Bins filled with 3 million Lego bricks of every color, shape and size crowd floor-to-ceiling shelves in the surprisingly small confines of the Model Shop at Legoland in Carlsbad.
Lower shelves and tables are crowded with Lego model prototypes -- a small Statue of Liberty, a life-size bust of former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal, a model of Jiminy Cricket. A computer monitor displays the design for a life-size bowling pin, two of which are half built on a well-worn desk.
This is the second home of Ryan Ziegelbauer, a former Berkeley resident who is three years into his dream job as Legoland's master model builder.
Twice, Ziegelbauer's dream seemed to pass him by. Having finished graduate school for urban planning in 2006, he came up short among 24 finalists in a nationwide competition for the Legoland master model builder position. Two jobs and two moves later, Ziegelbauer was working as a sustainable design consultant in Berkeley when Legoland called, offering him the position.
Ziegelbauer wasn't ready to change careers just yet.
"It was always in the back of my mind that I needed to build Lego for a living at some point in my life," he said. "It just needed to be the right time."
That right time was chance No. 3 in 2010. Ziegelbauer accepted the job and quickly found himself immersed in building 1/20 scale model scenes from the "Star Wars" movies. He repeatedly watched DVD clips from the films to get every detail right.
"What's interesting is that on film the colors look different than they actually exist in reality," he said, "and we wanted to get it right."
Photographs and field visits help the builders authentically re-create even the smallest detail. While computers are used to aid in designing some models, others are still constructed by old-fashioned trial and error.
While each model's brick is glued individually, Ziegelbauer says, he and other builders follow strict rules -- even for gigantic models, such as the 400,000-Lego dragon outside the hotel's main entrance, which took a team of 20 to build.
"We don't cheat," Ziegelbauer said. "We don't do anything that you can't do at home. You could in theory, if you had all of the brick, build that giant dragon at home -- of course, you'd need 400,000 green Lego brick."