CARLSBAD — Gary McIntire put away his Legos when he became a teenager, feeling pressure to grow up. He told himself he could still get away with being a collector.
He redirected his sights to becoming an astrophysicist, enrolling in the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology after high school graduation. It wasn’t long before he discovered that being a scientist wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.
“For the first time I was loving English and not loving calculus,” he said. “That was a bad sign.”
Eventually, McIntire returned to his passion for Legos through participation in BrickCon and working for a friend who built custom Lego models for special events.
McIntire got the attention of Legoland California when he placed second in the Master Model Search in 2006. Later the park recruited him for an 18-month assignment helping to build Las Vegas Miniland. This led to a permanent job as master builder for Legoland California.
Today, McIntire, now 28, is responsible for maintaining and refurbishing all the models in Legoland California, including Miniland, and designing and building new models. His latest design is a tribute to the 2009 Chula Vista Little League champions.
McIntire’s other duties include decorating Miniland for the holidays, judging the monthly Junior Master Builder contests and conducting tours for celebrities and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Sometimes he’s called upon to make media appearances on programs such as CBS’s “The Early Show” and Discovery Channel’s “MythBusters” where he helped prove that a popular YouTube video showing a massive ball rolling through San Francisco, said to be built with 5 million Legos, was bogus.
“‘Mythbusters’ was an incredible experience” he said. “It was great to be admired for my work by people whose work I admire. I don’t get nervous in front of the camera as long as I’m talking about Lego. That’s when I’m truly in my element.”
There are currently more than 20 model builders in Carlsbad working for Legoland California and Legoland Development.
“I imagine that demand for Lego model builders will grow in the coming years as Merlin Entertainments continues to grow the Legoland brand with new projects like the Legoland Discovery Center at the Xanadu Mall in New Jersey and Legoland Malaysia,” said Beth Downing, media relations representative.
Downing reports that entry-level model builders start at $12 to $15 per hour plus benefits.
For youngsters interested in pursuing a career as a master builder, Downing recommends participating in the Junior Master Model Builder Competition held at the park the second weekend of each month and visiting the online Lego Club.
McIntire advises children to continue to enjoy Legos and to begin looking at them as an art medium that can be used to create anything from stop-motion animation to robots.
“I’m a firm believer, if you want something bad enough you can make it happen,” he said.
Currently, engineers are being sought to serve as mentors for the robotics competition.
For more information, call Legoland California at (760) 918-5346 or visit Legoland.com.