Meet the Pinoy Comic Artist Who Works for LEGO

Ian Sta. Maria talks to us about working for the toy company and what he's up to.

(SPOT.ph) Creativity knows no bounds, and Ian Sta. Maria proves Pinoys are at par with the rest of the world. The comic artist—whom you might know thanks to his work for comic books Skyworld, Sixty-Six, and Kadasig—is currently a senior concept artist for The LEGO Group, where he works with the Design and Innovation team. Yup, he's part of the group that decides what kind of LEGO sets will be hitting toy store shelves near you. 

Sta. Maria holds up a BrickHeadz model of Emmet from The LEGO Movie, one of his biggest projects.
PHOTO BY Joanna Manalastas Calasanz
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"Before it goes down to the designers who actually build the bricks, my real job is to put everything on paper first," explains Sta. Maria in a conversation with SPOT.ph. It's up to him to take an idea for a new LEGO set and give it an identity, a "proof of concept for it to be more than just a toy." 

This concept of being "more than just a toy" is what has driven LEGO since its founding in 1932 by a Danish carpenter named Ole Kirk Christiansen. "It's a teaching tool. It's not just for kids to play with, it should help them with problem solving. And not just problem solving, but [upon] reaching that—no pun intended—brick wall, to destroy and rebuild," says Sta. Maria. The company name LEGO itself stems from the Danish phrase "LEg GOdt," which means to"play well."

So what does it take for somebody to make it to one of the world's biggest toy companies? Well, according to Sta. Maria, you'll need a persistent friend. Back in 2015, his friend Mervin Ignacio—whom he created Skyworld with—took a chance and applied for LEGO through LinkedIn. When Ignacio was accepted, he began pushing Sta. Maria in as well. "He kind of pestered me for a few months to join him. I said no, actually, three times."

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At that point, he was contentedly working in advertising here in the Philippines, but Ignacio sent Sta. Maria's online portfolio and DeviantArt profile to LEGO anyway—and yes, they reached out to him. LEGO asked Sta. Maria a simple question: "If you were to create a superhero for girls, what would she look like?" Sta. Maria knew he was up against artists who were way better than him for a position at LEGO, he says. "So what I did was, instead of designing the character, I wrote a story behind the character. And that got me a slot in Denmark to do a presentation," says Sta. Maria.

The trip was a fateful one. Not only was it Sta. Maria's first time outside of Asia, but right after his presentation, he says, "My future boss, her name is Vivi, took me for a short stroll in a dark room. Then when she opened the lights, it was the Star Wars collection. And then she handed me a rolled-up piece of paper, and it was my contract na pala." The rest, as they say, is history.

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But like a true artist, Sta. Maria continues to create. Outside his already cool day job, he's been finding the time to illustrate one of his main inspirations: magical beings from Filipino folklore. What started as a hobby will soon be a book entitled Salamangka. It is a "twisting [of] different myths from our own folklore," he explains, and a "reimagining of legends and stories I’ve known from childhood." Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for Salamangka this September at the Manila International Book Fair. 

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