David Pickett

David Pickett’s (AB’07) imaginative Lego animations have earned him a cult following. (Photography by David Pagano)

Lego star

How David Pickett, AB’07, built his dream career, brick by brick.

David Pickett, AB’07, can’t remember a time when he didn’t play with Lego. “I learned to build before I learned English, probably,” he says. “It’s just always felt incredibly natural to me.”

In the past decade, Pickett has emerged as a star in the Lego online fan community thanks to his YouTube channel, Brick 101, where he posts Lego reviews, tutorials, and episodes of his Lego animation series Nightly News at Nine. His videos became so popular that last year Pickett was able to quit his day job and work with Lego full time—a childhood dream fulfilled.

Now he’s cowritten The LEGO Animation Book: Make Your Own LEGO Movies! (No Starch Press, 2016), in hopes of helping other aspiring Lego filmmakers. “I really wish I had a time machine so I could go back and give it to my eight-year-old self,” Pickett says. “Because that’s really who I wrote it for.” His comments below have been condensed and edited.

Why have Lego remained popular?

It’s an incredibly accessible but also powerful creative medium. What other low-cost, simple 3-D construction medium is there? It’s almost like a language in terms of its usability. It’s flexible, accessible, and beautiful.

When did you get interested in Lego animation?

When I was about eight, my family got one of those old-school video cameras where you had to put a VHS tape into it to record. Of course the thing that I wanted to videotape was Lego, because you can do so much imaginative filmmaking. You can film a car chase, and you can add in a dragon and a robot. I think people naturally tell stories when they’re playing with Lego, so making the leap to filmmaking is not really that different.

Did you bring Lego to college?

A little bit. In the “adult fan of Lego” community, we have this term called “the dark age”—the years when you go through puberty and are more interested in pursuing romantic options than playing with Lego. I had more of a dim age. When I went to college I didn’t bring my entire basement room full of Lego with me, but I was making Lego movies using [the student film group] Fire Escape Films and things like that. After college I was able to move all the Lego from my parents’ basement to my living room.

When did you realize that you could make a career out of Lego?

I’ve been publishing videos on YouTube for 10 years. It certainly wasn’t an overnight success. It was probably about a year and a half ago that it really started to seem like I could quit my day job. That’s just because I was able to find the right formula for making YouTube videos that were easy to produce but also popular enough to bring in the ad revenue. There’s a lot of work and luck that goes into creating a successful YouTube channel.

You’ve expressed concern about the gendered marketing of Lego. Has that changed at all?

Back in 2012 Lego started its latest push into marketing a new line of products specifically toward girls. That started with the Lego Friends line, which led to the Lego Disney princess line, Lego Elves, and now Lego DC Super Hero Girls. It’s been incredibly successful for them, and they now have a whole range of products, which I think is really great, because it used to be that Lego would have one line for girls. At the same time, I still have disappointments with the figures that they’re using in those lines. They have less articulation than the regular mini figure, and that seems to have a coded message about the importance of physical activity for boys versus girls.

It’s not ever going to go back to the halcyon days of the of the ’60s and ’70s where gender-neutral toys were “in” and there were just Lego sets for everyone. But compared to some of the things that were done in the past—like Lego jewelry that was the only thing marketed toward girls—the place they’re in now is less limiting and more open than it ever has been. And if you don’t want the gendered sets, there’s always just regular Lego blocks.

What is it like to be a Lego celebrity?

It’s really bizarre. Three hundred sixty days out of the year, my celebrity is totally digital. There’s nothing about my day-to-day life where I feel like a celebrity walking down the street. But when I go to a Lego convention, kids will say, “I know you! You’re Brick 101!” or they’ll come up and be like, “Oh my god, I’m your biggest fan.” Meeting these kids who can recite my videos—it’s really inspiring and also humbling. I feel like I have a responsibility to be a good presence in these kids’ lives and make content that helps them access their own creativity.

Updated 01.27.2017