“It Truly Has Been a Dream!”: LEGO Hogwarts Designer Justin Ramsden Discusses Creating the Castle

We were all amazed when LEGO released the new Hogwarts Castle, a spectacular 6,020-piece set. The set includes minifigures of the four Hogwarts founders, as well as 27 microfigures. It also comes with Hagrid’s hut and the Whomping Willow. In short, the set is incredible.

MuggleNet had the chance to talk with Justin Ramsden, a Ravenclaw and the designer of the Hogwarts Castle set, and ask him some questions about creating it, how he got into LEGO design, and what he loves about Harry Potter.

Justin has always been a LEGO fan, and he says he “always wanted to influence, inspire, and excite others” with his work. He first realized he could get a job designing LEGO sets in 2004, when he visited the LEGO Group’s Danish headquarters. Justin studied Design at Goldsmiths, University of London and designed, built, and installed LEGO models in LEGOLAND parks around the world before becoming a LEGO model designer.

As for the Hogwarts Castle, Justin said, “It truly has been a dream to construct this iconic castle in LEGO form!” The castle is created in microscale, meaning the models are constructed smaller than the standard minifigure scale. Justin said the most difficult part of designing the castle was converting it into microscale. He worked with a team of LEGO graphic designers, headed by Crystal Fontan, who brought in “an additional layer of magic and storytelling through their amazing illustrations and stickers.”

 

LEGO Hogwarts Castle designer Justin Ramsden with his creation

 

Some fans were disappointed when they realized the castle would be microscale and not minifigure scale, but according to Justin, that was always the plan.

The original sketch model Joel Baker (LEGO Concept Designer) designed was at this size and everyone ultimately fell in love with the initial creation. It’s a new scale that we’ve never done before for a LEGO Hogwarts Castle, thus allowing a new building experience for the fans and a depiction of this stunning location.

Plus, Justin pointed out, LEGO Harry Potter minifigure scale sets already exist, so LEGO lovers can create their own larger castle if they’d like.

Besides the microscale challenge, Justin said the most difficult part of the design was capturing the iconic Hogwarts silhouette, as well as the construction of the main tower. Justin couldn’t figure out how to design the tower until he collaborated with fellow designers Mike Psiaki and Carl Merriam, who suggested a recent building technique they’d developed for a LEGO space rocket model. The technique worked and the final result is stunning!

 

 

We asked Justin which Harry Potter character he loved creating for, and his answer might surprise you.

I really enjoyed designing for Professor Dolores Umbridge. The pink LEGO bricks acted as a breather from a sea of tan and dark grey in the model, but also, it was great trying to figure out how to capture the important icons of her room such as the cat plates, [the] chandelier, and her desk at this microscale.

Though Justin’s favorite film is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, he says he’s excited to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald since we’ll be returning to Hogwarts.

While you wait for the film’s release, you can spend some time assembling the incredible Hogwarts Castle set, available on LEGO’s website here. It was such a joy to speak with Justin Ramsden, and you can check out the entire interview below.

Full Transcript with Justin Ramsden, Friday, September 28, 2018

What House are you in?

Ravenclaw, absolutely – I don’t think Ravenclaw gets the justice they deserve.

Who is your favorite Harry Potter character to create for?

I really enjoyed designing for Professor Dolores Umbridge. The pink LEGO bricks acted as a breather from a sea of tan and dark grey in the model, but also, it was great trying to figure out how to capture the important icons of her room such as the cat plates, [the] chandelier, and her desk at this micro-scale.

What is your favorite Harry Potter movie?

When it was first released, I really loved Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Since re-watching the films as reference[s] for the model, this has been re-confirmed although I’m excited to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald when it comes out soon as the trailer hinted that we might be seeing a few more scenes in Hogwarts Castle…

What was the biggest challenge in designing the model?

The biggest challenge was to try and capture the incredibly recognizable main silhouette of the Hogwarts Castle in LEGO form. However, another challenge appeared when I was working on the main tower. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how I was going to build it, [but] then two fellow LEGO designers, Mike Psiaki and Carl Merriam, mentioned that I should use a recent building technique that they had developed for a LEGO space rocket model. Their technique proved a success and I’m happy with how the tower turned out. Furthermore, this collaborative atmosphere amongst the LEGO Designers is what makes my day-to-day work so great.

What was the most difficult part of the castle to adapt to LEGO?

The most difficult part of designing the LEGO Hogwarts Castle was creating it in, what we call, microscale – a LEGO building style in which models are constructed smaller than in standard minifigure scale (which is roughly 1:48). Luckily, I worked with an amazing team of LEGO Graphic Designers (run by the brilliant Crystal Fontan) who were responsible for bringing in an additional layer of magic and storytelling through their amazing illustrations and stickers depicting the icons in locations such as the Room of Requirement, [the] Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, and the stairwells with moving staircases.

Can you talk about the decision to scale the character figures down?

The characters and, ultimately, model were always going to be in a micro-scale. That’s mainly because the original sketch model Joel Baker (LEGO Concept Designer) designed was at this size and everyone ultimately fell in love with the initial creation. It’s a new scale that we’ve never done before for a LEGO Hogwarts Castle, thus allowing a new building experience for the fans and a depiction of this stunning location. I was also very aware to design a set that wouldn’t completely take over a fan’s room whilst they were building it.

Also, larger LEGO Harry Potter Minifigure scale Hogwarts Castle sets are already currently on the shelves, such as the Hogwarts Great Hall (75954) and the Whomping Willow set (75953). They even have LEGO Technic pins built into them, so you can connect them together and make a larger castle if you’d like…

How did you decide what to include and what to leave out of the set?

I’m proud of the completed set, but of course, there are a few towers, buildings, and the Quidditch pitch that were omitted from the final model. However, as it is constructed from LEGO bricks, people can build their own architectures and configurations of this iconic castle if they want to.

How does one get into LEGO design?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a LEGO fan since I cast my destructive hands over my older brothers’ LEGO sets. I have also always wanted to influence, inspire, and excite others with my work. However, it’s only since I attended a behind-the-scenes tour of The LEGO Group’s Danish headquarters in 2004 (an experience called the “Inside Tour”) in my teenage years that I found out that I could get a job designing LEGO sets.

Since all those years ago, the drive and passion to become a LEGO Designer ha[ve] always stayed. I studied Design at Goldsmiths, University of London and worked as a Model Designer & Technical Assistant for Merlin Magic Making. For over four and a half years, I was able to design, build, and install LEGO models that you can find at many of the LEGOLAND parks all over the world.

One evening, I decided to search for LEGO Model Designer positions on the LEGO website, and after an intensive interview process, the rest is history! Having a strong art and design background as well as a passion for the plastic brick is a helpful route to becoming a LEGO designer.

What would be a dream set/franchise to design for?

Obviously, any set based on the Wizarding World, although it truly has been a dream to construct this iconic castle in LEGO form!

What are the most challenging aspects of LEGO design?

Coming from an AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) background, I was used to building sets that would be displayed on my desk for a few hours [and] then destroyed and transformed into something else. However, as a Designer for LEGO, I must take into consideration every sort of builder – be that a child who has never played with LEGO bricks before to the most seasoned adult fan.

When building “official” models, stability needs to be considered, along with the age range of the building experience and part type/color/amount. These were things that I didn’t take into account at all when I was just building for myself. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say that it is a frustration, [but] more a challenge that I greatly accept!