Interview: Bjarne P. Tveskov, Classic LEGO Space Designer

bjarne_allsets.jpg

Image: All the sets Bjarne created for LEGO Space.

One of the great pleasures of blogging is meeting people who had an influence on your life simply by off-handedly mentioning their work, prompting a conversation. That’s what happened with Bjarne P. Tveskov and me after I’d included some of the LEGO sets he had designed in my “Sets I have Known and Loved” piece. Turns out the guy who made some of my very favorite sets of all time hangs out on our neck of the internet. We’re in good company!

I chatted with the Danish concept developer back-and-forth over email.

BBG: What did designing kits for LEGO entail back in ’80s? Were you working in an office or contracting from home?

Bjarne: It was all done internally at the LEGO Groups development department in Billund.

My LEGO career started when I was 17 years old; I saw an ad in the Sunday newspaper, they were looking for designers for the Space product line. No formal qualifications were required so just for fun I applied. They sent me a big box of LEGO bricks and asked me to create a Space model from imagination. Still got the model I made back then. (image coming later). At the interview I realized that the job was a full-time position in Billund, initially I thought that maybe it could be a freelance gig, but no. So when suddenly I was offered the job I had to ask my parents if it was OK if I quit high-school to become a Spaceship designer. They said it was fine, thinking I could always return to school later when I was done with the toy adventure. (But it never happened)

BBG: Where did the ideas for the models come from? Did someone from LEGO say “Bjarne, we need a big space ship for the Blacktron line” or did you come up with the ship so they decided to produce it?

Bjarne: Well, normally there was a brief to create a new space ship or vehicle or base at a specific price point. Maybe the model were to replace an existing set or maybe there would be some other requirements. But there would always be a fixed “brick-budget” one had to stay within. That was often the hardest part; If the model was over budget, one had to simplify and sometimes strip all the little cool extras of the models. Each brick has an internal price, and there was a whole department that did nothing but calculate the prices of all the prototype models we designed. Often 20-30 different models would be built, and only one would be selected for production. Then the models went through a committee of super-experienced model-designers to make sure stability and buildability was optimal.

I remember that one of the toughest ones to slim down to the right price was the Blacktron Alienator (6876). It had to be rebuilt and re- calculated several times before the brick-count was low enough. But it’s still also one my favorite sets out of the 20+ LEGO Space models I designed ┬áback in the day from 1986 to 1990.

bjarne_set17.jpg

Image: The design that scored Bjarne a job.

BBG: So were Blacktron bad guys or not? It seemed like LEGO was still avoiding putting proper weapons in sets back then, but it was pretty clear that Blacktron was supposed to be the guys that the Space Police caught.

Bjarne: Bad guys? Noooo. OK, they were a little bad, but in a good way… I remember there were some focus groups done with German mothers and they deemed the Blacktron models and minifigs to be a little too scary and aggressive. I don’t think the Blacktron Renegade (6954) ever became available in Europe, and there was a memo issued saying that the Blacktron should always be shown with their visors open… Also when we did Blacktron II a couple of years later, it was a somewhat watered-down style, in my opinion not as good as the original Blacktron theme. And yes, Space Police was created to bring back law and order in the universe. The little mobile prison cell with the laser bars was a fun thing to design, even if it was a little cruel for the Blacktron guys to be imprisoned inside the pod. The big Space Police Mission Commander (6986) is another personal favorite of mine. Except it was quite tough for the poor kids to build; As designers we sometimes forgot that while we became better and better at creating advanced designs over time, there were new 6- or 7-year-olds who had to be able to build them (and even if it has an 8+ age marking on the box, the younger kids will still get the models for birthdays, Christmas etc.)

BBG: Do you still do any work for the company? How has working as a designer changed over the years?

Bjarne: I left the company in 1998 but I have been fortunate to work on many freelance projects, mainly concept work for LEGO.com, Knights Kingdom, Mindstorms and other projects that I can’t mention. You could say that I got my “education” while working at LEGO Company, I still use a lot of things that I learned back then. From 1990 to 1998 I was working on trying to combine LEGO with all the emerging digital possibilities; Educational software, cdroms and internet and so on and so forth. But the eighties was in many ways a “Golden era” for the LEGO Company; One of the main challenges seemed to be deciding what new projects to shelve, otherwise the growth in sales would be too high (!). In the nineties things changed quite a bit. Suddenly there was a lot more competition in the marketplace and it became harder to respond to changing trends and new products like videogames and action figures etc. But I also believe that today there is a much more collaborative and international feel in the company in general.

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36 Responses to Interview: Bjarne P. Tveskov, Classic LEGO Space Designer

  1. iamnayr says:

    I absolutely loved having legos when I was a kid. For my birthday and for Christmas I was almost always guaranteed to have gotten a really big set. Unfortunately I started getting them around 92, so I missed out on these, but I still remember enough of them to known Mr. Tveskov had left a lasting impression – many of the sets I received looked extremely similar to the ones he designed.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Growing up in South Africa in the 70′s and 80′s, we were denied LEGO because of the boycott. (Thanks to all who helped . .) I didn’t get to enjoy the kits, only the older stuff.

  3. jderck says:

    Great interview! Wish we had a place like this in the States. If you saw the ships my son builds and all the things they do you would be amazed. Any ideas on how to direct such a gift? (He is 15)

  4. strider_mt2k says:

    No Lego is for very very boring grownups.
    -sorry.

  5. this takes me back what is it 20 years now.

    Thansk for the walk down memeory lane

  6. Anne K. says:

    We had three sets of Legos growing up, this one (my favorite), the castle/Robin Hood set, and a pirate one. So pretty much all we ever did was ransack the castle with space invaders and pirate canons.

  7. The main thing that really disappoints me with the current crop of Lego space sets are all of the custom parts that only have one or two uses. I remember playing with my ones everyday all night never getting bored.

  8. Policy123 says:

    I’ve made it my mission to help Bjarne P with regard to money off coupons, and I hope that LEGO space designer can be of assistance too.

  9. Kevin says:

    Diane,

    Try BrickLink: http://www.bricklink.com

    It’s the answer to your prayers! :-)

  10. Anonymous says:

    The “initial design” (with the green windscreens) was never released as a set. I believe it was something that was built as part of the interview process when Bjarne got the job.

    I too own large quantities of the old space stuff although there are so many pieces in those old lines that I wish I owned (like the light up computer screen brick in the Space Police 1 Light and Sound set, the monorail track and all those cool black and transparent yellow pieces from the Blacktron line)

  11. KDog says:

    We do owe this man many thank for some great sets. Thanks for a great interview. Just wish is was longer. I liked seeing the Lego set he created to get the job.

    On a related note, you might like my webcomic – a photographic comic strip set in the world of Lego Space and starring the classic sets. Hope you like!
    http://www.drunkduck.com/Lego_Space/

  12. MarlboroTestMonkey7 says:

    Today personal most rewarding use of the Internet: thank Bjarne for all the “wasted” time.

  13. Anonymous says:

    We have old sets, and are looking for pieces. Do you know anywhere we can order older sets pieces?
    dieann63@aol.com
    Thanks
    Diane and Cordell

  14. Bevatron Repairman says:

    Awesome! Glad that you pay attention to the man behind the curtain!

  15. Peter ID says:

    The instructions are the unsung hero of Lego’s success, they are an integral part of the joy of the system.

    I am doing research into Pictorial Assembly Instruction Design and more broadly the development of design knowledge (mode 2 knowledge). As part of my research I am trying to get into contact with the Assembly Instruction Designers at Lego, I have been trying for a while without much joy.

    Does anyone (Bjarne P. Tveskov?) have any contacts for Instruction Designers in Lego?

  16. ridl says:

    BLACKTRON! BLACKTRON!!!! Oooohhhhh so coooool. I have a new hero: this guy.

  17. Silva says:

    I’ve been looking for this for a while. Thanks Joel and Bjarne :)

    His concept is awesome. If there’s something I miss from my younger days were the countless Saturday mornings making racing cars from stock pieces: I still find my late-80s F1 designs better than the cars in the proper Ferrari line, and my late 60′s car, which I still remember how to build… A shame I did not owned enough pieces (lack of the big wheels was a problem) to make more than one each time.

  18. Mike says:

    Legos gave me lots of ideas while I was creating my web page.Las Vegas web design studio
    and I use them still for other projects.
    thanks!

  19. strider_mt2k says:

    Fantastic.
    Does he have any idea how many kids have been influenced by his work?
    Even if the set is broken up and the pieces used for another project entirely the pieces are still there because of him so he still gets PARTIAL credit at least!

    As one of those kids in his 40s all I can say is, “Thanks!”

  20. burs says:

    I found this informative and interesting blog so i think so its very useful and knowledge able.I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me.

  21. Stefan Jones says:

    Steve Jackson, of Steve Jackson Games, has for years been running war games with Lego pirate ships at conventions.

    He recently announced:
    “… I’ll be spending a full day running a new Lego game that’s not Pirates. It’s SPACE Pirates, based on the Triplanetary movement system. Except the ships will be Lego!”

  22. MrScience says:

    I’ve got fond memories of building a huge lunar base, complete with monorail. It was probably the hardest thing I put together, and I was proud of the accomplishment when I finished.

    I bought several lots of legos a few years back for my son, and he now plays with the lunar crater floor tiles of my childhood, and the large viewscreen crops up in his creations from time to time.

    Thanks for the great interview!

  23. the specialist says:

    sorry – leggo is very, very boring for grown ups.

  24. dculberson says:

    And how cool are his parents? Wow!!

  25. PatGund says:

    On the contrary. This almost 42-year old is still quite fond of Lego – as is my daughter.

    I think there’s a Lego gene. And it snaps onto the rest of the DNA.

    Lego is only “boring for grown ups” if the grown up has lost their imagination, sense of wonder, and sense of fun along the way.

  26. kostia says:

    Awesome, thanks so much to Bjarne.

    For some reason Lego has always been one of those companies whose internal workings are completely intriguing down to the smallest detail. Some companies, I don’t care, but how things go down at Lego (and other places, including Disney and McSweeney’s) just fascinates me.

  27. georg_ says:

    this is crazy – I had every item on the picture except for the one in the upper left corner .. so many cool memories

  28. Sastrei says:

    Peter ID: You may have some luck here – http://www.lugnet.com/ It’s the community hub for the AFOL community, maybe someone can connect you.

    Awesome article! And tell Bjarne his Blacktron Renegade has combined with one of those digital possibilities.

    http://www.maj.com/gallery/sastrei/BrickSpace2/dev234.jpg
    http://www.maj.com/gallery/sastrei/BrickSpace2/dev236.jpg

    I modeled and textured it for a mod for the game Homeworld2.

    -Stefan-

  29. sem says:

    Legos are very popular in every age group. I also had huge collection of it. Now my son plays with legos, so you can say it moves from generation to generation.
    online marketing

  30. jonincanada says:

    Bjarne – I know your initial design. It has the pod at the back that launches off… right? What’s the name of that beauty? I’d love to lookup the old instructions.

  31. Saaz says:

    >They should re-issue the directions sometime, or sell the old sets again. I miss my Space Police!

    http://peeron.com/scans/

    Or for newer sets:
    http://www1.lego.com/eng/buildinginstructions/default.asp

    Enjoy. :)

  32. Dillenger69 says:

    wow, too cool.
    I had a lot of the sets he designed.
    My kids still play with what’s left of them when we are over at my folks house.

    The one thing that really disappoints me with the current crop of Lego space sets are all of the custom parts that only have one or two uses. (I’m looking at you Bionicles :P )
    I always liked the space sets that had the most general utility parts that could be used for lots of things.

  33. iamnayr says:

    I remember staying up late night as a teen to put together some of these sets. Sometimes I still catch myself looking at the toy section of the nearest target and wishing I could buy some more ;]
    Thanks,
    Steve One Step Realty

  34. Ari B. says:

    Fantastic.

    I had a few of these sets as a kid, and had a blast with them.

    They should re-issue the directions sometime, or sell the old sets again. I miss my Space Police!

  35. Alex Spence says:

    Interesting stuff! :) Nice interview.

    (Your link to the 6954 is broken though, there’s a space in your HTML)

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