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.

13 thoughts on “Constructive Criticism: The Devil is in Z Details.

  1. And here I was thinking: music sure seems a lot better in hell. Then I listened to what you posted. (At around 1 min does the sax do vocals as well? Hell of an achievement.) Then again, even that might be better than the moaning angel. Hmmm… moaning angel… now I’m getting a completely different mental image. :))

    Gotta agree, those type of opposite builds are interesting, but I’d really like to see one in a merged build rather than separate vignettes.

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    1. Curse you Absurde!

      You beat me to it. I completely agree. Opposites need connection in order to empower one another. Like the classic yin/yang symbol. Opposing yet enmeshed. That drives the entire notion for me.

      Attack!

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    2. Ha!, I don’t think the sax does vocals but KennyG is so smoooooth, you never know. I still say Kenny would have been better placed in the heavenly scene, his stuff is fluffy as clouds and inoffensive. Moaning angels…that’s an entirely separate model that you should consider building in the unlikely event you’re out of ideas. Moaning angels sounds like a porn production company…yeah, that would make for a fascinating diorama that would instantly divide the viewers and get all kinds of attention.

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  2. Keith,

    First: I celebrate the return of the “The Good, The Bad, and The Whatever” format! I’ve always been a big fan of it. As with weapons and tax forms, simplicity is the ideal, but it is seldom achieved. It’s simplicity allows for an easy comparison of one critique to another. That same simplicity also forces the writer to review the complete spectrum of possible observations… forces the writer to really think: “Do I want to say something, ANYTHING good about this MOC? Or anything BAD? A conscientious critic will do this without prompting, but this format demands it, and I like that aspect.

    Second: I feel mixed emotions about your decision to switch to a self selecting population of artist for critique. On the one hand, I totally understand that many builders don’t understand the role of intent of critique. They may not appreciate the critics efforts, and they may see the critique only as an acid bath or a mockery of their work. That is a very real and very regrettable possibility (inevitability really… if you do this long enough). So, I suppose it is best if we seek to avoid that.

    On the other hand, how many of the excellent builds that you have brought to our attention would ever have been submitted for critique by the builders themselves? It’s not a scientific question. There is no way to investigate it objectively. But my gut tells me that MOST of the MOCs you have selected would NEVER have been pushed forward by the artist. Your selection criteria itself suggests this notion: builders on the EDGE of the spot light. Self promotion, or showmanship is often a part of fame. There is a type who will (or maybe, who is able?) to push their work forward for critique, and another type who won’t, or cant. These two types exist totally independent of actual Lego skills, and that’s the rub.

    For my part, I say once you post in the open forum, then that is synonymous with voluntary exposure to commentary and critique. But that’s just me. I see all of life as an open arena, not an endless collection of “safe zones” and “salad bars”.

    In the end however, you have chosen the path the avoids unintended injury, and it’s hard to fault that. Your decision also allows you to focus on cats who WANT to improve, and maybe that is the best part of all. None of your critique will be wasted on a disinterested artist. Self selection is an important first step towards improvement, and you have created that option.

    Third: Zs MOC!
    The Good: Theme, heaven/hell. Dichotomy. Golden gate/ Iron gate. Gold table/Black table. Yummy burger/sucky salad. I’m down. Also, the black angles… Yea! HELL! Excellent statues (I don’t know… to me they appear to have been scratched out of solid onyx… with only the fingers of the dammed as tools!). Finger bones! Bloody finger bones… from carving statues of fallen angles… in substandard work conditions with shitty lighting and lousy pay! As you can see… these black angels alone transported me to another place. Very powerful stuff! I’m so very down with the black angles! Finger bones!

    The Bad: Missed opportunities for equality in opposites. There is no apparent relationship between the two separate builds. They don’t touch, or oppose, or mirror, or otherwise physically re-enforce the notion of dichotomy. Look, the whole thing is ABOUT opposites. Burger/Salad. It’s a good title for a good notion… no follow through! What if your hell were hanging upside down off of the bottom of your heaven? Or… what if they were opposed left and right, like book ends? Pictured together, but in opposition to one another? This would greatly strengthen the whole “opposites” notion.

    The Whatever: This has always been where Keith’s format lets the critic off the hook for any kind of remotely responsible observation. So, with that in mind, I observe that “I THINK”… aside from the fact that we KNOW the guy in heaven is getting a burger… Z provides us with a very tame notion of hell! I mean really… consider that hell is supposed to be really really bad! If I stroll into the foyer of hell, and there is a salad waiting for me? A normal salad, not a salad of fresh tossed despair, or a Cesar’s salad for human organs, or an old tuna salad… in a bloody human skull… but just a normal salad? And if upon seeing this quiet little salad…in hell… set out nicely… for me… I pop off with “What? Salad? This is bullshit!” Well, then… I hope the Devil walks over and pimp slaps me so hard I suffer for all eternity! Because… its just a salad man! We should all eat more salad. We all know that! Probably el Diablo (that’s Spanish for “the Diablo”) was just trying to help me slim down!

    I don’t know. Maybe if there was no dressing. Boy, THAT would be hellish!

    Mr. Z, outstanding build! I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and I thank you for publishing it!

    Keith, go eat a salad… IN HELL!

    Repent!

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    1. I didn’t make the decision lightly to go to a self-selected subject matter, I enjoy plucking people at random or getting suggestions from the readers. Part of the issue is that I don’t feel as comfortable to be completely honest with “the bad” if the person didn’t ask for it. It may not seem like it, but I hold back a little bit, so by going self-selecting I’ve removed any hesitation or self-censorship on my part because they asked for it. From past experience not everyone gets sarcasm or my sense of humor and as you’ve pointed out on FFE, there are some sensitive snowflakes out there and I’m bound to unintentionally wound one of them. That’s not very cool and it’s certainly doesn’t represent the values of constructive criticism that we promote here. You point out that “once you post in the open forum, then that is synonymous with voluntary exposure to commentary and critique”, and in general I agree with you but some of what I do might not be read that way. I don’t usually offer specific solutions and I don’t intend to. To some people that’s not constructive at all, it’s just mean. So I’m good with giving the self-selected thing a try, it may fizzle pretty quickly and force me to go back to the old style or abandon the feature. Time will tell.

      I’m gonna have a salad for lunch, and take a picture of it and post it on Facebook…oh…wait…

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  3. Thanks for the criticism, some of the things you pointed out, I actually thought about them myself, but was perhaps too lazy to improve some of the elements of the build. I thought about taking out the distracting red sides of the Hell build, not sure why I didn’t. And sure, there should be two guitars, but I didn’t have another one so I thought meh, no one will notice (hah). And the burger is just the burger from that Lego set… and I can’t really take credit for the dark angels since they’re about the same as the ones from the Arkham set. I like your ideas about the salad and using something less generic than the singing angel in Heaven… sometimes my brain isn’t as creative as I’d like it to be. I do like having Kenny G in Hell, it’s meant to be a contrast between the soothing music (which some people hate, so it is hell for them) and the environment.

    The builds don’t quite connect because it didn’t start out as a dual project. One morning I thought “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, and about a week later I thought hmm, why not a salad in Hell.

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    1. Great to see you on the Manifesto, Sebastian, but it’s even greater seeing you understand that the critique is meant to help. As Keith said above, sometimes our humor is not very well received and the overall message can be lost in the ire. I’m glad you already considered the points, we should all be our own harshest critic first.

      You bring up the eternal point of being lazy or simply compromising the vision for the stock at hand. We have all been there and always will be. Lego is kind of suited for the temptation to just keep adding more and more if possible in spite of our brains and bank accounts telling us to stop. The opposite is true too when we want another guitar for balance but know that “it’s just a plain moc that won’t get any attention so why bother.” We all go through that and of course do NOT have the income or patience to throw monies to it and wait for a shipment. But it is what separates the plain from the worthy. And this does not mean that it would have been better with the second guitar for instance, but may have been more complete with just one dark angel. Economy of composition is often misunderstood as compromise. If you look at Thorsten Bonsch’s Goblet of Fire series recently (as well as Marcel’s, Markus’, and Kevin’s contributions to the collaboration), you can see that more can be said with less parts than having a full Hogwart’s castle set. https://www.flickr.com/photos/xenomurphy/29037735070/

      The idea is there and it is hilarious and inviting, execution is vital in making that conversation a reality. Think of this vignette as a great start and one worth revisiting.

      And the only reason Kenny G would be in hell is because there is no worse place for his alto sax abominations, even Tulsa. How do you make rap sleepy? THAT’S how. -pillow drop-

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    2. You’re welcome Sebastian, I’m always glad when a builder turns up here and comments on this kind of article. I count it as a small victory, so thanks for taking the time to check out the Manifesto, I hope you stick around and add to the conversation over here, as inane as it can be.

      I guess there is no right answer to the Kenny G issue: heaven and hell are both fine choices, it’s all a matter of personal preference.

      Keep up the great work, your houses are amazing!

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    1. Yes, my first victim! See you on Wednesday. Welcome to the Manifesto, by the way, I hope you see fit to add to the conversation going on here, we’re always looking for new blood.

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      1. Good to be here! I’m sure I can add something to the conversation… whether or not that something is of value remains to seen.

        Like

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