LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya’s studio isn’t what you would call average. His work space is surrounded by shelves holding bins upon bins of carefully organized LEGO bricks. Additional shelves are filled with finished projects, and still more shelves are stacked with cardboard boxes unpacked bricks. It’s the kind of environment that invites you to sit down and create, and for the past few months, Sawaya has been doing just that, his efforts focused on building a life-size LEGO Batmobile.
Knowing you’re going to look at a full-scale Batmobile made of LEGO when you walk through a door does nothing to prepare you for the actual moment when you see it. I was rendered speechless by the massive work of art parked in the middle of Sawaya’s studio, and taken aback by how sleek the design looked. The LEGO Batmobile is streamlined, not blocky at all. Frankly, the car — made from half a million LEGO bricks and designed and assembled in under three months — looks ready to race down the streets of Gotham City.
The world’s largest LEGO Batmobile will be the centerpiece of the upcoming touring exhibition The Art of the Brick: DC Comics. The Warner Bros. Consumer Products and DC Entertainment collaboration features a collection of Sawaya’s work — over 120 pieces total — all inspired by the world of DC Comics. The exhibition opens at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia on November 20.
The Batmobile was designed by Jim Lee, during a Comic-Con International panel. “Jim was so gracious to sketch out the design as we took suggestions from the audience during this panel,” Sawaya recalled. “He drew it out, then I had a couple weeks to really just think about it while it was percolating in my mind. And then it was about two months worth of work building the entire structure.
“I’m not a car guy,” Sawaya continued. “The great thing is, Jim is a car guy. He knows cars, I know LEGO. It was a good collaboration, but I had to learn a lot about the parts of a car, like that there needs to be intake stuff and all these things. This is supposed to be a Batmobile. Everyone is familiar with the Batmobile. It’s a world-famous car, and I wanted to make sure it read ‘Batmobile.'”
In order to meet the deadline, Sawaya had to put in some extra hours on the job — though “some” might be an understatement. “We’re talking six, seven days, every week, ten, twelve hours every day,” he said. “This became my life. This was a full time job. I dreamt about the Batmobile, I thought about it every time I had a chance to think. It was non-stop.” Samaya did enlist some help when it came to assembling the tires, but for the most part, he built the entire Batmobile on his own.
For the most part, the things went smoothly, and he enjoyed the project, but if something was leaning the wrong way, he had to work backwards. “It’s just those tiny pieces, [you have to chase it down], one by one, one by one. You do get to a point that if you miss something, you can see it. You can see it in the pattern that maybe it’s not working and you have to go back and fix it.” The bricks are glued together, so if the glue is set, fixing a mistake means chiseling the bricks — often many of them — apart. All said, the mistakes filled a number of buckets.
And yes, the Batmobile is the crown jewel of Sawaya’s The Art of the Brick exhibit, but the artist is quick to emphasize that the point is to explore the entire DC Comics universe. He’d been thinking about doing a show about good and evil for some time, so when the the opportunity to work with DC Comics arose, he leaped at it. “I wanted to tackle all different aspects of [the DC Universe],” Swaya explained. “I wanted to do some very representational pieces. Here’s the character that you know and love, here they are — and then I wanted to take it in a different direction and say, ‘Here’s a different spin on it.’ Having the whole DC Comics universe to play with was a lot of fun. I focus a lot on the Justice League, but I do play with a lot of other characters as well.”