In an exclusive Brick Fanatics interview, Senior Designer Christopher Stamp reflects on the development of LEGO NINJAGO and the opportunities that a movie brings
The LEGO NINJAGO Movie is about to arrive in cinemas across the UK, and introduce this incredible world to many audiences for the first time. LEGO fans of course know that NINJAGO has been one of the company’s biggest success stories of late, going from strength to strength as it demonstrates the power of twinning fantastic LEGO sets with an entertaining animated series.
Ahead of the film release, Senior Designer Christopher Stamp sat down with Brick Fanatics to discuss the special place that NINJAGO has in the LEGO portfolio, and how the movie line has been consciously designed to stand as its own theme.
How did NINJAGO become such a beloved LEGO mainstay?
NINJAGO was originally supposed to be a three year launch. A lot of people have the misconception that it was cancelled, brought back and all that kind of stuff. It wasn’t cancelled, it was planned to be a three year story then we would end it and come up with something else. I think the main thing that took us by surprise is that when we planned to finish it, we finished it and then there was this large reaction from the fans.
At the end of the day everything we do is for kids, so if the kids are saying ‘you’ve made me fall in love with these characters, you’ve took them away, I want them back,’ then we are going to bring them back. That’s why we are here, to make things that kids love and if they love it we’ll keep doing it. As long as kids want NINJAGO, we will produce NINJAGO.
What do you think is the special appeal that LEGO NINJAGO has?
What is the main thing that has caught kids’ attention? Why is it so relatable? I have thought about it a lot. For me personally, it has got to be the characters. None of the characters are perfect, they are all flawed and I think that is something everyone can relate to.
The characters are flawed and individually they are not complete, but as a team they complete each other. You follow the characters’ development, it allows a form of natural evolution so as you go through the stories. The example I always come back to is when Cole questions if he is really important to the team, would the team still exist if he wasn’t there? That led us to introduce ghosts to the world of NINJAGO, what if he’s a ghost? Then we realise when he actually becomes invisible, the team doesn’t function the same way without him.
When I first joined NINJAGO, because I wasn’t on it from the beginning, I was catching up on all of the TV episodes. I was very surprised at how the show was not just focused at kids, it was also entertainment as an adult. I thought that was nice as it treated kids like an adult, that was pretty nice. It’s gotten to the point now with NINJAGO where you can hear one of the characters on the TV show say something, and you say, ‘yeah that is so Kai.’ You treat them as if they are real people.
Are the TV writers involved in the earliest stages of each year’s planning?
Definitely. A lot of people think that because it’s a TV show and a product line, that it’s two separate teams. It is not, it is very much one team working together. We have excellent writers, Dan and Kevin Hageman – they’ve been on NINJAGO from the beginning and that’s a benefit because they know the characters like the back of their hands. What we will do is sit down and come up with new ideas, we will suggest those to them. It’s very much table tennis, bouncing ideas off each other. Then what we’ll also do is pick ideas, Kevin and Dan might think we’ve never explored the swamps in NINJAGO – and we would build a few models to look like a swamp and think, ‘how cool can we make this look?’ It’s actually different to the movie, where they’ll have an external planner, that’s a different process.
What led to the distinction between LEGO NINJAGO and The LEGO NINJAGO Movie?
Depending who you ask, such as the writers or directors, everyone will have different explanations. It’s not something you can say is because of just one reason. Obviously The LEGO NINJAGO Movie is going to touch a larger audience, on a bigger scale, pushing NINJAGO to new boundaries. If audiences are coming into it with fresh eyes, we don’t want to say, ‘okay well you need have watched 70 hours worth of TV series to know what’s happening.’ It needs to be familiar enough, so you know that Lloyd is the Green Ninja, Kai has the same powers and Garmadon is still the evil guy. It has still got to have that core NINJAGO DNA, but changed enough so it is its own new thing.
Would design choices keep LEGO NINJAGO and The LEGO NINJAGO Movie distinct?
In the TV show it’s all animated and only the minifigures look LEGO-esque, but in the movie, everything –, the buildings, the streets, the vehicles – is going to be LEGO. In the NINJAGO TV show gradually you build up a city. With the movie, you’re going to be really thrown in at the deep end, you’re going to see this vast city all brick built out of LEGO. The scale of the two things, the TV shows and the movies, is different and that is how we approach the models.
With the TV show, we build things as best we can to the level of detail that is needed, facing the challenges we face with every model. But with the movie product we really try to dial up the size, the scale and what little details are hidden away. Take Destiny’s Bounty – if the size of the city is so big and the dock is so big, the Bounty needs to be so big. When it is on the big screen, then you really need to have that wow factor, you need to dial everything up to a grander scale and that is what we have tried to capture with the products.
Joining NINJAGO, working on the movie and all this stuff, when you see online the scale of the fanbase, the excitement and buzz around the products – it is very surreal to look at something that has grown quite large to then step out of it and think , ‘I’m a part of that creative team’. It’s hard to get your head around sometimes but it’s also really flattering because the feedback is positive, it makes you want to do more. I get excited talking about it, it’s great.
The LEGO NINJAGO Movie range is available from shop.LEGO.com. The LEGO NINJAGO Movie is out now in the USA and released on October 13 in the UK.