The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of what will hopefully develop into a regular column by noted TFOL, Achintya Prasad. If you dwell exclusively in the lands of Flickr you may not be aware of him (he’s on Flickr but not as popular as he should be), but Mr. Prasad has amassed quite a following of admirers on MOCpages, where he is well known as a builder of outstanding military models. What makes him unique though is his dedication to the power of debate and détente between community members, running groups devoted to the topic. As it turns out, Achintya is also an aspiring scribe and unlike so many of you who have expressed an interest in writing for this venerable blog….he actually came through. Bested by a teenager, the shame of it all. If you are not familiar with his work and you’re too lazy to take the links, here is a sampling of Prasad Heavy Industries most popular offerings.
So move aside you rubes, and let the man come through. Writers live and die on feedback, so don’t hesitate to engage in the comment section with your usual vigor. Take it away Achyntia!
Hello everyone, and welcome to the first ever out-of-left-field discussion of the intricacies an existential analysis of the hobby we all love, LEGO. In this first installment, we are going to delve deep into perhaps the biggest rivalry you have never heard about: LEGO versus Hobby Modeling. To give some perspective on my position, I have been involved in both LEGO and Hobby Modeling projects, and have seen the methods and processes of both interest areas. So, with that cleared, let the analysis begin!
To be clear, when I talk about Hobby Modeling, I’m talking about all forms of plastic building kits, from the likes of Revel to Hasegawa. While many associate Hobby Modeling (hither forth referred to as HM) with model aircraft, the truth is that the community has expanded into numerous fields, from warships to classic cars. While this comparison is still quite apples to oranges, we shall still pick apart the two fields and see what each area is actually made of.
LEGO’s cornerstone is the LEGO brick. The quintessential element, the humble 2×4 red brick is a staple in the minds of millions across the world. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you know LEGO is far more than that, crossing into the complex world of mechanical and structural engineering via the Technic system and other LEGO branches. Finer details, sometimes known in the trade as “greebling” is accomplished by miscellaneous pieces, from tiles to minifigure utensils.
HM, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have such an internationally recognized standard. Unlike branches such as Technic and Power Functions, HM primarily focuses on static display, coupled with skills in painting. Detail work of models is also done via water or oil based decals, designed to offer fine, natural looking detail without the thickness of stickers. For the most part, a HW box will contain anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of tiny plastic elements, attached to sprues.
Both branches, in the material sense, do share a common component: plastic, though to varying degrees. LEGO is world-renowned for its military grade precision in its factories, from the injection molding machines to the robotic transporters. HM, on the other hand, prefers to handle the challenge of assembly of even base elements to its enthusiasts; “flash” (or extra plastic left over from the molding process) cleaning is a vital step before the assembly of any model.
Now, examining LEGO and HM in a much wider aspect, we get into something known colloquially as “Kit-bashing.” It’s the bane of any child or parent attempting to ensure a LEGO kit is completed correctly, and the downright insanity that plagues the first HM projects, where the amateur rips the pieces off the sprue before even consulting the instructions. Both, however, tell an interesting tale of the fundamental difference at the heart of LEGO and HM: focus. Put it simply, LEGO is accuracy, and HM is precision. When you’re putting together a 1/72 scale model of an SR-71 Blackbird, you know the final product will look like a Mach 3 spy plane, unless you saw off the tails. What really counts HM are the details; making sure each individual dial in the cockpit is painted and labeled, and each landing gear strut might as well have come from SkunkWork’s planning division themselves. LEGO is far different. It’s simply impossible to recreate that same Blackbird with that level of detail at that scale. Instead, a LEGO builder must attempt to find accuracy in the final looks of the aircraft. Preserve the dark exterior and basic shape, and forget about any realistic attempts of finer detailing (unless you paint your pieces, in which case, shame on you!) Examining Kit-bashing, you see a similar technique. Kitbashing for HM is a very precise game, where elements from other kits are often filed down or otherwise modded to fit another kit, via putty or other techniques. LEGO, using its own universal dimensions, completely does away with any compatibility issues, again because the focus of the LEGO brick is on accuracy. The turbine inside that SR-71 is built with a similar, compatible piece as the third gear in a transmission of a power functions tractor-trailer. The same can’t be said for the detailed components of an HM kit.
Before moving on, I’d like to bring special attention to a comparison that really drives home the accuracy vs precision argument. Below you will see two images, one of a 1/36 scale F-14 Tomcat built by the world’s premier LEGO aircraft builder, Ralph Savelsberg, and the other being a 1/32 scale Tomcat from Tamiya, an HM model company. Excusing the slight differences in scale and image quality, the point is seen clearly. The use of LEGO curved slope elements lent a fuselage shaping almost precisely to what we see in Top Gun. Tamiya, however, simply molded the shape to the exact specifications of the plane. Ralph nailed the paint job of the aircraft as a whole, but the Tamiya model managed to incorporate every panel gap, every warning label, and every bolt. Both are outstanding models, but each play to a completely different strength. Working inside the confines of the square LEGO universe, Ralph recreated the rippling, muscular body of the Tomcat, while Tamiya model managed to take Tom Cruise’s aircraft and throw it into a shrink ray. To the casual observer, these differences are hardly noticeable. To us enthusiasts, however, the differences draw the definitive line between LEGO and HM (unless you aren’t a purist, which is a discussion for another time).
From aircraft builders to even the most dedicated train builders, the differences are stark and apparent. I remember the day the Emerald Night Train kit was released. I watched the LEGO interview of the designer behind the project, and distinctly remember his pride in announcing several new train wheels. For years LEGO hadn’t done much for the train community, with few new elements for train enthusiasts to choose from. For HM, however, that has never been an issue. Think the train wheel included in your S2 class Baldwin locomotive is too small? That’s fine, just purchase a Soviet IS class steam locomotive and switch the wheels (actually, I have no idea how trains work, so apologies to the facepalming train fans, though the point still stands). The Kit-bashing of HM, while tricky in terms of compatibility, offers something LEGO fans today dream about: a larger, more specialized component pool.
Of course, those are the stories of the materials at hand. But the true test of these hobbies are found in the hobbyist. Both clubs are known to have different presences in communities, both locally and online. In terms of local clubs, the LEGO group is by far the more active in communities, with LEGO events scheduled via both LEGO official stores and LUGs. HM’s, meanwhile, are more fragmented, with no real support from concrete stores from the makers of model kits. While this can be attributed to the decline of sales for these companies since the early 2000’s, it shows a clear difference. While hobby shops still keep entire aisles for hundreds of different pots of paint for models, none of that compares to LEGO Land, not to mention the massive site Bricklink and LUGs, officially sanctioned by the LEGO group themselves.
But what does all this mean? How do these two similar yet different hobbies compare? In the end, I think the advantage of expanded areas and development must fall to LEGO. The humble brick is far more than a model builder; it’s a story-teller, one that reflects the ideas and personality of many different builders. HMs, meanwhile, have the advantage in realism. Building a LEGO F-22 Raptor would never end up in a completely accurate scale model, at least compared to the sharp lines and intricate detailing a HM can afford. My personal experience has always been the same: LEGO’s handicaps are its strengths, that is, its universal compatibility system. Quite simply, the blasted system makes it impossible to recreate the small details on a battleship or train. HM, however, allows me to include each individual air vent on a Bofors 40mm, but leaves me high and dry when I want to build something on my own. Really, it’s up to the viewer, which do you prefer? Story telling imagination, or realistic detailing? Is your hobby a sanctuary for your own ideas and thoughts, or is a projection of your skills onto the real world? Let us know in the comments below.