10K Club Interview: Meet The Office's Designer Jaijai Lewis
This week we say hello to Jaijai Lewis (aka LegoTheOffice), behind not just one, but two The Office based 10K models! This time, it's about the second submission, The Office. Learn a little more about him and his creation here and be sure to say congratulations to him in the comments section!
- Where are you from?
I’m from Queens, New York.
- How old are you?
- What do you study or do for a living?
I work in Market Research.
- What hobbies do you have?
I love traveling, drawing, reading, messing around with LEGO, collecting Office swag and binge watching my favorite TV shows (with “The Office” at the top of the list.).
^ Jaijai, on the right, when he attended the Women of NASA signing event in New York City and met it's fan designer, Maia Weinstock.
- Do you have a personal portfolio website that you can share with us?
Not really, but I’ve been on most social media platforms as @LegoTheOffice since 2015.
- How and when did your interest for LEGO come about?
When I was a little boy, I received the Basic Building Set (1922-2 made in 1983) as a gift. There were about 60 elements inside this red plastic briefcase, they were just the basic elements that LEGO made at the time. But I LOVED it! I carried it around everywhere. My little sister and I created worlds with that small little set and our imaginations.
I stopped playing with LEGO bricks as I grew up, but I always remained very fond of it. I know how it can spark a person’s creativity, causing them to think outside of the box. So, when my sisters had kids, I was proud & slightly giddy to introduced them to LEGO bricks and make them superfans as well. That also inadvertently brought me out of my LEGO dark age.
- What is your favourite official LEGO set? Why?`
I had a really hard time answering this question in my last 10k Interview, but now I’m very fond of the new UCS Millennium Falcon (75192). It was a gorgeously detailed design. I really love these intricate models.
I’m also a fan of the UCS Red Five X-Wing Starfighter (10240-1), unfortunately I missed its release and just hope to see a new version one day.
- What is your favourite LEGO element? Why?
I really like LEGO bricks that allow motion. Wheels, hinges, turn-tables, gears, technic bricks, etc. I’ve always liked the 2x2 plate turn-table, it blew my mind the first time I saw it.
- Is there a LEGO designer (official LEGO designer or fan designer) who you are inspired by and look up to? Who and why?
Ellen Kooijman (Alatariel) because of her LEGO Big Bang Theory set (21302). It was what inspired me to make the first ‘LEGO The Office’ set way back in early 2014. When I saw LEGO made a set for ‘The Big Bang Theory’, that was when I realized a set for my favorite TV show was possible.
JKBrickworks always makes some truly amazing LEGO creations. The LEGO Maze (21305) really impressed me. Being a fan of LEGO sets that allow motion, his work is pretty amazing.
Sleepycow’s design for the upcoming LEGO Piano is absolutely brilliant and I cannot wait to get one. The entire design blew my mind when I saw that video.
- Is there one or more particular LEGO related websites (not official LEGO websites) that you visit often and/or are inspired by?
I don’t have time to visit many sites lately, but I do follow some Lego pages on Instagram that I really like:
BrickPrincess makes some of the most beautiful LEGO vignette scenes I’ve ever seen. I am a huge fan of her work because I view it as artwork.
Legojac takes some really awesome pictures of LEGO in real life New York.
LegoQuickReview is a great Instagram page with reviews of LEGO products. They also run another account I like, Warlord_Lego which shares great fan creations.
About Your Project
- Where did your interest in this particular model come from?
Back in 2014, I heard LEGO was releasing a set for ‘The Big Bang Theory’ online (That was also how I learned about LEGO Ideas.). I thought that was a great idea, but I really wished LEGO would release one for my favorite TV show, ‘The Office’.
For me, ‘The Office’ is a show I go to for comfort and I know I’m not the only one. I once asked my followers “What does The Office mean to you?” And a common theme I heard from hundreds of people is during a moment of hardship in life, they would watch ‘The Office’ and it would lift their spirit. I understand that because watching the show, I can always count on it to make me laugh or smile. The show is hilarious, but it can also be heartwarming. There have been many times in my life where I could relate to something that happened in the show because ‘The Office’ captures those funny moments most of us experience every day.
The show obviously means a lot to me, so I initially started building the model for myself 5 years ago (in early 2014), but then I realized one day that other fans would probably enjoy an official version. I debated whether I really wanted to submit it to LEGO, but ultimately, I knew I had to try because I am such a big fan of the show. So, I submitted an idea for the very first ‘LEGO The Office’ back in October 2015 after spending over a year designing it.
After my first design hit 10K supporters and was declined in early 2017, I debated if I should resubmit a new design. I knew other people were submitting their own designs now. But I knew if I wanted to redesign and resubmit it, I would only do so if I could make significant improvements to my first design. I was encouraged by some of the cast & crew from the show, as well as my supporters. Because I had some ideas for some substantial improvements and with the 15th anniversary was coming up in 2020, I knew I had to try one more time.
- What special challenges did you face creating the model? What was the most difficult part to recreate?
The first time I created the ‘LEGO The Office’ in 2014 I really didn’t know what I was doing. Finding the parts, designing the set, taking photos, marketing the project on social media was all very new & challenging to me. This time I had a better handle on those things, but I knew I was facing different challenges.
This time, I needed to look objectively at my first design to determine all the flaws. Because there was a lot from my first ‘LEGO The Office’ design that I liked and could reuse, all my inside jokes/call-backs (like the hole Andy punched in the wall, the Jello mold, accessories, etc.) and Mini-figure designs still worked well, however with a few updates based on new pieces that came out. But the layout designs itself all had to be re-evaluated from scratch.
I felt there were 3 things I needed to address. Sturdiness, playability and size.
I wanted to take anything I felt wasn’t sturdy in my first design and reinforced it. I also wanted more interactivity as some of the items just felt very static, which made the set feel more like a diorama than a playset. A good example is my old desk design, which felt kind of small, broke apart too easily and lacked any interactivity. I created several new desk designs, but coming up with one with working drawers that could be customized and was sturdy took a long time! This allowed me to further personalize each character’s desk with more jokes. After I finally figured that out, it became easier for me to figure out how to make all the other furniture more functional, like Michael’s closet and the cabinets in the Accounting department.
There was also the size of the set. While this set could be produced in its entirety (my design is made up of 2120 pieces), I wanted to think of ways to decrease the size to make it smaller and more cost effective too. I also wanted to be able to customize the set to cater to the different types of fans out there. While some fans really want the entire office set with everyone’s desks, there were also fans that didn’t want that and only wanted to focus on a specific character like Michael. Different fans have different favorite characters, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to omit any of the principal cast, so I needed a design that would cater to everyone. The 2-in-1 design seemed like the best idea because it allowed fans the option of building a smaller and more cost-effective version of the set which could focus on the left or right side of the office. But it also caters to fans who want to build the entire office by allowing the option to purchase another set to build the entire Dunder Mifflin Scranton space.
However, because of size limits, I couldn’t include things like the Kitchen or Annex from the show. Besides, some of the people in the office say it’s icky back there. ;)
- How long did it take to complete the model? Did you finish it fairly quickly, or did it take a long time?
The first time, it took about a year and 2 months on and off to design my first prototype. A lot of that was planning and waiting for parts to arrive. And even after I started the campaign, I still worked on improvements like re-working color schemes, tweaking the minifigures or modifying the layout, even after hitting the 10,000 votes.
The second time was different. First, I needed to take a break to rest after the first campaign. I also needed to think about what I wanted to do. It took about a year to redesign the new set with all the improvements I wanted to make. After that I spent a while taking photos, recreating some of my old ‘LEGO The Office’ memes, but also creating new ones.
- How did it feel when you reached the magic 10,000 votes – again- and how long did it take?
My first ‘LEGO The Office’ campaign took a year and five months from when it was created in 2015 to reach 10,000 votes. That was a challenge & I was so relieved when I hit it.
This time, it took 2 months from when I created the new campaign in April 2019. Even though I had made a lot of improvements, I was still really surprised by that. The support from fans of the show and LEGO has been insane.
I’m especially thankful to the people who came out to rally the Office and Lego fandoms to vote for my idea. The “AJR Brothers” band who wrote the hit song “Netflix Trip” (and are big fans of LEGO and The Office!), the Youtube reaction channel “The Normies”, the biggest Office fan account on Facebook “The Office Daily” and the biggest Office fan account on Instagram @DunderMifflinPaperCo (who is a really good friend and the biggest Office fan I know) help spread the word to get support! Everything has been kind of overwhelming, I feel lucky to have a lot of amazing and loyal supporters.
The support from the cast has also been incredibly humbling. Brian Baumgartner (who played Kevin), reached out to me with the kindest message after he found out about my idea and how I’ve been trying to get LEGO to make a set based on ‘The Office’ since 2015 and followed me to show his support. Kate Flannery (Meredith), has been one of my biggest supporters since my first design and has always tried to help. I also had support for my first design from other cast members like Jenna Fischer (Pam Beesly), Angela Kinsey (Angela Martin) and Andy Buckley (David Wallace). It still kind of blows my mind.
- Approximately how many LEGO bricks did you use to create your model?
There are 2120 bricks for the entire set, less if they adopt the 2-in-1 design! Truthfully, I thought it would be a lot larger.
About LEGO Ideas
- Do you have any useful advice about creating a successful LEGO Ideas project?
Make sure to take clear photos with bright lighting. My first “Lego The Office” campaign photos were really poor quality because I didn’t know how to photograph with a medium like LEGO.
Be careful sharing your work with others. I had several people ask me for my designs or ask me for intricate details of what I was planning when I was redesigning the set. It’s okay to talk about your idea, but you should be careful sharing detailed plans until you’re ready to make them public.
Be sensible & ethical in your design. Don’t use shady building techniques. Don’t submit something that isn’t sturdy. Don’t copy another designer’s work. Don’t assume that LEGO will fix the flaws in your proposal. I’ve seen other designers submit ideas using poor building techniques thinking “LEGO will fix it if I hit 10K votes”. If you get criticized for something with your proposal or know of problems in your design, you should fix it.
- What is your favourite LEGO Ideas project (besides your own of course)?
I can’t pick one.
The LEGO Doctor Who set, I adore Doctor Who.
The LEGO Women of Nasa, I got to meet the designer Maia Weinstock at her NYC signing and she is brilliant.
The LEGO Voltron set because… Well, it’s Voltron.
I am really looking forward to the LEGO Piano, LEGO Pirate Bay and LEGO Sesame Street sets.
- What is it about the platform that attracts you? What tips would you give to anyone who is thinking about uploading an idea?
I really appreciate the creativity and opportunity LEGO Ideas allows for fans to see something they love in LEGO form.
Be strong. Trust yourself. Love yourself. Conquer your fears. Just go after what you want. And act fast. Because life just isn't that long. And remember… There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?
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