LEGO at Cultura

Meet designer Mark Stafford

Another meeting on the occasion of Fan Media Days curated by LEGO: Mark Stafford, designer well known to adult fans, who worked on the set 75955 Hogwarts Great Hall and with whom I was able to discuss on this box but also on some other very interesting subjects of which I give you some extracts below.

Behind his involvement in the new LEGO Harry Potter range, there is a little more to explore with him than the why and how of such and such a part in such a box. Mark Stafford is indeed a regular at the so-called "recruitment" ranges, namely those universes which are responsible for attracting the youngest to the LEGO world.

He went through the Exo-Force (2009), Atlantis (2011), Alien Conquest (2011), Ninjago (2012-2013), Legends of Chima (2013-2015) and Nexo Knights (2016-2018) ranges. He also worked on the Jurassic World Fallen Kingdoms sets (2018) and the derivative line of the video game Overwatch (2019).

And the revival of the Harry Potter range is indeed a recruiting tool for young fans who have discovered books or films in recent years and who until now could not find any LEGO merchandise on the shelves of their favorite toy store.

75955 Hogwarts Express

Since it was a question of doing a little promotion for the novelties of the Harry Potter range, THE question around the set 75955 Hogwarts Express was obvious: Is the train compatible with LEGO rails and motors and why does the set not contain any?

"... The train set 75955 is compatible with LEGO tracks and it is easily convertible into a motorized train. It was originally designed on the same principle as the Emerald Night from set 10174 (2009) and the various Power Functions elements could be easily integrated. But this box is aimed at children and we then preferred to design a more compact train and offer a more detailed and playable station rather than including all the necessary gear for its motorization.

Those who wish will be able to run the Hogwarts Express on their circuit at the cost of a few simple modifications, but we didn't want to sacrifice some details for those elements, while still keeping a public price accessible to the vast majority of young fans of the l Harry Potter universe which are not necessarily equipped with Power Functions accessories and LEGO rails.

These new sets are aimed at a young audience who is discovering the Harry Potter universe, because parents who are already fans, for example, have put books or films in the hands of their children. It is therefore a range of "recruiting" that we are trying to develop, with accessible and playable representations of scenes or places emblematic of the first cinematographic episodes of the saga. Adult fans will enjoy it with new minfigs and some original construction techniques, such as the one that allows in set 70954 to attach the roof of the tower to the walls.

75954 Hogwarts Great Hall and 75953 Hogwarts Whomping Willow

Precisely, about sets 75954 Hogwarts Great Hall et 75953 Hogwarts Whomping Willow which can be combined and the possibility of obtaining future extensions for an even more consistent playset:

"... The demand for new boxes in the LEGO Harry Potter range was there, we saw it through the reports made from our official stores where fans kept asking sellers when the range would be available on the shelves again. Taking advantage of the release of the Fantastic Beasts films was the perfect opportunity to relaunch a Harry Potter range.

With these new sets, we wanted to stand out from the boxes of the previous range and opt for a reproduction of Hogwarts as the construction appears in the most recent films. No green roofs and no reference to previous sets. We wanted the range to take a fresh start.

The combination of the two sets here offers a good compromise in terms of scale, playability and public price, no offense to all those who always hoped for bigger, always more minifigs, etc ... Three of the four designers who have worked on these new boxes come from the Nexo Knight universe, so we are used to working on projects aimed at recruiting new fans and this is what these new sets should allow to achieve.

I had initially placed Hogwarts on top of a rock and integrated the Chamber of Secrets into set 70954, but when we tested the set with a panel of children, they preferred to use the Basilisk [Basil] to recreate clash scenes with the various characters and showed little interest in the Chamber itself.

It was then decided to remove it from the set and put the quota of available parts to good use to bring additional details to the existing construction. Personally, I prefer the set as it is today, limited but accessible to a large population of young fans, rather than more detailed but reserved for a clientele of adult fans who could afford it.

If we market other sets in this range, it is possible that possible extensions are then available and we will provide the parts and instructions necessary for the junction between the different constructions ... "

75951 Grindelwald's Escape

Regarding the pressure that a designer could possibly feel when working on the comeback of a range highly anticipated by fans and the constraints of developing a licensed range:

"... Those who know me as a LEGO designer know that I'm always ready to take on fan assault. I've worked on lines like Ninjago, Legends of Chima and Nexo Knights and so I'm used to it. to see hordes of adult fans criticizing the products or lines I work on. These same fans then often become less vocal about these children's lines when they realize they are the source of original minifigs, parts new or new colors.

These early 2018 version LEGO Harry Potter sets were pretty well received and I was to some extent surprised not to see a surge of nostalgic fan reviews of the previous sets. I'm not used to such a positive reception ...

The real pressure came more from the feedback we received from licensees including JK Rowling during the product development phase. You never knew when a particular comment or criticism was coming directly from her, so it was always a little stressful to receive feedback without knowing who it was really coming from.

Working on the Harry Potter Cinematic Universe isn't an obstacle course: The films have been available for several years and there is nothing confidential about this lineup. You just have to break free from what has already been done by LEGO on the subject and have a fresh look at this universe, as the children of today who discover the adventures of Harry Potter have.

It was more complicated for the designers in charge of the Fantastic Beasts sets: If Samuel Johnson had no problems reproducing the suitcase present in the first part of this new saga for the set 75952 Newt's Case of Magical Creatures, it was more difficult for Raphael Pretesacque to obtain reliable and concrete information about the coach of the set 75951 Grindelwald's Escape based on the second part ... "

lego classic castle

Off topic or almost, about the chestnut tree that are the possible returns of the Classic Space and Classic Castle ranges and the difference in perception of these universes according to the generations. Mark Stafford is a designer who has often been criticized for his involvement in various themes (Alien Conquest or Nexo Knights for example) which according to a fringe of fans only occupy the place that the Classic Space or the Classic Castle should find in the catalog. Lego:

"... The Classic Space range wouldn't really make sense today, except perhaps for a few nostalgic adult fans who would like to rediscover the products of their childhood. It featured a concept of exploration at a time when the conquest of space fascinated the youngest.

Today, Elon Musk or Richard Branson sell space tickets and it would be difficult to bring out a Classic Space range as is without incorporating what interests the new generations: the clashes between good guys and bad guys. It would be necessary to add aliens and weapons to make it possible to stage these confrontations wanted by the children. It would no longer be the Classic Space as we have known it.

Regarding the Classic Castle universe, it's a bit the same problem. A castle is no longer enough for the new generations of children surrounded by universes that mix medieval atmosphere, magic, witchcraft, etc ... The Nexo Knights range was an attempt to mix these ingredients by adding a context in which nice knights face off. an army of bad guys.

Always keep in mind that what makes sense for an adult fan may not necessarily mean it for a child. This is the case, for example, with the Steampunk universe which fascinates adults but remains very abstract for the youngest. It's complicated: a car with propellers or an airplane with a chimney does not make sense to them because they know the modern representations of these vehicles and do not associate these different elements with each other. Conversely, a castle with a touch of magic works because there is no modern reference to this construction and their imagination remains available and open to this type of context.

Another example of what children perceive: The Legends of Chima line was not clear enough on the line between good and evil. Each tribe could embody the gentiles in the story and this created a bit of confusion in the minds of the younger ones. With the Nexo Knights range, we rectified the situation by identifying the two camps from the start, with a certain exaggeration, moreover ... "

Again, you probably won't have learned much here, but what Mark Stafford says is the usual LEGO leitmotif: Developing products for children. An important reminder at a time when many adult fans were sometimes convinced to be the exclusive target of the toy manufacturer ...

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