No gut, no glory: A Q&A with master builder behind LEGO David Ortiz

See what it takes to create a LEGO David Ortiz masterpiece (0:55)

The LEGO team in Enfield, Conn., creates a stunning, life size replica of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. (0:55)

Wednesday is LEGO day at Fenway Park, and that will include the unveiling of a life-size LEGO model of David Ortiz.

The model stands 6-foot-7 from his cleat to the top of his left finger, weighs 170 pounds and required 34,510 bricks to build.

We caught up with LEGO master builder Erik Varszegi, who oversaw the construction of LEGO Ortiz, at the company’s North American headquarters in Enfield, Connecticut.

Is this thing solid LEGOs?

There’s a steel bar that runs all the way through from the top through his legs. If the model was entirely solid brick, it would probably weigh close to 400 pounds. That’s mostly done for stability and shipping purposes, since we have to ship models all over the country. Everything is stock off the shelves, so in theory, if you have enough LEGOs at home, you could build this.

What are some of the specific details you managed to work into the model?

We tried to sneak in the MLB logo on the back of his jersey. At that scale, it’s kind of hard to read up close, but if you step you back, all of a sudden you can see the figure. We also stuck it on the gloves he’s wearing, although that’s a little hard to see since his hands are twisted.

On his shoes, we have the 809 area code. Plus whatever's in his back pocket. It’s not his batting gloves because he’s wearing his batting gloves, but every photo I had he has something sticking out of his back pocket. I asked around, but nobody seemed to know. Maybe it’s his cell phone. (Note: After some Google investigating, it appears to be a sliding pad he puts on his wrist after getting on base.)

The necklace is actually there, but it’s tucked in, so you can’t see it. It would have been too fragile if exposed.

What was the hardest aspect of the construction?

The research time. I had plenty of photos, but we had to create a 3D model. If you can get that just right, creating the rest of it is kind of a breeze. We went back and forth on how high he should be. Sometimes he has a gut -- have to put that out there. We trimmed him down a little bit. Actually, the hardest part was getting his tattoos just right. I couldn’t get a lot of visual reference on that. His left arm has a whole bunch of tats. I had a couple pictures of it, then I saw some stuff online from a video game. There was a 3D map of his skin texture, so I was able to utilize part of that.

How do you start the whole 3D process?

We have a couple stock characters and we’ll modify the weight and the musculature. We take that 3D model and put a rig in it. A rig, for lack of a better term, is just a virtual skeleton that connects the 3D mesh to the focal points. The Red Sox definitely had a desired pose. They wanted him in his home run, crossing-the-base pose. That was pretty difficult. It would not have been my first choice based solely on having just one connection point with his toe. It looks great, but it’s probably not as stable a structure as some of the models we’ve made. Preferably, you’d have another prop to anchor him. Recently, we did a model of Captain America and we had his shield to help support him.

Is building a gut difficult?

[Laughing] Well, you have to be accurate to the character. Every little detail he has was thought of. His face was great, especially with the sunglasses, the beard. I don’t think anyone could deny who it was, even if you only have a passing knowledge of the Sox. That’s what makes Ortiz so great: He’s very distinct.

The question everyone wants to ask: How do you become a master builder?

This is my 21st year doing this job. I’ve been very, very fortunate. My background is in the fine arts. When I got into college, I realized I had the eye for 3D design and it helped that LEGO was just up the road; I grew up not far from here. I kind of stumbled upon the job and had no inclination that this could have been a career. We’re a small group, and [there are] a lot of people out there that want the job. (Note to job seekers: While LEGO has 800 employees in Connecticut, there are just seven master builders, plus a few support staff. So ... good luck.)