The magic behind Lego Miniland

The authentic looking miniatures of the Sultan Ibrahim Building on Bukit Timbalan, the Datuk Jaafar Building on Bukit Senyum and the Sultan Abu Bakar Mosque on Bukit Redan, are some of our city’s iconic and most familiar landmarks in the Johor Baru cluster within Legoland Malaysia Miniland.

A section of the Johor Baru cluster in Lego Miniland,
Legoland Malaysia Resort at Iskandar Puteri
The JB cluster was created by a team of 35 Lego model builders, most of them locally trained since the inception of the Malaysian chapter of Merlin Magic Making (MMM) Studios, a facility that was first opened at Gelang Patah in 2009.

MMM Studios, the Global Creative Division for rides and attractions development is known as the magic behind all Legoland parks because this is where science and technology brings Lego miniature landmarks and familiar scenarios to life.

When the studio recently relocated to I-Park, Indahpura near Kulai, I was among the privileged few invited for its official opening on 27 July 2018 and a behind-the-scenes tour of its facilities to see where the Lego magic happens.

I was impressed that this new facility has an increased capacity to support the growing demand for Lego models in the region.

It was fascinating to learn that the work of this studio in Johor was not only to support Legoland Malaysia but also extended worldwide to other parks like Legoland Dubai and Legoland Japan!

Escorted by local model builders and master model builder, Stefan Bentivoglio, we saw some of the exciting new developments for the park, all in various stages of production.

It was good to meet a number of local talents engaged in the wide range of work processes in the studio and for them, handling Lego bricks every day was simply all-in-a-day’s work!

As I observed the teams working on their computers and in the model construction, I saw that it was not just fun and games but a great deal of science, technology and engineering that went into each of the production processes.

I remember the scene in Lego Miniland created for the Taj Mahal and in its foreground, a group of dancers does not remain static but would dance at the touch of a button.

The animation of the Lego dancers clearly enhances the visitors’ pleasure and this was the successful results of the work put in by an engineering team.

My all-time favourite scene in the Star Wars series,
is the bar-room scene!
In the studio, there were teams involved with electrical work, responsible for bringing Lego scenes to life with creative lighting.

Electrical work was an essential task in the scenes for indoor settings, including those recreated in the Lego Star Wars Miniland.

It must have been fun, challenging and a lot of work to replicate this exciting showcase of over 2,000 detailed models including iconic scenes from all six episodes of Star Wars movies and The Clone Wars animated series.

Looking back to a sunny day on 2 December 2009 and that brown field in the 76-acre site of Medini North in Iskandar Malaysia, I remember being among the media and others shaded under several tents pitched there for Legoland Malaysia Resort’s ground-breaking ceremony. 

The ceremony gimmick was for then Johor Menteri Besar, Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman to shift a lever in the hydraulic excavator to tip its bucket filled with thousands of multi-coloured Lego bricks and let them fall to the ground with a mighty crash!

On 1 September 2012, I was again among a host of local and international media who were eagerly waiting to experience the first Legoland park in Asia in a pre-opening preview. 

When Legoland Malaysia Resort opened its doors, it joined five other Legoland parks located in Denmark, England, California, Germany and Florida, as the sixth Legoland park in the world. 

Work-in-progress on the Lego Miniland version of the
facade of the Sri Mariaman Raja Devasthanam Hindu Temple
At that point, construction was in progress on the adjacent Legoland Water Park and Legoland Hotel. 

When these two attractions opened in November 2013, the 249 family rooms in the hotel designed in Lego themes, welcomed guests to enjoy the Lego experience beyond their day in the park. 

I have lost count of the number of times that I visited the park but I can clearly remember the exciting events for the many media previews where I enjoyed sneak peeks and first experiences for festive and new attractions.

I remember the event in June 2015, graced by His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim, for the launch of the miniature of the Bukit Serene Johor Sultan’s palace.

I felt a strange sense of pride because this grand palace joined the collection of iconic landmarks in Legoland Malaysia Miniland.

During the event the master model builder shared his comments about how he and his team went about recreating this palace, made up of 278,023 Lego bricks and that it weighed 350kg.

The extensive process to replicate it in Lego bricks included surveying the location, computer rendering and matching the brick colours, construction of the model and post production to ensure that the integrity of the model was preserved.

I cannot forget the mention of a cat on the roof and because it was a quirky part of the palace, the model makers ensured that this pesky cat was also featured in the miniature Bukit Serene Palace in Miniland!

Work-in-progress of the row of shophouses situated at the
corner where Jalan Trus meets Jalan Ibrahim; Note the
wall mural by artist, Taib Aur, replicated in Lego bricks!
Legoland Malaysia is constantly maintaining the park exhibits and wants Annual Pass Holders to enjoy something new and refreshed on each visit, so they work hard to come up with innovations and ideas to enhance the visitors’ park experience.

It was exciting to learn that the JB cluster will be refreshed with a replica of the city’s heritage quarter.

In the studio, I watched teams working on Lego replicas with amazing detail on familiar landmarks in our Street of Harmony like Johor Gu Miao or Old Temple and Sri Mariaman Raja Devasthanam Hindu Temple.

I also saw work-in-progress to replicate the recently restored prewar shophouses and Broadway cinema in Lego bricks and cannot wait to see the completed cluster!

As the studio teams get to know the heritage quarter better, I trust our city council will also continue to preserve the heritage heart of JB for future generations to enjoy.

A version of this was published in the September 2018 issue of The Iskandarian

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