Duncan Titmarsh November 2017
It's November and time for Spaceman’s Creative Director Andy Green to visit Bright Bricks HQ and chat with their founder Duncan Titmarsh for ‘Those Who Design’. They talk Polar Bears, jet engines, Tower Bridge and the wonderful world of Lego. It's time to sit back and remember those long Saturday mornings pouring the Lego box out onto the living room floor, ready to let your imagination run wild!
About 7 years ago I naively approached Lego and asked them to work with me on an architectural design competition and after politely declining they pointed me in the direction of Bright Bricks and Duncan Titmarsh, the only UK Certified Lego Professional. After agreeing to meet me I jumped in my car and drove down to Surrey and met Duncan in a shed in his garden. Not knowing what to expect, I walked down the garden path and into the world of a Lego master builder. After a fantastic collaboration where we saw some of the biggest names in architecture and interior design fight it out over the best Lego building, I was very excited to be driving down to Surrey once again, this time to visit Duncan's 5 units, 53 staff and the coolest workshop you can imagine.
Hi Duncan, thanks so much for seeing me today, it's been a long time. I remember our first meeting, walking in thinking this is what I want to do! At that time, which was 7 years ago now at least, you were working out of a posh shed in the garden and even then it was exciting to see what you were creating.
Hi Andy, great to see you again. Yes there was only 3 or 4 of us back then, a pretty small team, now we have 4 units on this estate and 1 on the old army ground where we store a lot of the big models. So we have the brick storage, office space and of course production and safety testing, photography and packing. To be honest it is constantly changing due to the growth we've enjoyed which is why we now have so much space, space that we have filled!
It’s an incredible set up. I went on the website as well before coming today and see that you offer so many different events and features people can employ you for, such a diverse offering now?
Absolutely, doing what we can do means we can work with pretty much anyone. From shopping centres to stately homes, sports teams to car manufacturers, certainly keeps us on our toes.
I suppose with all that going on you must be constantly growing as a team and not just the premises? I’d imagine there’s a lot of competition for a role here as well!
Certainly a lot of people want to join the team and we get a lot of enquiries but like anyone we have to pick the right people for the job. It isn’t just playing with Lego. You need a certain temperament and an even an artistic eye for design as well. On top of that we also have to hire to make sure the company is managed well so this afternoon for instance we are interviewing for an Operations Manager. But don’t get me wrong, we are a serious company in some ways but the fun and excitement comes from building the models.
It certainly feels like it would be every kids dream job. I suppose many people would have the idea of a company like Bright Bricks being like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, fun and laughs all the way, but I’m sure there also stressful times, deadlines, occasional all night shifts to get a project finished?
Yes of course, there's sometimes the need for overnight work and trying to hit deadlines but we’re used to working in that environment. We have 53 staff now, grown from 4 in the posh shed so we are able to cope pretty well.
Wow, the company has certainly come a long way since what was my first exposure to the world of large scale Lego model building, James May’s Toy Story television series where you were actually involved in building an entire house out of Lego?
Oh yes, that was a long time ago now but amazing to be involved with. Of course since then we have worked on some massive projects. Many people who travel in and out of London would have seen the St Pancras Christmas Tree we did and of course last year we set a world record for the largest Lego sculpture using almost 6 million bricks when we built the Land Rover Tower Bridge replica. We didn’t hold it for long however as Lego added another 500,000 bricks to their tree in the Lego Ideas House! So now we’re looking for some serious clients who want to beat that record!
Ha! Well anyone out there reading, get in touch with Duncan asap! Aside from those models, another couple really spring to mind, the Rolls Royce Jet engine and the McLaren full size car model.
Yes, they were both fantastic projects to be involved with.
The one thing I was fascinated about when we first met was that you would also create lego sets for private customers. So for instance someone mad keen on Formula 1 could ask you to build a replica model and then supply it as a kit for them to build?
Ah yes, of course. Actually one of the biggest of those we did was last Christmas. A guy in Dubai wanted a 2 meter long replica of his super yacht for his children to build. I’m not even sure if it was built in the end as it contained thousands and thousands of parts and would have taken a long long time! That arrived deconstructed, with instructions in the box. Although in this case, the box was a timber crate!
What an amazing Christmas present to get as a kid! They’d be quiet until the New Year! So you’re still the only UK Lego Certified Professional?
Yes that’s right, there are 16 of us in the world but I’m the only one in the UK. It’s not really a role that you can just apply for. Lego decide on whether the need in any particular country justifies someone being certified or not. Currently for the UK the assistance we provide is enough to cope with the projects that Lego get involved with because of course they have their own team of people as well.
Ah I see, so do you still do work at Legoland for instance as part of your official role?
We do bits a pieces for major events but as I say, a place like Legoland Windsor has it’s own team of builders.
Makes sense, I was there only a few months ago and it is quite something for the kids. You have 2 of your own don’t you? Although not quite kids any more?!
Yes I have 2 but no not really kids, all grown up and doing their own thing, not building Lego which is fine by me!
I suppose that leads me on to the rather predictable question of how you got into working as Lego professional. Bit of a silly questions I’m sure?
Well I suppose it is. Like most people I loved Lego as a young boy and grew up with it. Ultimately I just didn’t stop building. I had a brief stint in the RAF but always had Lego as a hobby in the background. I then had a few friends ask me if I could build this and that and then my first major build was for BBC Radio for the Today Programme where I built a model of the studio. After that the phone never stopped ringing.
It’s quite a story and probably a lot of people reading are just a little jealous. From building models for friends to full sized McLaren cars and to this set up we are standing in, I wouldn’t even like to hazard a guess as to how many bricks you have stored here?
Well we’ve never counted but I would guess at about 35million.
35million! Unbelievable. So in terms of the design process, something like this enormous Polar Bear we are looking at, you have 4 guys sitting around it building and a laptop in the middle which presumably has designs or images on it for them to copy?
Yes there’s different approaches. Sometimes we use the Lego software called Brick Builder. We design the model on the computer first and the computer will add a layer by layer pattern for the outside. It doesn’t tell you which bricks to use, just a pattern. This just helps us speed up the building process. That said a lot of our models are done free hand like the jet engine for instance. With free hand the guys will just be looking at a picture and building the model by eye.
Being able to build something like these castles you have in the workshop by eye is an incredible skill to have. It reminds of the project we worked on when we first met which was for what was then called Howe UK and is now New Design Group. The 'Design My Skyline' project was where we asked architects and designers all over the UK to build a new addition to the London skyline out of identical boxes of Lego. It was a massive success, have you worked in the construction/interiors/furniture industry since?
Yes we’ve done a few things, one company was Davison Highly a few years after the Skyline project to build a replica chair and sofa for Clerkenwell Design Week. It’s an interesting industry to be involved with and of course you can even buy Lego architectural models now which are aimed at a more adult market.
I suppose that’s what's so brilliant about Lego, you can design what ever you want and for you as a company no two projects are the same?
Yeah exactly, it still amazes me. So apart from the enormous Polar Bear we have being built we’ve also just finished an elephant, then you look over to the other side of the workshop and there’s an oversized skier, I'm very lucky to have a job like this!
So where can I apply?! - Thank you so much for chatting with me today Duncan, I know you are incredibly busy and I look forward to seeing what Lego masterpieces appear in London over Christmas!
All there’s left to do is….
Ok, stuck in a lift with Duncan Titmarsh, enemies for life or BFF’s forever! Let’s find out…
St Pancras Christmas Tree or McLaren? McLaren but a different colour - 1/1
Thoughts on Gherkins? Don't particularly like them - 1/2
Favourite Lego brick? 1 by 2, with that you can build almost anything - 1/3
Going out or staying in? Staying in - 2/4
Lego Marvel or Lego Ninjago? Ninjago - 3/5
Do you like quiche? I'll eat it if I'm hungry! - 4/6
City break or beach holiday? I'll say beach because my wife loves a beach! - 5/7
Nuts in your salad? No! Nuts without salad - 6/8
Favourite Movie? Muppets Christmas Carol - 6/9
What other job would you choose if not for Lego? I changed my job every 4 years before I started Bright Bricks and never looked back so I'm lucky enough to be one of very few people already doing their dream job! - 7/10
So there you go, a Lego Certified Professional, a hater of nuts in salad and an amazing story - 7/10 means that Duncan is our new BFF!
If you want to find out more about Duncan and Bright Bricks, visit www.bright-bricks.com