Jens Nygaard Knudsen, the designer credited with coming up with the original idea for the Danish toy titan’s now-iconic minifigure, died from ALS-related complications on Feb. 19 in his native Denmark, according to AFP. Knudsen was 78 years old.
Matthew Ashton, a LEGO enthusiast and executive producer for three films in the LEGO Movie series, shared with social media followers that it’s hard to overstate Knudsen’s achievement in developing the minifigure — a toymaking milestone that present-day fans can easily take for granted.
“Honestly, on reflection it is such an honour that this little piece of toy history is now under the care of myself & the @LEGO_Group Design team,” he tweeted, following an earlier post in which he described Knudsen as “an amazing man” who leaves behind “an incredible legacy.”
“His imagination was so fantastic,” colleague Milan Pedersen told AFP. “If we had a brainstorm it was more like a brain hurricane, because he had so many ideas.”
For years after LEGO first patented its classic interlocking brick design in 1958, the structures that fans were building with the colorful blocks remained empty of people — as Knudsen’s widow, Marianne Nygaard Knudsen, observed to Norway’s TV2, via the report. “He was a man of ideas. The figure was created so that there would be life in the houses,” she said. “At the time LEGO’s houses were empty, but then he drew this ‘man.’”
Knudsen was a longtime LEGO designer who first dreamed up the idea for a snap-into-place minifigure — complete with its signature interchangeable arms and torso — all the way back in the 1970s. He reportedly joined the company in 1968, and remained there until his retirement in 2000, helping refine and iterate on his original design — as well as developing classic LEGO themes, including Space (1978) and Pirates (1989).