Recently I saw some articles and blog posts about an amazing creation. A LEGO enthusiast had created a recreation of one of my most loved buildings, The Super Museum in Metropolis, Illinois.
The quality of the LEGO build and the detail that went into it was amazing and I just had to reach out to the artist with the hope that I could get into the mind of somebody with so much more talent than I!
Speaking with Nicholas Mastramico was a wonderful experience for me. Finding out that he also works for NASA was very exciting! I could really get a sense of passion for his craft and work, his outlook on life and his charming personality. It was an honour to speak to him and ask him some questions about his life and his wonderful creation. It turns out we were both at the Superman Celebration last year but didn’t get the chance to meet. When I return later this year I will have to track him down and shake his hand!
Here is my interview with Nicholas.
Nicholas, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, please begin by introducing yourself.
My name is Nicholas Mastramico. During the day, I am an aerospace engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in Huntsville Alabama. Now while I cannot tell you what I do there, I can tell you that I am a part of the team hard at work developing the Space Launch System (SLS) you can find more information about America’s newest rocket at: (https://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/index.html)
But after work in my free time I’ve been fortunate to have both literary and lately LEGO artistry success under my pen name Nicholas Cara. I have published two successful novels, ‘The Grey Ghost: The Shadow that Walks’ and ‘The Grey Ghost: The Jeweled Kiss Mysteries’. I am working on the final book of the trilogy ‘The Grey Ghost: The Behemoth Dodge’ as we speak. Along with my writing, I have always tried to keep a balanced life of hobbies when I am not enjoying my time with my family. One of those hobbies over the past few years has been designing and constructing LEGO models. At first, I was only interested in testing my skills as a designer to see what I could come up with but with a number of successes both with general projects sitting on my desk and now commercially, The Super Museum, I’ve found that there is a pretty good interest in my work.
All of my work can be followed at and on Facebook at .
Your LEGO recreation of the Superman Museum is epic! What made you want to come up with such a grand design?
Thank you. The Lego Super Museum actually was a series of events that worked out perfectly. I initially did not intend to even build the LEGO Super Museum at all.
Last year at the Superman Celebration in Metropolis IL, I was standing in the heat waiting for a few of the celebrities (I think it was Brandon Routh and his parents) to come to the Superman Statue to take the annual celebrity photo before the Q/A. So while I was sitting there sweating, I kept looking at the Superman Statue and really took notice that the statue’s base was the Superman S. I had known that before but standing there studying it I really took notice how creative and well constructed the based was and the only thing I could think was “I bet I could build this…”
So a few months later, I started designing the LEGO Superman Statue and after a few weeks of figuring out the statue digitally, I posted the design on numerous Superman Facebook pages asking what people thought. I was really hoping to make a few contacts with the Chamber of Commerce and the Save the Massac committee in Metropolis. I had just had the humbling success of getting one of my LEGO models (a LEGO Kerwyn model) get displayed on MeTV’s Svengoolie show and featured on one of his nationally broadcasted segments. So my hope was if I created a Statue model that could get enough eyes on it possibly the CoC would like to display it and maybe the Save the Massac charity auction would like a version of it for their auction.
Well I was extremely happy with the response online and both the Metropolis CoC and the Save the Massac committee immediately wanted a copy of my Statue model. With the buzz the Lego models made online, word of it made it to Morgan Siebert at the Superman Museum who contacted me and after a few conversations the idea of creating the LEGO Super Museum was born.
How long did it take and do you know how many pieces you had to use?
Designing the model digitally took around 2 months to get perfect. The interesting part of the model ended up being the scale of the Museum. Originally, I wanted to keep the Museum to the scale where I could use LEGO doors, windows etc. However, I found out very early that LEGO simply did not have parts to accurately create the unique architecture and color scheme of the Super Museum. So to really get the details of the Museum right I had to create my own windows and my own doors out LEGO to get the Lego Model to truly represent the actual structure. For example each door of the Lego Museum is made of nearly 20-30 LEGO bricks instead of just one.
Ordering all of the pieces took 2 months and the construction of the model took about a month however, that was only because I was furloughed for the month of January. This allowed me to put in about 4+ hours a day to build. If I had not been furloughed for that month, it would have taken me (with my usual schedule) 3-4 months of building.
The LEGO Super Museum ended up being over 7000 LEGO pieces while each of the LEGO Superman Statues were close to 900 LEGO pieces.
How did you create such an accurate design? Did you have to study the building?
Initially when I was designing it, I went through all of the photos I had taken of the Museum over the 10 years my family and have been going to the Superman Celebration in Metropolis IL along with the photos available on the Museum’s website. This gave me a starting point but the key to figuring out the actual shape of the building came with the help of Rick Sare’s drone videos that he very graciously shared with me of overhead shots of the Superman Square and the Museum itself. With those, the actually shape of the building and the fact it was really two separate buildings now attached really cemented the design in my mind. After that was set, I simply started at the bottom, literary, with a ground layout of the building and slowly digitally designed the building upward.
What was the most difficult part to make?
Digitally? The Front Door was the hardest part since it was the first main structure I started with. This is when I came upon the scaling issue and figured out that I would have to reinvent the LEGO wheel by creating my own doors and windows. Once I finally figured that out, creating the other doors and structures fell into place easier.
Actually Building? The Tree. That tree was a horrible pain to construct since technically the real life tree in front of the Museum was not the most structurally sound designed tree. It was a small trunk going straight up to a large mass of branches, and while in nature that can work, LEGO pieces put together like that like to simply tip over. So there was a number of changes to the digital design of the tree once I was really constructing it. The funny thing was after all that I found out later when I was delivering it they had cut the tree down! However, I was happy to hear that they still loved seeing the LEGO tree in front of the LEGO Museum and are going to keep it.
Have you made any other Super creations?
Well besides the LEGO Super Museum I did deliver both of the LEGO Superman Statues to the Chamber of Commerce and the Save the Massac Charity Auction Committee. So anyone attending the Superman Celebration this upcoming June will have a chance at bidding on the LEGO Superman Statue for the Save the Massac Charity during their annual auction.
Non-Man of Steel but still “Super” Lego Creations:
Besides the LEGO Super Museum and the Lego Superman Statues I have three other completely original LEGO models that I’m really proud of. I will attach images of all three. The Lego Kerwyn I mentioned earlier that is displayed on the set of MeTV’s Svengoolie show. That model was extra special since I added the movement of the mouth to talk and move side to side. Movement isn’t something I usually do on my models so when this worked out I was really happy. The other is my first original LEGO creation, which was a LEGO Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for my desk. That is the rocket I am proudly working on at NASA right now and I really wanted a physical representation of that. It did take a while to create a model that really made the perfectionist in me happy but there it proudly sits next to my workspace every day. And while we didn’t get all of the 10,000 votes LEGO Ideas needed when we submitted it I made a number of great contacts through that campaign and it is possible that NASA and I might take up the charge to get a LEGO version of our rocket produced the closer we get to launch. Honestly, my favorite design so far is a full size University of Alabama football helmet. I toyed with this idea for months (which is why it is my favorite – it went through so many different iterations) but I finally got the design perfect. I even took it down to Tuscaloosa AL (my ala mater) and the reaction from students and professors walking around once they saw that it was actually made of LEGO was great. I have been trying to get in contact with the athletics department about seeing if one of the coaches would like one but have not had any success yet.
Can you remember your first LEGO creation?
Like I said the LEGO SLS was my first real original creation (I’ve only been trying to develop my own models for about 3 years now) but I can tell you I do remember putting together a Santa set when I was really young. I still have a bucket of LEGO from when I was a very young child and those parts work just as great as if they were purchased today. I bet that Santa set is in that bucket as parts now.
What does Superman mean to you?
Superman is my favorite Super Hero and probably my favorite fictional character in general. I love what he represents as a symbol. Truth, Justice and the American Way – and while society and what those words over the generations may have changed, the core aspect of Superman has remained the same. He is a person who understands that he can help others with the amazing gifts that were given to him and decides to do that just because it’s the right thing to do. Moreover, given the power he wields he still decides to protect and lead by example instead of command and dominate, consequentially being the perfect teacher for humanity of what it can achieve on its own.
The Superman movie’s tagline was “You’ll believe a man can fly” and I’ve always understood that besides the obvious part where Superman defies gravity (which is really cool!) that a man flying is also him reaching his greatest potential which Superman acts as a perfect example of.
What has been your greatest creation?
In the real world I would definitely say my Son. J
Creativity-wise I will say my first novel ‘The Grey Ghost: The Shadow that Walks’. Reading/Writing has always been passion of mine since I was young. Through those years, I tried many times to start that great novel of mine but would soon lose interest or not love the story enough to finish it through. The Grey Ghost was that story that just hit me one day that I stuck with and even developed a system to complete so that I would reach the finish line which has helped me ever since. The day I opened that first box of the proof copies and I got to hold my story in my hands was simply magical.
Since we are talking about LEGOs here: It is the Alabama Football helmet. Like I said, that design went through the ringer until I got it right but I loved the finished product.
Have you ever had any LEGO disasters?
Nothing you could label a disaster since designing and constructing LEGO models is simply fun for me so it probably would be hard to hit a disaster point. I’ve had more failures designing and constructing than I can count but part of the fun is working through those missteps.
Why do you think LEGO is such a well loved company, even after so many years and technological advances in entertainment?
I believe LEGO is still loved after decades of technology advancements because of its simplicity. They are just blocks. Yes they come in hundreds of different configurations but in the end they are still nothing by themselves. So for a child (or 37 year old man LOL) to play and build with them they must use their imagination, there just is not a cheat code for that.
And in that experience, every little decision – every little connection is a personal achievement for the builder as they go. They decide what they are creating and in the end that is the fun that has captivated children and adults for decades.
Finally, if time wasn’t an issue, and you had an unlimited amount of LEGO bricks, what would you really want to create?
I probably would want to create something from a movie but in full scale. Maybe like an Ecto-1 the size of the real car. It would be a fun challenge to design because of all the curves and bends to the car. I also bet that because of all the different colors in the lights and paint schemes it would really pop as a design in the end. Or maybe the B-9 Robot from the original Lost in Space show for the same reasons.
Nicholas, thank you so much for providing some wonderful answers but also thank you for your creation and the enjoyment it will give to so many people when they see it. I can’t wait to witness it when I return to the Superman Museum in June. I may also have to bid on one of those marvellous statues as well!