Building a career out of Lego

By Alan Yu

You may have thought Lego was just for fun, but some people have managed to turn it into a full-time job

By Alan Yu |

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Canadian Duncan Lauder still remembers making up epic stories in his head while playing with his Lego sets and mini-figures. Now he has a job where he gets paid to help other children tell their Lego sagas using stop-motion animation.

The 31-year-old is an instructor at Bricks4Kidz, a group that runs after-school programmes and summer camps where children can learn everything from simple mechanics to animation and robotics using Lego.

Lauder's twin sister Carley is also an instructor. She says a lot of their friends with more lucrative jobs tell them they're jealous of her work.

"They're envious of what we do, not because of financial reasons or clout, or anything like that, but really because I think it's a lot of children's dream job, so it is quite rewarding … to say that I professionally spend my days with Lego," she says. "My inner six-year-old approves."

A documentary film about Lego and how it became such a global phenomenon is coming out this summer in the US. But Lego is also popular in Hong Kong - the Lauder twins aren't the only people to have built a career out of their love for it.

Artist Andy Hung Chi-kin has a more complex relationship with Lego. The 35-year-old used to be a stock trader, and would play with Lego to pass the time when he stayed up late watching the US stock market.

"It's like making a sketch of something, but in 3D," Hung says. "You can build something that truly belongs to you. What we really enjoy … is creating something original. For example, a friend of mine is working on a diorama of a public housing estate. No one has done that yet."

Now he orders Lego in bulk, and spends more than 10 hours a day building dioramas for events like the annual Anicon, and malls.

A few years ago, he moved his work to an industrial building, which he shares with friends who are fellow Lego enthusiasts.

"That left more free space at home, and so after my daughter was born, she had a place to sleep," Hung says with a smile.

Some of his work takes hundreds of thousands of bricks. They include the old Legislative Council building; the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront; Tiananmen Square; a canal district in Copenhagen, with rolling Lego waves; and an award-winning scene depicting the world of Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbour Totoro. He says that last one means a lot to him, because it made him see that he could make a living out of his passion.

Hung goes to bed at 3am or 4am, and gets to work in the late morning or early afternoon. His wife is a graphic designer and helps him design some of his work, including a series of Lego mosaics hanging in his studio.

Hung is the first certified Lego professional in Hong Kong, and one of just 14 in the world. These are adult fans who have turned their hobby into a paying job. That means Hung gets a discount when ordering Lego, and goes to meetings with fellow Lego professionals, and Lego company employees.

These master builders are serious fans. An Australian Lego professional once built a cruise ship model called the "Lego Love Boat" which used more than 250,000 bricks, and had more than 450 passengers on board.

Hung says he has always fantasised about building with Lego for a living, although now that he does, he has practical concerns to worry about.

"People always tell me how cool it is that I turned my hobby into a career. To that I say, 'But then you don't have your hobby any more'. Now it's not something I can do for fun … Now I have to satisfy the needs of clients, it's a lot more work."

But he can't help dreaming about Lego all the time, although, he says: "I no longer have any Lego at home - apart from some for my daughters to play with." There really is no escape from the blocks that have built his life.