Building models all day might sound like a job for a stiff.
You’re not allowed to be rigid in that role at Legoland Discovery Center, where “master model builders” regularly interact with children and guests. So when the company goes looking for a person to fill that job in its new locations, it holds weekend competitions called Brick Factor to find the person with the necessary creativity and model-building skills paired with the right personality.
Legoland found just what it was looking for Sunday when it named Kevin Hintz the new master model builder of Legoland Discovery Center San Antonio/Sea Life Aquarium.
Hintz, 25, traveled to San Antonio from his home near Detroit to compete for what he called his dream job. When he heard his named called as the winner at the end of the multiround competition, “my heart stopped,” he said.
“It’s been my dream job since I was 12 years old to be a master model builder,” Hintz said. “So I’m just doing whatever it takes.”
Applicants were asked to complete timed, themed Lego builds on Saturday and Sunday while being interviewed and interacting with children at the Shops at Rivercenter mall, where Legoland is being constructed. Each applicant had a folding table and large plastic tubs filled with Lego bricks.
The first rounds Saturday were 20 minutes long and largely weeded out the wannabes from the truly skilled creators. The second rounds Saturday extended to 30 minutes and produced the 10 finalists.
Jeremy Aguillen is the general manager of Legoland Discovery Center San Antonio/Sea Life Aquarium. He said 102 applicants were registered to participate in the competition, about 20 percent of them from outside Texas, including one who came from Maine. Not everyone who registered competed.
Legoland is scheduled to open in May. Aguillen said the grand opening date will be announced within two weeks.
Between now and then, Hintz will move from Michigan for a job that other competitors in the field said they were told will pay $16 an hour, or a little more than $33,000 per year. Aguillen said the compensation was competitive and includes moving assistance as well as full benefits.
This was the third time Hintz had competed in a Brick Factor. He finished in the top 10 in the 2016 Detroit competition and the 2018 version in Columbus, Ohio. He said those experiences taught him a few lessons, the most important of which might be the need to focus almost as much on the kids and people around him as the project he was building.
“It’s not just about what you can build,” Hintz said.
Hintz is an employee of the Detroit Legoland, where he serves as a ride operator and teaches Lego building classes for kids.
The judging was based on quality and stability of the creations, the applicant’s ability to interact and communicate with kids and their parents while building, and the overall creativity of the project.
The contestants didn’t know what they were supposed to build until the moments before each round started. The first round featured a marine life theme, the second round was a Texas theme, and the competitors were asked to tell the judges something about themselves with their entry in Sunday afternoon’s finals, for which they had 60 minutes to build.
Hintz’s entry in the finals featured multiple elements, including a starting line with the word “Go” at the top, symbolizing his participation in 20 marathons. It also included a cornstalk, because he was born in Nebraska; a log cabin, because he grew up in one; the Star of David, because he is Jewish; a design of the state of Michigan; and a red-and-white target, because he worked for five years at a Target store.
He called it a Lego autobiography.
What judges appreciated about the idea was the mini-Lego towers he constructed that stood between each element. Those towers were used as dominoes to move between the stages of his story.
Aguillen said what separated Hintz was his ability to communicate and interact with children while building and how the pieces he made were interactive on their own.
Only three women competed in the San Antonio competition, including Amanda Miller of San Antonio, who built a “flying chancla” in the final round. It was a tip of the cap to her first job, with the San Antonio Missions baseball club, which changed its name for nine games last season to the Flying Chanclas during the Copa de la Diversión series.
“I like the connection with the community and the connection with the children,” Miller said of what attracted her to the possibility of working at Legoland. “We all have an inner child, and staying connected to children brings that out in all of us.”
Hintz said his first call after the competition on Sunday would be to his girlfriend, Lucy, with whom he needed to discuss a move across the country. He also planned to call his parents, who homeschooled him throughout his childhood in the log cabin where he grew up.
He said he can’t wait to get started. He has wanted this job more than half his life already.
“From a little kid when I first got that first set and I realized how much potential and creativity there is in a simple Lego piece,” Hintz said.