: Lime green elements!

New E: You’re Mr Lime Green, are you?

NMF: Yes I am! I think there is lime green under the base, I try always to incorporate some. Lime green has kind of followed me, although I’ve missed it out of some of my LEGO® Star Wars™ sets. I think it ties back to when I had my job interview: I wore lime green sneakers, and it was a job I’d been hunting for years and years, more than a decade.

The future

New E: You probably can’t answer, but could you conceive of more buildings in the line in future?

NMF: Potentially. It is something that we could do, and has been part of the ideation. Whether we will do it, I don’t know yet. Unfortunately there were some late changes due to stability that obstruct [connecting buildings together like the Modulars] a bit, but nothing is impossible. So if we wanted to, I think we could. I had to add a 1x8 tile for the stability of an entire wall, which means we can’t butt [another] one completely up against it, but by having a  pavement or small alley in between, we could continue.

New E: I think city builders are really pleased to have something that is not just Western style architecture. I can see AFOLs adapting this really easily, and expanding their Modular streets. It’s definitely on my shopping list!

New E: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about this model?

NMF: I really enjoyed this, coming from a background with spaceships, dinosaurs and blue people, and having a big passion for architecture and very much also food! But especially architecture; getting to do this one, I really enjoyed it. It’s such a different way for me to build and design.

New E: Thank you very much for your time Niels, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. I look forward to seeing it on the shelves!

NMF: Thank you.

READ MORE: LEGO® ICONS™ review: 10326 Natural History Museum

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  1. Great interview!

    The molded peach is almost certain to turn up in the Lego Animal Crossing theme. The Animal Crossing games typically feature apples, cherries, oranges, peaches, and pears as the main types of fruit, and the sets we've seen so far feature the first three of those (using the classic Bionicle "voodoo ball" for oranges). These peaches would add one more option, and make me wonder whether we might see pears as well...

    The new fence piece is interesting. Slightly less versatile functionally than the rectangular version from Ninjago (since it lacks 3.2mm bars for things to clip to), but another good option for fences, screens, and windows that is more authentic than the Ninjago version.

    And while the set does use stickers for some of the details, I love the new noodle print for the bowls!

  2. Doesn't this month have new stuff? is it a problem with Bricklink, or does Rebrickable need images again?

    1. It does, and there's no problem, but really it's mostly just the Piranha plant, so we don't feel it's worthy of a list... we will include November's in December's list.