I caught up yesterday with Eric Hunter, a Legoland model builder who formed the second installment in our People at Work series in October 2006. At that time he was working on a replica of Las Vegas’s Excalibur Hotel.

Here’s a bit from that story:

Hunter is one of six full-time model builders at the Legoland amusement park in Carlsbad. They are hired to build and maintain the park’s 15,000-plus Lego models that use more than 30 million bricks. They’ve worked on almost everything: a life-sized animated elephant that squirts water from its trunk, symphony musicians playing miniature violins, Volvo station wagons, and even an alien in a holding cell in a replica of the NASA space training center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

So what has Hunter built in the last two years?

Photo: Bronson Pate

Hunter’s been on disability leave for about 30 days after injuring his shoulder when he filled in for a friend in a bowling league. “I’m bored out of my head,” he told me. But before that happened, he was working on replicas of the Sears Tower and a landmark hotel in New York City called the Essex House.

And he built a miniature version of the Burj Dubai, the nearly completed tower in Dubai expected to be the tallest building in the world. Hunter’s version is 18 feet tall; he built it in three five-foot chunks with an extra piece on top.

Hunter actually went to Dubai in May for a convention and set up the model, which will eventually be part of an attraction in Dubai.

Wrap your mind around this: In Dubai, a mega project called Dubailand is supposed to open in 2011 as a huge tourist destination. Inside Dubailand, there’s going to be something called Theme Park City. Inside Theme Park City, there will be a Legoland. And inside that Legoland, Hunter’s Burj Dubai will be installed.

When I interviewed him two years ago, I’d asked Hunter, an avid Lego hobbyist since age 3 or 4, if his job felt like a hobby. Here’s what he said:

But spending 40 hours a week for the last year-and-a-half with thousands of bricks hasn’t turned Hunter off of working with Lego on his own time. He doesn’t think of himself as bringing his work home. Instead, it’s the other way around.

I asked him the same question yesterday, now that he’s been doing this for about five years. He spoke enthusiastically about everything he’s working on and all of the developments at Legoland, but he said it’s still a job.

“I love my job but it’s more of just a job now,” he said. “I still realize how different it is, that it’s more of a privilege to have my job. I’m just a little less enthusiastic about it. For me it’s just so day-to-day now.”

Still, when Legoland sought volunteers to move to Dubai in a couple of years to set up the installation, Hunter recently said he’d be willing to go. “That’s down the road,” he said.

If you’ve missed any of the 26 installments in the series about how San Diegans earn a living, check out the People at Work archives.


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