Tai Freligh chats with LEGO Masters judge Jamie Berard…
Jamie Berard is a Senior Design Manager and Creative Lead at The LEGO Company where he is responsible for working on the LEGO Architecture and LEGO Ideas lines as well as a variety of products for adults, teens and super fans. He is a life-long LEGO fan and has been an employee of The LEGO Company for more than 14 years. He is also a judge on the U.S. version of LEGO Masters. With season two premiering on June 1st, Flickering Myth’s Tai Freligh caught up with him about his long tenure working for LEGO in Denmark, what drew him to LEGO, lessons learned from season one and some of the things he looks for when judging the contestants creations.
You’ve spent most of your working life employed by LEGO in Denmark. How did you end up working for them?
I’ve been a lifelong LEGO fan, so it was always a dream of mine to someday find my way into the company. That opportunity came back in 2005 when I was displaying my LEGO rides at a LEGO fan convention in Washington DC called Brickfest. It just happened to be the year that the owner, CEO and some top leadership from the LEGO group attended the event as an opportunity to better understand the LEGO fan community. Little did I know that my conversations with one of the managers ended up being my job interview. He asked me to try a three-month internship with them which then turned into a full-time job. It really was a dream come true.
What was your first introduction to LEGO and what was it about the toy that appealed to you and still appeals to you to this day?
Ever since I got my first LEGO gift as a small child, I have always loved the fact that no matter what I got, I could always make it into anything my imagination could come up with. The beauty of that is that it really didn’t matter so much which sets I got because they all had something interesting that I could use for other creations. It was this open-ended play that excited me as a child and still excites me as an adult.
Is it difficult to go from being a behind the scenes kind of guy to a judging role on network television?
In some ways it is very familiar and in others completely new. In my role as a design lead, I’m quite used to working with a team of really talented designers who look to me to give feedback and make tough decisions. What’s really different with the show is that there are millions of people looking over my shoulder when I’m giving that feedback and making those really tough decisions.
Have you watched the UK version of the show and if so, how is the U.S. version different?
Yes, I’ve seen it and even helped work behind the scenes for the first season as a challenge advisor. The UK version was really sweet. It involved a mix of children and adults which immediately created a more casual feel than the highly competitive US version. Some of the UK challenges were outside like making a miniature golf putting green, but many of the other challenges were more like the US show like making a functional amusement park or large brick-built sculptures. In many ways the creative fundamentals of the show were fairly similar, but the competition side of the show was definitely amped-up for the US version.
What are you looking for when you judge contestants’ entries?
The tricky part of bringing together some of the best builders in America is that almost everything that they make is probably going to look amazing. But when we ask these extremely talented builders to step out of their comfort zone and make something they’ve never done before, we want to see that they fully embraced that specific challenge and delivered on what we asked—even if it’s not something they’re usually comfortable building. Unfortunately, when everyone is amazing, it’s not good enough to just make a beautiful model. It’s equally important that they can try new things and push themselves to achieve the impossible.
Are you taking lessons learned from season one into this season in terms of how you and Amy interact with the contestants and provide feedback?
Most definitely. Amy and I learned a lot in season 1. We did our best to provide constructive feedback, but learned just how important it was to be super-clear and consistent in our judging criteria. It’s so easy to just fall in love with a model and get caught up in the emotion of the moment. But we also need to make sure that teams are growing and that viewers at home really understand our thoughts and decisions along the way.
Does watching how the contestants work through their design approach on challenges inform how you approach new product lines or designs for LEGO?
Watching the contestants work is super inspiring. It’s jaw-dropping to see what they can accomplish in such a short period of time. We definitely are already thinking of ways to channel some of this design thinking into our building boosts where we come up with all kinds of fun product ideas back in Denmark.
How are the challenges this season going to be different from last year?
We’re really pushing the limit of what our builders are capable of. The first season inspired a lot of outrageously talented builders to apply for season two, so that helped us be even more ambitious with the challenges we created. People at home are going to be blown away by things they never imagined could be built with LEGO bricks.
Any particular challenges you are most looking forward to seeing how the contestants do?
Our fashion challenge was so much fun. The creations were like nothing we’ve ever seen before. It not only showed a whole new side of our builders, but it also brought out a really playful side of us as judges and Will as a fashion icon.
Can you tell us about any new LEGO projects you are designing for release soon?
We’ve been launching all kinds of new products for adults lately which have really pushed the boundaries of what people might think is possible with LEGO bricks. We recently launched the 9,036 piece 10276 Colosseum which is the largest LEGO set ever produced. But we’ve also done something completely different with our botanical collection which includes the 10280 Flower Bouquet, 10281 Bonsai Tree and a soon to be released 10289 Bird of Paradise potted plant.
Hosted by actor and producer Will Arnett, Season Two of LEGO Masters premieres Tuesday, June 1 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX, bringing imagination, design and creativity to life when teams of LEGO enthusiasts go head-to-head, with infinite possibilities and an unlimited supply of LEGO bricks. Once again, teams of two will compete against each other in even more ambitious brick-building challenges – including an earthquake tower challenge, a demolition derby, a LEGO fashion show and more – to be crowned the country’s most talented amateur LEGO builders. In each episode, Arnett, alongside expert Brickmasters and LEGO employees Amy Corbett and Jamie Berard, will encourage the builders, introduce incredible challenges and put their creativity and skills to the test. The competing pairs who impress the Brickmasters the most will progress to the next round, until the finale, during which the top teams will face off for a $100,000 cash prize, the ultimate LEGO trophy and the grand title of LEGO Masters.
Jamie Berard is Senior Design Manager and Creative Lead at The LEGO Company where he is responsible for working on the LEGO Architecture and LEGO Ideas lines as well as a variety of products for adults, teens and super fans. He is a life-long LEGO fan and has been an employee of The LEGO Company for more than 14 years. Before joining LEGO, Jamie was part of the local group New England LEGO Users Group (NELUG), where he worked on several larger-than-life projects, including a 100,000-piece LEGO mosaic of the Boston skyline. He served as a foreman on the Millyard Project, which, at its completion, was the largest permanent minifigure scale display in the world. In 2004, Jamie was a finalist to become the next Master Model Builder for LEGOLAND California and served as a Technical Judge for the FIRST LEGO League World Finals in Atlanta, GA. He was hired to work for the company in 2005 after displaying functional amusement park rides at a LEGO fan event in Washington, D.C. Since joining LEGO, he has been responsible for designing dozens of complex LEGO models, including the 4,000+ piece Big Ben and the 4,000+ piece Assembly Square Modular Building sets, which are available for purchase to fans worldwide. Berard is originally from Boston but has lived in Denmark for 14 years while working at LEGO Headquarters.
Many thanks to Jamie Berard for taking the time for this interview.
PHOTO CREDITS: FOX