DEEP in her underground workshop genetic scientist Caroline Savage surveys trays of body parts as she prepares to assemble her latest creation.
Hundreds of heads, limbs, torsos, hands and feet await selection as she checks her blueprint to ensure every characteristic is accurately reproduced.
But don’t worry. Caroline’s not cloning humans in her Stannington basement, she’s making Lego mini figures. Thousands of them.
Creating celebrity Lego figures began in earnest the summer with the Olympics and Paralympics which got Caroline and her husband Nick noticed around the world via Twitter and Facebook social media sites. Since then it’s gone mad.
What started as a tribute to Jessica Ennis and Olympic champions and a laugh among friends has now become a business that has had Sheffield University developmental geneticist Caroline, Nick and some of their friends working 18 hours a day.
So have they created a monster? “We were working flat-out up until Christmas,” said Nick.
“To be honest we’re just recovering from it now, it was just mad. We had friends helping us and we were working from 8am to 1am with no breaks to meet the demand.
“When it first started to take off we really struggled to cope with demand. It’s definitely quieter now so we’re going to have to crank it up a bit to start things moving again. We wouldn’t want it to be as mad as it was in the run-up to Christmas but we think we can make a living out of it.”
Before the boom Caroline, whose official self-employed title is ‘chief mini-fig geneticist’, and Nick just made the figures for friends.
“We’re both part of the Sheffield roller derby scene and we started off making rough mini-fig versions of the local players, just for fun,” said 33-year-old Caroline, originally from Stocksbridge.
“They were really popular so we thought we would set up a business online, so people could pay through Paypal and specify the details they wanted. “Nothing serious, maybe make enough to take us out once a month.
“Like a lot of people we got into the Olympics and Caroline had the idea of making models of the gold medal winners. We put pictures of them on Facebook and tweeted and it took off.
“Gold medal rowers Kath Grainger and Anna Watkins got in touch, long jumper Greg Rutherford had a picture of our model of him as his Twitter background and he has 130,000 followers. It seemed to snowball and we’ve had contact with lots of Olympians and Paralympians.
“When we were asked by the International Olympic committee to make a collection of British athletes, we realised we had something good.”
And it just got better.
“We weren’t sure about making Paralympian figures at first but Paralympians loved them. We did wheelchairs for the basketball players and did figures with two different kinds of prosthetics, one with blades.
“One heartwarming thing is that we were providing a toy with an image of a community not usually represented in that way. People loved it. David Weir tweeted his lego figure picture and Hannah Cockroft sent us a lovely letter thanking us for hers. The international Paralympics committee want us to do figures of all the Paralympic sports for them.”
The couple calculate they have made 2,000 figures altogether which sell for between £10 and £26.99 each, according to detail.
So what does the Lego company think of their enterprise?
“They have been brilliant,” said Caroline.
“Their global head of marketing ordered a surgeon mini-fig to put on the desk of his colleague who was to undergo surgery. We made him a full Lego operating theatre to go with it.”
Creating the bespoke figures has been more than a new job for the couple. It’s also been a welcome distraction from personal pain.
“Caroline has been having IVF treatment and she was due to have a baby in August last year,” said Nick.
“She lost the baby at 22 weeks and obviously that was a very traumatic time for us. Looking back I think making the figures gave us something to focus on, something to distract us and I think that’s what gave us the impetus to push ourselves the way we did.”
Caroline is now 21 weeks pregnant again and expecting a baby in July. So where do they see themselves in five years time? Still surrounded by plastic body parts?
“I think so,” said Nick, who married Caroline in 2006 after they met via a BBC online cultural community
“I would like us to get more corporate work and would love to have a really simple nine-to- five life and head downstairs to the workroom in the mornings to work on Lego with a wife and baby upstairs. That would be fantastic.”