Ninjagopalooza II: Concept Art and Prototyping 2009-2012

This week, we are celebrating 10 years since the first release of Ninjago on an unsuspecting world. It was never expected to last as as long as it has, now becoming an evergreen theme:

“Originally, the NINJAGO theme was supposed to end after season 2 in 2012,” says Tommy Andreasen, Sr. Manager, Entertainment Development at the LEGO Group, who worked on the LEGO NINJAGO product line and show from the beginning. However, sets of the theme were still planned to be on sale throughout 2013. The continued success led to both the TV series and products continuing to the current day. “It just shows an incredible commitment from our fans that we are still going strong 10 years later,” he adds.

In this post, we will look through some of the concept art, as well as marketing artwork that has been released over the years. Some will be new, and some have been taken from the LEGO® archive, for a special exhibition at the LEGO House in Billund.

All images have been supplied by the LEGO group as part of a celebration of the 10 years of LEGO Ninjago.

Before we go any further, lets take a quick look a Ninjago Timeline:

2009: The Sketch that started it all.

Late on a Friday in fall 2009, a drawing was made that would be the beginning of something big. Tommy Andreasen did a sketch showing different elemental ninja and the team had the idea of the ninja being on a sort of spinners to make an active minifigure play. 

On the drawing you see a ninja of water, though that ended up not being added until Nya became the master of water in 2015. The sketch has the word ‘Spinjago’ on it, which was the first idea of a name, which then developed into ‘Spinjitzu’ – a combination of the words ‘spin’ and ‘ninjitsu’. 


This drawing was made on a Friday night, and over the course of the following weekend, concept artist Craig Sellars painted this:

2010: Character Development

From here, the time had come to start developing characters. In the pilot episodes, first broadcast in January 2011, the primary antagonists under the leadership of Garmadon are the army of Skulkin. Here we see some of the early character development pictures as well as marquettes used in designing , as well as resin models used in the development of the LEGO models for the Skulls, Master Wu and the Ninja’s headdress. I find it interesting that some of the early prototyping was in fact brick built.

We also have models of the dragons heads, developed for the sets released later in 2011

Of course, story and product development happen well in advance of product release, and television screenings. And so, in 2010, designs were well underway for the subsequent seasons: Rise of the Snakes, as well as the Legacy of the Green Ninja

During season 1, Rise of the Snakes, we see engagement of Samurai X (later revealed to be Nya) with the the ninjas. here are some development sketches from this time:

Developing The Rise of the Snakes

After the pilot episodes, the first full season had the overarching theme ‘Rise of the Snakes’. The villains were the Serpentine: snake beings, It was decided that there would be five tribes, and each would have a different power: Spitting, biting, hypnosis and so forth.

During internal presentations about the development of the series and sets, different sketches were added to enhance the presentations:

The different serpentine tribes all had different forms to each other, and so further development was required:The head molds for the different snake tribes all underwent similar modelling development as we have seen in the past. As you can see, some started off as relatively complex ‘hat’ pieces, but were developed into either simpler moulds, or actual head pieces. Others were always depicted as seperate molds.

Set Prototyping for Rise of the Snakes

During this time, preparation was also taking place for LEGO sets to be released in conjunction with the 2012 series – and prototyping was well underway:

Cole’s Tread Assault 9444 was a low profile vehicle designed to be able to run either right way up, or upside down. While it may not have cared which way was up, as time went by there was a very definite front and back!

As you can see here, Zane’s Speeder Bike for 9445 underwent several sketches before arriving at the final production version. To say nothing of the fact that it used to be Jay’s!

The Great Devourer from 9450 underwent a number of iterations, with the final model taking design cues from both of the previous versions shown here.

I hope you have enjoyed this intoduction to the early days of Ninjago throught use of concept Art. I’ll have a few more posts along similar lines appearing over the next few days, so keep an eye out for them. In the mean time, I’d love to know what you think. leave your comments below and until next time,

Play Well

3 thoughts on “Ninjagopalooza II: Concept Art and Prototyping 2009-2012

  1. Love the concept art. Great background information thank you. The prototypes are also interesting. I have to say the final versions of everything prove that you need to work and re-work your ideas. This was fascinating. Will show my kids later. Thank you.

  2. Especially of the side build for Zane’s bike snowmobile thing. That’s a lot of reworking for a side build. But worth it. I’ve been sourcing the parts for an incomplete set of the Fangpyre Ambush. Almost got all I need. But I have already built Zane’s bike and its looks great.

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