Constructive Criticism: Mecha-Marco

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s regular feature where I provide a builder with some feedback that is hopefully both entertaining and helpful.  The format is simple: a reader submits a model for evaluation, I come up with at least one good thing about it, at least one bad thing and one random observation that falls outside the first two categories.

Today’s volunteer victim on the rotisserie spit is constant reader and friend of the blog Marco Tagliaferri (a.k.a. Tagl).  you may remember him from such interesting and popular builds as: Prospector, Blue Ray S4, and the unforgettable AMPD.  As per standard operating procedure, Marco’s most recent model, entitled MTG S3 Wanderer is the subject of our weekly conversation.  The unpleasant truth is that I saw this model when it was posted a few days ago, and it didn’t do much for me.  It’s not a bad design by any means, but it didn’t do anything to distinguish itself from the vast ocean of similar mecha out there.  Maybe I’ve become too jaded after a decade of looking at models…but it seems to me that there are a handful of subject matter (especially in Sci-Fi) that have been done to death, like VTOL gunships, pointy starfighters and grey chicken-walker mechs.  I’m not saying those topics should no longer be experimented with, because there is always an opportunity to reinvigorate the form and I would never tell a builder they shouldn’t build something.  However, if a builder is going to tread one of those well-worn paths then it’s important to say something new and like it or not, the margin of error is much smaller.  So let’s talk about the “MTG S3 Wanderer“, what went right, what went wrong and the name game.

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It’s worth mentioning that the Wanderer was constructed for a building challenge / gift exchange called the Mecha Telephone Game.  Its riff on the popular Starfighter Telephone Game (created by Mike Yoder) where an AFOL builds a starfighter…mails it to the next player who puts their spin on the design and mails it to the third player…and so on. So when you evaluate the Wanderer, you really should take into account this model, by Lu Sim (a.k.a. messymaru), which was Marco’s inspiration.  You can see both in the photo below.

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First and foremost, Marco had a tough act to follow, Lu Sim’s mech is really cool, despite the low hanging dingus-gun.  I think Marco did a damn good job creating something that was inspired by the original while simultaneously taking it in a new direction and making it his own.  Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the color blocking on the Wanderer (as you’ll read later), it looks much better when you see the two mecha standing together.  When viewed through the lens of the game, Marco’s contribution is obviously a success, I’d be proud to have one stomping around my bookshelf and I’m sure Caleb was happy to receive it.  It must be difficult to strike the right balance between honoring the inspirational model and putting your own stamp on the design so I appreciate the effort.

Constant readers of the Manifesto are quite familiar with my mecha foot-fetish, it is the feature by which I determine the quality of giant robots and walking war machines.   I’m happy to report that Marco did a nice job on the feet, it’s probably his Italian heritage, all the finest shoes come from Italy, who produce over 205 million pairs per year.  The mecha-feet have a great texture that is sufficiently machine-like without being busy.  There is a nice transition into the ankle and they look good from every angle, were some mecha have feet that only look good in the front and the heels are often blocky, unsightly affairs.  I kind of like how the front of the foot and the back are essentially the same, that seems unusual to me and although I wouldn’t have expected that decision to result in a good-looking foot, it does.

Traveling up the model, the legs are pretty good too.  The proportions are nice and I like how Marco transitions from the highly detailed feet to the more plain armored sections of the upper thigh and beyond.  The lower legs are visually complex and that slowly changes as the greebles creep up the side of the legs and then disappear as the armored sections take over.  The smooth curves of the knees and the calves are very effective, and I like the light gray/dark gray color blocking on the legs, it looks much more controlled than the other sections of the mech.  There is only one thing about the legs that I don’t like, the tumor-like cones that stick straight out of the hips.  I think a lower-profile treatment would have worked better, like a radar dish or some kind of armor plating.  Generally speaking I think a mech’s shoulders should be wider than it’s hips, otherwise it messes with the basic form silhouette too much.

The back is an often overlooked aspect of mech building, I’m not sure if it’s because the back is hidden in most photos or if it’s the last design element and gets the short shrift.  Marco does a fine job here, I dig the big cannisters formed by the wheels and radar dishes, it isn’t reinventing the wheel but it looks good.   The buttocks area is not as exciting but the use of minifig hands is a nice touch.  Finally, the transition between the top of the mech and the back is handled well and it looks especially pleasing from the side-view where you can really appreciate the curve.

And finally a brief word on the model’s articulation, which is a point of interest unique to mecha building.   Although you can’t really tell from this photo the mech can rotate at the base of the torso and the guns can move as well.  It’s not a super-flexible model but it does have a little bit of poseability and that’s always a selling point for mecha.

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I’m not a big fan of the torso, I don’t like the way the curved-pieces sometimes work against each other.  I would have liked it good deal more if the torso was smoother with a smaller variety of curved pieces.  It looks kind of jumbled, like a clay model that you want to smooth-out with your thumb.  Unlike the back, I don’t like the transition between the top of the torso and the front, again it’s jagged and the dark gray plate is distracting, like it highlights a bad transition instead of disguising it.  I’m also not a big fan of the gun-mount, it looks tacked on and insubstantial.  The torso isn’t terrible, nothing on this model is terrible, it just seems liked a missed opportunity.

Speaking of the guns, they seem too scrawny for such a robust platform.  I would rather have seen some big weapons at the shoulders and no dingus-gun at all.  The design of the guns seems really dated to me, like they would have passed or even been praised a decade ago but the bar has been raised.  Specifically, I really don’t like the blocky ammo box hanging below the left side weapon, it really looks harsh from the front and it doesn’t add anything to the build.  The guns are also the area where the color-blocking fails, the armored panels on one side are distracting and the white hinges on the other side equally so.  I know the mech that inspired the Wanderer had white missile-pods but I think the white on Macro’s mech is too broken up, not solid enough for my taste.  I wonder if it might have been better to include a missile-pod on the Wanderer, just on one side to have a more obvious tie-in between the two models.

The presentation detracted from this model a little bit, although I liked the 4-in-1 style which made it much easier to review for this article.  The photo seems just a little too blurry, it’s certainly passable but I guess I’m spoiled to the current trend of really crisp photography.  The background color was a bad choice too, it’s too close to the color of the model and it even makes the white seem dull when it should pop in contrast to the gray.

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The naming of models is a difficult matter…choose the right name and it’s far more likely that you’re work will be remembered, especially if there are similar examples to compete with.  If you choose to go with no name at all, you might not get blogged, or worse (gasp) the blogger might name your model for you.  Choose a bad name and people will mock you…probably not to your face, but make no mistake you will be mocked.

When I see model like Wanderer that shares a name with a popular song, I can’t help but make the association.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s not.  When I first looked at Marco’s mech and saw the name, this song leapt into my head in a millisecond and it was annoying.  In this particular instance it’s a 1961 pop song by Dion who sings the praises of some kind of hobo man-whore.  I find the song to be super annoying, it gives me bad flashbacks of being a kid and having to sit through the terrible sitcom ‘Happy Days’ because there were only 4 channels and the other options were somehow worse.  Damn, I’m getting old.

By the way, if you watch the video there is a dude in the crowd that bears a striking resemblance to the 2 for Tuesday graphic.  Our favorite bartender Lloyd is in the house!  It seems like Dion’s feet are nailed to the floor, he moves so awkwardly…and those goofy backup singers.  Is this even real?

So the bottom line is that the Wanderer is nice, but it’s a near miss for me, it doesn’t do enough to take a tired form and make it fresh.

We will close with this boilerplate reminder…if you’d like to have one of your models get the (good/bad/whatever) treatment, just sign up in the comments below.

 

14 thoughts on “Constructive Criticism: Mecha-Marco

  1. I have to agree about the feet, absolutely lovely!

    The shaping on the torso is also pretty neat too.
    I don’t especially like the 3×3 cone thingies sticking out of its hips, though. They seem kind of out of place.

    I don’t know if I agree with you though completely on the gun.
    While yes, the standard has really been raised for stuff like this, (especially on mecha), I still appreciate the unique parts usage like the 2×2 piece which bends, and how it works quite well with the rest of the gun IMO.

    Overall though, this is still a pretty neat MOC!
    Great analysis Keith!

    Would you be willing to critique my mecha hangar build from a while back?
    I’ve looked through my dieselpunk builds recently, and I think that I want to give the genre a try again, but this time create models which are better than the ones I did in 2015.
    Link to mecha hangar MOC:
    Mecha Hangar 5

    -Joe

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  2. Point taken, the guns are not terrible by any means, I just think they are too anemic for such a robust war machine. I might like them better if the white accents were removed, I really find them distracting.

    I’ve got old Gil lined up for next week but I’d be happy to slot you in after him, there is a lot to take in with your hangar so that should give me enough time to give you some good feedback. Thanks for volunteering Joe, and for offering you thoughts on Marco’s model. I’m sure he appreciates it.

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    1. Thanks man!
      I’m glad we can have different thoughts about things, I can see where you’re coming from about the guns though. 🙂

      Sorry about the huge image, 😛 I’m not exactly sure on how to add Flickr pictures to WordPress without them becoming massive things.

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  3. I find it hard to credibly comment on mechs since they are outside my general building experience. However on a purely aesthetic level, you’ve summed up most of what I would say about it. I would only add that it seems the overall shape is fighting between a walking tank (contemporary tank turret on a set of chicken walker legs) and an ED-209esque drone mech. The former I’ve rarely seen well executed so it doesn’t look like a mishmash creation of that gap-toothed bully in Toy Story. The latter is iconic for its time, but man it has been warmed up in the microwave countless times over the years. The build is really solid and does it’s best to marry up those two design parameters, but I think it suffers from the viewer’s mind trying to justify two established forms into a single frame.

    That being said, there is so much to learn from this build. The legs are a master class in purposeful greebling that I will be drawing on in the future to be sure.

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  4. One thing I learned from this build is that I’m not the guy who feels comfortable when building under any kind of pressure. This was a really hard one.
    Thank you Keith for your open words. The unpleasant truth is that this build seems to have caused the same general feeling you had to a lot of people. The view-to-fav-ratio is exactly showing this. And this made me volunteer as I wanted to know what went wrong.
    Inspecting each section you described while reading the text changed my perspective. The tumors on the legs, and the scattered white on guns had already been under really harsh critique by my son. (Note to myself: think twice next time before not following Sandros advice.) I’m glad and honored to have build some feet meeting your fondness. BTW, are you familiar with Italian Shoes by Willy DeVille?
    Photographing and presentation are weak points in my work. I should take more practice and give more thought to it. But hey – building is my hobby! Still I have the feeling it mostly doesn’t cope with my builds.

    After all I still feel good when looking at the model, but I think it I should give it second chance.

    On the name issue. In German Wanderer just means the same as in English. And as the Mecha would have to make a travel this seemed fitting to me. I didn’t think of the song when choosing the name, still I like the song. Maybe it’s because I never really cared for the sense of the lyrics.

    Thanks again Keith, it was a good thing to volunteer and I never felt like a victim when reading your thoughts.

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    1. You’re very welcome Marco, it’s always gratifying to hear that the review provides value beyond just entertainment, and that you were not offended. I’m glad to hear it helped to provide some perspective on the numbers you are seeing (or nor seeing) on Flickr. Sometimes I’ve posted photos that under-performed and wondered why, so I’m familiar with that feeling.

      Sandro is a good advisor, you’ve trained him well!

      Wow that song deserves to be seen, I was not familiar with it and I thought I was well versed in 80’s music.

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      1. I definitely have to take more care on the pictures and presentation. My aversion on those topics has a very bad influence on the attention my builds get.

        Glad you like the song. I once had the pleasure attending a concert of the late Willy de Ville. It was one of the best I ever saw. He had an enormous presence on stage.

        Sandro has trained his LEGO knowledge and skills for thirteen years know you can see the latest result here. He built more than two years on this dio. Taking it to several convetions during this time gave him a lot of feedback and helped keeping on track. At the moment he plans some minor rebuilds and wants to furnish the two mills and the new farmstead. We’ll see…

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      2. I think most of us could take more care on presentation, I know I would benefit from it. I look at some people’s work and it drives me crazy because I know I’ll never get results that good.

        That sounds like a fun concert, he looks like he knew how to work a crowd.

        Wow, Sandro has amazing skills for his age, that diorama is very impressive and shows a wide range of technique. You should definitely listen to his advice, I hope he expands on the scene, it looks great! I will add him as a favorite builder.

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    1. Much manlier indeed, and I’d gladly trade it for my Wanderer, but the connection has been fused in my brain and that shitty song will never completely be deleted.

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  5. I’m generally not a fan what I call “slope salad,” the staggered shaping techniques that a lot of builders use. It just creates a lot of smaller awkward and abrupt transitions out of what would have been a single large one.

    I can see how this one was probably difficult to review since it doesn’t leave a huge impression; it’s like reviewing rice or corn flakes. I think the Palaso was a poor choice as a seed for the telephone game since the colors are bland and it doesn’t have a lot of stand-out features that could easily be reinterpreted.

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    1. ‘Slope Salad’, I’ll have to adopt that phrase, you’re right, it just creates it’s own problems and in the worst instances it ends up looking like landscaping.

      This model was very difficult to review, most mecha are for some reason. I like the Palaso, but I also agree with you that it might not have been the best choice for the seed-mech.

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