From concept art to store shelves: How Lego creates its 'Star Wars' toys

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From concept art to store shelves: How Lego creates its 'Star Wars' toys

Star Wars Lego prototype development
Source: Lego

Each year Lego creates more than 40 products and buildable figures for every one of its licenses.

With its legions of fans, "Star Wars" ranks among Lego's top five licenses. These products begin to take shape one to two years before their release to toy stores.

While Lego declined to provide specific detail about Star Wars sales, across the industry, more than $760 million worth of Star Wars toys were sold last year, topping 2015 sales by $60 million, according to the NPD Group.

Rob Johnson, a business and marketing manager at Lego who has been with the company since 1988, shared a series of prototype images of one of the company's "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" kits during Star Wars Celebration in Orlando last month — Rey's speeder.

Johnson, who worked as a senior art director for Lego's Star Wars division before moving into marketing, gave fans quite a bit of insight into how these toys go from concept art to store shelves.

Here's an inside look at how it was done.

  • Concept art

    Lego product designers head to Pinewood Studios in London to see the sets and models from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

    The designers sketch various vehicles and set pieces to bring back to the team. In the case of Rey's speeder, the designers noted the color, shape and important features so that the builders could begin creating prototypes.

    In this particular sketch, the product designer compared the vehicle to an upright version of Luke's speeder from "A New Hope," and said the shape was reminiscent of an early 20th-century tractor.

    Star Wars Lego prototype development
    Source: Lego
  • Capturing the shape

    To begin, designers free-build, taking Lego pieces and fitting them to get the basic shape of the vehicle.

    Johnson said the team tries to find the right balance between accuracy to the set pieces and build-ability. Lego's target audience for these toys are children ages six to nine years old, so the builds cannot be too technical.

    This particular prototype is a first pass at capturing the shape of the front end of Rey's speeder. Designers don't pay too much attention to color yet and use already-developed Lego pieces. In the future, they may need to design special pieces just for this product.

    Star Wars Lego prototype development
    Source: Lego
  • Adding features

    Once the builders start to feel comfortable with the preliminary shape, they will begin to add features to the piece, like seats or engines.

    Rey's speeder now has a longer nose, more like the actual movie prop, and designers test out how the engines should look.

    They will create dozens of different speeder designs like the one below, each with a slightly different shape, until they find the one that is just right.

    Star Wars Lego prototype development
    Source: Lego
  • Creating play value

    For Lego, these kits aren't just models to be built and placed on the shelf. They want kids to play with them.

    Johnson said the team likes to add "play value" to each kit to enhance the experience. In the case of Rey's speeder, the builders wanted to create built-in storage so the young scavenger would have a place to put all her loot.

    The design team added hinges to the panels of the toy that would allow for the section to open and for little Lego bits, or whatever else, to be placed inside.

    Lego
  • The finishing touches

    Once the team builds the "play value element," sometimes the shape of the design has to adapt to the new pieces. The toy will go through several more prototypes before becoming the final product.

    The white brick in the center speeder is a placeholder piece. It signifies that the designer needs to create a new element, one that Lego doesn't already have a brick shape for.

    Engineers will use graphic prototype machines that take digital designs and make them into a physical piece. Johnson said this process is called rapid prototyping.

    The handwriting on the left speeder tells designers what color the piece should be, Johnson said.

    Lego
  • All the necessary pieces

    Once the designers settle on a final design, all the necessary pieces are placed onto Lego boards.

    These boards denote every single piece in its correct color and shape that will be needed to assemble Rey's speeder.

    The boards act as a reference for designers and the packaging team. With so many projects occurring simultaneously, having these reference boards ensures that there is no miscommunication as the product transitions from one team to another.

    Star Wars Lego prototype development
    Source: Lego
  • Sculpting the figures

    Before the kit is complete, the team must also design the characters. While the face and body pieces will only require a decal change, the hair and headpieces must be hand sculpted.

    The sculptors create these molds at a three-to-one scale, and the final design is shrunk down to the proper Lego size.

    "It's hard to sculpt at the actual size," Johnson said.

    These artists use Sculpey clay and created Rey's signature hair and head wrap.

    Star Wars Lego prototype development
    Source: Lego
  • The final product

    This is the final Lego product. The speeder has all of its proper decals, accessories and, of course, its figures.

    The lower engine twists to open up the two sides of the speeder and reveal the storage area. The final product also includes a full console, with lever controls and a clear windshield.

    The product retails for about $20.

    Star Wars Lego prototype development
    Source: Lego