The LEGO minifigure stands only about an inch and a half tall – or in LEGO terms, four blocks high. In the active imaginations of children of all ages, however, the minifigure is a giant.
Danish LEGO designer Jens Nygaard Knudsen, the man responsible for creating the minifigure, one of the most beloved toys in the world, died February 19 in Denmark. He was 78.
The LEGO Group announced his death, describing Knudsen as “a true visionary whose ideas brought joy and inspiration to millions of builders around the world.”
Although the modern LEGO building blocks were introduced in 1958, LEGO lacked a “human” to enliven its playscapes. It was Knudsen’s innovation, released in 1978, that forever changed the LEGO world.
Early minifigures included a police officer, a firefighter, a doctor, a gas station attendant, a knight and an astronaut. The line proved so popular that it grew over the years to include 8,000 characters, among them figures from the Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises. LEGO-loving children who grow into LEGO-loving adults have been known to place bride-and-groom minifigures atop wedding cakes.
“I am convinced,” Knudsen said at the time of the development of the minifigure, “that the minifigure will live as long as children play with LEGO.”
“We’re very sad to hear that Jens Nygaard Knudsen, the creator of the LEGO Minifigure, has passed away,” tweeted LEGO. “Thank you Jens, for your ideas, imagination, and inspiring generations of builders.”
Knudsen had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a former colleague told the AFP news agency.
“His imagination was so fantastic. If we had a brainstorm it was more like a brain hurricane, because he had so many ideas,” Milan Pedersen told AFP.
Knudsen worked at LEGO from 1968 to 2000 and also developed the company’s space and castle sets. Matthew Ashton, vice president of design at Lego, paid tribute and thanked the “amazing” man who left behind an “incredible” legacy.
"Jens was not only responsible for designing the LEGO Minifigure he also drove the development of many early LEGO Product lines including my childhood favorite Classic Space,” tweeted Ashton. “He was truly one of the unsung heroes of the toy industry.”
LEGO was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen. The modern LEGO brick was first released in 1958. The company is now one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world.