This week, we celebrate the anniversary of the submission of the minifigure design to the Danish Patent office. It was in the following year, 1978, that we got our first glimpse of the LEGO® Minifigure. However, development of an appropriately sized, articulated figure began sometime beforehand…
The LEGO Group have recently released some new picture, showing historically significant developments in the the life of the Minifigures. Many of the items shown here are on display in the LEGO House, in Billund, but some may not be at this time.
Buildable Figures and the ‘Stage Extra’
First we had the Buildable figures: first appearing in 1974, these figures featured in a number of vehicles as well as a number of domestic situations. While they were poseable, their scale would put town layouts outside the possibility for a typical 8 year old. The ‘Stage Extra’ figure was a more appropriately scaled figure, but had no face, and no moving limbs. Making their debut in 1975, they were to be found in a variety of contemporary and historical locales. Particularly at home in the Town based sets of the Era, the ‘Stage Extra’ also voyaged to the Wild West. [Images obtained from Brickset.com]
And while further development led to the minifigure as we know them today, there was a little experimentation along the way.
Let’s look at some of the prototypes:
Probably predating the ‘Stage Extra’ figure, These early prototypes appear to have been made out of plates: with the torso measuring 1x2x 3 plates, with a variety of legs utilised. The head appears to have been made of 3 1×1 plates, with the facial details bonded to the outside. Arms were added with small strips of material attached on the sides. Detail on the doctor was from a printed Red Cross brick, while the detail on the policemen’s torso has been put together using cut adhesive labels. The exact nature of the connections at the neck is unclear. further stages in the evolution of these figures can be seen in the cover photo above.
The generic LEGO prototypes were constructed using printed bricks that were similar in style to those available in sets at the time, although I am unsure of the general availability of the turquoise colour at that time. Also of interest is the precursor to the LEGO® hat.
Does the variation that we see with the lower unit represent legs and a dress or a progression in development? I am unsure.
Spacemen had quite a different design: using a 2×2 plate at the hips to support an oxygen tank, made of two cylinder bricks and an antenna, the head had little detail. They feature the same type of legs as seen on the second doctor and policeman above. Otherwise the torso seems to have similar construction as the policeman shown.
The Shape Develops:
While the ‘Stage Extra’ was fine for sitting in the background, supplementing the layout, it was not ready to move to centre stage. Arms and legs needed to be developed: In this example, the ‘Stage Extra’ figure has been supplemented through adding arms and hands. A helmet and truncheon complete the effect. Faces were not yet printed, and they were added using a felt tip pen!
Once a design for the figures had been developed, it was necessary to be able to produce mockups to aid with designing the look for the figures during the early set releases, and so moulds were cast, to create a metal minifigure blank:
Make a mould
Once the design was finalised, sold metal blanks were created to trial with decoration. Some of these moulds were made out of LEGO bricks…
One the moulds were cast, a (non articulated) minifigure was created, decorated using paint, sticky labels, modelling clay and marker.
In that first year, while the faces were printed, all graphics on a Minifigure’s torso were applied as stickers. In 1979, the first printed torsos appeared. From here we enter the modern era of mini figure design. While the external appearances are essentially unchanged, there have been subtle changes in the head, torso and leg moulds over the years, particularly with regard to the internal structure of the figures.
As time goes by…
In the meantime, we see continuing improvements in the design of hair pieces, and printing, both on the head, torso and limbs.
I find it interesting looking at how the Minifigures we have today have evolved from such simple structures through to the complex figures, with even more complicated art work that we see today. As a child, I know I drew some different faces onto some Minifigures, and drew on them myself, and then there were extra sticker sheets produced for publications such as the 6000 Ideas Book. We shall return to that publication in the future.
As our figures have developed, we have a greater range of facial expressions, and other features, the artwork has developed from simple logotypes to complicated patterns incorporating wrinkles and creases, as well as printed accessories. What has been your favourite Minifigure over the years? Why not post a picture or link to it below. Come Back soon when we will look at making the minifigure. Until then,
2 thoughts on “#Minifigure40 Part 1: The Road To Release [Minifigure Prototypes]”
I enjoyed this, very interesting, i specifically enjoyed the bit about casting the prototypes and also the ‘as time goes by’ part.
[…] our 40th Birthday Exploration of the Minifigure’s journey: We have previously looked at the structural prototyping and moulds used for our minifigures. Today, we will take a special look into the LEGO Factory at […]