Constructive Criticism: Zambito Bandito

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.  With that boilerplate out-of-the-way, today’s victim on the rotisserie spit is David Zambito.  You may remember him from such popular builds as The Northern Wing, Gatehouse and Twisting Tree.. It seems like he’s been on a hot-streak lately, but when When David released his latest model “Micro Air Force Base“, the results were disappointing.  I have a love of the topic and I was hoping from the thumbnail that the builder had created yet another impressive piece.

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When it comes to criticism I like to employ the classic sandwich method, so let us begin with what’s good about the diorama.  The hangar is well designed and immediately recognizable, although I wish there was at least one more of them in the scene.  I also really dig the control tower and the small cluster of buildings in the corner, they really earn their place. The dark-green cheese slope trees are a nice touch and they seem like the proper scale for the environment.  Likewise the little green trucks are both iconic and delightful, it’s nice to see more than one in the same scene because the uniformity drives home the idea of a military installation. The rusted back fence is a great touch and I admire the way it mimics the front fence without being a literal copy.  The technique may not be new, but it works and that’s all that matters.  Overall I really like the way the scene is laid out, from above it looks like a little 3D map, which I imagine was the builder’s intent.

Now let’s turn to what was less than successful.  The first thing that jumps out at me is the jagged terrain that alternates between studded and smooth sections seemingly at random and it probably has one too many colors for such a small footprint.  Air fields are typically as flat as pancakes, so the varied height doesn’t really work for me.  The landscaping as a whole looks like it was created in vertical strips, as if the whole diorama was run through a paper shredder and then taped back together.  The flower-stem parts are out of scale and just look weird in this context and the scattered 1×1 green plates are sort of distracting.  The fence is a maddening mix of good and bad.  I like the flex-tube technique that allows the builder to break the grid with an interesting shape, but I can’t abide all the studs, with studded ground right next to the fence it all becomes muddled.  I also think the fence is too close to the air strip and the guard hoses at the gate could have used some detailing.

Let’s talk about that air strip, the last place a stud is going to look good or artsy is on a surface meant to launch and receive aircraft.  Those random studs on the tarmac would separate an aircraft from its landing gear in short order.  As for the two-toned gray brick, I think that works quite well on larger dioramas but it looks odd at this scale.  I also can’t figure out why the desert intrudes so badly onto the runway.  Perhaps the diorama is supposed to depict life many years after the war, where it sits in a state of decay, but the builder did not provide a back story.  Finally I think the planes are unfortunately a weakness when they should be a strength.  The small fighters look more like space ships, with various knobby protrusions and the bomber has strange proportions.  Both designs would have been a good opportunity to inject some color into the scene, as they tend to disappear on the mottled runway.  The fuel truck is a near miss too, it’s not as slick as the green trucks and I don’t like that the fuel tank has a gap in it.  I guess my biggest complaint is that the combined effect of the details (some good, some bad) looks jumbled and pixellated, like an out of focus photograph or a cubist painting.

With all those problems, “Micro Air Force Base” is not as bad as this slab of boilerplate from a few months ago entitled “Serpent Towed Trade Barge“.  The subject matter is tired, the serpent looks like it was a set design and the water looks like one of those D.I.Y stained glass window kits you make with kids.  Slap on some rock vomit hillocks and the mediocrity is complete.  It wouldn’t bug me so much if I didn’t know this builder was capable of superior work. Even though I don’t like much about this scene, I do like the way the hillock closest to the viewer penetrates the frame, it’s a cool technique.  Don’t worry constant reader, that’s about as mean-spirited as I intend to get this week.  It is high time to complete this critical sandwich and say something positive about the builder before we end this week’s dissection.

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Let’s not forget the sort of work Mr. Zambito is capable of, because typically it is very inspiring.  From big ideas to small, Dave has a strong sense of design and storytelling, just check that fireside scene in the photos-mosaic for evidence of both.  Before seeing it with my own eyes, I would have said the classic Led Zeppelin album cover featured below was all but impossible, but David proved me wrong.  You can see a mastery of technique in many of his creations and a great deal of creative thought is put into every aspect of the models.  For example, the Ron Weasley wig-trees in the church vignette definitely qualifies as NPU…bro.  Mr. Zambito has come a long with his presentation skills too, from the messy fabric backgrounds of his early builds to the clean white-space of today.  Although too many of his shots still seem fuzzy, as if the brightness setting is turned too high, the photography is improving and I’m looking forward to whatever David does next.

A usual, constant reader, if you know a builder who you think might benefit or be entertained by this regular feature on the Manifesto, please let me know in the comments.  A big thanks to friend of the blog, L’etranger Absurde, for this week’s suggestion.

7 thoughts on “Constructive Criticism: Zambito Bandito

  1. I never really knew of David’s work prior to the MOCathalon earlier this year. I remembered his name popping up here and there in my memory, but so do Shasta commercials from the early 80s. Being one of the judges in the MA I was afforded access into all the team groups and have to say that David was one of the few that was a real class act with his team and other competitors. I really enjoyed sidelining a lot of the threads with him on random topics, it’s how I roll. 😉

    His showing was impressive but I have to say that his Zeppelin 4 album cover was easily in my top five favorite builds from the entire games. I still hate the fact that I was relegated to only offering a maximum of five points. More importantly was his reception of advice and critique with his work. He offered great observations and insights to his team and even other players. It almost seemed natural to him.

    I have to agree with the assessments of the airstrip. It just seems too colorful for even the most modern airstrips out there now. Jungles are obnoxiously green and deserts are obnoxiously tan, tarmacs are such a unified color that this seems to blend into the landscape easier than read monotone airstrip. Only variation in color is really on concrete and that’s after years of rubber build up. I think my biggest complaint has to be with ALL the vehicles except the green trucks. Micro should glorify these, the aircraft and other vehicles, and the buildings themselves, don’t embody that celebration fully. They’re good starts but they seem rushed in the end in order to fill the space. I have to say that my eye is drawn to the two levels of entry points at the tower base, I really love that tiny subtlety.

    The Serpent… I like those dark red pieces on the head, but those Mixel eyes are killing me. KILLING me, I can’t stop being drawn to them. So much so that I can’t even see the rest of the moc. They have their place (in L’etranger’s hands) but absolutely not here.

    Thank you for spotlighting Dave, he definitely could benefit from and rightly deserves it.

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  2. You make some really good points, however, I personally I do like the shape of the bomber and fighters. I’ve only tried micro-scale a handful of times and struggled. I give David props for making something at least easily identifiable.

    In regards to the over-texturization of the tarmac, I see this all the time. I too am guilty of adding unnecessary texture in an attempt to add perceived “much needed detail”. At this scale the ground should vary only by maaaybe 1 or 2 plates.

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    1. Right on Joseph, I’m glad you dig the micro-planes and I’ve certainly seen worse. I also give David props for making them identifiable, I just think he could have pushed the design a little further. There is some great stuff out there for reference.

      Thanks for the comment, I dig it when people disagree, it keeps the gumbo spicy!

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  3. Thanks for the spotlight and the feedback Keith! I view it as nothing but support 🙂
    Sorry I am late to respond, I help run a summer camp for children with Epilepsy for a week each August in a very rural area of Upstate NY and am off the grid the whole time (which I admit it is quite nice to leave everything else behind for a bit).

    I appreciate the feedback on the terrain and plane designs, as well as the (many) suggestions for the Tarmac. The fence I liked, but agree it looked bad with the terrain. I also appreciate your assessment of the buildings and guard towers. I agree with you about the fuel truck vs. the army trucks, and I thought of leaving it out.
    This was a build for an event for the local LUG I am a part of. It was for a military air show we will be doing again next year, and I plan on doing v2, so I could not be happier that you tore it apart!

    The serpent was fun to build, but did not come out as imagined. I was laughing when I read your comment about the eyes, and agree they were distracting. The build was a bit rushed all in all.

    I am happy you liked the Led Zeppelin IV build, I had tremendous fun with it, and enjoyed doing something totally different. Problem solving for the various angles involved was enjoyable, and it is easily one of my personal favorites 🙂

    I agree about the quality of my photos, it is my greatest weakness in my opinion. I have worked off of my iPhone the last year, and am not very talented with the technical aspects of editing. My wife and I are currently fixing up and moving into our first house, and now have enough room for an office and Lego room!

    Finally, big thanks to L’etranger Absurde for suggesting me for this article, I am a big fan, and am humbled by your interest 🙂

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    1. Dave! So glad you made it over to the Manifesto for a comment, even thought your airfield wasn’t my favorite, I’m a big fan of your work. I’m also glad that you took the constructive criticism in the spirit it was offered, if I didn’t like your models I would not have bothered. I’ll be very interested to see your next attempt for the air-show, I’m sure you’ll make improvements. Kudos for your work with epileptic children, that’s a very generous way to spend your time. I hope we see more of you in the comments section!

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