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SAN FRANCISCO--In a third-floor art school classroom here, lifelong Lego fan Robin Dodd pitted his prodigious building skills against the rest of the best in Northern California.

Dodd, an 18-year-old from Salinas, Calif., was one of 20 contestants at Thursday's San Francisco stop of Legoland California's seven-city search for a new master model builder. In each city, the Legoland judges are picking several finalists, each of whom will be invited to the May 23 finals at the Carlsbad, Calif., theme park.

And at that certain-to-be pressure packed event, at least one person will walk away with a dream job.

For Dodd, however, the ascent to master model builder status ended Thursday. Although his model of a parrot--complete with flapping wings--impressed the judges and most of a crowd of observers, he just missed making the cut. Yet he seemed thrilled to simply have had the chance to compete.

"This was the most intense Lego moment of my life," Dodd said, "and there have been many intense Lego moments."

The Legoland search was precipitated by the park's planned summer 2006 opening of a new area, known as Pirate Shores, and the fact that this necessitates the hiring of at least one new master model builder.

Thus, each contestant on the tour is being asked to build a model with a pirate theme. So it wasn't surprising that Dodd's parrot was hardly the only one the judges saw Thursday.

In fact, one of the three finalists picked by the judges, Jeff Cross of Berkeley, Calif., built a parrot head.

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Video: One Lego at a time
On the lookout for a new master model builder, Legoland sent judges to San Francisco. Vincent Tremblay reports alongside Daniel Terdiman.

Jarad Barkdoll, a 21-year-old student at the Art Institute of California in San Francisco, was chosen after building an octopus prying open a treasure chest full of gold. Bryan Blanco of Castro Valley, Calif., also made the cut with his model of a skull.

Each of the seven regional competitions--except the first at Legoland--is at a campus of the Art Institute. The other cities with competitions are Los Angeles, Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Chicago.

Although these contests are focused on a traditional approach to Legos, the building blocks are also being incorporated into more high-tech creations.

But for anyone who's ever played with standard Legos, the competition here may have felt familiar. In part, that's because the sound of people digging through bins of the iconic bricks is entirely distinctive. It is a loud shuffling and clicking sound, and it could be heard constantly throughout the event.

Each contestant's methods were different. Some used a giant metal scoop to load their bins with as many bricks as possible, while others were more meticulous, picking bricks almost piece by piece.

Similarly, some poured their piles of bricks in front of them, while others chose the left or right sides.

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