Natalie and Michelle Interview (LEGO® Masters)
The LEGO® Masters semi-finals took place last week. True North Bricks caught up with Natalie and Michelle for an interview following the episode. Along with fellow fan media Brothers Brick, Bricks King Podcast, Brickset, BZ Power, and TalkBricks, we chatted about their experiences, builds, and the unexpected role models they have become. Be sure to check back later this week for the finale rundown, as well as the final interviews for season two! To catch up on earlier happenings, click here.
Until next time,
What made you want to apply for the show?
Michelle: I’m a LEGO® superfan and I’ve been building with my kids for a while. I just love LEGO® and all of my family can tell you that. When I saw it come up on Instagram I applied for season one. I was like, “Oh my goodness, I need to apply for this because this would be the experience of a lifetime.” Then I reapplied with Natalie for season two.
Natalie: Michelle and I have been friends for about five years, and we’ve done a bunch of DIY projects together – we both love to just build stuff. LEGO® has been a new thing for us to build together, Michelle has been doing this for a lot longer than me. We’ve like built stuff with lumber and furniture and room remodels and that type of thing. When she called me and said, “Hey, do you want to apply for LEGO® Masters with me?” I was like, “Why not? We’ll never get in, but that would be cool.” Then, a few months later, she tells me, “Oh my gosh, you’re not going to believe this – they want us to talk with them about it!” I was super surprised. I’ve loved LEGO® since I was a kid and I build with my kids, but this was a whole new way for me to dive into it.
Where do you draw inspiration for your builds?
Michelle: Usually my kids, that’s where I draw from. That’s who I have always built with. Before the show, they would just tell me stuff that they wanted to see built, and that’s what I would do. When we were on the show, I felt like we drew a lot of inspiration from our kids.
Natalie: I’d say trying to tap into a story instead of just making a scene. Is the build something that’s telling a story? We as humans always connect with stories. People forever ago sat around campfires and would tell stories. Even with LEGO, when you’re building stuff, you have to ask, “Is there a story there?’ Even if it’s a fun, silly character, is there some way that you’re identifying with it?” I thought that was a really fun part of the challenge.
If there was a build you could have spent more time on, which would it be?
Michelle: The last one. Maybe if we could have had telescope actually do what we wanted it to do we wouldn’t be sitting here today. When you look back, you’re wonder: “Oh, what if we would have tried this,” or “What if we would have tried that.” I think we’d have changed up a few things in most of the other challenges. But the last one for sure. That’s the one that I could have used more time. Overall, I was really happy with all of the stuff we put out.
Natalie: Yeah, I would say the last challenge too. Under that clock pressure, you’re just crunching and relying on what you know. There is no time for experimenting. But you have to experiment a lot for some of those things that you know are going to go wrong. Watching the episode and seeing the brick tips for the first time – we don’t hear when they’re filming those, even though we’re in the same space. So sometimes when they were filming those brick tips, I would just go get a tray of bricks so that I could get close to them and hope I would hear one helpful bit of information. I’m still excited that we made it this far, and that we met all of these amazing people. We really pushed ourselves, we tried some new things, and we took some risks. I’m really proud of us for doing that.
Were there details in the castle that weren’t caught on camera?
Michelle: We had a few different areas, like the box on the ground. In the moving box there was a picture frame and then lots of packing peanuts. I think you can maybe tell what those were. But I thought that was a super fun detail.
Natalie: I kind of like the tape on there too. We built the packing tape out of the clear parts. That was fun. And there was a remote in there, because kids are always playing with remotes and turning them into like lightsabers and stuff.
Michelle: On the box that was open in the front, there was a crown and some balls inside.
Natalie: We also had a rainbow that we were going to add to the top. At the last second Michelle stepped back and said, “it’s too much, take it down.” So, we had to strip it down in the last few seconds. The moving box sign, where it says up and it has the arrow, was a fun little detail.
Michelle: Yeah, we were actually going to try to do the words “moving” or something. Will came over and asked if we were going to add the arrow and we thought that was perfect. It’s super recognizable, so that’s what we did. There are also some books between the turrets. Because kids are always just grabbing random things to make their fortresses. And the markers made it back from our fan episode.
You won the Hats Incredible challenge. Are there any details on that build that didn’t make it on the show?
Michelle: I think what I was especially proud of is how quickly we decided on the design. It’s so funny because everybody’s mind is so different. I thought everyone was going for certain parts, so I told Natalie: “Everyone’s going to be going for this this, this, this, and this part. We’ve got to get over there to make sure we have enough parts to make our creation happen.” It’s funny because nobody used anything that I thought they would. I feel that was the one challenge that we had our idea the earliest. We had stuff out on the table really quickly. For our first check in, we had lots of stuff out for Brickmaster Amy and Jamie to look over. I felt we were in the best position on that particular challenge, which was extra fun. As far as anything that was missed, I wish they would have showed the back of the hat. It had a white feather going down the back and I thought that was pretty nice.
Natalie: That was definitely the most fun challenge, probably because it was the easiest. Immediately we were both on the same page, and just ran with it. Sometimes, when you have creatives, you’re thinking one thing and then you have to explain it so that somebody else can see what’s in your head. That’s a hard thing to do, especially when you’re on a clock and being timed.
Michelle: And that challenge was amazing with all the backstage stuff.
Natalie: I loved that one particularly because of when all of the contestants were backstage. We were in it together, even though we were judged on our respective teams. There was definitely this camaraderie aspect backstage. We could all be louder and talking, versus a traditional judging when you’re very quiet. This one was way more like, “Oh my gosh, did you see that detail? Look how amazing that is.” There was definitely a buzz and an energy about that one that was so fun.
How did your families react to you being on LEGO® Masters?
Michelle: My family doesn’t even refer to Tuesday as Tuesday anymore. It’s LEGO® Masters day. They are just so excited. Of course, they were disappointed this week that our LEGO® Masters journey had come to an end. Through the whole thing they were honest about our builds versus other people’s. I would ask them: “What was your favorite?” It was fun because we watched season one as a family and talked about the builds. We did it again with season two. Sometimes they would not think that ours was the best, and that’s okay. It was fun and I think they still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. I just can’t believe we went there; we did this amazing thing and now we’re back and it’s almost over. It’s crazy how fast it happened.
Natalie: Similarly, my youngest was especially honest. She’s five and so this week she was like, “Oh mom, you’re going home. Tonight’s your night. Tonight, you’re going home.” Like, thanks, kid. But my older daughters, they’re 13 and 14, and they think it’s so cool we did this. They were a little bit more even keeled about it, but my youngest was brutally honest. She got very attached to a lot of the teams. There were many tears shed from her when there were eliminations. She just cried her little heart out when Bryan and Lauren went home.
Your builds have been described as being well suited for television. How do you do that?
Michelle: I think that was probably more of a happy accident. It might be because of watching the show. My family and I watched season one seven times through just because we liked it so much. And it is a pandemic, so what else are you going to do? We watched LEGO® Masters. Before the show, my everyday actual building was out of tubs. You know, those big moving tubs. That’s where all of my LEGO® parts and pieces were, and I share them with my children. One of the really incredible things about being on the show is the unlimited supply of bricks. I knew going into it that I wanted to go bigger than I’ve ever done before. I guess I didn’t really think about the whole made for TV thing. I just knew that the possibilities were endless. If we ran out of something, somebody’s going to bring some more. I’ve never had that before. I’ve never been able to grab big supplies of bricks. That was just the excitement of having everything readily available and then just seeing what we could do. I really like stuff that doesn’t looks like LEGO®. It’s more eye catching. Working on other projects that I’ve done before, everything’s been big and oversized. Maybe I was just bringing a little bit of that into the LEGO®.
Natalie: I think you see that in Michelle’s interior design stuff. She’s always backing up and saying “Okay, what’s the first impression?” I think we both did that a lot with our LEGO® builds. For the majority of the stuff that we built, we’d think about what’s that first impression? Is it readable? Is it noticeable? Can you know what it is without explaining it? I do a lot of video production. I knew they’re only going to have three seconds of time for this whole thing. A wide angle and two close ups. We don’t know which two close ups they’re going for but we know that wide shot’s happening. We want to be sure it’s going to be noticeable right away. So that’s why I’m backing up going like, “Okay, where does your eye go first?” Like in an interior design. I couldn’t help but think that way a little bit. I think if we had unlimited time, we’d start with those big things and then go down to making these small details perfect. A lot of times, we had to start with big easily recognizable stuff and then depending on time, we could add detail in there. I think it was kind of an accident, but also how we naturally go about some of our projects. What’s the first impression going to be? You only got one of those.
You mentioned that you both spent a lot of time watching season one of LEGO® Masters. Did that help or hinder your preparations for season two?
Michelle: I would say helped. Just to watch it and see the scale of things, it helps to get excited and get my kids excited as well. Then, whenever they would build certain things, zooming in you could say: “Oh, okay, that’s how they did that and that.” Trying to figure out what their technique was for different things helped. Most of the time, we watched it just for fun. But there were times that it was: “let me zoom in on this, screenshot it, and see how they did that.” I’ve never built something on such a large scale before. I was excited to try, but it was kind of like: “We’ll see what happens.”
Natalie: I thought it was definitely helpful. Especially when we’re working on stuff, to have something to reference. Like: “what if we built this one like they built carrot last season?” We both knew what we were talking about. I think it gave us helpful vocabulary for different builds to reference as we were spitballing ideas and gave different ways to try and make the builds perform. I think it was for sure helpful.
Which team did you bond with the most during the season?
Michelle: Bryan and Lauren.
Natalie: Right, they were our bandmates. We would travel back and forth to the studio a lot together. We all ended up talking a bunch and connected really fast. We had a lot of similar interests, so we ended up getting pretty close pretty fast. But everybody was really great. No matter who you were partnered up with or sitting next to, everybody was so friendly.
Do you plan on using your participation in LEGO® Masters to get more women to build?
Michelle: Going into it, I never even really thought about having that influence on people outside of my own family. We both have daughters, they’re four months apart. I know that my girls were super excited about me being in LEGO® Masters, along with my boys. Since this has happened, we’ve done a couple of meet and greets. Meeting all of these families, with all of these kids, especially the girls, and then hearing their parents say how much we’ve inspired them, that really touches my heart. I would love to be able to get more women building. I just have to figure out how to do it. It’s really neat to get messages or see people and hear that their daughter was just really inspired by me. I didn’t actually think about that going into the show, but it’s been such a special thing.
Natalie: I never thought about it from the perspective of us inspiring people. I knew from seeing my five-year-old watching season one, she was like, “She (Amy) works at LEGO®. Maybe I can work at LEGO®.” I told her that you can do anything you want. There is something really powerful and important about representation and seeing somebody that you identify with. I was genuinely surprised when I got similar messages as Michelle, people saying: “My daughters love you guys and they’re pulling back out their LEGO® bricks.” That was really cool and kind of surprising. I don’t know that I really thought about that going into it either, but it’s really a fun, happy, surprise.
Michelle: I tell my little girl that you can do anything you want to do, if it’s something that you love. I didn’t realize my love of LEGO® until five years ago. I tell my kids you’re never too old or too young to discover a passion. Just do it and see where it will take you. Look where it took us, it’s kind of incredible.
Natalie: I’ve been really excited by some of the messages that I get. There was a message that I got today on Instagram from somebody that said, “Hey, I’m a woman and it was really cool seeing you guys on the show. I forgot my love of the bricks and seeing you guys building stuff inspired me to pull my bricks back out.” I responded: “That’s awesome, I hope you build something super creative and tag us in it.” I think it’s super cool to have been part of this and I hope to see the LEGO® community embrace a lot of the female builders.
Michelle: I actually didn’t know any women LEGO® builders before we got on the show. I was asking myself: “I wonder if there are other women out there that like it, or is it just me?”
What building techniques did you learn or improve upon during the show, and what building wisdom did you pass on to the other builders?
Michelle: For the most part, whenever we talked with other builders, they loved the markers from our fan build. They really love our ability to take the bricks and make it look like an object that you would see in real life. They loved the curlers on our puppet, and then the packing peanuts. I remember Wayne came over and was like, “Oh my gosh, those are packing peanuts, that’s so cool.” I don’t even know that I can put it into words what I learned from the other builders. I just remember looking around the room sometimes at all these cool things. I stored it into my brain. I do remember, I was telling Lauren this, they made a crown for their Princess Pup puppet. Coming around to our castle build, Amy and Jamie said that they would really like to see some of the things that kids would play with if they’re actually playing castle. I thought of a crown and remembered Bryan and Lauren’s crown. I didn’t do as good of a job of it; it was one of those last-minute things. But I pulled that a little bit from memory.
Natalie: I was really impressed. I didn’t really know what to expect going into the competition. I just thought it was so cool that when we got there, people were really open to sharing their techniques. For example, Jen brought a Technic book, and I asked: “Can I check that out?” She told me which pages to look at. Talking with Moto, he had a little gift for everybody. He had built these little robots that were the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. I thought they were so fun. They unfolded like accordions. He offered to show me how to build them. Everybody was just very open. I didn’t really expect that going into this competition. I expected the people to be really kind of hush-hush with their secret trade or technique. Instead, it was just a really cool learning group, and everybody was very open, even helpful. It was really cool that people were apt to share and help others learn.
A lot of the challenges were about breaking builds. How did you adapt to that?
Michelle: Whenever you build something you never want it to get destroyed. I’m a little bit sentimental; I like to keep all of my stuff together. I think the hardest part was, for example, I don’t know pyrotechnics. I’m challenged to figure out where to put the charges to explode the way you want. Then 60 mile an hour winds, that was just challenging. I mean I’ve been in 60 mile an hour wind, but I’ve never had my LEGO® in 60 mile an hour wind. Just trying to figure all that out on the fly was challenging. It was definitely much more destructive than last season. I didn’t expect it to be so destructive.
Natalie: It was definitely nerve wracking. There’s no way you can test out exploding your build before you explode your build. Even with our large cake that we built, we’ve never done that. We took some of our woodworking techniques for when we build furniture pieces and applied it to LEGO®. We were kind of pulling from random experiences that we’ve had that aren’t LEGO® to see if they applied. It was definitely nerve wracking because not only are you trying to create an impressive build, you’re trying to create a performance build. So yeah, we were definitely on our toes for most of the challenges for sure.
If you could go back to your pre-LEGO® Masters self, what advice would you give?
Natalie: Bring on the coffee! [Laughs]
Michelle: Learn motion, learn to work with Technic, that’s what I would say.
Natalie: Learn Technic, and bring the coffee.
Michelle: I don’t do coffee, so… [laughs]
Natalie: I did so much coffee. Those four-hour nights just got me.
Last episode, you seemed a little wary about building castles and of going up against the “Castle Bros”. If you could have designed your ideal challenge for the show, what would that look like?
Michelle: Building something that looked like furniture. That would be my ideal challenge because it would be something that Natalie and I were both familiar with. We all know castles, but whenever you are going up against somebody who has won awards, it’s a bit intimidating. I’ve actually never built a castle before. We do have a couple of sets, but my boys mostly built all of those and I just look at them. I think they’re beautiful, but I’ve actually never built one. So, my ideal challenge would be some kind of moving, working furniture thing.
Natalie: We had also spitballed an idea that we hadn’t had a challenge that it would work for yet. It was a quilt and a sewing machine but put together with Mixels pieces so there was a lot of movement. We had also talked about a dresser that was in the middle of being restored. We were trying to tuck away some ideas in case there was anything that fit. We didn’t have the opportunity to use those for anything. But definitely, if there was something that was along the lines of building a piece of furniture that you could put in your house, that has to be functional, that would have been right up our alley.
What’s next for you? Natalie, are you going to take Will’s job?
Natalie: That’s funny. I’ve had so many people jokingly ask me that. I’ll keep my phone on in case anybody wants to give me a call. It was just fun to joke around and hang out. Will was super fun and chill to interact with. I wasn’t really quite sure what to expect there, but he was super fun and funny and really nice and relatable. So were Amy and Jamie. I came away thinking those were great, fun people even though we were intimidated going in. We got so much helpful feedback. It was fun to be part of, especially since this was something I never thought that I would be part of. I do a lot of other creative things by vocation and LEGO® wasn’t ever anything that I’ve been commissioned to build or do. Getting to explore a new creative outlet was so fun and I’m really thankful that Michelle brought me on this journey.
Michelle: It was so much fun. Everybody that we met along the way, in front of the camera, behind the camera, it was just a really incredible experience. Going into it, I had no idea what to expect. I only know what I saw on TV from last season. I applied for season one and I didn’t get on. I reapplied for season two, and was shocked that we made it. I’m so thankful for it, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m glad we got to do it.
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