RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And here in America, one 23-year-old has landed himself a dream job using some highly technical skills. Andrew Johnson is one of only four people in the United States who can officially call themselves a Lego Master Model Builder. He's the newest and the youngest to earn that title. From WBEZ in Chicago, Susie An reports.
SUSIE AN, BYLINE: Legos are robots in disguise for Andrew Johnson, as in a four and a half foot replica of the Transformer Optimus Prime made only from those tiny bricks.
How long and how many bricks did that take?
ANDREW JOHNSON: Number of bricks was definitely in the tens of thousands. It took about two weeks on and off. The head itself, which was the most detailed, took me around eight to ten hours.
AN: People kind of think of Legos or a Master Model Builder, they might think of kids or someone who just spends too much time with Legos...
JOHNSON: Well, I have a social life. I don't think that that's lacking in anyway. I have a girlfriend, so I'm not just some loner that plays with Legos.
AN: He's just a regular guy who happens to make a living playing with Legos. His office? The Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg, Illinois. It's part museum, part amusement park. Instead of filling out an employment application, Andrew submitted a stop-animation video featuring a Lego catapult firing a boulder at a dragon. Johnson was chosen to battle other candidates in a three-round build-off in front of an audience of kids and parents.
There were complicated models, like a life-size harp and French horn. Johnson impressed the judges during the Chicago-themed round with his recreation of the iconic Picasso sculpture that stands 50 feet tall in the city's Daley Plaza. Legoland operations manager Dave Specha says the competition was brutal.
DAVE SPECHA: It's a bit like Highlander. There can only be one.
AN: Johnson didn't receive any formal training to get to this level. He played with his Legos like any other kid and only reconnected with the bricks just a few years ago when he worked as a summer camp counselor.
This spring, Johnson will graduate from DePaul University in Chicago with a degree in history and a minor in digital cinema.
JOHNSON: And the history and also the cinema aspects broadened my perspectives. And it's really good to have more than one viewpoint when working with Lego.
AN: Johnson hopes to build on his background in digital cinema to introduce new programs, including stop motion animation. That's an exciting prospect for his bosses, given the explosion in and popularity of stop motion animation videos online. The YouTube videos feature Lego recreations of everything from OK Go music videos to scenes from "Star Wars."
JOHNSON: I'm going to be able to go out on the floor every day and see myself in every child that's out there. So they're going to be a constant reminder of why I'm here and how I got here, especially. So I don't think I'm ever going to lose that passion.
AN: Even now that his hobby has become a full-time job.
For NPR News, I'm Susie An in Chicago.