By Sara K. Clarke, Orlando Sentinel
10:56 PM EDT, September 13, 2011
Jason Miller has the dream job of many 9-year-olds: He builds things with Lego blocks for a living.
The 27-year-old Orlando resident has been fascinated by the colorful building bricks since he was a child. So after Merlin Entertainments Group announced plans to open a Legoland in Polk County, Miller snagged a job in the theme park's Model Shop.
As a master model builder at Legoland Florida, Miller spends his days installing the park's Lego-based showpieces and readying the brick models for next month's grand opening.
Legoland Florida unveiled many of its Lego creations Tuesday, including a replica of Daytona International Speedway complete with cars that race around perfectly angled, 31-degree banked turns. The park's "Miniland USA," as the collection is called, will feature intricate models of locales such as Washington, D.C., with a replica of the White House and First Family; New York City, with a 191/2 –foot-tall Empire State Building; and Sunshine State hotspots such as Key West and Miami's South Beach.
"Everything that we have, people can build at home," Miller said. "Kids can look at this and be inspired to go home and create a 15-story building."
Scheduled to open Oct. 15, Legoland Florida is well on its way toward completion. General Manager Adrian Jones said Tuesday that about 70 percent of the park's rides have been tested and commissioned, while many of the buildings are already finished.
"For all intents and purposes, we are putting in the finishing touches now. … The buildings, the construction and a lot of that is done," Jones said. "Ninety percent of the buildings are now handed over to us. We have people in the buildings, being trained and in the kitchens."
In addition to more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, the 150-acre park will feature 15,000 Lego figures made of a combined 50 million small, plastic bricks. The buildings in Miniland are wired for electrical features such as lights, and the blocks are glued together with a special polymer so they remain intact while on display. An ultraviolet coating protects them from the sun.
Many of the major showpieces at Legoland Florida were built at company workshops elsewhere in the world and were shipping to Winter Haven for final assembly and installation by Miller and others. Miller and the park's other specialists are also creating smaller pieces and some special items from scratch.
"The greatest thing is seeing the expression on the kids' faces when they first come in and they go, 'Mom, look at that!' or 'Dad, look at that! Oh, I wonder how they built that.' That stuff I love," Miller said. "It's one of those few jobs where you get to be a superhero for kids. They look up to you — they admire you and can't believe that you do what they do at home — but as a job."
The park's Model Shop has 150,000 unique Lego elements, with millions of pieces grouped carefully by color and type in little yellow bins. In addition to bricks of all shapes and sizes, there are specialty items such as wheels, weapons and animals.
There is no cheating in the building of the models on display in the theme park; Miller and his colleagues don't have access to any bricks other than those available to regular Lego customers.
How does one get the chance to play with Legos for a living? There's no sure route to becoming a Lego model builder. Miller had previous experience working at the Lego store in Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney retail-and-restaurant complex; during a visit to Southern California, he went to the Legoland there and showed a Miniland worker images of some of the projects he had created for the store. Soon he was interviewing for a job with Legoland.
"I went out to California for seven months for training, and then came back here to help open the park," Miller said.
For Miller, Lego blocks are more than just the tools of his trade — they're a hobby. His personal collection of Legos, which he values at about $5,000, includes showpieces such as the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
In addition to his job at Legoland Florida, he spends 30 to 40 hours a week building for fun at home.
"If it's Lego, I've done it," he said. "I love to build."
Sentinel staff writer Dewayne Bevil contributed to this report.
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