40 Years of Minifigures – Design and Manufacture

It’s the 40th Anniversary of the Minifigure, and I received a huge stack of images and videos from LEGO about minifigures to help celebrate it! There’s a plethora of information, with loads of images that haven’t been seen before. On Wednesday I took a look at a few patents, and Thursday I explored the evolution of the minifigure, with some of the weird and wonderful prototypes used.

Today, it’s time to turn our attention to the design, moulds and element manufacture process.

It’s very hard to create a new minfigure without an initial design to base it off. The sketches from five different graphic designers were sent through, and it’s amazing how different they are! Some have heaps of detail, others don’t. This team works through all areas of the LEGO’s products, but most heavily with the Collectible Minifigures. The five designers are:

Alexandre Boudon Sketches - LEGO Forestman

Alexandre Boudon – I love the colour and detail in these. They’re amazing!

Austin Carlson Sketches

Austin Carlson, who was also lead designer for the BrickHeadz. These are all recognisable designs! They’re so simple, yet so detailed.

Chris Bonven Sketch

Chris Bonven – the “pew pew!” addition cracks me up!

Matthew Joseph Ashton, Vice President of Design at LEGO, co-producer of The LEGO Movie, and seen in the UK version of LEGO Masters – he’s got a ton of sketches.

And lastly, Tara Wike.

Once the designs are sorted and the prototype locked in, it’s time for the mould. There’s also a fantastic looking prototype mould, which is made from bricks. I love the simplicity of this one, and they seemed to do the job pretty well!

LEGO Prototype Mould

These days, the moulds are much more sophisticated. The LEGO Group has sent me and the other fan media channels some brilliant images of the moulds used to create these elements. There’s one for each of the six element types – the head, torso, arms, hands, hips and legs.

Minifigure Head Mould
Minifigure Torso Mould
Minifigure Arm Mould
Minifigure Hand Element
Minifigure Hip Mould
Minifigure Leg Mould

It’s a fascinating process – tiny balls of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) are heated up to 232ºC, and injected into the moulds. The element cools down, and then it gets pushed out with an ejector pin (seen in the head mould), and the process starts again.

The newer moulds now allow for a couple of colours to be fused together. This is especially seen in leg and arm moulds where the character is wearing short sleeves and shorts.

Once it’s out of the mould, it gets thrown in a big tub, to head to the assembly process – that’s what I’ll take a look at tomorrow. I’ve always had a dream to see this in person, but this is the next best thing!