Behind the scenes of LEGO Ideas 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay with designers Milan Madge and Austin Carlson [Feature]

A few days ago LEGO took the wraps off the newest Ideas set, 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay, a massive shipwreck island that contains the wreckage of the infamous Black Seas Barracuda. And not only that, but the set can also be transformed to create the full, seaworthy sailing ship too, and it will be available April 1, 2020, for US $199.99 | CAN $259.99 | UK £179.99. We got our hands on an early copy to bring you a full review, but we also had a chance to sit down (virtually) with the two LEGO designers behind the set, set Designer Milan Madge and minifigure Designer Austin William Carlson, to ask them a few more things we wanted to know about the set. You’ll definitely want to read our full review first, though.

Read the TBB review of 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay here.

First of all, let me say that I just finished building the set, and I absolutely love it. For people like me who grew up with the original Pirates theme, this set is loaded with nostalgia and is so much fun, plus it’s a great build. Have either of you worked on any pirates sets previously? And if so, which ones?

Milan: Thanks for the kind words! I think I speak for the whole team when I say that we are so pleased you like it. We worked really hard to try and deliver something that would take you back to your childhood, just as the theme does for Pablo, the fan designer, so I’m so glad it did. I’ve never had the pleasure to work on LEGO Pirates before, so this is new ground for me, but I spent an awful lot of time making huge pirate and castle dioramas as a kid.

Austin: The closest thing to a Pirate set I worked on was designing the Scallywag from Minifigure Collectibles series 16. I was around to see the work on the 2015 Pirate line and was circling that project like a shark but I wasn’t the designer assigned to it so I had to wait for this set to be the real first pirate set I worked on.

What is your favorite (other) LEGO pirates set?

Milan: 6278 Enchanted Island. There are a lot of really great LEGO Pirates sets out there but for some reason I have fond memories of Enchanted Island. I think for me, as a kid, it just sparked something in my imagination that enabled me to start building whole worlds for my Minifigures. I could really imagine this dense jungle with winding rivers. I think even Johnny Thunder made an appearance in my sprawling Islanders layouts!

Austin: I couldn’t afford a lot of big LEGO sets so I missed out on the big ships but I was a big fan of the small boxes that provide a decent amount of Pirates and a treasure. I think I must have had three of the 6252: Sea Mates, which looking back was probably a big sign towards my interest in Minifigures, haha!

What other sets/minifigures have you designed?

Milan: Most recently, 21319 LEGO Ideas Friends Central Perk alongside Aymeric, the fan designer on that model. Then before that a few Creator 3 in 1 and 4+ sets, such as 70821 Emmet and Benny’s Build and Fix Workshop.

Austin: I was fortunate enough to design a few sets when I came up with BrickHeadz. I guess with us talking Pirates, one of the BrickHeadz I did was Jack Sparrow. But besides BrickHeadz I’ve only done a few sketch models elsewhere since my primary job is designing Minifigures. Listing all the Minifigures I’ve designed would be a bit maddening but to list a few I worked on are Minifigure Collectibles: Disney Series 1 and Series 2, the Wizarding World, Series 16, Series 17, Series 18, and leaving after finishing Series 19, and I’ve done work for the LEGO Movie and a bunch of other things in between. So… many… Minifigures… I haven’t even scratched the surface but currently I’m on LEGO City and working as the lead character designer on the LEGO City Adventures TV show, which is awesome so go watch it! It also has pirates in it!

What’s a fun fact about the model that a lot of fans might not notice?

Milan: In terms of build, there’s a pretty huge reveal that I’ll let everyone figure out for themselves, but I think the story behind the model is also worth mentioning. What we really wanted to do here is translate Pablo’s experience, our experience, and probably the experience of a lot of fans out there into LEGO. Redbeard was such a huge character for many LEGO kids that grew up in the 90’s. So my fun fact is that we have taken the stories from the back of the original boxes, the comics, the books, the video games, the LEGO lore, and added another chapter in Redbeard’s story. I’d also like to add that you guys in the fan community made that happen – all the websites and forums and discussion really did bring this to life.

Original Ideas Project by Pablo Sánchez

The original project submission was very cool, but didn’t really tie into the classic LEGO pirates. I can see on your third prototype that it’s getting some classic Pirates influence. How did you decide to design the set as a re-imagining of the classic LEGO Pirates theme?

Milan: Well, there were really two things happening simultaneously that generated this ‘classic’ feel. Firstly, my obsession with history meant that I wanted to make this historically accurate, but pirates are surrounded by myth and legend and the cultural perception of the golden age of piracy is just as fascinating as the facts. The blending of realistic and classical fantasy is what I love about this set. LEGO is a toy, it represents our culture, so why not celebrate that? The second thing is chatting with Pablo, the fan designer. It was really clear that for him this wasn’t just a love of LEGO or Pirates, this theme and this model represented his childhood and his relationship with his dad. It reminded me of my own experience with LEGO and as we made the first prototype, it became clear that the story was the same for so many people in the design team at LEGO. I really wanted to capture those childhood memories that made many of us AFOLs, and for people who aren’t AFOLs, maybe they can recognise the same feeling and rediscover LEGO.

How early in the process did you settle on the wrecked ship being the Black Seas Barracuda, rather than a generic ship?

Milan: I thought this might come up. I’m sorry to all you Skulls Eye Schooner fans out there! I think once I had decided that this was the ultimate pirates set and so needed a ship, it just had to be the Black Seas Barracuda. This is celebrating pirates as a theme, so I went with the first great ship. It’s also a continuation of Redbeard’s story, and when you think Redbeard, you think Back Seas Barracuda. Or at least I do – perhaps the real answer to this question is simply because I love that set, and Niels the designer of the 1989 model was sat a few meters from me in the office, so there was really no excuse.

At what point did you realize you wanted the ship to be able to completed, and not just wrecked? What was it like designing that with the transition in mind?

Milan: Immediately. We’ve all been waiting for a big pirates set for so long, so we had to go the extra mile. Besides, what are pirates without a ship? I think it’s also a little sad seeing the end of Redbeard’s journey as an old man on a wrecked island. This set is about rekindling those childhood memories and starting a new adventure with LEGO for many people. For me, this is what LEGO is about. Dust off those old bricks, pick up the pieces and build something new.
In terms of the design, it was a real headache. Normally you have the entire length of the ship to lock everything together and create a sold structure. Designing something so huge that could easily separate was a challenge.

The sign on the wreck reads Jose’s Inn. Who is José?

Austin: José is Pablo’s father. José introduced Pablo to LEGO through pirates and we wanted to honor him and pay respect to Pablo by having José’s name on the sign. It’s a great emotional touch as I know so many other fans got into building through playing with their parents.

In the instructions interview, you mention that so many classic pieces are no longer in production. What was it like working around that challenge?

Milan: Well the difficulty wasn’t so much in the building, it was that we know there is so much love out there for these classic pieces such as the raised baseplates or the monkey. I can build solutions to many of these elements, but I know I can never fill the hole left by Spinoza the monkey. </3
The biggest building challenge was the structure of the thing. Once I knew I couldn’t have the baseplate, I had to start from scratch. Then small things such as the new boat hull pieces being wider than the ones in the submission just meant that the dimensions and structure of the entire model had to change.

I love the details on the ship like imitating the old 1×4 decorative brick above the captain’s cabin side windows. How faithful to the original set were you trying to be?

Milan: Well initially we had tried to give the impression of the original, but certainly not copy it. I tried several alternatives to the old 1×4 decorative brick but in the end it was a sort of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!’ attitude. I guess the other point to mention is faithful to the original HOW? The original was groundbreaking when it came out in 1989. Pirates introduced new animals, weapons and accessories, rigging, boat hulls, masts – it was even the first time LEGO printed faces other than the generic Minifigure head. So to really honour the Black Seas Barracuda you need to design a very contemporary model.

What was the most fun part to design, and why? What about the most challenging?

Milan: Both the most fun and most challenging was the stern, the captain’s cabin. Those angles and upside-down elements were great fun to build and really show the versatility of the LEGO System. However it’s also my favorite because that’s where there was the most collaboration, and it’s always great to work with friends on a problem. Mike Psiaki and Carl Merriam helped out here. You start by bouncing ideas off each other, yelling over each other with solutions, and before long you are all building on one model and it’s just getting better and better and you end up with an incredibly refined solution that no one person could have thought of on their own. That’s fun. There were also cookies involved. That was also fun. Some even made it into the model.

How did you come up with clever ideas like the ship’s rudder forming a door, or the tilted window?

Milan: The tilted window was Pablo’s idea, I just updated it with some nice simple slopes. The rudder was always there since my first concept but I think it was Illia Gotlib (designer on Disney Princess), who suggested it should be the door. Lots of these fun little features just appeared by being inspired by the model and the story.


Tell me about the black barrel? There hasn’t been a black barrel in a set since 1990, so it was quite a lovely surprise to see one here.

Milan: I have to say, I really adopted a pirate culture when designing this set. The barrel is a pretty simple story. Someone else created that barrel in black for their model. I liked it, so I stole it.

What can you tell me about the treasure map? I believe it’s a new design; does it have any special significance?

Austin: Nope! Same old map from 2015! You can still see the initials from the graphic designer who originally worked on it (DD for Djordje Djordjevic). Guess that treasure hasn’t been found yet!

Why do the two halves of the island not connect?

Milan: Well initially they did. In my early concept work it was one huge island with a skull-cave in the middle, much like set 6279 Skull Island. You’ll notice the bases of a lot of big LEGO models are often a really sturdy technic frame, but when Carl and I were looking at this model’s base, we really wanted to move away from that and capture the building experience that came with classic LEGO. This model shouldn’t just look like classic LEGO Pirates, it should FEEL like it. You’ll notice the base of the model is all bricks with lots of little stories and accessories, and every piece you put down tells the story of the island, the coral reefs, the structures built by castaways. For me it was important that the whole build was a process that reminded you of how LEGO was when you were a kid. What I didn’t want it to remind me of was the feeling of spending hours on a model only to drop it, and although we all like to think we’re sensible, I know that some of us would try to move this enormous model in one go, and if it breaks and you’re picking up 2,500 pieces all afternoon, that’s no fun. It also made sense to separate the model into two islands for the story and build flow. We wanted every part to feel complete, and building half an island wouldn’t work for us.

The new Black Seas Barracuda is beautiful, but it has no cannons when completed as a ship. Have the pirates turned peaceful?

Milan: Thank you, that’s really great to hear. Have the pirates turned peaceful? It is totally up to you, but that’s the goal with this model, to get people building and creating stories. In the original sets there was a note that read “use your imagination to continue the adventures of the LEGOLAND Pirates of the Sea…” The assembled ship is our version of that note – just the start. I want to see people removing the interior and adding the cannons (they fit through the gun ports). Add a mizzen mast. Make the rudder steer. I don’t see this as the finished model at all, that’s for you guys to explore.

Was there anything that you wanted to fit in, but it didn’t make it to the final version?

Milan: It’s always interesting to look back at a model you designed, because there is always stuff you want to change. There’s lots of things that appeared in concept models that didn’t make it, but I’m sure the fans will add them back in. I look forward to seeing the builds this inspires.

Captain Redbeard has been named in LEGO lore for decades. But where did the names and backstories for the rest of the crew come from?

Austin: Most of the pirates are based on previous pirates that came before. Because of certain things, some of their names had to be changed but I believe most fans will recognize them. Milan, Sam, and I tried to expand the previous lore of LEGO Pirates and a good one to point out is the evolution of Anne! If you remember the Ladybird books she was a pirate girl who often gotten in mischief with Redbeard’s crew. Now with plenty of time passing she has grown to be more of a right hand for Redbeard. She lost her blue bandana but she still sports a red outfit.

The comics often conflicted with LEGO marketing materials. The Black Seas Barracuda was also called the Dark Shark, and Captain Redbeard also called Captain Roger. Pictured above are pirate biographies from the LEGO-licensed comic The Golden Sovereign (1989). Image courtesy of  Mister Phes.

What was your process for updating and aging the pirate crew?

Austin: A lot of the aging was to see how far we can take it before it becomes goofy. Redbeard had to be older but I wanted to make sure he still had fire behind that Minifigure eye of his! So his outfit is a little cut into now and the most obvious sign of aging is that little grey in his trademark red beard of his. If we continue his story he may need to rename himself to Captain Greybeard! And do you remember the one pirate that wore the open vest that showed his anchor tattoo? After being on the island for so long he continued to add more to his body! Besides his trusted anchor he added a few mermaids and Popsy parrots tattoos! The Black Seas Barracuda [on his back] is probably his favorite addition though!

What was your favorite minifigure to design, and why? And the most difficult?

Austin: I can answer all of that with one Minifigure: Captain Redbeard. He’s probably my favorite Minifigure (I still have the one that I got when I was 4 years old) so when it came to updating Redbeard I spent a lot of time working on him. I get very energetic when updating classics but Redbeard is such a huge one for LEGO that I was a bit panicky! I wanted to make sure I did the design justice. I can’t really capture that feeling even in words, haha! I hope longtime fans will be pleased and newcomers will be captivated by him!

Our thanks to Milan Madge and Austin William Carlson for taking the time to answer our questions.

Be sure to read our full, hands-on review of 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay to get all the ins and outs on this new set.

21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay includes 2,545 pieces and 8 minifigures. The set will be available April 1, 2020, from for US $199.99 | CAN $259.99 | UK £179.99Amazon, and may be available via third-party sellers on eBay.

The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review or making employees available for interview guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

5 comments on “Behind the scenes of LEGO Ideas 21322 Pirates of Barracuda Bay with designers Milan Madge and Austin Carlson [Feature]

  1. jimmy

    Glad to hear that the evolution towards more of a classic Pirates theme look fits in with Pablo’s experience and what the model means to him. I also like the part about how the build experience itself was considered. though it would have been funny if there were no numbered bags and the instructions were old-style where you just stare at the page and have to spot the new parts yourself!

  2. Merlo

    Look at, for example, the amazing roof on prototype 3 and then the clumsy final solution that looks like something is missing, a mess of exposed studs.

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