Constructive Criticism: Mike in the Middle

When I was planning this blog I made a list of ideas that might separate the Manifesto from the rather large pack of competitors out there.  One of those ideas was to find a way to engage and encourage the builders who are not given their due by other blogs because of flaws like less than perfect photography or lack of advanced technique.  Frankly I find it boring to just cover the hottest hits by today’s greatest artists…that’s the equivalent of top-40 radio which has never done much for me.  You don’t need this blog to tell you that Tyler Clite’s latest model is immaculate, you’ve already seen it in your photo-stream, Facebook feed and at the other blogs you frequent.  There isn’t much point in dissecting Tyler’s work because it’s typically genius, highly polished and its value is self-evident.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to give props when they are deserved, but I find it more interesting to engage with a model or a builder that perhaps just needs a little constructive feedback or a push in the right direction.  Most comments these days are shit, useful only because even monosyllabic praise can help boost the ego, whether rookie or veteran.  With that in mind I’d like to talk about an underappreciated builder whose work I have always enjoyed over the years, but who has also frequently frustrated the perfectionist in me: Mike M.  The native Floridian’s latest build is entitled “consumed“, and it caught my attention immediately for both good and bad reasons.


We’ll start with the good stuff, the textured floor is really effective, both for its reflective properties but also because it looks like it would feel terrible walking across it bare-foot like the subject of the photo.  It’s a small detail, but it adds to the tension of the scene, which is great even if it reminds me of a first-year art school project.  Usually I’m not a fan of using the same texture for floors and walls in a single build but it works quite well here, adding to the depressing quality of the room.  The brick-built figure is basic but very effective in a mannequin sort of way.  The forward tilt of the head is a nice touch, although the feet seem massive the more I look at them and using the same part for the hands and feet might not have been the best choice.  At first blush though, this scene has an effective creepy vibe and something to say: the timeless message that TV corrupts your mind, body and spirit.  Mike frequently has a strong point of view a a point he’s trying to get across and I wish we saw more of that from builders, an attempt to reach for something more than surface content.

However, just as I really start digging this model there are things I can’t abide like the design of the televisions.  The decision to go with old-style brown cabinets suggesting wood is an odd one, but if you’re gonna go that route they need more detail (knobs, antenna, speaker) and having some sets studded and some smooth is distracting.  I understand that going with black-framed TVs risks having them blend in with the background but the sets don’t earn their place in the diorama.  My biggest complaint is with the home-made TV screen stickers that are not cut very consistently and are curling up at the corners.  While I’m definitely a purist, I don’t push my arcane religion on other builders but I do sort of expect non purist solutions to have a higher level of quality than what I’m seeing here.

I’m not sold on the face either.  I like the round decorated tile Mike selected, it’s an interesting choice that gives the figure some character, but the rubber band makes it look like a mask.  Maybe it’s supposed to be a mask, I’m not sure, but you don’t typically see a mask strap that goes around the front of the face like that.  I think the builder would have been better served to attach the tile to the face more conventionally, which would in turn necessitate a change in parts for the cranium, but I think it could have been better.

Mike’s photography can be frustrating because he’s capable of getting some truly great shots and others end up making me irritated because the quality of the photo takes away from the effectiveness of the scene, as in the photo below entitled “Cletus Kasady”.


This scene has great cinematic or comic book style  shot composition, but the blurry victim in the foreground takes away from the power of the image.  Even with a fuzzy picture this model earned Mike 80 favorites on Flickr, but I have to believe that it would have performed even better with a clear shot.  It’s definitely worth noting that in his profile the builder states that he doesn’t have a “bad ass camera or Photoshop” and may not care all that much about good photography.  It is possible to work wonders with a mediocre camera (or phone camera) and minimal post processing, you just have to be willing to take a large number of shots.  To be fair, most of his photos are of decent quality, but I think Mike could maximize his obvious creativity and great sense of framing if he worked at it.

To round out my list of unsolicited petty grievances with Mike M, I also think he relies too much on masonry profile bricks.  We all have our beloved go-to parts that show up again and again  and again in our work, but sometimes you need to make a conscious decision to either not use them, or use them in an unconventional way.

I’ll close with a few of my favorite builds by Mike M, who has made a great deal of progress over the years and always has something interesting to share.  I can’t encourage you enough to take a trip through Mike’s photo-stream, you’ll be well rewarded and don’t forget to leave a comment.  Everybody likes a good comment.




17 thoughts on “Constructive Criticism: Mike in the Middle

  1. So many trying to become lego masters or seen in some spotlight. So many want nothing more then the world to see there builds . Me, I`m old an poor n dont have what others have. Just a humble sucker wishing I had the time an patience some others do. I cant thank you enough to take any of ur personal time to talk about me n my Madness, when so many other great lego artist are out there an should be pointed out. . Im just a fly on the wall trying to spread the lego love. 1lov an thank u for all the kindness.


    1. Mike, don’t underestimate yourself, you’re worthy of the spotlight as much as the next builder if not more so. I’m glad you took the criticism in the spirit it was offered, I love your builds and I hope you keep going. Thanks for reading the blog, I hope you stick around and join the conversation if you’re so inspired. Cheers!


      1. Hey brotha I got nowhere else better to go then somewhere we can have good conversations and talk about Lego. An I cant help but to say thanks again for everything man. ok ok Ill take more time to polish my builds an when they come out darker.deeper then ever ill hope to get blogged again. lol An Friday night Fights..ill be looking to throw my two cents in. so cool to see going again. thanks again Keith


  2. This is great to see. I’ve always tried my best with photography and photo editing, but it is time consuming. I’ve seen ‘okay’ builds elevated in focus other places due to their presentation (which in itself is an artform and enjoyable to view), but I’ve seen so many truly amazing and fun builds linger in obscurity due to less than perfect focus points, a daffodil bedquilt as a backdrop etc. The overall package is definitely part of our hobby and I don’t really advocate major change to that (mostly because it’s easier to visual dissect the build with clear shots), but a little more light shone on the dark horses is awesome and so welcome!


    1. Gil! I’m glad you stumbled over here my friend, it’s good to have another old-timer keep me honest with my historical anecdotes. I want to resist the urge to embellish things too much from the LUGNET days. I couldn’t agree more with you about photography and it’s place in the hobby. If you want to be part of the action and have your models taken “seriously”, you have to embrace photography as much as you can. Glad you like the dark horse aspect to the blog, if you see anyone worthy of the treatment Mike just took like a champ, let me know.


    2. Thank you so much. it’s so much appreciated. Im still lost within photography. It continues to seem to be all trial and error lol thx again.


  3. I can’t agree more with the frustration, the images and composition are so enticing and then the presentation just barely falls off enough to lose that grasp. The concepts are engaging with an emphasis towards making the viewer really force themselves into the image, but then there is a portion that is out of focus or a piece selection that doesn’t quite work. The works are great starts but they don’t open up any conversations other than it was so close.

    You nailed the next step for Mike to advance and that is take a shit ton of pics. God bless the digital camera and the delete option. Throwing dollahs at an expensive rig won’t improve the pics, but the ability to change focal length and speed will improve his ability to manipulate the mood to better effect. More pics covering multiple apertures, focus, light sources, etc. will give more options to choose from rather than image 001.

    Aside from that, his composition skills are frighteningly impressive. Even in underlit imagery my eyes follow a set story and plot with just enough mystery and unanswered questions to make me come back for more and look forward to Mike’s next work.


    1. Yeah, I recommended the shotgun approach to photography because it’s the only reason I’ve had any success over the years. While I understand the basics of photography, I don’t practice it enough and when it comes time to shoot a model I get frustrated and just take massive amounts of pictures. Glad you liked the article, I agree that Mike’s got some serious style.


  4. I disagree with the assessment of “Cletus Kasady”. The picture appears to be about the beast and not the mostly featureless victim. The victim has so little detail that we see all there is even with the victim out of focus. Further, focusing on the victim might not have been possible with Mike M’s lens. If it was, doing so would result in an even shallower depth of field that might have forced the beast to be out of focus. The picture wouldn’t work at all with a blurry beast. Since it seems to be about the beast, focusing on the beast makes sense to me.


    1. I think you’ve got a great counter argument, Jeff. I don’t pretend to know enough about his camera and lighting situation or even photography in general to know if getting both figs in focus was possible or not. For me, the image is dominated by the victim in the foreground and when the dominant feature is blurry it throws me off. In fact, I don’t think the beast is in particularly good focus, it’s just better. I really appreciate your comment though, it made me look at the image again and I’m sure the builder appreciates the additional feedback.


    2. Great point on the focus of the image rather than the focal quality. I think this pic would have benefited with more dramatic lighting to get an even more insidious feel to the situation. Maybe some harsh lighting striking through the windows across the face of the creature and less light cast on the fig in the foreground. that would have pushed the out of focus fig into more of an “every man” presence instead of the instant out of focus focal point that the viewer is automatically drawn to. The suspense, excitement, and narrative of the image would still be there as the creature would not be fully revealed, but that would allow the viewer to engage the image deeper.


  5. As a complete outsider here I can say, ” yikes”! Who knew all the detail and work that goes into a project much less the documentation of said project. I’d probably be one of those random flicker users who simply liked his photos because of its Lego creativity. That being said I see the importance of photography. I take some pics of my projects. You know…. The ones that Lego makes and gives you detailed instructions to build? I will occasionally create a clever scene and really use my Instagram skills to spice it up. My point is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I aspire to branch out so I can really be proud of the project I’m capturing. Keep up the good work, Mike M.


    1. You’re only one step away from being a full blown AFOL, Amanda, don’t kid yourself. You should go to the LA convention next year and see all the nerds in action, then you’ll have no choice but to come over to the dark side. You’ll be building your own designs in no time. Continue with the clever scenes! You should make a setting for some of Steve’s Warhammer figs.


    2. In the end its all about that i think when it comes to photography. beauty is in the eye of the beholder and when the beholder chooses to want to please the masses I feel alot.more depth can be captured. if that makes sence…lol i cant thank u enough.


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