If you attended the Star Trek Las Vegas convention in August 2021, you may have spotted some of the LEGO art created by Sam Hatmaker! The artist was commissioned by the Roddenberry estate to design multiple LEGO pieces to celebrate the Star Trek visionary’s centennial birthday.
The Beat got the chance to speak with Hatmaker over email about how the commission came to be, to find out about what goes into transferring completed LEGO art from Southern California to Las Vegas, and to learn which Easter Eggs hidden in the over six-foot-tall portrait of Gene Roddenberry!
AVERY KAPLAN: You were commissioned by the Gene Roddenberry estate to make a few LEGO portraits for the 100th Birthday Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Celebration. Can you tell us about how this came to be? How did you approach the resulting builds?
SAM HATMAKER: Having been a Star Trek fan since I was a kid, I decided to do some Star Trek themed builds. A friend introduced my work to Rod Roddenberry who later reached out to me. We discussed my ideas and the cost of actually making the pieces. He recognized my passion about the Trek universe and agreed to collaboration. He had ideas about specific subject matter, but he was always open to my creative interpretations of those builds.
KAPLAN: What was involved with transporting the portrait from your studio in Southern California to Las Vegas for the STLV convention? Was re-assembly required?
HATMAKER: I did 6 Star Trek builds with Roddenberry over the last year. The range in size and scope was wide. Some of the pieces were easy to transport from my studio in a car to the Las Vegas convention. Other pieces needed to be picked up and professionally wrapped and transported. There was definitely some reassembly required for the larger pieces, luckily I knew as I was building them so I could design them to be easily broken down into pieces.
KAPLAN: The LEGO portrait of Roddenberry is filled with various references and Easter Eggs (one of my favorites is the little Defiant)! Did you have any allusions that were especially important to you to include?
HATMAKER: The Gene Roddenberry Portrait is my largest and most ambitious Lego build to date. It is 6’8” tall and 4’2” wide. It is 8” deep in some spots. This year would have been Gene’s 100th birthday, so there are 100 Delta badges in the black section of Gene’s face. It is also the 55th Year of Star Trek, so I decided to make 55 stories from the Trek Universe to commemorate that.
When Roddenberry came to me with the idea of doing a Gene Portrait, they imagined it as a straight mosaic. I slept on it a few nights and came back to them with my vision. I am not sure they exactly understood what I envisioned, but they had faith that I would make it work.
For me, there were a lot of things that I knew I HAD to include. The IDIC is Gene’s creation that represents the core ideals of Trek. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. That is a very LEGO idea too. It’s an idea that is visible in the very core of Trek. I made that symbol Gene’s 3rd Eye, the Crown Chakra, the opening of the Mind.
I wanted to have representation of Majel Barrett (Gene’s Wife) in the piece. She was a Nurse Chapel in the Original series, Lwaxana Troi on The Next Generation, and the voice of the computer. So I did a 3D relief picture of her as Nurse Chapel.
I specifically made the Defiant NX-74205 because the number is Rod Roddenberry’s birthday.
I included favorite episodes, characters and scenes that stood out to me.
KAPLAN: Do you have a favorite Star Trek episode (or episode arc, or movie, or series – feel free to be as broad or as specific as you’d like)? How did you find your way to the Star Trek fandom?
HATMAKER: I have been a Trek fan since I was 14 when The Next Generation started. I fell in love with Deanna Troi and Captain Picard. Later when it was in Syndication, I would watch it every night at 11pm with my friend. I collected toys and went to every Trek Convention near me.
I have too many favorite moments to narrow it down to one. I love the campy parts and the serious parts.
Lwaxana flirting with Picard is as powerful to me as Picard being tortured by Gil Madred.
KAPLAN: In addition to Star Trek, you’ve made plenty of other custom LEGO builds and portraits. Do you have any favorites you’d like to share with us? Are there any specific projects that you hope to one day undertake?
HATMAKER: I have made many custom builds that I am proud of. The LEGO Golden Girls set is still one of my favorites. It was my first real passion project where I did research for accuracy and refined the build over months. I was so happy that it went viral and that it got the 10,000 votes it needed on LEGO Ideas. That gave it a chance at becoming a real set produced by LEGO. It didn’t ultimately get made, but it was an honor to have so much positive feedback.
KAPLAN: Do you have a LEGO “origin story,” or a specific point at which you began to create LEGO art?
HATMAKER: My first portrait was made as a gift for a friend’s birthday. I had never really thought of my LEGO creations as art before that. When he opened it at the party, so many people loved it and asked about me doing one for them of their favorite celebrity, that I decided to keep pursuing that. It changed the course of my LEGO experience.
KAPLAN: Is there any Star Trek LEGO set or build that you would particularly like to see in the world?
HATMAKER: For Star Trek, I would love a Next Generation Enterprise D Bridge set. I made one for the Gene Portrait, but I want it to have all the custom mini figures and sliding doors around the edges.
For NON Star Trek, I have wanted to make a life size bust of Medusa for a long time. I think the engineering to hold the weight of all the snakes will be a great challenge and sculpting a humanoid face will be a interesting.
I see it in my head already and I’m sure I can do it. It just comes down to time and the actual cost of parts to do it.