Meet Ryan McNaught, the man with a job you never knew existed. Ryan is a “LEGO Certified Professional” who spends all day hanging out in his man-cave building giant LEGO models you might see in department stores or at events.
It’s safe to say every little kid (and some very big kids) are probably quaking with jealousy right now. But before they start running off to pursue their LEGO-building dreams, Ryan has a very important message: stay in school, because it’s all about maths!
Formerly a computer programmer, the seed for Ryan’s LEGO career was planted serveral years ago when his twin sons were born and his mum handed him a ‘glory box’ of his old LEGO – ostensibly for the kids. But, Dads will be Dads. And Ryan quickly found himself reliving his childhood obsession with brick-building.
“I ended up building stuff, playing with my old LEGO, under the auspices of ‘for the kids,’ even though it was really just me playing,” Ryan said.
Then one of Ryan’s hobby projects – a robotic LEGO aeroplane that could be controlled via a program he wrote for iPad – went viral online, and soon LEGO head office was calling, wanting to know how he did it … and what else he could do. A bit of part-time work soon turned in to a full-time role building large-scale LEGO models, and Ryan got to trade his day job for the dream job: “I went in to my old boss and said, ‘I’m quitting to play with LEGO bricks.'”
Ryan now has the ultimate office.
“I have this place, it’s called the ‘Garage Mahal’ and it’s a man cave full of millions of LEGO bricks. And that’s where it all happens. Our house had an old stable behind it. I basically gutted it and turned that in to a workshop. But because LEGO are now asking for bigger and bigger things, I’m going to have to move. ”
Ryan’s models are made entirely of standard LEGO bricks, ‘glued’ together using a solution that fuses the bricks. So what happens if you make a mistake? “You don’t!” says Ryan.
More complex builds require computer modelling, and all of them involve calculations.
“When we’re building these models layer by layer, it’s like a medical MRI, that’s exactly how I see things. So if I’m looking at recreating [something] I’m picturing in my mind slicing it in to layers, and I’m going to build one layer at a time. And that’s all maths based, about angles and such.”
A typical day in the Garage Mahal involves a solid eight hours of playing. Err, I mean, building.
“I’m laying bricks pretty much the whole day. I can only do about eight hours a day or my hands get really sore. I’ve got brick callouses on all my hands. Occupational hazard. You might do paperwork for a little while or some design work and then build for the rest of the day.”
As well as callouses and hand cramps, there are other drawbacks to the job. Such as being looked at like a crazy person when you tell people what you do for a living.
“I always get in to trouble when I travel overseas. You know on the customs form when they ask you for your job? Well I put LEGO Certified Professional and the customs guys say, ‘Come on mate, that’s not a real job. You’re clearly telling porky pies here.”
There are also plently of OH&S considerations when working with structures that can weigh hundreds of kilos. And of course, there’s definitely no going barefoot in the Garage Mahal. But Ryan clearly loves what he does. “The way I think of it is – my worst day is someone’s best day,” he said.
Ryan’s two boys are pretty stoked about their Dad’s job, too. “I’ve been dragged to show-and-tell quite a lot. And they bring home a lot of friends from school.”
So what advice would Ryan offer to any budding LEGO professionals wanting to follow in his footsteps?
“At high school, you know when your maths teacher taught you that maths that you never thought you were going to use? That’s the maths I use. LEGO is amazingly mathematical. So I tell kids if they want to do what I do … firstly, wait until I retire so they can’t pinch my job … But then it’s all about maths, maths is the key.”
So … stay in school, kids!
See more of Ryan’s work at thebrickman.com