Neal Smith is currently “living the dream” as a Toy Designer for Team Hot Wheels at Mattel. He previously was involved in a number of creative fields, including illustration, visual merchandising, film and product design. “I believe that you cannot create without playing,” he has said, “and that play is actually the root of health, innovation, problem solving and, of course, design.”

Smith, who was born and raised in Orange County, California, is affectionately referred to as “Dr. Neeel.” He is a graduate of both The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Prior to joining Mattel in 2013, he served as a visual coordinator at Apple for several years. Little-known fact: Smith speaks Japanese.

He lives in El Segundo, California.

How familiar were/are you with Star Trek?

I’ve been watching Star Trek since the 80s as a kid. My dad started my brother and me on it because he was a fan of the original. So I’ve been tuning in for each new episode since season one of The Next Generation.

What excited you most about the opportunity to get involved in this Star Trek 50th anniversary art project?

Getting officially involved with something that had such a profound impact on me growing up was an opportunity I couldn’t miss out on. I was just as excited to get to work on this project as I was when I got hired to work on Team Hot Wheels.

How quickly/easily, or not, did you concept come to you? And how long did it take from start to finish to complete the piece?

The cube took a few months, but at first I wanted to paint an Orion girl. Then I wanted to make a Kobayashi Maru Hot Wheels Track set. Then I thought I WANNA CRUSH A BILLION CARS AND GLUE THEM TOGETHER! So I put together a little paper mock-up, presented it as an idea and everybody loved it!

What else about your piece do you think Star Trek fans should know?

Well, the first thing I know people will ask me is, “How many cars did it take?” and the answer is “I don’t know!” I put it together over a few months and just lost track. But it’s an awesome piece that stays very true to both Hot Wheels and Star Trek, two pop-culture icons that I’m so happy to have been a small part of.