Lego hobby turned into a career
Planning on visiting the new Legoland Florida theme park opening this weekend in Winter Haven? You can read my preview of the place here. But what most intrigued me during my visit was how Bill Vollbrecht’s story should inspire the kids. The high school graduate and former mailman who’s never been to engineering school helmed the vision for Legoland Florida. How did he get here? He started as model maker.
Vollbrecht, 40, got his first Legoland job because he’s one of the many Adult Fans of Legos, a community of avid grownup Lego fans who hold conventions, publish magazines and spend their time coming up with fantastic Lego designs. He worked as a Lego designer in California and worked his way up through the company before being tapped to oversee the Florida theme park. We think he should be nominated for king of the geeks. But before the coronation, we had a few questions for him:
What’s your work history with Lego?
I worked as a mailman for several years before getting my dream job as a model designer at Legoland California. I did some drawings for some park attractions here and there and was eventually offered the job of park designer at LLC (Legoland California). I did that for more than a year designing the Land of Adventure zone and the first Legoland Water Park. I was then asked to join the Legoland development team to do the design for Legoland Malaysia. While working on the plans of LLM, the opportunity arose to purchase Cypress Gardens and I came onto this project as the senior project designer.
What’s the hardest illusion to create with Lego bricks?
The biggest challenge with building Lego models is to create round curved shapes out of square and rectangular bricks. The first thing a model designer learns is how to build a round rolling ball!
Was this Lego building hobby something you took up as a kid? Were you the kind that used a kit or created your own illusions?
I loved Lego as a child! I would build a set at least once, then would take it apart and use all of my bricks to create things out of my imagination.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever made?
A life-sized saxophone. It was crazy to try and get not only the organic shape, but all the button and levers! Very complex, but it turned out well. (Check it out here. It's a wonder to behold)
What are you most proud of, either at the park or in your personal collection of Lego creations?
I am the most proud of LEGOLAND Florida! Everything came together so well. I really put my heart and soul into the design of the park.
Your team designed a mini Tampa, Miami, Everglades. What was the hardest part of that?
In Miami, the South Beach Art Deco hotels. We had to find some really rare bricks to get the signature pastel colors of the real buildings just right.
I swear I recognize characters in those street scenes of Tampa and South Beach. Did you rely of films or photos or visiting the sites or what to create the street scenes?
Our model designers actually go to the places we are planning on building in Miniland and photograph everything. Not just the buildings, we are talking people, trash cans, billboards; anything that is in the real place we work hard to recreate in Miniland so we have absolute authenticity in the look and feel in an area. We will even record the sounds of an area and incorporate it into our background sound effects.
What would you love to build to scale?
I always thought it would be cool to try and build Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. It is an incredibly complex building with so many different colors and shapes. It would be a very challenging, but very fun build!
Do you have kids and if so, is there a regular Family Lego Night?
No kids yet, but I have lots of nieces and nephews who love to come over and play in the Lego studio I have at home.
--Sharon Kennedy Wynne
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