There are 2.5 million pieces in the Lego Masters NZ brick pit. Meet the secretive squad tasked with keeping them all organised.
Hidden in a secret room, behind a secret door, are the Lego Masters NZ superstars you’ll never see on screen. Away from the cameras and contestants, this group of unsung heroes work tirelessly to build impressive creations and sort over 2.5 million pieces of Lego. They end up with calluses on their fingers and 2×4 bricks in their dreams. Sometimes, a special request for a bulk number of Lego bricks is radioed through to them, and they must deliver the precious goods by stealth, appearing and disappearing through the secret door, always ensuring the cameras aren’t watching.
Jennifer Jackson and Colin Doyle are two of LMNZ’s unseen army who help make the magic happen on the popular TV show where brick enthusiasts compete to build the best Lego creations. Neither Jackson nor Doyle ever dreamed they’d be paid to be surrounded by so much Lego, but as passionate Adult Fans of Lego (AFOLs), the opportunity to work on LMNZ was too good to miss. Doyle delayed a move to Australia to work as a builder on the show, while brick sorter Jackson shifted her family from Golden Bay to Auckland for the four months of filming.
As a sorter, Jackson was responsible for maintaining the technicolor brick pit, the magical rainbow room that houses the millions of Lego pieces. Sorters would dismantle the challenge builds after every episode, and then organise all the bricks and put every single piece back into circulation. Breaking down the builds usually began 24 hours after each challenge, and it took up to five days for the thousands and thousands of tiny parts to be sorted and returned to the brick pit.
“We worked really hard and really fast,” Jackson says. She put in 10-hour days, sometimes six days a week, and with such a huge volume of pieces to organise in a tight time period, used a unique three-part system devised by Brickmaster Robin Sather. The first sort would pull out all the bricks, the second sort would be by size, and the third by colour.
“You’re double-handling some stuff, but it’s a lot faster,” Jackson says. “You do it that way, rather than picking up one 2×4 pink brick and walking over and putting it in the pink 2×4 brick box, which would take years.”
While Jackson was taking things apart, Doyle was putting them back together. As one of three builders on the show, Doyle helped construct the impressive Lego builds that feature at the start of each episode. He also created set decoration items (a Lego poo for support dog Smudge was a highlight) and tested challenge builds, like making a bridge that would collapse under a 20kg weight. Each day was different. “Some of the time it was completely creative, totally out of our head,” Doyle remembers. “Other times it was quite prescriptive – Robin would say here’s a set of digital plans, build this.”
A self-confessed “Lego nut”, Doyle began building two months before filming began, and his favourite project – a sea monster from season one – took around three weeks to finish. It’s hundreds of hours of work for something that only gets a few seconds of screen time, but Doyle always got a buzz from seeing his builds on TV. Watching his creations get broken down by Jackson’s team, however, was another story. “You look at it and go, ‘wow, I built that, that’s so neat’. Then you remember how quickly that got torn apart. It’s a little bit demoralising,” he jokes.
For Doyle, the chance to work closely with Sather – the world’s first certified Lego professional – was a rare privilege. “It was like working with Lego Jesus,” he says. “Before filming started, it was just the three of us builders and Robin in the brick pit, up to our elbows in Lego. It was phenomenal.” Jackson’s moment of wonder was walking into the brick pit for the first time and seeing so many rare Lego pieces in one place. “Some of these parts are really expensive to buy new or on the secondhand market, and there was a giant bin just of these parts,” she gushes.
After two seasons of intense brick sorting, Jackson reckons she can identify Lego simply by touch, a skill she compares to touch typing. “You can get really speedy at it,” she says. The show hasn’t changed the way she organises her own Lego, but she says people don’t need their own super tidy brick pit at home. A simple drawstring bag is a great way to store Lego, because a messy stash of bricks gives kids the freedom to use their imagination. Her advice? “Just have a pile of big parts, and build whatever you can think of.”
As season two of LMNZ comes to an end, Jackson and Doyle’s time on the show has only strengthened their appreciation of what people can do with Lego. Working on LMNZ really was a dream come true for each of them. “It was really fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Jackson says. Although, having seen first hand the pressure of competing on LMNZ, both and Doyle are happy to stay behind the scenes. “I enjoy building at my pace, without the pressure of a camera being stuck in my face,” Doyle reckons. “I’m happier building the way I build – for fun.”
Lego Masters NZ screens Monday – Wednesday on TVNZ 2 at 7.30pm and streams on TVNZ+. The season two finale screens on Wednesday 26 April.