Constructive Criticism: The Devil is in Z Details.

For those of you not familiar with the series, Constructive Criticism focuses on builders that usually reside just outside the spotlight’s glare of the big blogs or right on the border.  There is no escaping the inherent arrogance of the notion, but these are builders who I think need to be pushed and encouraged to take the next step with their models.  Many of them already have a nice Flickr following and it should be noted that my advice is entirely unsolicited. I’m also going to offer my usual disclaimer that I’m a fan of the builder’s work and in no way is this article meant to be mean-spirited.

This could potentially be the last edition of the series because effective after this post, I will no longer be selecting builds to opine about, a builder must request an evaluation in the comment section.  Although the majority of people whose work I have reviewed up to this point have reacted positively, I’d feel better about the process if the victim was self selected.  I will also be switching to a standardized (Good/Bad/Whatever) format that I had luck with in the past, on a long-dead MOCpages group called “Ask Keith“.  The format is simple: a reader submits a MOC for evaluation, I come up with at least one good thing about it, at least one bad thing and one observation that falls outside the first two categories, that is more often than not a non sequitur.

Today’s victim on the rotisserie spit is Sebastian-Z, you may remember him from such popular and outstanding builds as: Modern House 4, Lego Music Teacher’s Town House and Illuminated Bar.  Sebastian’s most recent model, entitled “Cheeseburger in Paradise – Salad in Hell” is like a fast-food cheeseburger, it smells good and the first couple of bites are ok, but the buyer’s remorse sets in before you’re done.  While I didn’t pay one thin dime for the opportunity to view “Cheeseburger“, I still feel disappointed and I want my money back.  So let’s talk about what went right, what went wrong and the smooth jazz stylings of multi-platinum selling artist, Kenny G.

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the good the bad and the ugly - 1966 - the good

Straight out of the gate, the concept is a winner: paradise is a cheeseburger, hell is a salad.  Unless you’re a vegan or an anarchist, it’s a universally accepted axiom.  Anyone who has ever been on a diet can certainly can certainly vouch for the truth in the imagery.  So we’re off to a good start!  Heaven’s gate is pretty nice and definitely iconic, it establishes the location right off the bat.  The phrase “simple but effective” comes to mind, not everything has to be the wheel reinvented.  The gold wings are a nice touch too and it’s great to see them echoed as bat-wings on the gates of hell.  The sculpting of the cloud-base is effective and although I thought the street light was an odd choice, it somehow works.

What I really appreciate was the builder’s decision to use a kitten as an incarnation of old scratch.  Kittens can of course be satanic in their own way, but in general it is just so much more interesting than choosing the official Lego devil, a custom-fig or some kind, or a potentially overwhelming brick-built design. The devil isn’t supposed to be the focus here but the builder manages to get some comedic mileage out of him anyway.  I laughed, so mission accomplished there.  I have to say that even though he features prominently in the next section, the Kenny G minifig is spot-on and is instantly recognizable from a great distance.

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Right off the bat, the cheeseburger doesn’t have any cheese.  I see a burger, lettuce and mustard, but where is the classic corner of cheese hanging out the side?  Come on man, it’s not enough to use a Lego-designed “official” burger.  I think the plate was a bad choice too, you can’t see the bottom of the burger.

It seems to me that if you’re going to have Kenny G and his sax serenading you in hell, then you should have a corresponding musician for heaven.  I know there is an angel singing but I guess I’d be happier about it if she had a harp.  Jimmy Buffett maybe?  Since he inspires the model maybe he’d work, but Kenny G is more likely to get through the pearly gates than Buffet.  Elvis maybe? mariachi? When you get down to it, Kenny is just a bad choice, sure his music is sleep-inducing, but is that such a bad thing?  Millions of people have trouble falling asleep at night so really he’s a nice, less expensive alternative to sleeping pills.  Also, I bet Kenny has helped a bunch of old people get it on with a little red wine and a spliff, which is surely not a bad thing.  Ultimately his music is forgettably smooth but it actually performs a service in this grim world.  To me, this classic version of heaven is where you’d find Kenny G, as you drift away eating your cheeseburger on a cloud.  On the topic of music, both of the black demon statues should have guitars, having only one makes my OCD tingle.

I think it would have been more effective to use the same minifig for the main character in each scene, to better illustrate the contrast.  One version with a happy face and one with a sad face.  Right now, the guy in heaven looks like he’s sleep deprived or addicted to drugs and the guy in hell looks like that were-rat from Harry Potter, and it’s distracting.

As for hell…it looks like a bad stage set up for an 80’s heavy metal band.  What are those red sections on the side of the gates, some kind of blood-cloud?  A blood lake?  I’m not sure what’s going on there but it’s distracting.  I’m very rarely a fan of skeletons, they just immediately turn everything into a Scooby Doo cartoon and they look strange here with chains attached to the bottoms of their feet.  They don’t look like manacles, they just look weird.  I have to mention the salad too, it doesn’t really look like a salad, it needs a good deal more greenery to get the notion across.  If ‘salad‘ wasn’t in the title, I doubt I would have made the right connection.  Perhaps a more Satanic salad would have worked? Worms, weird plants? hands?  Eyes?   I guess the fundamental idea of a salad being hellish is the problem.  Sure I’d rather have a cheeseburger but salads are awesome too.  I might have gone with kimchi…sure it’s harder to depict in Lego but it always makes me wretch.  I had a Korean buddy in college and I had to choke that stuff down on social occasions with his buddies and his family.  Hell is kimchi.

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I’d like to see more of this type of model, for lack of a better term the “two sides of the same coin” style.  Elspeth De Montes has an entire series in the same general style called “Then & Now” that  you’ve probably seen on Flickr and elsewhere.  Contrasting scenes, polar opposites, I’m not sure which name best suits the style but I dig it and I want to see more.  I hope Sebastian-Z takes another shot at this type of presentation, but applies more of the exacting detail he uses in his home interiors.

So that’s the new format and the new selection policy.  If you’d like to have one of your models get the (good/bad/whatever) treatment, just sign up in the comments below.

Oh, and if you doubt if Kenny G is gangsta, check out the video evidence.

Two for Tuesday: Ryan Rubino

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Good evening constant reader, its happy hour and our bartender Lloyd is setting them up neat, just the way you like it. Tonight’s V.I.P. in the Manifesto lounge is one of my two oldest Cronies in the hobby, Ryan Rubino. While he might not be known to many of you, I like to think Ryan represents a certain demographic within the hobby, a quiet guy who builds well but whose efforts go largely unrecognized.  Along with our mutual friend Rutherford, Ryan and I go back to high-school and I can’t think about my earliest days in the hobby without thinking of Rubino.  We began building with Lego right before internet use became widespread and we would get double-prints of our photos developed and snail-mail them to each other.  We are indeed spoiled now to easy and instant gratification when it comes to sharing our models, but back then it was an annoying process that took weeks. The upside was that we were really only building for laughs and to entertain each other, not some greater audience.  I have referenced BricksWest 2003 on the blog before as my first convention experience, but without Rubino that experience doesn’t happen.  I can vividly remember standing in the hotel lobby holding our cardboard boxes full of models and debating: should we just bail on this thing and go see a movie?  If it were up to me, we probably would have bailed because BricksWest was a poorly run, unfriendly shit-show that bears only a surface resemblance to the conventions we enjoy today.  My point is that Ryan has always been an encouraging and often steadying influence on my Lego experience.  Without him pushing me  I wouldn’t have written my first post on LUGNET when I did and I would have bailed on BricksWest after we were treated like low-guys at the door.

 

As you know, Tuesday means double-shots and the first model we’re going to examine is Ryan’s best remembered model, the “Battle of the Leviathans“.  This image has over 300 favorites on Flickr and it appeared on all the usual blogs and in two different coffee-table books including Beautiful LEGO 2: Dark.  The build represents a breakthrough for Rubino, who’s creativity was liberated by the advent of the curved slopes that make up most of the whale’s impressive shape.  Although he had experienced success before with “The Omicron Weekend” collaboration I’ll talk about next, he was unfortunately overshadowed by Rutherford and I, in part because Ryan is content to reside just outside the spotlight and in part because Rutherford and I have big mouths and we like to run them.  The “Battle of the Leviathans” was a different story though, it was widely praised by the community and it belonged entirely to Ryan.  There were big plans in the work for an entire Predator & Prey series, but as you’ll see, things didn’t quite work out as planned.

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For the second shot I had to go with the most defining and fulfilling collaboration I’ve ever participated in, “The Omicron Weekend“.  Rubino designed the wheel-shaped research station that drove the entire effort and at the time it was the biggest object he’d attempted by a wide margin.  Originally Ryan was developing the structure for an independent project, but once we three merry idiots decided to take a collaborative effort on the road, the wheel quickly became the focus of the build.  Even though it was placed to one side, it was the thematic center of the diorama and we went through several ideas before we settled on the final configuration.  Unfortunately this is one of the best photos we have of the wheel, there are some better quality close-ups, but photographing the diorama was a real pain in the ass and the final shots really didn’t do justice to the project.  The 4ft diameter wheel was over a year in the making and featured a fully decked-out interior with removable roof-panels to display at the BrickCon 2007 convention in Seattle.  Beyond the build, Ryan was indispensable on the trip to Seattle and just like our first convention experience, he was able to keep the project moving forward after a near disastrous fist day on the road and a bad hotel experience. Once again, Ryan was able to keep me on track when my urge was to bail out or stab someone with a rusty knife.

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If it seems like I speak of Ryan entirely in the past tense it is because we’ve lost him…no he hasn’t died…he’s quite healthy, but like many great builders before him (Jon Palmer), his job has murdered any interest in building for fun.  Since 2010 Ryan has worked in the Merlin model shop, just a short drive from Legoland California.  If you have visited any of the Legoland theme parks from Carlsbad to Dubai and everywhere in between, there is a good chance you’ve seen Rubino’s work.  We used to think that Omicron was pretty big until Ryan started working on some of the biggest Lego builds on the planet.  From small ambulances to giant temple complexes to full-sized great white sharks, Rubino has had the opportunity to build a diverse and challenging set of projects over his six+ years with the company.

Ryan’s unexpected decision to sell off his entire collection (minus the whale & squid) had a much bigger impact on me than I expected and was part of the reason I took a break from the hobby the last couple of years.  It felt like an important era had come to an end, and although we’re still great friends, one of my two best cronies in the hobby doesn’t have much use for it anymore, even as a spectator…and that sucks  So the purpose of this article is to give a farewell toast to Rubino, a largely unsung AFOL, who was my photo-editor, convention wing-man and constant source of encouragement with my own building.  I always used Ryan as a litmus test for Lego nerd groups.  If a good-old-boy’s club like the original Builder’s Lounge or the short-lived Sci-Brick wouldn’t have him as a member then I wasn’t interested either.  So knock back your shot in honor of Rubino and all the unsung builders who give this hobby life.  Also, if you’re interested in working for the Merlin model shop, then let this be a cautionary tale because as I mentioned before, Ryan’s story is not unique.  Building for a living is great fun and you do amazing things, but it just might kill your interest in building for yourself.  One final note, if you’re into great animal photography Ryan is still a pretty good follow on Flickr, he’s really developed his skills and has developed a much bigger following in his new hobby than his old one.

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For this particular feature on the Manifesto I like to conclude the proceedings with a photo of the builder in question. I do this to help you put a face to the name and sometimes with the express intent to take the piss out of the builder. This is one of those times. Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder. Ryan, much like the subject of last week’s Two for Tuesday is kind of like an action figure.  While he does not have the physique or lustrous hair of a typical action figure, he is always found in the same basic garb.  And no, constant reader this isn’t his work-only look, this is the man in his natural state, regardless of location or situation: baggy jeans, discount hiking shoes and a raggedy movie-themed T-Shirt.  In this case a T-Shirt promoting a film about a bunch of oily Greek dudes enjoying a murder-festival and true bro-mance. I’m sorry Rubino, my good chum, but the verdict is clear…

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Of Monorails and Mosaics

While seeking out likely candidates for an upcoming article featuring Lego models inspired by the band, Rush, I came across the work of Marion, a.k.a. Brixe63. After grabbing a couple of photos I was looking for, I decided to wander down her Flickrstream to see what else she had done. I found some very interesting models and table-scraps, but what really caught my eye, even more than the excellent Rush album covers, was a series of four mosaics from 2013 that seemed destined for a larger project that was not completed, or at least not posted.  They are four sides to a  brick-built box that might have been meant for a structure of some kind.  Marion doesn’t have much to say on any of her photos (beyond a title and some keywords) and the work I’m about to spotlight is no exception.  To call the intricate mosaics outstanding is an understatement, each one is a study in shape and form using cheese-slopes to wonderful effect.  Three of the four sides of the box feature a micro-monorail, the most impressive of which is entitled “Schienen” which is the German word for “rails“.  I especially dig the way color and pattern are used to draw the eye to the red monorail in the center.  The mosaic model looks to replicate the classic set#6399-1 Airport Shuttle and does so with an amazing economy of parts.8891377031_b112a00ef3_oThe second mosaic is a slightly larger version of the same train, which allows for greater detail. To me it’s not quite as effective as it’s smaller companion but mostly because I prefer the darker background and the diagonal lines to the blank-white background.  The version in the top photo is labeled “Rot” which is the German word for “red“.  As I mentioned, Marion’s approach to posting and presenting her models favors brevity to an extreme. The next version down is labeled…as  you might suspect…”Weib“, the German word for “white” and features some minor changes.  The final side of the box  features the word “MoRaSt“, which could mean “bog or moor” or it could be a reference to the German death-metal band of the same name.  More likely, MoRaSt is simply an abbreviation for Mono Rail Station. I’m not sure what the intended purpose of the box is, Only Marion knows for sure and she ain’t talkin’.  Certainly these mosaics would make for an ideal background or floor of a monorail station, or some kind of signage.

Any discussion of the builder’s skill at mosaic design would be incomplete without referencing one of the best pieces of Lego-related graffiti I’ve seen to date.  When I first saw the thumbnail I assumed the lettering was done with a Sharpie and I was delighted to discover it is quite legitimately 100% Lego.  The cheese-slope style really mixes well with the standard issue masonry bricks.  The tag is a relatively small detail inside a larger monorail layout Marion created for the Laneoog 2014 Lego gathering in Germany.  Langeoog is one of the seven inhabited East Frisian Islands, which seems like a really cool and exotic place to display a Lego diorama.  Although the rest of the accompanying structure isn’t nearly as interesting or well-built as the mosaic, it’s still worth a look if you have the time.  I was not able to find any connection between the mosaics at the beginning of this article and the larger diorama depicted in this photo, however.  It seems like there should indeed be some link but after exhausting Marion’s photostream and some casual perusal of 1000steine.de with the help of Google Translate, I was unable to establish said link.  I have reached out to the buidler and I’ll update this post if she is responds.

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Since we’re on the subject of monorail action, we’ll take a look at one more model before we shut off the spotlight.  Marion has a neat little collection of Volkswagen monorail vans that are functional and compatible with the old track system. I’m sure they were a big hit with the residents of Langeoog, and it probably won’t be too long until we see them copied in the States.  The builder really crams the motor into a tight space and the design itself is immediatley recognizable.

 

 

 

Friday Night Fights [Round 7]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another sucker-punch  edition of Friday Night Fights!   “Well, I hear it’s fine…If you got the time“…for this week’s battle of the bands.  It’s going down in Texas, with exclusive access “to that shack outside La Grange” on the line.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from parts unknown, it’s  j-p-30 and his “Eliminator”.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from Joe’s Garage, it’s -derjoe- and his “Eliminator”.  PURISTS: please note the stickers on the side panels ARE official Lego stickers, cut for use.

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As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner before announcing the next bout.

Last Week, on Friday Night Fights….

It was a rumble in the rail-yard, between two engines hell bent on being king o’ the tracks.  The bout had the closest margin of victory in the brief history of Friday Night Fights on the Manifesto.  In the end,  Monstrophonic and his “DB steamer“ scored a 6-4 victory over Omega3108 and his “Steam locomotive type BR23“.  Monstrophonic records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while Omega3108 falls to (0-1).

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“I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.”

Yes, yes!  A thousand times yes.  We thank you VAkkron, for this video delight, starring the disembodied head of Isaac Newton.  I have not laughed so hard at a Lego related clip in a very long time.  Not only is the bust a great build, but there is something wonderfully low-budget about the presentation, it reminded me of the old music video for Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer” or the opening sequence of MST3K.  I was one of the lucky ones to see this build take shape and I must congratulate the builder on his ability to embrace constructive criticism, even in the face of a catastrophic drop and the necessity to completely re-work the entire facial structure.  After all the talk on the blog about the value of criticism, it was nice to see a builder really embrace it with a trusted crew of homies who had no other interest but seeing the builder succeed.  It was fun to be a tiny part of that process and watch the model develop.

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Although I had some early access to the model, there was no indication that a video presentation was in the works.    I think I’ve played it a half a dozen times already and I keep imagining it with other songs; it must have been difficult to settle on just one.  Don’t get me wrong, VAkkron made a fine selection, but indulge me for a moment, and try it with a little Sledgehammer in the background, you won’t regret it.  It’s just the video for now, but photos of the build will be posted soon to the usual haunts.  Isaac Newton is far and away VAkkron’s most challenging work to date and it’s always great to see a builder really lean in and take on a challenge. I hope the metrics ultimately reflect the quailty of this effort.  I’m all about the numbers…I’m shallow like that.

“Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

Of course there is no way of knowing if this “Alien”  bust by Mihai Marius Mihu is hostile or not, but as the Captain of this starship,  I’m not taking any chances.  We will not be violating Manifesto quarantine protocols to bring this thing on board the ship.  No sir, we will not.  There is also no doubt that the model is “structural perfection“, its curves and textures are worthy of your favorite superlative.  What we are seeing here is a builder just entering his prime with a toolbox full of techniques and the artistic vision to use them.  It’s very exciting to look at Mihai’s powerful work today and know that the best is yet to come.  I was going to catalogue all the amazing details of the model, but to do so seems ridiculous, one look should sell you on its greatness.  It’s time like these that I wonder if the generic Lego-blog boilerplate is best: introduce the model, say something complementary but forgettable and get out of the way.  Instead, I’ve worked very hard to find one nitpick.  The section just above the bridge of the nose seems off to me, you can see a field of studs behind the trans-blue and trans-red bars and I find it distracting.  This isn’t an anti-stud rant, I absolutely love the way Mihai incorporated studs on the collar (and there are a lot of them), I wouldn’t change those studs for anything.  But the area in question looks unfinished to me because the rest of the build is indeed so purposeful and so dense with clever detail. While I like the blue bars near the top of the head, I don’t think they are as effective right above the nose.  There is also a small field of studs just below the trans-blue of the nose that seems a little rough as well.

Forget the nitpicking though, it’s all about those spooky eyes and the trans-blue elements underneath them.  “Alien” is a breathtaking model that stopped me in my tracks and had me immediately opening a new tab for WordPress.  Usually I leave the shiny A-list stuff to the big blogs, but this time I couldn’t resist.  Well done, Mihai, this thing looks alien indeed and I thank you in advance for all the great models to come.

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KeithLUG Bail Bonds: In Jail? We bail.

The Manifesto is proud to promote the latest exciting business venture by KeithLUG enterprises.  Have you found out the hard truth of our famous slogan: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”?  Did you forget that prostitution is legal in nearby Nye County, but not in Clark County where the Strip resides? Were you in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong gun?  Then don’t be trippin’, constant reader and don’t let the legal system catch you slippin’.  Call KeithLUG Bail Bonds!  We will get you out of jail and back to controlling the action in no time flat.  You’ll also get a free ride to the airport (or the State line), a bottle of water and a KeithLUG T-shirt, in case yours is torn or bloody.

A big thank you goes out to Heikki Mattila, for unintentionally designing the official logo of KeithLUG Bail Bonds, entitled “Prisoner“.  The engaging silhouette-style perfectly captures that moment when the jail door slams shut, and harsh reality sinks in.  Heikki captions the photo “Oh God, what have I done“, which is a fine choice, but the message strong enough to be transmitted with no caption at all.   This model may be old news to some of you, it was posted back in February of this year, but it’s new to me and it immediately captured my imagination. I think the image would make a great P.S.A poster, album cover or indeed a logo for a bail-bondsman.

If the point of art is to make the viewer feel something, then I’m comfortable with calling this art.  I’ve never been in prison myself but I think everyone has experienced the sensation of being trapped in a bad situation with serious consequences.  Whether it is the symbolic prison of addiction and illness, or the reality of a concrete and steel hoosegow, the image has a sort of universal relevance.  I was very surprised to find that Heikki doesn’t have any other silhouette work posted to Flickr, because this is really impressive for a first attempt. The pose of the figure is perfection and captures a specific moment in time and an emotion to go along with it.  The framing of the shot is also particularly good, it suggests a larger scene and feels claustrophobic all at the same time.  The Manifesto has a couple of great silhouette builders in the audience, David and Absurde come to mind and I’d love to hear their thoughts about Heikki’s design in the comments. This model is colder than a pimp’s heart and I want to see more, always more.  A silhouette-series devoted to prison-life could  yield some very interesting results.

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