Raleigh hosting Lego convention ‘BrickUniverse’ with artists displaying their work

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Some of the country’s elite LEGO builders will showcase their creations Saturday and Sunday at the Raleigh Convention Center.

This the fifth time BrickUniverse Raleigh will bring together artists and fans of the Danish toy company, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of the brick patent and the 40th anniversary of its iconic minifigure person in 2018.

San Diego-based LEGO artist Jonathan Lopes estimates he brought about a half-million pieces, packed into crates, which form models of buildings and other structures in New York City. 

Lopes will release a book in May called “New York City Brick by Brick,” which features his masterpieces. His exhibit at BrickUniverse will be the first time all of the models will be on display at one time.

“For me, it’s about sharing my work with the public and inspiring and meeting kids, and hopefully having them and their parents leave here with a renewed appreciation for LEGO as an artistic medium and as a viable career job for their children,” Lopes said.

He played with the building blocks as a child, and sculpture was another of his hobbies during his youth. 

Lopes chose a career in book publishing, but when LEGO began producing Star Wars sets in 1999, he went to a Toys ‘R Us store and bought a model of an X-Wing fighter.

“That was re-acclimation to LEGO bricks as an adult,” Lopes said.

“I’ve just, over the years, developed a distinct style in building with LEGO bricks and have turned it into a quite lucrative side gig.”

He will display the New York City collection at upcoming BrickUniverse events in Tennessee, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.

Another artist who will display his works at BrickUniverse Raleigh is Rocco Buttliere. This weekend will feature the premiere of his brand new model of Mount Rushmore, which features about 22,000 bricks.

Most of his models are 1:650 scale replicas of world landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, Burj Khalifa, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Palace of Westminster.

He methodically assembled red pieces Friday morning into a version of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“The cool thing is you can see models of landmarks — that are across the world — on the same table and understand how they accurately size up to each other,” Buttliere said.

“Since 2009, I’ve been doing these models. Ten years on, I’m still doing them and still learning new things and riding this wave wherever it will take me.”

Buttliere has a degree in architecture. He said if he weren’t building with LEGO, he would probably be part of an architecture firm, working on Computer Aided Design in a cubicle.

He finds freelance LEGO art much more rewarding and enjoyable. 

“It definitely started out as a hobby but the more and more models I did, the more and more opportunities I had in terms of exhibitions,” he said.

“BrickUniverse is what really got the ball rolling for me and the exposure that it helps provide helps me gain a sort of a sustainable volume of commission work throughout the year, so at this point it is my full-time thing.”

In addition to the featured artists, there is a fan zone area where Raleigh-based builders will exhibit their models, known as MOCs in the Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL) community. MOC stands for My Own Creation, which uses LEGO pieces but does not follow the instructions of officially produced sets.

There are also plenty of play zones for younger builders, and vendors will sell sets, minifigures, and pieces. 

Tickets are $15 online and $18 at the door if they do not sell out beforehand.

Fans can keep track of their collections by using the Brickset website, which features product reviews along with its an extensive inventory of complete sets, minifigures, and other LEGO products.

CBS 17’s Robert Richardson and his wife attended the 2018 LEGO Inside Tour.

The three-day event at LEGO company headquarters in Denmark is limited to 35 person groups a few times a year, where LEGO fans get to meet with designers and tour the manufacturing plant — which is normally off-limits to non-employees.

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