Duncan Titmarsh shares the story of Bordon-based Bright Bricks
PUBLISHED: 15:21 10 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:21 10 September 2018
Lego enthusiast Duncan Titmarsh has built his business brick by brick; from tinkering in his garden shed to internationally acclaimed sculptures
One of the most internationally recognised children’s toys, LEGO is a Danish success story whose products have helped cultivate creativity across the globe. Who hasn’t, at some point, turned a pile of colourful, interlocking bricks into a building or vehicle? Or used their imagination to design and craft a whole town?
Like many youngsters, Duncan Titmarsh acquired his first LEGO set at the age of four. Unlike others, however, that initial excitement was so influential, years later he turned his fascination for creative expression into a business in which corporate and public commissions result in unique, large scale models prompting worldwide admiration from people of all ages.
Catching up with Duncan at his Bordon premises, he reflects on the evolution of his early hobby.
“My interest in LEGO started when I was a boy and never really stopped. I took a break during my time in the RAF then I started collecting sets and building different models such as a London Underground map.”
Duncan’s previous career also covered spells in IT and working as a kitchen and bathroom fitter. Then he was asked to complete LEGO models, including a scaled down version of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme studio, which prompted him, in 2008, to turn his interest into a business.
“I thought, let’s make it official. I looked around and saw others did this so I knew it must be possible. I put out a website and started on my own. Two years later I had one assistant.”
These days Bright Bricks boasts 62 employees who are as diverse in age as they are backgrounds.
“They come from all walks of life,” Duncan shares. “Some had never built with LEGO before, others have university degrees and some are from the adult fan club. We have a 50-50 male/female ratio; the youngest is just under 20, the oldest over 50.”
Steve Juby was employed by a business processing speeding tickets when he spotted an appeal for volunteers on a LEGO fan site. Eventually he moved halfway across the country to join this innovative company.
“Building LEGO was something I had never considered as a career because it sounds like fantasy! Despite never anticipating it, I had effectively spent my whole life preparing for a job building LEGO. When I was no older than five I caught the bug from my older brother and used to marvel at his original constructions. Initially I was more of a by-the-instructions builder but I began to flex my creative muscles as the years passed.”
The intricacy of detail is the element which gives Steve most satisfaction. He also explains the challenges of large builds.
“Laying down LEGO is inevitably a slow process. Sometimes we even need to build in plate for strength which effectively triples the workload. The result is a case of building the best model we can within the time constraints and squeezing as many builders on as possible.”
Fellow colleague Mike Clark echoes the appeal of this timeless building system.
“The public are always eager to see what we create here. I think it’s because the scale of what comes out of our workshop is several times greater than what you can get off the shelves in toyshops. And it’s not just for show either; we have projects that everyone can take part in, like a giant mosaic or pitting robots together in a fighting arena.”
A recent Bright Bricks’ commission is a giant elephant, 2.4m tall and 4m long. Large models such as this might require an inner framework and legs reinforced with steel. Each brick is slotted into place in the usual way though glue is also used because of a common tendency for the public to touch the bricks. But, of course, before building commences the design element is crucial.
Laura Kelly, another member of the team, has a Diploma in Art & Design plus a 3D Computer Animation Degree, the latter is particularly helpful in her current role.
“I learned 3D sculpting and modelling techniques, and my knowledge of CAD (Computer Aided Design) software allows me to rig and pose 3D models to Bright Bricks which helps us create ever more dynamic and visually stunning models. I did a lot of training, such as knowledge of brick sizes and what is physically possible within the medium, on the job.”
The design process starts, Laura shares, with a 3D model. Once this has been perfected a software package called Brickbuilder translates this into standard LEGO bricks with elements such as faces or eyes added manually.
“We haven’t yet encountered a LEGO model that couldn’t be built,” Laura enthuses. “If you can dream it, we can probably build it! Each time we’re approached with an idea that seems like it might be impossible we find a way to make it happen. Obviously there are some things that really would be impossible, like a life size working space shuttle. But Bright Bricks hasn’t tried that yet so you never know!”
Builds are completed at the Hampshire workshop with freight companies used for transportation. One of the largest commissions, Duncan tells me, was Tower Bridge. The model involved 5.8m bricks and was used for a one off Land Rover Discovery launch event.
Never mind that afterwards this construction was taken down, melted and recycled into hard hats, for Laura such bold builds are to be relished.
“The biggest challenge is managing our own ambitions. We often have to compromise on what we’d really like to do in terms of posing and scale because it just won’t work physically and still be safe for the public to interact with. We’d all love to have a 10m dragon with a 30m wingspan but that would be terribly dangerous! We also have to consider how a model will be transported, how robust it needs to be and how much space is needed once it’s set up. That can be very challenging when your imagination is running wild with possibilities and you have your heart set on that 10m dragon.”
With an international reputation manifested in customers as far away as Hong Kong, Duncan is modestly ambitious about his success.
“I expected it to grow but this has happened quicker than I thought,” the 47 year old muses. “From starting off in my garden shed, we now have 29 builders.”
And what are the benefits of bringing such an iconic children’s toy to the public’s attention?
“It shows creativity. People are creative in different ways and this shows what you can do if you put your mind to it. There’s value in letting your mind wander. I want to do more shows for people to enjoy.”
LEGO’s ongoing philosophy is that creative play not only enriches a child’s existence but lays the foundation for adult life, too, a concept that Duncan Titmarsh has proved. Child’s play? Yes, of course. But whether you construct your own designs or enjoy witnessing Bright Bricks’ incredible constructions, one thing’s for sure: there’s no age limit on fun, vision and innovation.