Three years ago, graphic designer Mike Doyle took his kids to Legoland as part of one those parental rights of passage. But a funny thing happened when he got there.
Doyle was in a room at the amusement park in Carlsbad where people can build Lego cars to race on a wooden track. As he pieced together his own creation, he found himself suddenly swept up in the moment.
"It’s the first time I really free-form played with it on my own since I was a kid," he said. "I played Legos with the kids at home, but it’s not the same. I got really excited by it."
Excited? More like obsessed.
Doyle returned home to Brooklyn in the grips of Lego fever that would soon see him transformed into one of the word's most acclaimed Lego builders.
That fascination also connected him to a worldwide community of adults who use Lego bricks to create fantastic sculptures. To demonstrate the power of this work and to try to give these artists their due, Doyle has just published a new book called: "Beautiful Lego."
The 280-page book contains a combination of photographs that he took along with ones submitted by other artists from around the world. The book also features interviews and essays from some of the artists who explain their vision and fascination with something commonly viewed as a child's toy.
These people share the same kind of passion and vision that Doyle discoverd upon returning home from that trip when he couldn't stop thinking about how building something so basic as a car was so satisfying.
"That got me super excited," he said. "Began thinking about what I could do. Came up with this abandoned house series. I wanted to do large scale so I could photograph them." (See slideshow above)
In part, he loved the challenge of taking what feels like a fairly limited medium -- rectangular plastic bricks -- and arranging them in a way that creates the illusion of something softer or curved.
"It sort of tricks the mind," he said. "Everyone has probably played with Lego. Everyone is accustomed to the limitations it presents.
"I had a fascination with turning the hard Legos into something that appears organic," he said. "I sought out situations that were more organic, like snow."
His creations were on a massive scale. The book's cover features of one his creations: ""The Millenial Celebration of the Eternal Choir at K'al Yne." It used more than 200,000 bricks.
Doyle is hardly alone in this epic Lego work. Adult Fans of Legos , or AFOL, have become a genuine phenomenon. There are AFOL meetup groups. And you can see plenty of amazing creations being discussed in the Reddit AFOL section.
Still, there's no getting past the fact that as an adult, when you tell friends or family what your hobby is, you're bound to get some strange looks.
"One of the difficulties that people have is getting over family and friends thinking they are just toying around like a kid," Doyle said. "I hope this book helps overcome the stigma of what we’re doing and what can be done."
Of course, he's also hoping the book will be an inspiration to kids.
Lego building has changed a lot since the 1970s, when people primarily bought tubs of random Legos and just built things from their imagination.
With the company in financial trouble a decade ago, Lego decided to focus on selling kits based on big franchises like Harry Potter and Star Wars. That means that kids today primarily buy Legos that come with instructions telling them to build one specific thing.
Doyle worries that kids aren't getting to experience the more imaginative side of Lego building, and the challenge of solving the puzzle of turning an image in your head into something concrete.
"Kids don’t free-form build," he said. "The pieces are so specialized. And I think there's a reluctance to mix your Star Wars kit with whatever other kit you have."
As for his own work, Doyle assembles his creations and then photographs them. Some of those photos he turns into prints that he sells.
He then takes the work apart. Because, really, where are you going to keep it? Sometimes he'll place the bricks from the work in a bag along with some basic instructions and sell them as a DIY kit.
"I can’t have it frozen as a model I keep in my basement," he said. "I’ve had offers to put it in a museum. But they’re not built so much for travel."
For now, he'll settle for some of them being preserved in his book.