Building a career: Lego pro follows his passion

Robin Sather of Abbotsford has made a career out of playing with the popular plastic-brick toy.

Robin Sather rests in the arms of a massive 2.5-metre high

Robin Sather rests in the arms of a massive 2.5-metre high

Do what you’re good at. Follow your interests. Find your passion. These are the words of advice given to young people seeking a career.

But what if you’re a kid who’s really into Lego?

Brick by colourful brick, Robin Sather has built himself a career as one of 13 Lego Certified Professionals (LCP) in the world. In fact, the Abbotsford man pitched the idea for the position to the Danish toy company. Now he travels the country, preceded in museums, shopping malls and science centres by pallets loaded with Lego.

One of his most recent projects was a Hong Kong skyline that he built for the Aberdeen Mall in Richmond. It took three months and a quarter million pieces to construct. It includes 10 iconic skyscrapers, the biggest about 8’6” tall, and a 100,000-piece skyline mosaic. Sather was helped on that backdrop by hundreds of kids, and he provided them each with written instructions for their small section of the scene.

Some people would stop by his work site and point to the places in the Hong Kong buildings where they used to work or live.

“Everyone has a history with it. Everyone knows this little plastic brick,” he said. “I do events where there are grandparents, parents and kids all building together.

“No one has bad memories of Lego – unless it’s stepping on a piece in the middle of the night.”

At 16, Sather was still hauling out his Lego for a build.

“I wasn’t stunted in any way. I still had my driver’s licence and a girlfriend.”

With the popularity of the Internet came connections to other adult Lego enthusiasts. In 2000, he joined a 15-member Vancouver Lego club, and produced numerous model railroad displays.

“It was completely for free, and people loved it.”

He was his own boss – an entrepreneur with an IT business, but it got so he was spending a day every week on a build. It was affecting his income. Sather decided he had to either cut back on the Lego, or find a way to make money at it. He saw a huge demand for someone who could build the kind of big, impressive displays that the public enjoys. He and two fellow hobbyists began the company Brickville Designworks.

They took on more and more projects, and he slowly transitioned out of IT and into Brickville full time.

Today he is the sole remaining proprietor, and the only LCP in Canada. His wife, Diane, supports his venture, even though her basement has been taken over by 1.5 million pieces of Lego.

And there’s more to come. Sather needs more orange pieces for a giant jack-o-lantern display he is doing in Central City Shopping Centre in Surrey. It will be a big three-day build, and kids will be able to have their photos taken through the pumpkin’s eyes. He will also be selling small Lego jack-o-lantern kits as a library system fundraiser.

Locally, he built a giant shopping cart outside the London Drugs in Abbotsford’s West Oaks Mall, which was about eight feet tall and could fit about 10 people inside.

He has also done work for Canuck Place Children’s Hospice in Abbotsford, including a model of the building and a giant butterfly.

He doesn’t dismantle his projects, but rather leaves detailed instructions for his clients on how to do a takedown. Guidance is necessary, because you can’t safely start randomly tearing into a 700-pound Egyptian Sphinx.

Kids often get involved, and it is a fun part of the process.

“Kids love to destroy their Lego creations as much as they do building them,” he smiles.

He likens the kids participating in his Sphinx takedown to a cow venturing into piranha-infested waters. A project that took three days to painstakingly assemble will be ripped apart, then dutifully sorted, in about an hour.

Another part of the job is contract work for companies. Often it is buildings, but he has done a sunken cruise ship, a bust of Vinnie the Vampire and mosaics from photos. These are glued together for permanence, packed up and shipped off.

Because he is associated with a company with strong family values, Sather doesn’t do some commercial projects – such as  whiskey bottles, military hardware or anything that could be considered unwholesome.

Following your passion as a career can come with a heavy price: It is possible to kill the passion.

“There are days when I don’t want to see any bricks,” he concedes. “It’s not boring, but it is work, like anything else.”

He keeps his passion by making sure he is taking on new projects, rather than re-builds.

“It’s a new toy every day.”