MANILA - Around two and a half years ago, Filipino filmmaker and avid Jim Henson fan Ivan Guerrero submitted his design for a LEGO Sesame Street set.
In 2019, he saw it raked in 10,000 votes from fans and supporters alike through a LEGO community-based website in his bid to have it produced by the Danish toymaker.
And, in November this year, he will soon see his ideas come to life after his LEGO take on the popular 1970s children's program hits stores, including in the Philippines. After getting greenlit by Sesame Street, LEGO went on to produce Guerrero's playset design commercially, giving kids and kids at heart a chance to take a stroll down memory lane and relive life watching Sesame Street.
Guerrero’s Sesame Street model is a graduate of the LEGO Ideas program, the toymaker's community-based website which takes in suggestions and gives designers a chance to convert them into actual sets. He is the first Philippine-based designer to achieve the feat and the second Filipino to do so after Leandro Tayag, a Filipino based in Malaysia, got the green light for his Voltron set back in 2017.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Guerrero said Sesame Street was "very important" to him due to the things he learned from the show when he was a child.
"It was very important for me during the formative years. It taught me a lot about reading, writing, speaking in Spanish, counting, and so on," he said.
The design was put up for voting in 2019, in time for Sesame Street's 50th Anniversary.
"[Back then] there was a lot of interest in seeing Sesame Street products leveraging," Guerrero said.
And even though he reached the 10,000-vote requirement, Guerrero said he did not expect to see the design come to life commercially.
"Actually, hindi ako nakapaniwala na gagawin siyang LEGO set kasi alam mo naman, when you post anything online [which is] cool, creative, may kumokontra rin palagi… So, when I finally got the news na LEGO wanted to process... I almost literally fell off my chair," Guerrero said.
(Actually, I couldn’t believe that they would actually make it into a LEGO set. Because you know, when you post something cool and creative, there are naysayers. So, when I finally got the news that LEGO wanted to process it, I almost literally fell off my chair.)
For designs like Guerrero’s to be approved, they have to reach 10,000 votes. Upon reaching 10,000 votes, that’s when LEGO puts the design up for consideration, with the designs going through a "very, very selective process" before being proposed for commercial use.
"It is a collectible factor. Kasi the LEGO Ideas itself is very prestigious. For instance, 'yung 30 sets to 10,000 [votes], they are very, very selective with which projects. Minsan nagkakaroon ng review period where 10 sets get in [but] 0 sets are approved for production," he said.
Guerrero said the design’s references will appeal to different generations, citing how Sesame Street has been enjoyed by families around the world since 1969.
"Ang daming lumaki sa Sesame Street. (So many people grew up with Sesame Street.) Ako, I grew up [watching it] and my experience of it is different from people who grew up with it… Everyone belonging to that [generation] will recognize and remember," Guerrero said.
Guerrero's design submitted to LEGO had around 2,000 pieces to assemble with 14 minifigures—the LEGO versions of the Sesame Street characters—set around the apartment building seen in many of the program's episodes.
But in the design approved for commercial distribution, LEGO decided to add another building, while having fewer characters and pieces.
"The final one is a little bit smaller. Around 1,368 pieces. The design is smaller than my original submission pero nadagdagan siya ng second building. (They added a second building.) Actually, very cool yung ginawa ng LEGO. Submission ko is one apartment building, 2,000+ pieces, binuo nila 'yung kalsada. (What LEGO did was pretty cool. My submission was a one-apartment building. 2,000+ pieces. They formed the street, too.) So, they added a second building on the side," Guerrero said.
The minifigures in the final product include series mainstays such as Bert, Ernie, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, and Elmo, with some of Guerrero's other proposed characters integrated instead into the design of the building.
Compared to the base design for minifigures—which consists of the standard studded-head, body, and legs—the minifigures for this playset have an original mold, the very first LEGO playset to have one.
The back of the main apartment building shows the interiors of Ernie and Bert's room, as well as Elmo's room, as seen in the show's episodes, and the intricate details fans have enjoyed over the years.
The other building has character Abby's secret garden and Cookie Monster's apartment room.
Sesame Street fans are expected to have fun with the "easter eggs" inside the playset, Guerrero said.
Some of the LEGO pieces refer to some of the show's memorable episodes. An example is a caricature of Mr. Hooper by the side of the apartment—in reference to episode 1839 where the character of Mr. Hooper, played by Will Lee, passed away after Lee died—in trying to teach young audiences about death and grieving.
"It’s a very significant episode and a lot of people were emotionally invested and the fact that we have it, it’s like a connection to your whole childhood," Guerrero said of the episode.
The set is designed to be built by people 18 and above, but Guerrero said the set is also for older children and their parents who want to build if they want to take a trip down memory lane and bond at the same time.
Guerrero has yet to build his own set, but when he makes time for it, he said he plans to customize some parts of his own playset, citing how the show has changed over the past few years.
THE HYPE, AND WHAT'S NEXT
As soon as the design was made available, fans already caught wind of the hype, with some even asking if the play set was already available as early as 2019. Guerrero attributes much of the set’s success to the support it garnered from the local LEGO community.
"[They were] supportive, I would say the set would not have done this without the support of several different groups, the local groups that collect and build LEGO,” he said.
With the set hitting shores in November and with the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic still around, Guerrero believes it is a way for LEGO enthusiasts and Sesame Street fans to pass time as a family while in quarantine.
"I think medyo good 'yung timing ng set (the playset's timing is relatively good) with a lot of people staying at home, everyone is looking for activities. And building and creating projects like this, and it’s a very fun and creative…where 'yung characters are very well-known, it’s something Filipinos will find very engaging," he said.
In the future, Guerrero is looking to have another playset based on the hit series "Community" put up for production after hitting 10,000 votes in the Lego Ideas website within 9 days. It was one of the fastest to reach the mark, thanks to the support of fans and the cast of the show themselves. He is "very hopeful" that it will soon be approved by LEGO for commercial distribution.
He has also submitted another design concept based on James Cameron’s award-winning film “Avatar.” With more than 9,000 votes, he is looking to have it approved in time for the sequel’s showing in
With just a few designers submitting their ideas, Guerrero is encouraging Filipino designers to submit their proposals for playsets.
"Actually, I want to encourage more Filipinos, there's a lot of really talented people here in the country and there's also a lot of talented LEGO-building, I see the work. I wish more people from our country would compete actually," he said.
"There's so much creativity in the Philippines, and LEGO is the perfect medium. There is so much unlimited way to combine bricks and parts that you’ll never run out of ideas to develop," he added.
LEGO will soon distribute the set commercially in the Philippines, although full details have to be announced by LEGO Philippines.