LEGO Star Wars designers answer questions on stickers, set redesigns and more [Interview]

The Brothers Brick were fortunate enough to spend some time talking with LEGO Designer Jens Kronvold Frederiksen who is the Design director for Star Wars theme, and Jakob who is a LEGO graphic designer within the Star Wars theme. Jens has designed sets for the Star Wars theme for 18 out of the 19 years he has been working for LEGO—an unusual situation, he admits, but one he is very happy with. Right at the beginning back in 1998, when Jens heard that LEGO and Star Wars were going to be collaborating, he felt it was a perfect combination of a fantasy universe with sets and vehicles that would work well with LEGO along with a strong storyline about good versus evil.

Star Wars designers

Jens Kronvold Frederiksen is famous for designing the UCS Millenium Falcon, a product he created back in 2006. Designing the biggest LEGO set at that time under the Star Wars theme was very exciting for him. It is no wonder it remains on his short list of favourite sets, along with the Death Star, which is a set he considers a ‘family build’ (when an adult can help a younger fan to build a complex final creation). He has a hand in lots of sets now as Design Director, but explains that although he oversees the designs, he can’t help but continue to build and get involved with the model designers.

TBB: Thinking about the most recent Star Wars movie, how early in the production of a new show or movie do you get involved? Do you have a chance to see concept art or visit movie sets?

Jens: It is not easy to build sets for a movie that we have not seen, but we had concept art and designs more than a year before which allowed us to plan and design. It is easy for a design to be changed by the people working on a movie if the design is CGI, and it would take a lot longer for us to redesign a set that was already in production. We are always asking for pictures and images to build from as early as possible. We knew the basic storyline of the new Star Wars movies but we had not seen footage from the movie itself.
Jakob: We were fortunate to have the chance to go and visit movie sets for The Force Awakens and see some of the set designs and vehicle designs. This was very exciting, but is a very different way of working compared to the job that we do with designing and creating LEGO sets from the movie.

TBB: How do you decide what themes to re-feature versus creating new scenes? (eg. the Darth Vader Transformation was a set in 2005 and now it features again in 2015.) What’s the thought and planning process behind these creations?

Jens: When we redesign a scene, we start at the beginning again rather than redesigning. If a key scene is important, then sometimes we have new elements or new techniques that mean it can be improved. A redesigned set lets us go back and make it better, sometimes this is a good thing and a new set can be produced. Iconic scenes are also good as they will be well known and popular, but we have to make sure that the scene works for a LEGO set and can be played with and enjoyed.

TBB: Fans know that sometimes designers don’t quite get designs accurate; for example, Kylo Ren’s command shuttle wing issue. Is this because you only get to see sketch work to derive sets from when the movie is kept confidential?

Jens: Yes, it was disappointing when we designed Kylo Ren’s command shuttle from the concept art, and the function of the wings was not as clear; but later once the set was produced, the different outward movement was shown. At that point, the set was already in production, but we see the wings as being a fun play feature. People who buy the set can modify it and improve on the model once they have seen the movie, and that is a good thing too. The wing function was not clear from the images we were given, and this is why there is a difference in the set and the movie.

An example of working with the original set and the modifying it can be seen in the video below by Jangbricks, who not only opted for black parts but also modified the wings to allow outward in addition to the original folding downwards movement.

TBB: I have to ask you about stickers, since the Ultimate Collector’s Series 75144 Snowspeeder is sitting in front of us. What is your own feeling about the use of stickers rather than printed parts, especially on a UCS set like this?

75144 Snowspeeder

Jakob: The stickers are designed to give added detail that enhances the set. It is not always possible to print onto parts, as then each part would become a new element. But the stickers mean that the detail can be added without restricting that part to a single use. We find that children are often better than adults at applying small stickers, but struggle with the larger sticker due to the size.

Jens: I think that stickers increase playability, as you may not apply them and leave pieces clean, and then the parts can be used for other creations. This is good for children who may want to apply certain stickers, or often prefer to play with the parts. In addition, we have a strong rule of “1 piece = 1 sticker”. This means we would not have stickers that are applied on two or three interlocked bricks, as this is very restrictive and not something we would want in a set. (We call this a STAMP -ed.)

TBB: Which is harder: looking at a Star Wars ship and thinking about how to make it into a LEGO set, or making something from scratch?

Jens: There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these methods of designing a set. For the sets that are tied to a movie, when we have images, the challenges are often greater as we try to build something that was not designed with LEGO in mind. The advantage of designing a set from scratch is that playability and enjoyment of the build process and design can be our focus, as the set will be designed with this priority.

Jakob: It is fun looking at concept art or images and working out how to ensure that the design works in LEGO. For example, with minifigures the aim is to ensure that the look of the original character is transferred into a LEGO minifigure.

TBB: Do you tend to build digitally, or ‘in the brick’ when designing a new set?

Jens: Most designers tend to build using bricks initially. Once a part of the build is complete, it is sometimes easier to transfer this to a digital build as colours can be changed very easily without taking the build apart each time. Often other designers will come over and look at partly built sets or areas where we are tackling a challenge. For example, the design for the mechanism to raise and lower the upper airbrake flaps by turning the engine nacelles in the UCS Snowspeeder was actually another designer who looked at the area and then offered a solution.

75144 Snowspeeder

TBB: Since you mentioned the upper airbrake flaps, when TBB was reviewing the UCS Snowspeeder, Chris felt that there had been a missed opportunity, as he kept expecting a cheese slope to be placed on the engine housing to finish the slopes. It’s missing on both the inner and outer sides of the housing, and seems a glaring oversight. The outer one is missing intentionally, because it would interfere with the flap opening mechanism, but there’s no similar issues for the inner one.

75144 Snowspeeder

Jens: [fetching a cheese slope from another set in front of him and trying it out on both the inner and outer sides of the housing] We did try this, and on the outer slope, it [the cheese slope] would flick off when the flap was opened. If we had put a 1×1 slope on the inner then it would have looked unbalanced, as the other side would then look like it was missing a piece. We felt it was better to be symmetrical and balanced than having this just on one side. We tried many different ways, and we feel we chose the best design.

TBB: What is the one thing you want to create, but haven’t been able to or not authorised to do so?

Jens: There are lots of builds that all my LEGO model builders make that are not currently made into a set. This is often because the time is not right, but the builds are not rejected, simply set aside and then they can be looked at again at a later time. It is not so much about not being able to create a particular vehicle or set, but we have to consider our priority of creating fun, enjoyable building experiences for children and this is always our first consideration.

TBB: If someone had not seen the Star Wars movies or built the sets, what advice can you offer?

Jakob: Definitely see the movies in production order.

Jens: In terms of sets, I would recommend that you start with a UCS set. The current UCS Snowspeeder would be a good choice as it is available, or one of the older UCS models would be good too. The reason is that they are big enjoyable builds that capture the Star Wars theme, and I think they are fun to build and look good.

It was clear that Jens is far too experienced at keeping secrets to let any leaks out about forthcoming sets, but he did say that there were always lots of new ideas and definitely more Star Wars sets planned. Sadly we will all have to wait and see what comes next as there were no hints given. Thanks to Jens and Jakob for taking time out of their LEGO design work schedule to chat with The Brothers Brick!

19 comments on “LEGO Star Wars designers answer questions on stickers, set redesigns and more [Interview]

  1. David

    Wait? What? A Quarrie minifigure?!
    Doesn’t this qualify as a leak?
    Are we to expect a B-Wing in the next wave of Star Wars Rebels sets (the last one?)

  2. Ramiz

    the quarrie minifgure is released with the new freemaker adventures set on June 1st so its not a leak. It is available in the Arrowhead set.

  3. Purple Dave

    Quarrie comes in 75186 The Arrowhead, which I believe we’ve known about since NYTF. So, it’s been a few months since news of that specific minifig would have counted as a leak.

  4. David

    @Chris and Purple Dave.
    Oh, I see.
    I had totally missed it. I didn’t really pay attention to the Freemaker sets and I assume if he’d show up, he’d show up in a Rebels set (there will be one last batch of Rebels sets, right?)

  5. Purple Dave

    Huh? When I replied to David, Chris Edwards was the only other reply, but there are now three other replies that have earlier timestamps?

    Dunno. I don’t think I’ve bought any Rebels sets. The only Disney Wars set that I know I bought for certain is the Rogue One AT-ST. Anyways, haven’t the Rebels sets mostly come out in advance of the seasons? Season 4 is confirmed, but has not yet started. There are no new Rebels sets in the summer wave, so it stands to reason that at least one wave of sets should be released tied tot he final season. The Thrawn set was a January release (probably to avoid spoilers), so there may be a chance of a final mini-wave next January, but don’t expect them to go all out at the very end when they have learned over the years that tie-in sets sell best when whatever they’re tied to is being shown (theatrical release for movies, during the season for TV shows, and a short bump when they’re released on home video). But it does seem odd that Quarrie would debut in a Rebels episode but only be released in a non-Rebels set. The only thing I can think of that makes sense there is this:

    1. Quarrie was not released in a set tied to his intro season, when it would have made the most sense (in truth, the only logical set they could have paired him with was a B-Wing, but they’d _just_ released a RotJ B-Wing in 2014).
    2. Quarrie had not appeared in any subsequent Rebels episodes through the rest of S2 and all of S3.
    3. When S3 was drawing to a close, it was announced that S4 would be the final season, with no idea if Quarrie would make a second appearance.

    Given all of that, even if TLC didn’t know in advance about the S4 announcement, they had probably noticed that Quarrie had not been pulled up as a recurring character, and may have come to the conclusion that if they wanted to get him into a set, they’d have to invent a reason to do so. Hence, the Freemakers Saga. Make sure he ends up in an episode from that series, and make sure that a set that he can be tied to enters production, and he’s got a minifig. The only other real option at this point would have been to sneak him out as a polybag minifig.

    @The Anonymous Hutt:
    It totally makes sense. If they’d need two cheese wedges to complete the look, and one of them would always pop off, you obviously can’t include that one in the design. It’d never clear the Design Department. If including the other one would throw the overall look out of balance, it’s really then a toss-up as to whether the set designer would prefer to fill in as much of the shape as possible or would rather keep a symmetrical design where possible. Either is an aesthetic choice, so you’re going to get people who feel that either option is the worse of the two alternatives. The obvious solution is, if it bugs you that much, get four more cheese wedges. If you want to display it with the flaps down, put all four on. If you’d rather display it with open flaps, only add the inside ones.

  6. David

    @Purple Dave:
    Yes, confused by the timestamps too. A bug server side?

    If I’m correct Rebels Sets have come out in January but also in the Fall, I believe (I don’t have the exact dates in mind), and yes.
    But yes, I mistook Quarrie for an unreleased figure, I thought it was going to be in a set for the Fall.
    Yes, it’d only make sense in a B-Wing set, I had forgotten one had been released recently (I must have missed it), but lately Lego has been weird with how much time goes in between rereleases. See the number of A-Wings recently, or the Sarlac Pit, etc.
    So why not a new B-Wing set, they may become prominent in Rebels Season 4.

    But all of this doesn’t matter, as I was mistaken and it’s part of Freemakers.

  7. Purple Dave

    Could be. Maybe the prior three posts got stuck in the system and only got cleared up after I posted.

    Rebels sets, from what I recall, have a major launch in the fall ahead of the new season. The Thrawn set is a 2017 release, and it didn’t just come out last week, so it has to have been part of the January release. But the only other 2017 Rebels sets so far are a pair of foil-packed minifigs, so the January release (if it happens) likely won’t be very big. Mostly I’d expect to see any sets they couldn’t release in the fall due to confidentiality agreements meant to avoid spoilers. You know, like, “Hey, we’re going to bring back one of the most beloved parts of the EU that we just flushed a couple years ago.”

    About the A-wings, I see they did red RotJ A-WIngs in 2000, 2006, 2013, and 2017, as well as a dark-green one as part of the Home One set in 2009. In betwen the last two red ones, they did a _very_ different Rebels design in green in 2016. So, it could be that they’re different enough (like Anakin’s Y-Wing) that they didn’t feel it was a conflict. It could also be that the movies trump the TV shows. So, if they do a movie set, they won’t immediately follow it up with a competing TV set, but the opposite might not hold true, and a movie A-Wing wouldn’t be nixed just because they had a new TV A-WIng on shelves. Maybe. I’m not sure what you’re talking about with the Sarlaac, though. The only three times I know they included one in a non-calendar set is 2006’s Jabba’s Sail Barge, 2012’s Desert Skiff, and 2017’s Desert Skiff Escape. None of those feature the Sarlaac as a primary model, and all of them (plus 2000’s Desert Skiff and 2013’s Jabba’s Sail Barge that didn’t) make perfect sense to include the Sarlaac as a secondary model. The latter two instances follow six and five year gaps, respectively, which seems to be pretty standard when it comes to OT-related releases.

    Now, if you want to talk about a vehicle that’s been pumped out with great regularity, it’s the Snowspeeder. In addition to standalone releases in 1999, 2003, and 2014, it has also been included in larger Hoth sets in 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. Unlike the A-Wings (which I can see had nearly the same number cranked out over a similar timespan), the Snowspeeders don’t have that big a color difference. I mean, we got Luke’s all-grey speeder in 2013 and 2014, an oddball that’s got both grey and orange accents in 2007, and all the rest look like Wedge’s with orange accents front and back. Nearly 50% of the Home one A-Wing is a different color than the other four RotJ versions, and the Rebels one has a very different hull design. It’s stubbier, doesn’t have the split tip, has fatter guns with only one barrel per side, and doesn’t have the open gap in the nacelles. The scale is reported to be off (Rebels being shrunk vs RotJ), but here you can see some nice side-by-side comparisons for just how different the pre-OT A-Wing was from what we first saw in RotJ:

  8. Elspeth De Montes

    Purple Dave the reason other comments appeared apparently after yours was as you thought, they were pending until approved as were caught in a potential spam comment trap. Every comment (unless it’s spam or contains very naughty words) is approved but there was a slight delay.
    Thanks :-)

  9. Hess

    Disappointing regarding the stickers question, wish the interviewer had called them on their bs,Stickers on UCS sets the issue is that the parts cant be used for other mocs etc….. I’m sure someone that spends 3-400 bucks on a set wont mind paying $2 bucks on brick link or from lego for the non printed parts they need, and not split up their UCS Display set…

  10. Elspeth De Montes

    Hess, as the interviewer, I did actually say that UCS models are often bought as display models and would not be broken down for parts but there was not really a reply to this, nor did I expect one. If every printed part is more expensive to produce, becomes a new element to store separately and individually print, AND is less likely to be reused in another set because they start to be very set specific then it all costs a lot more. It doesn’t need a LEGO designer to point this out as they follow guidelines and cost limitations. I’m not sure what else you wanted them to say as they were being interview not interrogated :-) There is some truth in the responses but not the whole rationale behind stickers (which is cost of printing, storing and maintaining specific printed elements).

  11. Purple Dave

    It’s not BS. It’s also not just about the UCS market. Some years back they realized they were floating way too many elements in current inventory, and that it was becoming unmanageable. To combat this, they imposed a strict limit on the number of elements they are allowed to have in active inventory at any given time. If you want to add a part, you have to subtract a part first. Any sets that rely on that element are then off the table (this is why minifigs in the Winter Village theme sometimes got new faces when their sets were re-released a year after their debut). One in, one out. A decorated element counts as a separate element than its undecorated counterpart, meaning a black 2×2 45 slope could count as 20 different parts because 19 different set designers insisted on having only printed elements…or it could count as one single part because 19 different set designers realized how limited they’d be if everyone worked that way and they all agreed to use sticker sheets for print. A UCS set that has a massive sticker sheet like this could easily take up a few dozen slots, all for a single slow-moving set, and all of them likely to be exclusive to this one model.

    So, as a set designer, faced with those limitations, one option would be to limit the number of UCS-exclusive printed elements. If you want to use 15 in your new set, you have to ditch 15 from older UCS sets, so the UCS line doesn’t overwhelm the needs of the other 99% of what the company does. The obvious result of this would be that they’d likely be limited to a single UCS set at a time. If it sells for five years, it takes five years before the next one could be released (I’m sure that’s not what you want). Alternately, they could cap each UCS set at one year so they could keep releasing a new UCS set each year (except then they probably wouldn’t be profitable, and so the entire line would be cancelled).

    And so, you get stickers. There are a few exceptions that will never get stickers, based on what we see. With rare exception, minifigs have been off-limits since shortly after they were introduced. Compound curves, like radar dishes, pose significant challenges, both for sticker design and application. Play-dependent features also tend to be off-limits so young kids aren’t forced to choose between cockeyed stickers that might start peeling up in a week, or waiting to play with their new toy until an adult or older sibling has the free time to devote to a more careful application.

    So, you really only have three options. You can deal with stickers. You can buy UCS sets with no deco whatsoever (the bonus here is you always have the option of not applying any stickers that are provided). You can kiss the entire UCS line goodbye. Which of those three options do you prefer? I mean, right now there are five UCS or UCS-comparable sets listed on S@H for SW alone. The UCS TF sticker sheet isn’t numbered, so I’m a bit unclear as to both the total number of stickers, and how many of them are repeats, but if I’m correct that there are only eight unique stickers, that still puts the SW UCS line at 93 additional elements just to avoid having any stickered elements. And that number is actually a bit low, as they’d still have to hold inventory on parts for any UCS set that was recently retired.

  12. Hess

    Thanks for all the insights guys and well explained thanks for that ;) Just one last query are Idea sets exempt from the stickers etc? I see in many of the sets it would have been just as easy to use stickers? thanks guys, and thanks for the review :D

  13. David

    My guess (but Purple Dave or Elspeth may have a more detailed answer) is that Ideas sets have both a shorter lifespan and a smaller size (brick count) than UCS sets.

  14. Purple Dave

    I’m a bit unclear on how Ideas fits into all of this. We heard from the Exo-Suit designer that Ideas sets are restricted on the number of new elements (part+color) they can call for. So, while the original proposal used a white Spaceman, they would have blown that budget on solid white minifig parts (torso assembly, legs assembly, airtanks, helmet). Darth Vader would have given them the black torso and legs. Benny would have given them the blue torso, legs, and airtanks. TMNT gave them the unexpected option of green torso and legs, so they ran with that.

    I remember looking over some of the other Ideas sets and realizing that Ghostbusters had four unique torso prints, four unique head prints, an Ecto-1 license plate tile, and the Ghostbusters logo curved slope. That’s ten exclusive prints, plus we know that set was the first source for one of the red brackets, the drum-lacquered weightlifting weight, and maybe the dark-red Apollo stud. So, the restriction of five elements appears to only apply to the molding process, but that means there might have been a total of 15 new elements for Ghostbusters, from an inventory standpoint. Five of them would have been open game for any other set designers, but the prints would only work in another Ghostbusters set. I know the torsos got upgraded for the Firehouse/Dimensions, plus Venkman got a slimed head. I don’t remember if any of the head prints were reused, I don’t believe the logo curved slope was reused in the Firehouse, and I don’t own the Fiegbusters set to compare the tile or curved slope. Regardless, neither of those sets were on tap when the Ideas set was released, so they would have had no bearing on what was available for that model.

    For the record, they have actually used stickers in Ideas sets. TBBT had stickers for a CD rack and an empty Rock-em Sock-em Robots ring. But then they also had seven unique torso prints, seven unique head prints, one unique legs print, a 1×2 tile with a Van de Graaff generator, a 1×2 tile with an old radio, a 1×1 brick with a Chinese character for “rice”, a 2×4 tile with an equation from the show, and a studded 4×4 tile with Sheldon’s Pictionary sketch. There’s also a 2×2 tile with an image of a suspension bridge, but that has since been reused in the Brick Bank and Assembly Square. I could definitely see the rice box and maybe the radio popping up elsewhere. The VdG generator is a lot less likely, and the equation and sketch are clearly restricted to the IP, so given that they already had a sticker sheet for the set, those make a lot less sense being included as printed elements.

    But that does seem like something that should get asked as a follow-up at some point, especially regarding how TBBT ended up with a mix of both.

Comments are closed.