Each year, LEGO NINJAGO continues to bring fresh sets into the sprawling theme. Few other ranges can go from dragons, to mechs, to flying boats – but this particular story can have it all. One unique vehicle in the line is 70625 Samurai VXL, a car with awesome steering that makes for a surprisingly fun building experience. Senior Designer Christopher Stamp shares his experience working on the model with Brick Fanatics.
What made you decide to give this car its unique steering function?
With every product I always try to come up with a new function that we have not really done before. So that started with Ultra Agents, I did the flying Agents car [70162 Infearno Interception] where the four wheels rotates and it’s becomes a hover car with an ejector seat. I was really happy with that. When you are designing, you are also playing like a kid. So you are playing on the tables, on the floor – it gets to the end of the table but it flies off, his wheels are hover boosters so he can fly. You really play through the scenarios.
So then the next time I did a small vehicle like that was  Titanium Ninja Tumbler for NINJAGO, so it had functions where if you pushed at the back, little things popped out at the side guns, a glider came off and all these things.
Now doing another vehicle, you don’t want to repeat yourself. We could have another prison that falls off the back, we could have another fold out weapon or something. But I have done vehicles like those in Speed Champions with the [75913 F14 T and Scuderia Ferrari Truck] that has suspension. I was thinking, what can we do with this product that we haven’t necessarily done in this scale?
I thought it would be cool if you could rotate it. I was talking to my colleague Adrian, who designed the first two Destiny’s Bounty sets. I suggested this to him – he thought it would be cool, and said that he did that on one of the products several years ago in an old space theme. So I looked up that old space theme, I looked at how they did this on a much bigger scale. When they rotated the cockpit, the wheels turned the opposite way to how you turned. I tried that, it didn’t feel right, it felt a bit unnatural. I tried to make it so as you rotate it this way, the wheels would rotate with you. So I tried to take that function and flip it on his head.
Then on top of that, I tried to really cram it down to the smallest scale I could make it. I am really happy with the function, but normally I like to put two or three functions in a product. Because this function takes up the majority of the chassis you can’t have a lot of little functions hidden around it because then it will jam the function. So I opted to do that overall and do it the best that I could.
This set has a very striking appearance, how were those colours selected?
I was lucky because it was a brand new character for this product, so I could also help come up with the colour palette. With all of the characters we work with on NINJAGO, everybody has an input with the character designs. For this one, because I was working on the product as well, I really worked hand in hand with the graphic designer to help work out the colour palette for the character.
Once you had the function in mind, was it easy to execute?
Building it takes a little bit to get your head around when you are designing it. The hardest part of the whole function was showing it on the back, communicating it – we tried a few different ways. What if a kid walks into a shop and sees this? We don’t want them to just see a car, we want them to see that this is a really cool car. So that when they have a look, there are a few different images to show how this function works, that was actually quite a hard part because the wheels turn in such a subtle way.
The way I explain it to my family and friends is that it is not just building LEGO all day, it is not that black and white. Every time you start a new product, it’s a new challenge, it’s a new project. For example, the things that make it really exciting, like the Samurai X car – no one told me to do the function, they just told me they needed a car, so okay, great. I go away on my own and come up with an idea, a function. That’s cool because at first, the first fifteen times or so, you know what you want it to do but you can’t get it to do it so it becomes the determination of wanting it to work and with LEGO anything is possible so you keep reworking it until you get it and that’s where the fun is.
It is not ‘okay, I’m building another car’, it is okay, this function is very different to the last function so how do I pull this off? Each one becomes its own kind of puzzle, I always class them as 3D jigsaw puzzles. You have an idea in your mind as to how they should look and you try to do it, you know what you want it to do and you just have to keep putting the pieces together until it does it.
Other times, you might have a silhouette in your mind as to how you want them to look, but because the pieces are physical and they are a certain size, the shape evolves as the concept does. As the build evolves, the silhouette and the design evolves as well and that is not necessarily how you intended it to look, that is the way sometimes the elements lead you to the design. That is quite exciting because you will put two elements together and be like ‘aha’. Or you will look at one element and wish it would fit and it will not, and you will turn the same element around and then it fits – you think ‘why didn’t I just rotate the element?’ Those are quite funny moments.
What was the best part of working on this set?
It was one of the most fun products to kid test. We have a big test room with a big ramp in and all these kind of things. It has a giant ramp that you can drive cars down and kids can just go in there, play and just go wild with a LEGO model. We’ll see what they like and don’t like. So they tried to put this car on and roll it down the ramp. All the other cars work, all the bikes work, but because on this car the wheels can rotate it got half way down the ramp and then it would turn, skid and turn into a roll. It is those kind of things that until you are testing you never think about. It’s really fun to see, as then the kids go, ‘Oh no it is damaged, how can we get out of this, the baddies are catching…’ and they start playing through the story of the scenario.