Near the start of the pandemic, I discovered the visual comfort food that is “LEGO Masters.” Hosted by “Arrested Development” alum and voice of LEGO Batman Will Arnett — and judged by LEGO Senior Designer Jamie Berard and LEGO Senior Design Manager Amy Corbett — Fox’s reality-competition TV series sees duos compete in themed challenges for $100,000, a trophy, and the title of LEGO Masters.
Four New Englanders started on this third season: Liz Puleo, of Hudson, and Erin Laundry, of Pittsfield, went home Nov. 2. West Warwick R.I.’s Christine “Tacos” Blandino and her teammate were eliminated Oct. 19. But Weymouth’s Greg Tull, and his brother, Brendan Tull, of Missouri, are headed toward the finish line. They’re in the top four going into Wednesday’s episode.
All four New Englanders were in Boston for the VIP kickoff of “LEGO Masters” producer Nathan Sawaya’s installation.
“Nathan is such an inspiration. He’s a LEGO artist who really made it,” Tull said during a recent phone interview from his Weymouth home.
A Missouri native and member of the US Coast Guard, Tull, 29, moved to Massachusetts six years ago. He lives in Weymouth with his wife and two kids. It’s also where he works on LEGO stop-motion animation for his Monitogo Studios. (If you’re a fan of LEGO movies, it’s worth checking out his YouTube channel.)
I caught up with Tull to talk bricks, art, and the zen of LEGO ahead of this week’s challenge.
Q. What’s your history with LEGO?
A. I started playing with them around 5. I was obsessed with designing and building. I bought my first set on dial-up Internet on eBay when I was 12. When I was 14, I got into LEGO stop-motion animation and never quit.
Q. You saw show producer Nathan Sawaya’s “Art of The Brick” in Boston. Do you sculpt with LEGO?
A. I do. My sculpture approach is a bit different from Nathan’s. I love sculpting anatomically correct representations of animals — replicating different components of musculature, tendons, things like that. I also love landscape — a lot of rock-work. The natural world is a huge part of what inspires my builds. Because you have these organic forms that LEGO doesn’t lend itself to naturally. You take this inorganic form, and say: How do I lean into the limitations of this medium?
Q. How did you get on the show?
A. My brother and I saw an ad before the Super Bowl three years ago. We applied and got cast for season two. But the day before we were supposed to fly out, Brendan came down with COVID. So we went through the process again for season three.
Q. What’s been your favorite build so far?
Q. The toughest?
A. The bull-riding episode was crazy — that was an engineering challenge.
Q. It seems like Will Arnett does some improv.
A. He does. I think he’s maybe even more fun off-camera. Because he’s kind of trying to follow a certain direction of prompting. He’s an encouraging guy. He took a personal interest in the contestants.
Q. What’s your process when you get a prompt, say, 12 hours to re-create a Marvel movie scene?
A. As soon as they announce the assignment, I’m off to the races. The first thing I do is write down keywords from the brief. Then I sketch, as we come up with different ideas, so we have an idea of the overall layout and proportion. We have a three-layer process. Layer one is what we had to have to deliver to the judges. Layer two is high-level embellishments. Layer three is the secondary desires.
Q. Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a trend of adults getting into LEGO for the zen of it.
A. It’s very soothing. It’s a system that everyone can approach from age 3, and basically understand how the system goes together. The more comprehensive your knowledge becomes of the totality of the system, the more advanced you can become as an artist.
Q. Is there a certain set you’d suggest for adults who want to get into it? I know they have 18+ kits with succulent plants, orchids, Van Gogh, “Star Wars.”
A. Start with a theme that interests you — from “Lord of the Rings” to “Star Wars” to animals. Sets are a great entry point, because they give you an understanding of the system within the confines of instruction. Begin to learn how the system goes together. As your knowledge increases, your ability will increase. Then get some basic bricks, and say: How do I use this as a pixel to render organic forms? That’s how I think people’s artistic ability, understanding of the brick and connection to it will really develop.
Q. What did you like best at Sawaya’s Boston exhibit?
A. Two builds really spoke to me. The first was untitled: a globe with a fist smashing out of the top. We tend to view our life by constraints, rather than possibilities. Another, “My Boy,” is a father on his knees; he looks like he’s in immense grief or agony, a son laying in his arms. As a father, that spoke to me strongly.
Q. What would you say to people who think of LEGO as a kid’s toy, rather than an artistic medium?
A. I’d say: Are watercolors a child’s medium? You can have a 4-year-old paint with watercolors, and that’s great. Then you can have a world-class artist paint with watercolors, and they are nothing like each other. It’s small-minded to place a medium in an inherent box. It’s a medium with which you can create astounding things.
Interview was edited and condensed. “LEGO Masters” airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox.