San Clemente man who knows his way around the block will compete for coveted position of Legoland master builder
BY JESSICA PERALTA
Sun Post News
PHOTOS BY PAUL BERSEBACH
Jonathan [Eric] Hunter's passion for Lego building has led him to create cars, a replica of the Quest Software Building in Irvine and golf carts. He vies to become the new kid on the Legoland block Friday in a contest to pick a master model builder.
Master Model Builder Build-Off: The finals run 10 a.m. to noon Friday, and the winner will be announced at about 1 p.m. The address is One Legoland Drive in Carlsbad, off Interstate-5 and Cannon Road. It is open for public viewing.
To see some of Hunter's models, www.mocpages.com/folder.php/607? r=1038447896
To visit Legoland's Web site, www.LEGOLAND.com
It's his dream car - a red Acura NSX. It has full suspension and a good transmission. He began building it in 1989 and has had it since. It's 22 by 9 ˝ inches, almost seven inches tall and weighs more than 10 pounds. And it's plastic.
"I figure if I can't have the real thing, I'll make it out of Lego until I can afford the real deal," said 34-year-old Jonathan Eric Hunter of San Clemente. Hunter's one-eighth scale model of the Acura is one of his favorite pieces. The Lego car has a transmission that allows the Lego pieces to move when you move the vehicle.
"I wanted to make a realistic car at the biggest size that I could," he said.
The Acura has probably close to 6,000 pieces of Lego in it, he said. Hunter is a lifelong Lego builder and if he could have one job to choose from it would be master model builder at Legoland California. He's closer to that dream job than ever before.
On Friday, 27 finalists will compete for such a position at the park in Carlsbad. Legoland representatives will select the candidate who will be offered the position to become the seventh member of the Master Model Builder Team that designs, constructs and maintains the models in the park. Hunter is one of those finalists, after making it through the preliminaries earlier this month.
Hunter recalled attempting to get a job with Legoland. He showed up at Legoland with a car model and resume. Human resources that they weren't looking for anyone but to keep checking their Web site for postings.
"I'm sure they don't come open very often," he said. There are only six master builders in the world; Legoland is adding this seventh position. The job pays between $27,000 and $31,000 a year.
Hunter can't even remember when he first got involved with Legos. His mom guesses it was when he was 2 and his older brother got a Lego set.
"I was playing with these things before I can even honestly remember," he said. "It's like I was bred for this position."
He's a member of the Lego User's Group of Los Angeles [LUGOLA] and through them started getting more involved in Legos. He found the position opening on the Internet.
"I knew I had to participate," he said. "When people say dream job, some people say that lightly. But this is my dream job."
He found out that such a position existed when he was 19 or 20 and he decided then he was willing to go to wherever to get that job. Carlsbad, being 22 miles away from San Clemente, is a lot closer than he'd imagined. He goes to Legoland every couple of weeks or so for inspiration.
"I think the events of my life have brought me geographically, mentally, physically to this point," he said.
He grew up in Denver and has lived in California for five years. He works at ProShot Golf in Irvine. He's a graphic designer/Web master/sales and marketing manager. The company works in the manufacture, sale or lease of GPS units for golf course management purposes.
Once he found out about the master builder position posting, he pre-registered online and then attended the preliminary contest Jan. 7 at the Art Institute of California. Thirty-eight candidates competed, but only four advanced to the finals. (On the nine-city tour, more than 500 applicants pre-registered for a spot on the model builder team.) Hunter and the 37 other applicants had 45 minutes to use 2,000 Legos to make a model of an animal, which was the theme. Hunter built a 10-inch long scorpion.
He said that once he knew the theme, he dumped the Lego pieces on the table and took inventory on what he had to work with. He saw some hinged pieces and figured what he had would work well for an arachnid, something with bendy legs.
"It was a very playable model," he said, adding that he'd never built a scorpion before. He was shooting for maybe a spider or ladybug. But it turned out to be a scorpion. He finished a little early and so also built a cactus and spider to go along with the scorpion.
"I think the fact that I made it more of a story or diorama may have helped in the judging," he said. He hasn't built too many animals before - he has cars, buildings, houses and even mosaic artwork.
"I mostly do buildings and vehicles," he said. "I honestly believe I can build anything if I had enough pieces."
Hunter estimated he has about 10 Lego models of his creation on hand at any given time. He also has about 15 models from kits, not of his creation. He started buying bulk Legos by the bin. He bought five bins last week of 180-190 pounds of Legos.
"I'm just trying to stock up on parts," Hunter said. "It has to be over a million at least and that's probably a conservative guess," he said of his entire collection.
He said his models do take up a lot of space. "It takes up half my closet."
Hunter shares the home with his live-in girlfriend Patricia Spear, 29. Spear owns two pet pigs and two dogs. And if Hunter doesn't clean up his Legos in the living room, she said the pigs munch on the Legos.
"He undoes some of them," Spear said of Hunter's Legos. "Mostly it's all in his room but gradually it's been taking over the living room."
The couple has been together four years. "One of the first things he showed me was a Lego car he built a long time ago," Spear said. "He was really excited about it."
So it was not long before she realized his passion. "It's absolutely amazing what he can do (with) Legos," she said. "He's got a very extensive collection that just keeps getting bigger. He works on it every day."
He spends about four hours a day after work on his Legos, she said. She said she's excited for him and is taking Friday off from work to support him at the finals. "But I'm not into Lego like he is, not many people are," she said. "I'm sure he'll win, so I should be there. I also knew he'd make the finals. And I'm sure he'll win the whole thing, just a feeling, and if he doesn't that's fine too, he won't have to take a cut in pay."
She said if there was one way to describe Hunter, "I'd say he's infatuated with Lego."