Interview with Justin Ramsden and Paul Constantin Turcanu, designers of 70840 Welcome to Apocalypseburg!

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Brickset was recently invited to interview Justin Ramsden and Paul Constantin Turcanu, the set and graphic designers for the excellent 70840 Welcome to Apocalypseburg.

Brickset: How does the design process differ when creating a product for a LEGO movie as opposed to those for other themes?

Justin: We always work closely with the film studio when creating sets for each LEGO movie and frequently communicate during the development process, ensuring that models will look impressive on screen while also working as a physical product. The studio initially proposed a monolithic city existing at the centre of a vast wasteland and several designers from both LEGO and Warner Bros. produced different concepts for such a location.

This design is actually based upon a concept that was created by Joel Baker, with whom I have worked on 71043 Hogwarts Castle previously. He designed a structure around the ruined Statue of Liberty and that idea really stood out so was selected, eventually resulting in 70840 Welcome to Apocalypseburg!

Why do you think Joel decided to include the Statue of Liberty in his sketch model?

Justin: The Statue of Liberty is an icon of post-apocalyptic environments, based not only upon Planet of the Apes but also many other disaster movies. It therefore felt perfectly suitable for Apocalypseburg, especially since LEGO has already produced models of the Statue of Liberty. You might imagine that this rendition is simply an older model, perhaps 3450 Statue of Liberty, which has broken and then formed the basis for a larger creation.

It has also provided an opportunity to release several new pieces in sand green.

Justin: Absolutely. That is definitely something that designers take into consideration as we are fans of LEGO so always want to produce interesting and useful elements for ourselves, as well as the broader fan community!

On that subject, we notice that a barbed wire element that was retired in 2010 has returned for this set. Under what circumstances do older elements return like that?

Justin: The LEGO movies are free to include retired elements in the animation. In this instance, the old barbed wire piece was appearing quite frequently in Apocalypseburg so we asked whether it could also appear in the physical set. It is obviously an incredibly useful element for post-apocalyptic building and we were fortunate to bring it back on this occasion.

Paul: The range also contains many new pieces for the minifigures, my favourite of which is Batman's armour. That actually combines plastic and rubber so was a real challenge from a manufacturing point of view but I think the result looks amazing.

How did you go about designing the minifigures for 70840 Welcome to Apocalypseburg?

Paul: Warner Bros. provides guidance for the primary characters but the final minifigures were created by LEGO's graphic designers. Post-apocalyptic environments are generally dominated by earthy tones so we tried to distinguish characters like Emmet, Lucy and Batman from their surroundings by using brighter colours or black, both of which stand out against the shades of tan that dominate Apocalypseburg in the movie.

Secondary characters, on the other hand, sometimes need to blend in with their surroundings. They must still look interesting but cannot be dressed in orange, for example, as that colour should remain unique to Emmet. It was also a lot of fun to update some characters from the first movie with new designs and several such minifigures appear in 70840 Welcome to Apocalypseburg.

I think the Sewer Babies have been well received by many fans too. Did you anticipate that level of popularity?

Paul: Not particularly! They were simply created as interesting characters for the background and we definitely wanted to make sure that the baby appeared in this movie as those pieces were introduced after The LEGO Movie in 2014 so were not included in the original film. Fortunately, the babies have been extremely well received.

Justin: There is also a hidden space for the Sewer Babies in 70840 Welcome to Apocalypseburg so I really hope fans will enjoy that!

Can you share any other hidden secrets from the set with us?

Justin: The set is absolutely packed with Easter Eggs and references which are a lot of fun. I enjoyed being able to include a section of 70905 The Batmobile which I designed for The LEGO Batman Movie and Paul also worked on the graphics for that set. There are various initials and birthdays hidden on the number plates too which is something I often try to add when I speak with the graphic designers.

Paul: Graphic design always provides opportunities to include some Easter Eggs. For instance, there is a poster inside the Statue of Liberty which makes reference to Planet of the Apes, using the 'Where Are My Pants?' Guy.

Apocalypseburg has been scaled down in relation to the movie. How did you decide which parts of the city to include?

Justin: We have access to the script and can view animatics for the relevant sections of the movie so there was plenty of reference material for how this location would appear in the film. There were certain sections that immediately stood out, including the front of Coffee Unchained and the train, so we made certain to include those, adapting each one to suit a model which is constructed around the Statue of Liberty.

Also, we had a fairly clear idea of what size we were aiming for based upon 70620 NINJAGO City. I think that is an excellent benchmark for scale so tried to match its proportions when creating 70840 Welcome to Apocalypseburg.

Finally, you have both worked on products like 70840 Welcome to Apocalypseburg which can provide considerable flexibility as well as models that take direct inspiration from a particular subject. Which do you prefer working on?

Justin: I enjoy working in either field as they present unique challenges. The aforementioned decisions concerning which parts of Apocalypseburg we should include, for instance, were interesting. Ultimately, I am happy as long as I am still designing LEGO sets!

Paul: When discussing minifigures, I would probably lean towards creating entirely imaginary designs. Transforming an existing character into an accurate minifigure is interesting but an established LEGO style guide is available for that process so there is relatively little flexibility. Designing minifigures with total freedom is therefore more appealing in my view, particularly when creating something completely fantastical like the new Apocalypseburg Batman.

Many thanks for taking the time to speak with us!

Thanks to LEGO for facilitating this interview and to James from Jedi News for his assistance.

27 comments on this article

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By in United Kingdom,

Thanks, Capn! Always interesting to get 'behind the scenes' info like this.

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By in United States,

Do they really think this is the same size/detail as Ninjago City? I beg to differ.

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By in United Kingdom,

Love these articles. Especially the 'Easter Eggs' it gives the set more of a story that i can explain to friends and family when they see my sets.

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By in United States,

@CopperTablet: Yes, definitely. While the statue’s structural mass means it obviously doesn’t have the same amount of usable interior space, it’s easily just as complex (in some ways even more so, with the Technic/System geometry required to brace the statue and angle the base, statue body, and tablet). The structures use just as wide a variety of texture and detail, just in a much more irregular arrangement.

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By in Hungary,

Thanks for the interesting interview, I really enjoyed it!

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By in Puerto Rico,

A question I would have asked is: why Sewer Babies weren't included in this set?

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By in United Kingdom,

which sets are the sewer babies in?

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By in United States,

@CopperTablet, unless you have both sets you really can’t say. I think this one has quite a lot of detail, you just may not see it right away.

@Turbulence, so far Sewer Babies are only going to be available in a figure pack that will likely only be sold online and in Lego brand stores. Images have surfaced from elsewhere in the world. We don’t know yet if any other sets will include them. But I hope so.

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By in United States,

^^ In the Lego Movie 2 minifigure pack. See the article on it about a week ago. https://brickset.com/article/41623/the-lego-movie-2-minifigure-pack-revealed !

I thought it odd if they included a space for the sewer babies yet did not actually include any.
This seems a bit of a price for the piece count, but, given its size, it seems alright, although I don’t think I’ll make the almost $300 plunge. Hope you told them how ingenious it was to make the statue at a slant like that!

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By in United States,

The box is that big?! Great interview, thanks.

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By in United Kingdom,

Thanks for a brilliant interview. Its a shame we didn't find out where Justin got that shirt from!

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By in United States,

Where is the hidden spot for the sewer babies? Does anyone know yet?

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By in United Kingdom,

@DecR504 - It is not shown clearly in any of the official images but an opening manhole cover is located on the right side of the model, near the signpost.

We will explore every reference and Easter Egg in Brickset's upcoming review of this set.

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By in United States,

@CapnRex101: Oh, thank you. I read through the official press release and saw something about an opening sewer feature, then went to Mandrproduction’s review to look for it. It’s a neat feature for them to include, I just don’t understand why they would include it without including the sewer babies with the set. Maybe that minifigure blister pack with them will be a promotion for people buying the set, but I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t use it as a promotion when the set was released two days ago...thanks for responding, this is the first time I’ve had a member of the Brickset team respond to me :)

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By in Sweden,

How can the babies already be ”extremely well received” when the movie hasn’t premiered yet? I still can’t understand Lego’s business idea of releasing sets before episodes are shown, often being retired when they reach the DVD market. Makes no sense.

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By in United States,

@Dude45 The Sewer Babies have generated a lot of buzz online from their presence in the movie trailer. A lot of people seem to like them!

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By in United States,

Cool interview. Hopefully the set lives up to what the interview and what it looks like.

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By in Canada,

What I REALLY need to know is where can I get my hands on that amazing LEGO Pirates shirt Justin is wearing!?!?! #TakeMyMoney

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By in United States,

@CopperTablet:
Even if you haven't been able to see both models in person, you can look up the dimensions to see how they compare in terms of size: 24"x12"x16" vs 20"x19"x12". Other than the fact that Ninjago City is more blocky where Apocalypseburg tapers to a point, the sizes are pretty similar. I also talked to the local store manager, who built their display model, and he says there's a ton of detail that's hidden inside the model that you can't even access as easily as you can on a Modular building. From his description, all of those little shipping container buildings have interiors, but you don't really see what's inside them in the promo pictures (sounds like Brickset will be correcting that in their review).

@Dude45:
Read the comments on pretty much any article mentioning the trailers, this set, or anything else involving Apocalypseburg in general. There's always comments asking about the Sewer Babies, wondering if they'll be released in a set, asking which set(s) they'll be released in, or just generally voicing excitement about them. And on the other side there's just one person stating that he's going to be skipping this movie because he finds them distasteful.

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By in United States,

Would have been better with a big home plate piece for the face haha

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By in Poland,

About sewer babies: we had a promo pic with 3 different ones. 2 are released.
Remember more sets will appear in may!

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By in United States,

@lordofdragonss: Very true, I’ll likely skip the blister pack and wait and see what comes in the second wave. I’m hoping another Classic Space set with black, green, red, and either gray or a normal blue spaceman. I’m thinking the sewer babies may come in a little sewer hideout set? I’m not sure

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By in Canada,

Ha! I almost missed reading this interview. Scrolling down the page, I initially assumed it was the article about the signing event. I love reading designer comments about their work and full enjoyed reading about this set in particular. They've done a phenomenal job of distilling the essence of the on screen imagery into an affordable set. Everything about this set, from the locales to the selected characters, seems perfect. The lack of the Sewer Babies was really my only gripe when I first saw images of the set, but that disolved when we learned they'll be readily available soon.

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By in United States,

@lordofdragonss:
We see five in the trailer. The first one has a band of color around the eyes and a giant maul. The second is wearing one of the old 4-petal 1x1 round plates as a hat. The third is wielding a crowbar. The fourth has glasses, a 1x1 round plate as a hat, and the combo wrench as a weapon. And the fifth has one Wolverine claw and is sporting a unibrow (possibly related to President Business?). But the first one is already off-screen by the time the fifth starts to appear, so the most you can even get in a single still shot is four.

As for waiting for another set, I think that's really going to be it for the foreseeable future. Zero of the accessories depicted will actually work with them, and they all wear the same brown onesie, so the faces are really all that serves to differentiate them. I mean, it'd be awesome from an AFOL's perspective if they did a cheap set that included a pair of cyborgs, all five Sewer Babies, and maybe one of the people riding motorcycles, but I'm not sure it would actually sell well to their target market.

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By in United States,

“The LEGO movies are free to include retired elements in the animation.”

Glad to see these barbed wire rings back, but I still feel pretty teased by the set 8411 exclusive spikes used as Kragle squeezers, fortress of solitude memory crystals, and garmadon mech teeth.
Oh and the translucent flower stems for the shower and laser blasts.

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By in United States,

@CopperTablet
@Purple Dave

I’ve built both Apocalypseburg and Ninjago City. There is a ton of interior detail that isn’t seen in the photos for Apocalypseburg, and Justin did a fantastic job making sure that every space felt organic and lived in. Also all the references and Easter eggs are fantastic. However, when it comes to the price and piece count of the items, as well as the build experience, I have to give the nod to Ninjago City. It has so much more when it comes to building style, variation of piece type, and the different styles of Japanese architecture encompassing various eras. Apocalypseburg was a fun build, but it felt very similar throughout. I gained more enjoyment from looking at the figures, discovering cool new pieces, and finding Easter eggs than I did from the build itself.

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By in United States,

Thanks, Cap'n

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