Mike Rayahwk LEGO Playthemes
"Vladek" - digital, 2003
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2005


If the "BrikWars!" painting is the one that got me hired into LEGO, "Vladek" is the one that got me into the Knights Kingdom team.

For a couple of years, this was the only piece out of LEGO Concept Lab that I was allowed to show people. Eventually I got permission to show a couple of other specific pieces of development material for other products as they hit the retail shelves, but if I had to be limited to only one painting, this one's not a bad one to be stuck with.

I'd been at LEGO for about two months when this job came up, getting my butt kicked day in and day out by all the product design majors in our concept group. Their product-sketching skills made mine look amateurish at best. Since sketches were all we'd been doing up until this point, I was convinced that I was about to get ejected at any moment as the group's weakest link.

So when an illustration job got handed down from the upper execs, I was all over it. Bionicle was a huge seller for LEGO then (and still is, I assume), so LEGO had a second constructible action figure range in the works - Knights Kingdom, to be released in 2004. Our assignment was to paint pictures of the characters and find ways to make them look cool. I got assigned the badguy, of course. We were all sent home at the end of the day with instructions to show up tomorrow with whatever we'd come up with.

Figuring this was my last shot, I was determined not to be outclassed again. I was up from dusk till dawn painting this guy out.

In the office the next morning, it turned out that I needn't have worried so much - I was as much better than the product design guys at illustration, as they were better than me at product design. Which makes sense, in hindsight. Even in the picture above, though, you can see one of the primary advantages they had over me in those early days: I had a real problem drawing ellipses in perspective. A couple more months at LEGO cured me of that, thankfully.

The end result of working so hard on this one painting was that it caught the attention of some folks higher up the food chain, and two weeks later I was in Denmark assigned to the Knights team directly. And, after a couple of twists and turns, that led to being the primary artist for all the Knights comics and trading cards in the years that followed.


Vladek 2004
"Leading from the Rear: Vladek 2004" - digital, 2004
detail from instruction book comics for King Mathias 8790
Knights Kingdom™ and associated images and characters Copyright LEGO ©2003-2005


If you're familiar with the Vladek figure that was eventually released in 2004, you'll notice he doesn't look quite as mean as that painting I did in 2003. That earlier version was designed for a slightly higher age group than the "6+" rating Vladek was eventually released for, so the design ended up having to get toned down accordingly. The painting style was toned down as well, to the more outlined and comic-book style that you see in this image from the King Mathias figure's instruction booklet.

Vladek has always been my favorite of the Knights Kingdom characters. I was thrilled when we got a completely Vlad-centric story for 2005. I didn't notice it until almost a year later, but when we updated Vladek's helmet for 2005 it ended up being a return (in exaggerated form) to the shape of the one in that initial 2003 concept painting.


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