Interview with BrickHeadz designer Austin Carlson

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The BrickHeadz range marks a considerable departure from the style of existing LEGO products and the story behind its inception is similarly unusual. We are delighted to have had an opportunity to speak with Austin Carlson, the lead designer of the BrickHeadz, about the circumstances surrounding the creation of the new theme!

How did you come to work for The LEGO Group?

I’ve been a LEGO fan since I was three so trying to find LEGO related news was just another part of my daily routine and I found a Graphic Design position opening posted on Eurobricks. I also want to give a quick shout-out to BZPower where I started being a part of a LEGO online community!

I’ve always found a passion with character design and I am obsessed with the LEGO Minifigure so it felt like the perfect job and it is! So I sent my material, flew over from the States for an interview after I graduated from Kutztown University, and now I make a living in Denmark working for the LEGO Group!

How did you decide upon the proportions and shape of the BrickHeadz?

The answer to that question may not be what you expect it to be… It was actually based on an elephant… A bit odd, right? The very first LEGO BrickHead (or Blockhead, the name I was calling it at that time) was a little gift for my friend and coworker Tobey Brown (below). She’s a big fan of elephants and cuteness in general so I made a little stubby Elephant buddy that later evolved into the template for other Blockheads. Fat heads, chubby bodies and stubby limbs are a standard formula for cute!

Were any other design templates considered during the development process?

Oddly enough, no. There were minor changes from the original design but for the most part it stayed the way it was.

Did the BrickHeadz take any influence from other collectable figurines?

I see a lot of talk about the influence of Pop! Vinyl and CubeDudes but I can’t say it was that. This project wasn’t started like our normal ones where we have a brief and find a solution. I was building these in my free time and Matt Ashton told me to pitch it as a project. It was never intended to be a product, it just happened to become one.

How do you typically go about designing a BrickHeadz model?

The start is a lot like a LEGO Minifigure where I note the most important icons of the character and start from there. So for example, the startup for the Comic Con Joker BrickHead was intended to be more “classic” Joker so we wanted a tuxedo suit feel and a more slick back pointy hair for him. And the Joker is always known for his smile so we knew we needed that and Nic Groves added his big flower to him to capture his tricky clown nature. The same could be said with Superman’s traditional curly-Q hair and how we captured that through a Unikitty tail!

How did you decide upon the twelve characters revealed/released so far?

We start with a small brainstorm on what we think will be cool and then discuss it with our license partners. They give us feedback and from there it’s a bit of a back and forth until there’s an agreement for the lineup.

Hulk is traditionally depicted as a taller and bulkier character than his fellow Avengers. Did you consider designing a larger scale BrickHeadz figure for 41592 The Hulk?

We really thought of everything, or almost everything with this line. With so many different characters we’ve built we saw what worked and what didn’t. I mean, after we made over 300 different characters (seriously, we did) we saw what worked and what didn’t. We found Hulk much cuter sharing the same scale as all the rest but making his arms look beefier. BrickHeadz has a bit of humour to it so having Hulk the same size works.

Which is your favourite of the BrickHeadz revealed/released so far and why?

That’s difficult! I think it may be Black Widow because of the story attached to the build. LEGO BrickHeadz may seem simple, until you start designing hair. I designed the majority of the build for Black Widow but I could not get the hair the way we wanted it so she was handed over to Bjarke Madsen (below).

After he took a shot at it and she was passed again on to Pablo Gonzalez. It was almost a telephone game of hairstyles! We kept passing it around until we finally got satisfied with it. I built the final version of the hair but it was a combine effort of three designers to get it right! I can still spot which designer contributed what to that hair!

Many thanks for speaking with us Austin and we look forward to more BrickHeadz sets in the future!

36 comments on this article

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By in United States,

Given that this was originally a personal idea from the designer, it gives me a lot more respect for the theme, even though I'm not too interested in Brickheadz.

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By in United Kingdom,

Pretty cool story!

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By in United Kingdom,

That elephant looks so cute! Please make it a set Lego!

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By in United States,

Nice interview! While I like the Super Hero BrickHeadz, and this article made me like them even more, my favorite is still the elephant. It is so adorable! :D

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By in United States,

They should make a Brickheadz maker app.

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By in United Kingdom,

That elephant should be some form of exclusive promo item with purchases of BrickHeadz, I'm sure it wouldn't fit into an official product but as a limited edition promo it would work.

@Huw, any chance of having a BrickHeadz contest? It's a shame I blew a potential entry already with my Dancing Groot, nevertheless someone else would've figured it out sooner or later. I had to be the first one to post it so I could grab the most attention, which it did and I'm very proud of that. I look forward to a BrickHeadz contest and many more interviews with LEGO employees.

Dancing Groot: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adeelzubair/32644969396

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By in United States,

Wow. That is a really cool story behind it. Almost convinces me to buy a few! :)

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By in United States,

Aside from printed logos, the great thing about BrickHeadz is that you can build many models with very basic parts. Put another way, if you want an elephant BrickHead, you don't need to wait for Lego--just order a handful of parts and go do it!

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By in United States,

Well, I guess I better start bricklinking parts for that elephant!

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By in United Kingdom,

Great Article. And a nice story behind the theme.

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By in United Kingdom,

Yes we will almost certainly hold a competition in due course.

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By in United States,

Don't worry I'm sure there will be a Dumbo BrickHead soon.

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By in United Kingdom,

I kind of like the Brickheadz style, but I'm not really into superhero stuff. I hope the idea gets extended to other franchises in due course. A set of Beatles Brickheadz to go with the yellow submarine would be cool.

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By in Germany,

Funny, the only official Brickheadz model I kind of like is Black Widow, but that elefant is the best of the lot.
I will try to build it out of spare parts, shouldn't be too hard. Greatest thing about the story is imho that the "theme" originally wasn't even a Lego idea, but just a personal one by the designer. Like that.

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By in United States,

I enjoy these interviews.

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By in United States,

"LEGO BrickHeadz may seem simple, until you start designing hair."

And this is why a few of my own Brickheadz designs have yet to be completed... Nice interview!

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By in United States,

Great article Huw! I love these interviews! This doesn't have much to do with the article, but I would personally love to see Lord of the Rings BrickHeads.

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By in United States,

Neat!

I wonder if he's seen all my custom ones..

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By in Netherlands,

I really love those BrickHeadz! Both because I just really like how they look, but also because they awake the collector in me :P

There are also so many custom models being designed by people like CM4Sci, Corey Booth, Will Kirkby and many more. My fingers itch to buy all the parts to make a hundred Brickheadz. I really have to keep myself under control though to not spend all my money. And then to think they have also designed over 300 models at TLG!

As a sidenote, in the meantime I made instructions for 2 models from Corey Booth. They can be (temporary) viewed here: https://goo.gl/Ctz09H

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By in New Zealand,

That guy seems like a pretty awesome dude!

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By in United Kingdom,

Really heartening to hear that the official designers struggle with hair too. I think it's pretty apparent from some of my designs that I'm not great at it either.

@CM4Sci I would note that he is a member of the BrickHeadz MOCs group on flickr, so he may well have done.

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By in United States,

I need to re-do most of mine to fix the hair. Only a couple of the SDCC sets had hair and it was hard to apply the techniques. As more official sets come out, I think it will become more intuitive.

I have about 40 built with 10 more in various stages of construction.

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By in Australia,

I always love to see themes that come from personal ideas rather than money-making schemes.

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By in United States,

We neeeeeeeeeeeeed to have some Star Wars ones!!!

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By in United States,

Very cool interview. Which user was he on Eurobricks?

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By in United States,

Very interesting article. He seems like a great designer and I like his choices on the Brick heads line. I recently built the joker brickhead, and I am very happy with it.

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By in United States,

Thanks Brickset! I always enjoy reading interviews with set designers, and am slowly warming to Brickheadz. If they made that elephant into an official set I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Also some SW figures would be hard to resist.

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By in Poland,

Another GR8 interview. I love them.

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By in United States,

Love the interview. Now let's get a Darth Vader Brickhead. That would be amazing.

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By in New Zealand,

@just2good that'd be really cool to know.

@Cloaked some fans have done very nice Vader Brickheadz

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By in Réunion,

They still look awkward AF, but good on you mate, you're living the dream
The part where he deflects the question about "influence of other collectable figurines" is my favourite.
As if TLG was not looking over to Funkos stand on toy fairs wondering "hmmm...We need a line like that. They just sell these and earn truckloads of money. .."

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By in United Kingdom,

I really enjoyed that interview and the background behind Austin and his ideas. Seems like a very likeable person (though I'm sure all Lego designers are) and it's nice that sometimes a product can come in without an explicit brief - "here's something I like" can sometimes work just as well as "we need to design this theme". The only thing that I'd like to have heard about (but probably couldn't at the time) is more about the Pirates of the Caribbean Brickheadz - particularly as they are very hair-centric!

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By in United States,

Enjoyed the interview. Had no idea where these models came from. Thry
Look so cute!

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By in United States,

Awesome, interesting interview. It's good to know these weren't made as a direct competitor to Pop! Vinyl. Also, I checked his Flickr, and he has more pictures of the elephant ("Elie"), which was actually posted there two years ago, in 2015, with other "Block Heads" being posted in his stream in 2014, three years before BrickHeadz came out!

Elie front shot: https:[email protected]/16605074106/in/dateposted/
Gallery with all his posted "Block Heads": https:[email protected]/albums/72157650695821355
His Flickr stream: https:[email protected]/

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By in United States,

Great interview @Huw!

I am a big fan of this range. I wish I could bring myself to opening up the eight from SDCC 2016, I would love to add them to the 8 superhero ones that they just released. They are fun little builds and VERY satisfying to display. I look forward to seeing what they do with this sub-line moving forward.

I would love to see them do Star Wars, but they might consider them internally in competition with the Constraction Figures (which I also enjoy), so it might be a while before we get them for that license.

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By in United States,

Shoulda' asked why he keeps including ears, but he seems like a good designer.

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