Tag Archives: Agents

LEGO Agents was a theme that LEGO first released in 2008 and discontinued at the end of 2009. Thanks to its great vehicle designs and dark blue color scheme, the LEGO Agents theme was briefly popular among LEGO builders.

Working as a LEGO Designer — the Mark Stafford interview [Part 2]

In part 1 of our interview with Mark Stafford, we talked with Mark (Nabii) about how he became a LEGO Designer. In part 2, we’ll talk to him about his work today.

The Brothers Brick: What sets have you made?

Mark Stafford: I’ve been model designer for Exo-Force 8115 Dark Panther, 8118 Hybrid Rescue Tank and the missing number 8116 (this robot’s-mecha was pulled from the line very late in the process).

Then Agents 8632 Swamp Raid, 8630 Gold Hunt, and 8635 Mobile Command Centre. A Mars Mission set: 7648 MT201 Ultra Drill Walker. Power Miners 8957 Mine Mech and 8961 Crystal Sweeper. Later in 2009 I have another Power Miners model and three of the new space line [!] sets, and I’m already working on 4 sets for the first half of 2010!

TBB: What themes have you worked on? And which would you like to work on?

Mark: I started at LEGO on a theme that never made it through development, then went to Mars Mission for a few months, where none of my models made it into sets. Then Exo-Force, Agents, Mars Mission, Power Miners, the new space theme, along the way contributed sketch models to Castle, Batman, City and currently — I can’t say… but it’s exciting!

I like working on any Sci-Fi theme and Space is my favourite, but I like to change it up and don’t want to get bored, so if something new comes along I’ll complain like a wuss for a bit then knuckle down to getting the job done well.

TBB: How big a change was it to go from a hobby with limited restrictions to a job with many restrictions on your designs? Did you ever find it frustrating?

Mark: It’s a challenge, no doubt about it, the biggest adjustment is the obvious one of piece count/price.

We have to build to a price, we do this by making sure the cost of the parts does not exceed the price limit we’re given for that model and the internal price of parts is not always obviously logical either.

Technic Axle 4For example (and I don’t think this will help our competitors), internally a 4 stud long cross axle costs more than a 5 or 6 stud long one. This really bugged me for ages and I asked our Project Supporter to investigate why.

It took a long time to get an answer but it turns out the mould for the 4 long axles is an older one and every time it cycles it only produces half the amount as the 5, 6 or 8 long cross axles’ moulds. The machine has to run for longer, be monitored more and therefore it makes it twice as expense to make the part, hence the apparent discrepancy in the internal price. And every single part, all 6000+ of them have similar considerations, so getting a model to price can be interesting sometimes!

The most frustrating period was the first six months, I then began to accept why LEGO models are built the way they are, rather than the way fan MOCs are. I still have to keep reminding myself that if the model can’t be built from instructions by a seven year old and played with by his/her friends (who did not build it) without breaking too much, then I’m not doing my job!

TBB: I remember that you often built your personal models as toys as well as standalone models (the Big Boys Toys springs to mind). Do you think this helped you make the adjustment?

Mark: Definitely. I only began to move into a more AFOL style of intricate SNOT building in the last year or so before I was hired and my building style was still a very studs up ‘LEGO’ way of building, plus even as a fan I was building with kids in mind!

Big Boys ToysMy favourite fan event is LEGOWorld in The Netherlands, because every day for six days they have 10,000 visitors and more than half are kids, from the first year I attended I always tried to build models that would make these kid visitors amazed, do something fun (like the Big Boys Toys) and illicit a round of applause (to the annoyance of neighbouring AFOLs).

I wanted to make models that would inspire and make kids happy, and now that’s my job as a toy maker!

In part 3, we’ll talk to Mark about some of the differences between building as an average LEGO fan and designing sets for LEGO.

Interview with LEGO Agents designer Matt Ashton [Interview]

It’s no secret that we here at The Brothers Brick love this year’s LEGO Agents sets — especially Andrew, who won’t shut up about them!

So we’re very pleased to bring you an interview with Matthew Ashton, Creative Director for LEGO Playthemes, and one of the set designers for the LEGO Agents theme.

(UPDATE: As I link to this in 2014, this interview is more than six years old. Sorry about the broken images. The interview is still very much worth a read.)

The Brothers Brick: To start out, please tell us who you are and a bit about yourself.

Matt Ashton: My name is Matt Ashton, I’m 32 years old (probably 33 by the time this goes to print), I’m originally from the UK and have worked for LEGO for the past 8 years. I studied as a Fashion Designer in Brighton, on the south coast of England, but always secretly had a burning desire to become a toy designer. (I’m an avid toy collector and have a house full of Star Wars figures, Transformers, Barbies, Bratz and hundreds of My Little Ponies! (!?!?! Yes I Know!?!?!)

When I graduated from Uni, we had an exhibition in London showcasing our designs, where I displayed minature replicas of my Cat Walk Collection on Barbie dolls … some LEGO Talent Scouts were at the event looking for stylists to work on Clikits. They spotted me, asked me to an interview and after quite a lengthly process I got the job. Years later I became Creative Director and moved into Playthemes, were I now oversee the IPs [intellectual properties -ed.], Star Wars, Indie, SpongeBob etc. as well as our home-grown playthemes lines like Castle, Aqua Raiders, Space themes and Agents.

TBB: What were some sources of inspiration for the theme?

Matt: We looked into anything spy, agent, super hero or super villain related! TV shows, cartoons and movies from when we were kids, right up to present day. We looked at everything from Mission Impossible to Thunderbirds.

[Mole vehicle from the iconic 60's TV show at right -ed.]

TBB: Was the gold-jawed bad guy inspired by “Jaws” from the Roger Moore Bond films?

Matt: Possibly! :-) A lot of our characters pay homage or are twisted references to classic, iconic spy characters…. something that a lot of dads will get, but kids will just see as really cool, new baddies!

TBB: Why cyborgs for the bad guys?

Matt: We just wanted to give the theme a real twist, an element of fantasy, something a bit quirky that would lighten the tone of the whole theme.

Plus from a kid’s perspective, the fantasy characters are just so much more appealing and really help to inspire different stories when they are playing. A guy with robotic spider legs is so much cooler than just some boring guy in a suit….he can climb up walls and find different ways to attack or escape. A baddie with a chainsaw arm can cut through walls and break into bank vaults.

It really helped us give each character a different personality and a different purpose, making them more desirable and collectible.

TBB: What was the reason to use hose nozzle pieces for the guns as opposed to other LEGO gun pieces?

Matt: It was a company decision not to replicate realistic firearms in this theme, to balance the tonality of the theme, without pushing things too far.

TBB: Was there anything you really wanted to include (element, minifig, whatever) in the sets that was denied?

Matt: Not really. Of course, we always want to squeeze as much stuff in there as we can and we always have to prioritize what is most important. I think we did a really good job at getting in the essentials, to create cool models and good play value. We introduced several new elements to strengthen the theme and create new characters — laptop computers, barbed wire, robotic arms, new jaw-Helmet for Break Jaw and two new wigs for Dr. Inferno and the delightful Agent Trace….possibly the hottest girl Minifig ever!

TBB: Indeed. The barbed wire is awesome. Whose idea was that?

Matt: The team came up with it; it just helps make the Missions seem a little more difficult and dangerous. The Agents can’t just hop over a fence — they have to be super careful when they are sneaking in to a baddie’s lair!

TBB: Was there any thought of making the barbed wire interlockable, to more accurately replicate it?

Matt: Yes there was. We looked into different options, but went for this one, mainly due to manufacturing and packing issues. When designing new elements there are so many issues that we have to be aware of including safety standards, cost, manufacturing, packing, supply (the amount of time it takes to mould each item) and of course the compatibility with other LEGO elements.

The other versions we looked into would have caused too many problems from a supply and packing standpoint, as they become easily tangled up during production, really slowing the packing of the boxes and requiring the element to be manually packed which also adds a lot of cost. We had a similar issue with the flail in Castle which is why it was remolded straighter.

We feel that the execution we went for solved these issues but at the same time visually gives a good replication of barbed wire and is easy for the kids to handle and build with.

Was it hard to get approval for the first ever, new minifig arm mold?

Matt: Kinda…. the LEGO minifigure is protected by a series of patents, to prevent competitor companies making copies of them. This does however mean that we are limited ourselves with what we can and can’t do to the minifigure, without infringing on our own rights.

To get the new arm through, we had to go through a series of meetings with our legal department to check into all of this and get their approval, which they gave us….Yeah!

TBB: Was there a mandate from the company to include a lockup/prison detail in the series? Everyone knows LEGO loves a good lockup kit.

Matt: There was no such mandate…..we just know kids love locking up baddies, so we just gave them the means to do so! (And the means to escape too! ;-) So they can play it again and again and again!)

TBB: Are we likely to see more metallic parts in future products?

Matt: Hopefully…. I love them! It’s all about the bling with me! (As well as new hairdos for minfigs….think it’s my background in fashion or something!)

TBB: Do any of the Agents have a 00 designation, a license to kill?

Matt: Of course not….LEGO Agents have a license to apprehend! :-) All LEGO Agents have been through intense, strict training — equipping them with the skills, abilities and know-how to track down, apprehend and imprison the world’s most dangerous Super Villans. LEGO Agents’ firearms are only ever to be used in situations to disable villians’ vehicles to prevent their getaway, by shooting tires etc. or for forcing entry into bad guys’ hide-outs, to put a stop to criminal activity.

TBB: Is there anything else that you think people would really want to know about this theme?

Matt: Erm…if there is any more on they way? Which the answer to that is wait and see!

Also, I have been asked a lot recently if there is an overall story arc for the Agents theme… i.e a master plan for Dr. Inferno to take over the world etc. To which the answer is ….no.

When we tested Agents we found, with this theme in particular, it actually worked best not to do so. We designed the products as a series of mini missions, like “steal the Diamond back”, “retrieve the Treasure Map”, “rescue an Agent”, to act as little story starters for the kids, who can then tie them together to create their own master plans. During testing kids were like, “OMG that’s so cool, the diamond in the little set is like a special power source, the bad guys need to get hold of it, to put it inside the Laser Cannon in the Volcano to make it even more powerful!” etc, etc.

TBB: Which set is your favorite? Why?

Matt: That’s soooo difficult as I really like a lot of them, the Command Centre Truck is awesome, as it’s jam-packed full of so many cool little vehicle and gadgets and the briefing projector is sweet!

I really love the Volcano too, mainly due to its comedy, campness…. I wanna live there!!!! and Claw-Dette is soooo my favorite character! I like the speed boat one too, it’s all about the Laser Sharks, that can now swallow a minifig whole — if you put his arms up first that is!

TBB: What was the most enjoyable moment you had, as you designed these sets?

Matt: I was really involved with the character development and that was so much fun, especially doing the baddies! The more ridiculous we could make them the better.

I think for a while LEGO products have been getting a bit too serious and I really wanted to bring some tongue-in-cheek humor into these sets and I was determined to do that through the baddies. Also coming up with their names was a lot of fun, although most of our first choices didn’t get through, either because they weren’t approved by the legal department for different reasons, or they were just too silly or risky… but we had a good laugh anyway though!

TBB: Thanks so much to Matt for agreeing to do this interview with us, and to LEGO Community Team member Steve Witt for helping us make this happen.

Previous interviews on The Brothers Brick:

New sets: 8637 Volcano Base, 8636 Deep Sea Quest, and 4210 [News]

Eurobricks found pictures of two new upcoming LEGO Agents sets and a City set. I like to take a moment and thank Eurobricks and a few of their persisent members who dig in LEGO’s image cache to bring us these images. Click on each picture to see more of the set. I like all three for the diversity that they contribute to their respective themes, and I look forward to them later in the summer.

LEGO Agents 8637 Mission 7: Volcano Base

LEGO Agents 8636 Mission 8: Deep Sea Quest

Coast Guard 4210

LEGO Agents 8634 Turbo Car Chase [Review]

Eurobricks member Deinonychus has a comprehensive review of 8634 Turbo Car Chase that we’ve not yet featured here. Like the other sets in the theme, there’s tons of new and interesting pieces. The car is especially notable because it’s covered in metallic silver pieces, making it one “slick little honey of a LEGO car.”

LEGO Agents 8360 Gold Hunt and 8635 Mobile Command Center [Review]

I shared my thoughts on the new LEGO Agents sets a couple days ago, but nobody had posted reviews of any of the larger sets yet.

Gil Shaw now has photo reviews of 8630 Gold Hunticon and 8635 Mobile Command Centericon.

8630 Mission 3: Gold Hunt:

My observations (click the picture for Gil’s review on Flickr):

8635 Mission 6: Mobile Command Center:

My observations (click the picture for Gil’s review on Flickr):

  • The semi truck is just massive!
  • Drawers in a non-Belville set.
  • Not one but two laptop computers.
  • More play features and mini-vehicles than you can shake a stick at.

It’s okay to love LEGO Agents. Go on, you’ll be fine. [Review]

iconiconBack in January when the first LEGO Agents pictures were leaked, the reaction was fairly mixed. But since we put the new poll up last Saturday, nearly a quarter of you have indicated that LEGO Agents sets are what you’re looking forward to the most for “late 2008″ LEGO sets.

As I’ve seen more and more of these new sets, I couldn’t help but think that 23% of you couldn’t be that wrong.

So I picked up the two smallest sets yesterday, 8631 Jetpack Pursuit
icon and 8632 Swamp Raidicon (along with 7038 Troll Assault Wagon). To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was very pleasantly surprised!

We’ve already featured full reviews of the two sets I bought (8631 and 8632), but I wanted to add a few words of my own.

8631 Mission 1: Jetpack Pursuit

iconiconThe jetpack is ridiculously huge, to be sure, and the gun on the snowmobile won’t go all the way down, but this is a pretty good $10 parts pack. You get a bunch of pearl silver elements, including skis and a propellor, plus orange cheese slopes and dark blue vertical stabilizers.

The minifigs (left) are what make this set, I think. The cyborg fig has a new type of arm that fits anything with a rod connection point, and the back of the torso is printed with a large version of their logo. The agent fig has a double-sided head and black Mutt Williams hair.

8632 Mission 2: Swamp Raid

iconiconLEGO barbed wire! This set includes two loops of barbed wire sure to please military and post-apocalyptic builders, two dark gray “grilled cheese” slopes, four black girders, and three dark green leaves. Space builders will likely be pleased with the chrome silver cheese slopes on the well-designed bike — a mix of SYSTEM and Technic pieces.

iconiconIn contrast to Alpha Team minifigs of the past, LEGO Agents figs have somewhat more realistic facial expressions, making them more useful in other contexts. The “guns” are a little disappointing, but easily corrected with larger brick-built guns of your own (or BrickArms, for that matter). The new helmet on the bad guy is hilarious, and the face underneath even more so — but in a good “I can see a use for that!” way.

Building Swamp Raid was actually pretty fun — especially the bike. The dock has a fun play feature that flips the bike off when you punch a lever. Oh, and did I mention the cyborg crocodiles? Indeed, hilariously awesome cyborg crocodiles.

Missions 3-6

Missions 1 and 2 have given me hope for the rest of this theme, and I’m fairly eager to get my hands on them. A quick rundown of what I’m seeing in the other sets:

  • 8630 Gold Hunticon: A man with a golden gun. A big pile of pearl gold 1×2 tiles.
  • 8633 Speedboat Rescueicon: Sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads. Dr. Evil would be jealous. The female agent also has a new hair element.
  • 8634 Turbocar Chaseicon: Four more barbed wire loops, a new laptop element, and the weirdest villain minifig in LEGO history.
  • 8635 Mobile Command Centericon: Lots of dark blue, with all four Agents minifigs. The only set with the evil overlord Dr. Inferno (whose flaming hair is awesome).


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First photo of LEGO Agents 8636 Deep Sea Quest [News]

How Many Studs to LEGOLAND has the first photo of the upcoming LEGO agents set 8636 Deep Sea Quest:

The three lines of text in Japanese say:

  • 8636 | CB [ClickBrick] exclusive | Ages 8 and up
  • Mission 7: Deep Sea Operation
  • 7,990 yen (available mid-September)

Incidentally, Brickset has the full list of upcoming LEGO Agents sets, including high-res box art I hadn’t seen before.