ANTICIPATION BUILDS

 

San Clemente man vies for his dream job, a position as a Legoland builder

 

THE SUN POST NEWS

 

Jonathan Eric Hunter had it all worked out in his mind Thursday night.

 

On Friday, the San Clemente resident was to compete with 26 other national finalists at Legoland California for a position on the Master Model Builder Team that designs, constructs and maintains the Lego models in the park.

 

Contestants, put up in a nearby hotel, were told they would use 4,000 standard Lego bricks to build anything representative of Legoland - rides, attractions, restaurants, sculptures - in a two-hour period.

 

Hunter had taken two huge bins of his own blocks to his hotel room in order to practice. But he decided not to touch them. He resolved to re-create in miniature the park's Miniland.

 

He went to bed, but by 1 a.m. he was awake. The anticipation proved too great and he kept waking up after that.

 

On Friday, here's how it played out for him:

 

Just before the competition begins the contestants are told they can pick a 4 -pound bag of additional blocks. With more options, Hunter says, "I feel very confident now, but my whole plan is changed."

 

The contestants set up at individual tables in Fun Town. Each person has a Lego base on which to build. The media are allowed inside the competition zone, but family, friends and park-goers must watch from outside the boundary.

 

Hunter spreads out his Legos - "It's more like... 7,000 bricks now"- and divides them into two groups: brightly colored blocks in one pile and gray, black and white ones in another.

 

Hunter begins building an outline of the United States using white bricks. His girlfriend, Patricia Spear, watches from 10 feet away. She smiles, waves, takes photographs, admits to being nervous - but probably "not as nervous as he is."

 

Hunter starts taking blocks off, putting other blocks in. Spear thinks he's making Miniland. Other contestants appear to be doing rides. That might separate Hunter from the crowd, she thinks.

 

Hunter starts forming the word "Legoland" on top of his creation. He adds little buildings, some palm trees. He has decided to stick with the

Miniland plan he'd thought up the night before. "I wanted to represent Legoland itself," he says later.

 

Halfway through, it's hard to discern exactly what people are building. The sun's out, it's getting warm, the theme-park noise is all around.

 

Building, building.

 

The Golden Gate Bridge, the Washington Monument - the buildings are rising on Hunter's mini-Miniland. The smaller scale makes it difficult to provide details. "I'll do reworks numerous times if the dimension isn't right or it just doesn't feel right," he says later.

 

Deadline draws near. Hunter likes how the Mardi Gras building has turned out. Music plays in the background. Hunter's competitive neighbor,

George Corn of Carlsbad, does a little dance as he puts finishing touches on his roller coaster.

 

Hunter ponders his Miniland, looks at it, turns it around. He stands up, sits back down, gives it another look. He lets out a breath. He photographs his work. He sits down and props his feet on the table.

 

The competition period ends. Applause erupts from on-lookers.

 

The tension builds as contestants wait for an hour as the judging takes place. Hunter says he didn't stress out, but his heart was beating fastest when he finished because he then could check out the competition.

 

"From all I've seen, I think they're really good," he says. "The competition is really stiff here."

 

He thinks he might have used the fewest blocks - about 400 to 500, he estimates.

 

As the announcement nears, he says, "I think I'm more nervous than excited. Nervousness is taking over.

 

"If I win, I guess they want us to stay around until Monday. If I lose, I'm going home, probably sleep."

 

His leg was jittering in anticipation.

 

Winners are announced: Kristi Klein of Los Angeles (an octopus garden with goldfish), Nathan Sawaya of New York (mini-figures sawing a log) and Aaron Sneary of Laurel, Md. (a group of kids working with a master builder).

 

"It was fun," Hunter says afterwards. "I don't have to make a decision (about his current job).... At least they know I exist now (for free-lance work).... I wish I would've won, but it's OK."

 

He hopes he can keep the Legos.

 

They tell him no.

 

Happy with his creation, Jonathan Eric Hunter relaxes and talks with other builders as the final minutes of the two-hour competition tick away.

 

PAUL BERSEBACH

 

Sun Post News

 

 

 

1. Jonathan Eric Hunter outlines the U.S. to begin creation of a miniature Miniland. He had decided this would be his entry, though last-minute changes in rules made him rethink it.

 

2. Going forward with his initial plan, small buildings of the theme park's larger Miniland begin to rise. Working in miniature has its drawbacks, especially in creating detail.

 

3. Some changes are made as more buildings are placed.

 

4. Hunter's completed Miniland stands ready for judging.