Great Debates! Has the Minifigure been detrimental to LEGO?

Achintya Prasad has returned from his exploration of the irradiated wasteland with spare parts for the generator, a few dozen rounds of ammunition and another article for your perusal.  Without any further ado, take it away Mr. Prasad!

Hey everyone, and welcome to another article in the new series, Great Debates! Today, I’m going to examine the large social phenomenon, one of the largest examples of a non-organic population created by humanity, the popular minifigure. Though introduced in 1978, the humble plastic figure has recently become far more than a playable accessory. Entire product lines, such as the LEGO collectible series, steadily crank out new minifigures, forgoing the traditional LEGO playbook of small to large sets, containing components.

Now, before I go any further, I have to say that even your studious guide (yours truly) to this topic has fallen victim to the wave of LEGO minifigures.  I’m not bashing people that buy the, for lack of a better term, action figure kits, that is the Minifigure series. But I think we all agree that buying these kits are not the same as buying a LEGO set, as there aren’t nearly as many components. The subject of these packs is the minifigure itself, not any particular object. Anyways, I once bought handful of LEGO British Royal Guards from Bricklink, at an astronomical price, only to have the figures be stashed away for years in a dresser. I’m sure they’ll eventually have some value as a collector’s set, but nonetheless, I probably could have spent the money on something far more useful. That said, I still feel that maybe, just maybe, they’ll be useful to me…

Truth is, I never had a problem with minifigures, but a recent trip to the LEGO store made me reconsider the actual role of the minifigure, and what it means for the hobby as a whole. I feel that this whole trend is most infamous for, frankly, ruining many of LEGO’s attempts at UCS style kits. A prime example of what I’m talking about is found on the Super Star Destroyer kits LEGO released a few years. The entire cityscape of greeble in the middle of the creation was designed to be shallow, to allow some classic scenes from the movies to be included in the kit. Of course, the 15-mile-long SSD is nowhere near to scale with the minifigure. This matters as, by definition, the UCS style kits are Ultimate Collector’s Items, not a kid’s play thing. The model is designed for large scale and accuracy to the movie, so why would include minifigures? They do little to enhance the actual purpose of these kits, and instead require unnecessary provisions inside a technically complex model. But perhaps that doesn’t quite bother you, as after all, the actual lines of the mammoth SSD aren’t quite ruined by the inclusion. Well, constant reader, let me direct your attention to one of the most controversial, infamous, and long-lived Star Wars model released: the minifigure Death Star.

 

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The Death Star was minifigures galore, 23 to be precise. The only thing the creation actually shared with the movie WMD is, well, the rough geometric shape (and even that is after squinting at a picture of the model after its been faxed through 12 different time zones and 8 Xerox copiers). As a microscale builder fixated on details, scaling and proportion (most of my creations are actually built using calculated dimensions, scale, and real-life examples, I’m that pedantic) this set is the spawn of Satan. At an exorbitant price of over $300, the set is a showcase, once again, of the famous scenes from the movies, and includes a massive amount of minifigures to complement the scenes. But accuracy? Who cares. Precision? Save that for the hobby modelists (see what I did there?!) If I’m going to be honest, I hate the Death Star set, and I really can’t fathom why LEGO is still trying to pawn the kit off to FOLs, at such a huge cost, with little in the way of exterior detailing.

Now, you may think, alright, so some sets are compromised by the playability “necessity” of the minifigure. You may also argue that there are plenty of kits that either utilize the minifigure very usefully (see the modular building line ups) or kits that are impressively built without considering minifigures (such as my all time favorite set, the Boeing 787, or my second favorite kit, the new Ideas Saturn V rocket).

 

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To all that, I answer, rubbish. In similar manner to James May’s hatred of the Nurburgring effect on car comfort, quality, and practicality, I think the minifigure is purveying an upheaval that is changing the purpose of LEGO itself.

I’ve mentioned this before in the article, and if you’ve looked through my photo stream, you’d know that I’m a primarily microscale military builder. And, in reality, the LEGO minifigure has done much for this side of the community. It’s common practice to use minifigure screwdrivers as gun barrels or binoculars as, well, whatever you want them to represent. In fact, I would argue that the whole idea of Nice Parts Usage (NPU) would not exist without the help of the minifigure. But see, the even in military building, including space and detail work for minifigures is a hassle that rarely results in a scale model (after all, minifigures are notorious for their “cute” inaccuracies of the human body) being accurate to the source material. And that really begs the question, what is the point of a LEGO Model (deep, I know). In the past, we discussed accuracy, but really that’s only half the battle. See, the minifigure adds the LEGO profit baseline: playability. As LEGO enthusiasts, we have to ask ourselves, is that our end goal? If it is, job done. But something tells me that the community builds for far more. See, I think that the goal is functionality.

I should explain, playability does NOT equal functionality. When a model, say, our Death Star example, is designed, it is originally created around the playability idea. Functionality, on the other hand, is something uniquely different. Its retractable landing gear, or moving drawbridges. Its 5 speed technic gearboxes, or moving Mech legs. Playability harvests the fruits of functionality to leverage an experience that allows the enthusiast to tell a story or playout a scenario. Functionality, however, has more uses. Perhaps functionality is used to service a detailed water mill on an Old English town scene. That same functionality helped create the sub-genre of motorized tank building, that creates realistic tanks with rotating turrets, functioning suspension, and even working cannons. Functionality allows the artist to express a depth in a creation. It’s more than a static model, it’s a faithful recreation of the subject, right down to the object’s intended purpose. It may not be an easy designation to make, but this is one of the biggest difference that marks us experienced FOLs aside. We’re building to service that accuracy, within the confines of the LEGO brick, all the while including some of the interesting movements and purposes of the subject material. While we may play or swoosh around an aircraft we build, fundamentally, the playable feature is still given to the minifigure, as that is the intended purpose of the little plastic men. If you need further convincing, consider this for a moment, which series is functional, Technic or LEGO city? Which one is more play friendly, Star Wars battle pack sets, or a Creator large scale car (such as the Mini Cooper or Ferrari F40)?

Perhaps another notable comparison is between the minifigure and its distant cousin, Army Men. Sold literally by the bucket, these plastic privates have taken major roles in movies such as Toy Story, and have inspired millions of people. Army Men, for what their worth, are all play. While there are communities out there dedicated to introducing realism to these little lieutenants, these flash-ridden toys are really all play. It’s notable that its common place to receive some larger military equipment, such as jeeps and cannons, with these playsets, similar to models being included with LEGO minifigures. While army men are also related to Hobby Models, and are often roughly to scale with these sets, they aren’t intrinsically adding something extra to the hobby, while minifigs have some noted innovation in microscale parts. Despite this difference however, the primary purpose of both the minifigure and the army man is play. This is something that I feel is stressed by toy companies and the LEGO group alike.

See, during my LEGO store visit (where I carefully and admittedly embarrassingly engaged the tessellation game which is packing a Pick a Brick cup), I noticed a larger and larger selection of minifigure related products. From the Pick-your-minfig station to the growing number of “battle kits” from Star Wars, to the numerous examples of LEGO City sets, the place was overrun with the plastic figure. Sure, I understand that selling playability is a lot easier than selling the different enthusiast goals of functionality, but that whole concept is what LEGO was literally built on. Ole Kirk Christian’s automatic binding bricks were an innovation in functionality in their own right (I mean think about it, you can put two plates together and literally it takes the force of a supernova, brick separator, or a good pair of teeth quite a bit of grief to pull apart FACT). While minifigures may be making innovation in the ever present NPU community, and the social justice community (women scientist series), I don’t think building a kit around the minifigure is quite the vision of the original company, or indeed, the trend of the bleeding edge of most LEGO community.

Now, for sure, the minifigure is an important part of the community. But when we start the cringe inducing shortcuts in the City line of sets, or create UCS kits just to include minifigures, we’re shortchanging ourselves from truly enjoying LEGO to its full potential. If the whole goal of LEGO is to create something outside the confines of the singular brick, why must we also be chained to including the venerable minifigure? Let us know your thoughts in the comments down below.

74 thoughts on “Great Debates! Has the Minifigure been detrimental to LEGO?

  1. Nice follow up article, Achintya. Some quick thoughts:
    Having received the precursor to the minifig in sets as a very young kid, I can tell you I didn’t think much of them (I’ll have an article on that soon…). Bottom of the toy box they went. The advent of the minifig was what got me hooked as a kid. It adds not only the playability, but also a story/narrative. The same holds true with photography; take an awesome travel photo, then the same photo with a person posing in scene. Many times coming back from a trip I think the image would have been so much better with someone in it. They need a story to tell… So from sales perspective, not detrimental to TLG…

    But almost 40 years later, that plot has been flipped to having a bunch of people in a photo with a cruddy background… It’s like the age of the selfie put inyo LEGO set form. Licensed sets are the worst for this. Non-licensed fair a little better, but I’m starting to feel about minifigs like I do about LEGO tires… There is a reason that it’s called the “icing on the cake” and not the “cake on the icing”. These days, if it’s not a set labeled with Creator on it (the exceptions already mentioned duly noted), then it’s a battle pack disguised as a set…

    But frankly, I’m at a different stage now where sets are part packs, and Bricklink fills the gaps. The answer of detriment really falls onto which of LEGO’s sales demographic (Since I hardly ever buy a set to build that set, my concern is more about the inconsistencies in how they choose to incorporate rare colors…). We might need an adult set-up (non-MOCer) to chime in…

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    1. Agreed. Sets are quite useful….for parts. Maybe the occasional technique is interesting. But for the most part, it’s all in the pieces. Your point on rare colors…that’s something I’m going to think about…

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  2. Well this is an interesting bit of “get off my lawn” from someone who I assume isn’t nearly as old as the minifig itself. I’m reminded uncharitably of the well-worn exFOL lament that starts with “in my day you just had a bucket of Legos (sic),” which echoed some gripes a friend of mine had about OK Computer when it came out: “They’ve thrown out the traditional form of the rock song!” “Thrown out,” as if some guys were going to come and take all your old records and leave a monkey in your house that slaps you when you hum a traditional tune. To those folks I say “Look there, beyond the Star Wars sets you hate for no reason, there are several sets labelled Creator. Buy them and dump them in a bucket and your childhood is restored! It never left! Go get your old bucket and merge them, they all fit together! Pieces decades apart in age — this is a miracle of foresight and system building, not something to whine about! Get off my lawn!”

    Cards on table: I am probably the most minifig-loving nerd who’s going to comment here. I own roughly three thousand of the little fuckers and they’re all on permanent display in my Lego room. I am not, however, a completist. I am mostly dedicated to the figs at the center of my display, labelled Good Guys and Bad Guys. These are the ones I’ve cobbled together myself, fashioned quick character sketches for in my head, and possibly made personalized vehicles for. If I had unlimited time I’d make vehicles for everybody. As far as I’m concerned ANY proliferation of minifig parts is good, all the more weird elements for weirder combos I can fashion to populate my polyglot sci-fi/fantasy Legoverse.

    Don’t get me wrong, I feel your pain, and I dig your articles. I didn’t know that about the Executor and I do wish the UCS line would stick to its original purist vibe, scaling things to the size of Technic style Star Wars figs that don’t exist. (And while I’ve dropped silly amounts of cash to get a set with minifigs I want, I’ve never dropped UCS cash levels for that reason.) Your points about accurate military builds and minifig allowances butting heads is interesting as well.

    But ultimately, beyond my own biases, it seems to me that tagging them as detrimental to Lego is like saying a new brand of steak sauce is detrimental to all food. There’s room for everyone.

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    1. “Buy them and dump them in a bucket and your childhood is restored!”

      So very very true. Poof! Like magic!

      I like that you post an opposing viewpoint with no hesitation. I think Archintya would agree that its the dialogue that powers the site. Discourse and discord. Not consensus.

      I will add though, that I have seen some MOCs that were visually powerful, but which suffered due to the presence of the minifig. They can make some buildings look suddenly less serious. Cartoony?

      They have there place. Apparently, for about a billion of them, that place is your building area? About half of my own are sorted (all of the Blacktron are sorted!) but the rest… chaos. Police men with Death Eater masks… Fire Men with spear guns… cat and dogs living together…

      Attack!

      Attack!

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    2. Well, I’m glad we have a discussion going on (I say with only slight slight annoyance, I promise!)

      Anyways, I do think that clarifying some points is in order. But first, I will say, I do recognize the argument some FOLs have that newer elements make “building easier.” And, for what it’s worth, they do have examples on their side, from the kinda useless 2×4 tile (I remember that piece created some controversy) to snot bricks with studs on two adjacent sides. Same time, however, those pieces opened up new potential for LEGO as a whole. A 2×4 tile has longer reach, allowing more smoothness over greater area with less pieces. The adjacent snot piece (a very new element) is sure bring some amazing new designs.

      The mini figure, as we both agree, have infused LEGO with some very handy elements. My concern, though, is with sets like the UCS series and with pushes to include mini figures at every turn. Yes, we have creator and architecture and technic and a few others, but we must also recognize that the figure has become a staple of quite a few product lines with LEGO and that may negatively impact the previously explained accuracy and functionality aspects of the hobby as a whole. I don’t think the minfigure is overall detrimental, but I think it has become a large enough fixture to start a conversation (like we’re having!)

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      1. I could see if they were talking about the Ninjago spinners or Chima bikes, but the only parts I hear people complain about are the revolutionary ones like you mentioned that let you do what was previously impossible. The idea that those somehow limit creativity is laughable, because the opposite is true. It comes from people who are too fatigued to keep up or don’t want to buy new parts, so they justify that by accusing the new pieces of somehow spoiling the art/hobby. It’s bullshit and very easy to see through.

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  3. Archintya,

    I think you proceed from a false assumption.

    ” If the whole goal of LEGO is to create something outside the confines of the singular brick, why must we also be chained to including the venerable minifigure?”

    The whole goal of LEGO is NOT to create something out of brick.
    The whole goal of LEGO is to create profit by selling merchandise.

    It is a privately owned toy company. Profit first, last, always, and only.

    With this assumption (profit = reason for LEGO) then the answer to your question (Has the minifig been detrimental to LEGO) I say NOPE. It has not.

    Sales benefits LEGO, and most LEGO sales are the result of the demands of children. Sad but true. Although AFOLs usually have more discretionary income than say… a 12 year old, and although the average AFOL could take on the average 12 year old in a fist fight and win… the fact is that 12 year old kids point at what they want in the toy store, and then their parents buy it (also, I’m not sure if the average AFOL could take the average parent in a fist fight… the numbers just aren’t that clear).

    Further, kids (those who demand) look at and are emotionally affected by the minifigs. Even better for LEGO, kids only want the newest version of a product. Last years Death Star is half off? Who cares! This years Death Star comes with the new Luke figure! Kids are totally unconcerned with notions like price or value. LEGO knows that kids want what they want… and LEGO has what they want.

    But that only looks at it from the perspective of THE MAN (TLG). And as we all know, THE MAN wants only to keep us down! Lets talk about a far more interesting perspective… MY perspective! Yes!

    For me, the narrative drives my creative process. I often build a MOC around minifigs. Yeah, they are chibi… and my doorways don’t mesh nicely with their proportions. And yes, there is often an odd scaling distortion that occurs. Cars that look good hold only one little dude. It’s odd, but I roll past those concerns. I acknowledge the math and the ratios… but I don’t care. The minifigs drive my creative impulses.

    What initially drew me out of my dark age was LEGOs odd fascination with incarceration. In the world according to LEGO, incarceration has been a strong theme throughout history. Castle kits have tiny cells, and tiny mobile cells drawn by horses! So do Pirates! So do Town kits (well tiny prison trucks, not carts). And later, as LEGO man ventures out into LEGO space? Yes! Large prisons and not only land based mobile incarceration units… but AIR MOBILIZED modular holding cells as well! (remember the kids in The Brick Schoolhouse FFE? Prisons…. always with the prisons!). It captured my attention like a hook in my brain! LEGO was this fun kids toy. Building! Creating! Play well! Yadda yadda yadda…
    So why… in the name of what gods may be… does LEGO pimp incarceration as such a vital activity throughout history? I started laughing about it, and never stopped. No other activity was represented with the same level of predictability as incarceration! We are not going to build a hospital on the moon… no suh! But we got us a big old po-lice lock up! Yes suh! We gotta keep them Blacktron types in the clink! To infinity and beyond…With prisons!

    I fell in love with a product that wanted me to build prisons and lock up tiny people! This is also why I will always be a Loyal supporter of Blacktron. Futuron lies! They suppress all who seek freedom!… ever seen a Blacktron prison kit? No, no you haven’t! Blacktron arose quite predictably as result of Futuron oppression! Whats wrong with you people? How can you not see it?

    Point? I was sucked in by the minifig, and I can use, mis-use, ignore, or deplore them as I please. I embrace the explosion of minifig diversity and all the cool guys we can build now! And if I want a MOC to look real serious? I don’t use them.

    For LEGO the minifig drives sales. For me, the minifig is a crucial part of the creative process and the hobby. And where they are superfluous, they are easily ignored.

    And to all you Futuron cattle… you compliant and colorful drones… know this: I continue to quietly amass, train, equip, and deploy Blacktron I troops throughout my sector. The Republic of the Black Delta grows even now, in the blackness between your precious glowing stars. Along the outermost edges of your frail nation. The revolution will not be televised!

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    1. I see you Michael, but I’m gonna have to correct you on the assumption. I wasn’t too clear about what I was referring to, but I think there is a difference between LEGO and the LEGO group as a whole. I admit 100% that our hobby is funded, at least indirectly, by sales of LEGO sets. But when I said LEGO, I really referring to what it means to us hobbyists, not TLG. When I claim that minifigures may not play into the original philosophy of the LEGO company, I’m talking pre-minifigure days, when the best you could create was a house. Of course now LEGO is a very different company, but what if that philosophy has any bearing to today?

      I never really noticed the prison thing. But wow…you’re right it is absolutely everywhere. Maybe there is something in there….

      Overall I agree. Like I said, there are communities that rely on the mini figure. I’m just curious about how this changed the philosophy of LEGO, and if it infringes on the whole accuracy point I made in the last article, and how it impacts the functionality aspect that many of us attempt in creations.

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      1. You need prisons to lock up all those arsonists. Otherwise the equally prevent fire people won’t have anything to do.

        Also.
        We need some damn SpaceFiremen sets.

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      2. I’m still not clear on exactly what your argument is, then. You talked about set designs and history in the article, not how hobbyists implement the tools that TLG gives them. You’re agreeing with Mike here that TLG has to do what they do as a business, but if you’re going along with that then what is the argument being made? If minifigs are bad for the hobby, then who is to blame? TLG or hobbyists? Or is the argument simply that they’re a necessary evil of the business to be avoided by hobbyists?

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  4. This is probably the closest thing to a “religious debate” in the Lego community – most folks either love them or want to pummel them into ABS dust with a sledgehammer.

    I see minifigs as a necessary evil (t looks like Rutherford beat to the punch on this one, but what the hell, I’m too lazy to type something else). Much like the innumerable (and by now, insufferable) Star Wars sets (*), they are a cash cow for The Lego Company, and allow them to keep churning out sets in some of the less popular, but more interesting themes (e.g. Creator or Architecture) without keeping too close an eye on the bottom line. And, as you mention, the need to outfit minifigs with tools, weapons, etc. has given us all a great variety of NPU-able parts that would otherwise never exist. Don’t forget, too, that minifig hands are incredibly useful in their own right.

    From an aesthetic point of view, though, minifigs are an abomination of epic proportions. They have more in common with the gingerbread men from Cookie Jam than they do with an actual person. I would imagine that most scale modelers, especially military modelers, consider them the “spawn of satan” as well, since trying to fit a minifig into a properly proportioned fighter cockpit or tank turret is probably about as easy as fitting your fist into your mouth.

    But I can understand their popularity from a collector point-of-view. People will collect just about anything – stamps, coins, tattoos, desiccated old food (yep – I saw a guy who did it on Letterman ages ago. A 5-year-old burger was one of the centerpieces of his “collection”) – regardless of their practical value. Minifigs at least have play value, even though I suspect that a large fraction of them just sit on display somewhere. You can put some minifigs in a scene and have them decapitate each other – that would be pretty hard to do with a 5-year-old burger.

    In the end though, your question is about as rhetorical as it can be. Minifigs, complete with their arthritic knees and elbows, are here to stay, no matter how ugly and ill-proportioned they are.

    (*) For the record, I don’t hate all sci-fi, but rather than the umpteenth version of Millennium Falcon or some variety of X-wing, it would be nice to see something new for a change. I know that the ship has sailed as far as licensing agreements go for some of the other popular sci-fi franchises (Star Trek, Galactica), but it would refreshing to see even some one-offs from the movies, like the Nostromo or the Rodger Young.

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    1. Pious Prasad. It has a nice ring.

      Yeah, it never ceases to amaze me how powerful and large the collector’s universe actually is. The food bit is…disturbing but interesting. Humans are odd creatures.

      I think we agree overall. Minifigures are necessary for the LEGO hobby to continue. I suppose the proportions are what really gets me. After all, accuracy and functionality, amiright?

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  5. Jeff can have all my minifigs for all I care about them. They’re little people. Who needs people?

    I guess I’m not very enthusiastic about minifigs because I don’t like to build in minifig scale all that much. I will admit though they do sell like crack and the figs that come out in licensed themes tend to be pretty awesome. I remember being very impressed when I saw my first Lego Stormtrooper, and they’ve improved the detailing even more in recent years. If kids want figs and that sells sets and keeps Lego in business, I’m all for it.

    Also, only Keith’s mom calls Mike “Michael”.

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  6. You’ve got em’ riled up today Mr. Prasad, well done with the second article, I’m happy to see the series develop.

    I always appreciated the Zhangian method for dealing with unwanted minifigs, you simply resell them to defray the cost of the sets and grow your collection on the cheap.

    When I first started to get into the product, minifigs were like a gateway drug for me and long before I had enough bricks to build anything in a coherent color scheme I was just having fun with the figs. I’d be surprised if I’ve built more than a handful of models in all these years that were not minifig scale. Of course I have way too many of them now and can never find the right one when I need it. After a point they become a huge pain in the ass to keep track of. I feel sorry for the people who feel compelled to collect all of them, there are simply too many of the little guys to track down. It does seem like we’re oversaturated with minifigs these days, but I completely understand the appeal. You can’t even compare the choices available now as opposed to even a decade ago, there is almost infinite variety and it’s much easier to create your own unique fig-barf vision.

    I remember being irritated with Legoland during their first few years of operation when they seemed to completely ignore the minifig, it seemed like a missed opportunity and I still hate minilanders to this day. I understand they are bigger and more easily identifiable in a big outdoor setting when the average viewer is standing ten feet away but they are horribly low-resolution for all their size.

    To answer the specific question of the debate, I don’t think the minifig has been detrimental to the hobby in the slightest. As everyone has pointed out, the accessories they ushered in have been hugely influential to builders and if you don’t like them, they are easy to ignore. The product range is so large now that there is something for everyone and the minifig drives sales that ensure the product range stays robust. Well…everyone except for the train guys, who still pine for new track geometries and the return of 9 volt trains.

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    1. Man, the Legoland Minilander vs Minifig debate is a great one.

      Having worked at the Modelshop at Legoland California (RIP), we always had this discussion. Especially the people who worked there who were fans of Lego outside their job. Everyone seemed to have an opinion, whether it was if “Minilanders were true to the brand” or “Their scale is stupid.”

      Personally, I like them as individual models. They are characters, and I think you can do a lot more with them as opposed to minifigures. You can see them easier, you can tell better stories with them, they can breath life into their city/town that they were populating.

      Now, all that being said, whenever my studio would switch from producing a Legoland Miniland, to a Discovery Center Legoland, everything just clicked. Lego System has reached the point where it is thoroughly designed around the Minifigure. So as we worked through creating these cities, everything just fits better. Details in buildings work because they are at the right scale. You can include more figures because minifigures are CHEAP compared to what a minilander costs. It is hard to describe the feeling, I guess I could say it was like slipping on your favorite pair of jeans. It just fits, they are familiar and comforting.

      After I helped build/design my first LDC, I couldn’t help but wonder if Legolands would be better served ditching Legoland Miniland scale, and just making freaking huge and amazing Minifigure scale Minilands.

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      1. Brian, it’s good to have you on the Manifesto, I’ve been trying to get Rubino to help me with a farewell post / tribute to the Carlsbad shop but unemployment has made him understandably apathetic on the topic to say the least. If you have any interest in writing an article about your experiences there I’d be very receptive to posting it.

        I can certainly see why you might prefer Minilanders from your perspective as a working model builder, they offer the opportunity of more detail and as you pointed out it’s much easier to absorb all that detail from the spectator’s viewpoint ten feet away behind the stanchions.

        No matter what the scale I was always baffled by the instance of the Park to place Miniland outside, exposed to the elements. I’d much rather stroll through some climate controlled space where everything worked and the colors were not hopelessly damaged by exposure to the punishing sun. It seemed like a Sisyphean task to keep up with the maintenance.

        In any case, welcome to the blog and please consider the article, or at least sticking around to comment from time to time. RIP to the Carlsbad Shop, you guys did some amazing work over the years, and how many of us can say our models are on physical display all over the globe?

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  7. Ohhhhh

    You went after the cute defenseless minifig? :O

    It’s interesting that I’ve tended to build away from Minifig scale – in fact of all my brickworld displays I had a total of 4 figs on display – in two builds – a star fighter and mech (and hanger). Which sort of needs figs – what am I going to do, stuff a giant plush duplo bunny in ED-290 exo suit? Please.

    I’m not sure when the shift happened, but I’ve grown to like building more and more off fig scale.

    And it might surprise some, but I actually harbour a deep yellow feverish love for the minifig.

    I think it came down to the lack of figs as a child, I’d have my tiny box of figs that were the treasures and stars of play time.

    But once back into hobby, I could buy them on bricklink?!? Wut.

    Army building and dreams of Goldman scale builds necessitated the need for figs. Ever more figs.

    Past-Simon had dreams that builds would be created to showcase and play with new found armies.

    My first build was basically an excuse to line up 100 odd figs:
    Great Wall of China - I'm well protected.

    And then TLG made it even easier – the CMF- zombies!
    Robots!
    Space marines!
    Oh my!
    The world would be my army’s conquered oyster.

    But something happened. Maybe too many CMF. Too many possibilities….
    I don’t buy nearly as many figs as I used to. I don’t eve. Build fig scale that often.
    My first ever major marine deployment was remote! Off to fight spaceNamt a con I’ve never seen….

    Even now as I look through next year’s build the mighty fig is somewhat absent.

    And I’m still not really sure why to me it just seems so much more fun to build really big scale. Or tiny micro scale.
    Though the latter could be racked up to going back that primal want of building a Goldmanesque set piece, except it could just be much.
    Much. Much smaller in scale?

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    1. That photo does recall the work of Lee Jones, just line up the expensive figures ; ). So what is going on next year? You’ve got it lined up already? I would love to see you build a giant microscale layout. I think that’s a frontier that hasn’t been fully explored.

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      1. He he he. Yup. Call the kettle black.

        I have a lot of other collabs lined up already. It was an off year for people so a bunch got spun up before the weekend was over.

        I’m working on a micro build now for BFVA that I think you’ll approve of. Or hate.
        Or officially hate but maybe approve secretly.

        Might be worth scaling up into something bigger with the right people dropping in some stars to populate the background….

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  8. So then, my two cents worth.

    Well first off, I’ve never known LEGO without the simple minifigure. I’m far too young to know what it was like when it was ‘just bricks’, and it was originally the minifigure that got me hooked on the product. I can remember myself as a wee lad, about four, when my Dad got me my first set for my birthday. It was a police station (thumbs up for incarceration), and my tiny child mind blew up when I discovered the little people that lay inside. I would spent hours, days even, making up scenarios were the baddies broke out of their cells, only to be put right back in by the coppers and their strange aversion to weapons. I’ve actually still got those figs to this day.

    I think most of my love for the ill-proportioned little guys stems from my love for writing. For as long as I could remember, all I did was create stories and plot lines for various genres, and the highlight of these stories were the characters. I believe that good, relatable characters are what drives a story home, as it’s what the reader/ viewer resonates with. This transferred over to my building, and I often found myself scrambling around in my parts bin to find just the right torso to represent a character. Often I’d actually come up with character designs based on figures I’d created, which then grew to complete stories and even worlds, all from one little plastic man.

    Having said that, however, I will agree that the minifig has become a huge spotlight hogger in recent LEGO years. I always enjoy a new hairpiece or torso print, and my mind gets bogged down with possibilities, but then you see the price tag and you back away immediately. I’ve seen certain sets that, while being impressive, are being supported by their minifigures alone (the Death Star being a prime example.) I feel this isn’t necessary. If a FOL wants a bunch of minifigures than BrickLink is their friend, and the set loses it’s buyers. So I will agree with you on the belief that the minifigs should be supported by the set, not the other way around.

    As for proportions…yeah, they aren’t great, obviously. But besides the fact that it’s too late to change at this point, I don’t really mind them too much. Yes, their functionality is limited when compared to, say, a more accurately jointed (dare say it?) Mega Blocks figure. But then you see what builders have been able to do with that limitation, what they’ve been able to represent, and you can appreciate it nonetheless.

    So no, I don’t believe that LEGO as a hobby has been dragged down by the minifig, though they have certainly been more prominent in recent years and perhaps could use a little less time in the spotlight.

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  9. I think you’re way off mark here. Lego has gone through so many changes that trying to trace back to whatever their original philosophy was seems both futile and unhelpful. Are slopes, bars, clips, hinges, and tiles outside of their original philosophy? Where do you draw the line? And even if you could pin down some lost original philosophy of the Lego company, why should we care? Original does not mean better. Things change, sometimes for bad, but often for good.

    RE: Minifigs

    Sure I’ve seen some builds that seem to shoehorn the little bastards in where it would look much better without them. And recently this build struck me because it made me realize how detrimental figs would have been to the scene. But as others said minifigures are invaluable as a storytelling device. You seem to be approaching this topic from too narrow a perspective, through the lens of someone who primarily builds replicas. Accuracy and functionality are interesting subjects to explore in Lego, but they aren’t the be-all, end-all of the entire hobby. Many of us want to convey a story or, dare I say it, an emotion with our builds. And minifigs are one of the best tools to do that. Even without seeing the face of the fig, this is a powerful image. It takes an above average sci-fi build and humanizes it into something more.

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    1. I’m going to respond to this and all of your above comments here. Firstly, I think we agree on the new elements position. And no, I don’t think that clips and bars and hinges and all that are different from the LEGO design philosophy. I kinda stated this in the article, but I draw the line when an element (or a collection of elements making a figure) wildly change the design philosophy of a LEGO set or MOC, simply to be included. Minifigures have their place, but are often overused, especially by the TLG, but also increasingly within the LEGO community as a whole.

      Now, I’m also going to say, in defense of the area and subject matter I build in, there is plenty of emotion and story telling. The best built military creations and dioramas, not to mini figure scale, show you a scene, and allow plenty of story telling. The use of small detail, even a slight change in color throughout a model can be explained as a sensor or weapon. That on its own creates a character and interesting story line. Building a flat grey hull may appear as boring, but every panel is a radar node, and every tile is a VLS. For us military builders anyways, that is quite a bit of story telling.

      LEGO has no end all, be all. We’ve discussed and focused on accuracy and functionality as major tenets of the hobby as a whole. Why? Because those two areas add the aforementioned emotion and theater in a model. Yes, the examples you provide achieve those goals via some mini figure techniques, but if you take a look, the entire build also draws heavily on those major tenets.

      Finally, I’ve stated this before, but overall, I don’t think the Minifigure is a terrible thing. But I do think that the mini figure is forcing TLG into making more battle-pack esque sets and such, and that may put pressure on the community as a whole to shoehorn the figure. That’s the point I’m trying to explain here. They are necessary evil, but I’m not sure how well the figure supports the major “pillars,” if you will, of the LEGO hobby. The humble figure has its place and use. But when TLG and MOCcers alike start seeing them as important to include as, say, a basic element, then, as I stated above, we’re shortchanging ourselves from truly experiencing the full potential of the brick.

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      1. Here’s what I’m trying to get at: What IS the Lego design philosophy and why do minifigures not conform to it? I may just be thick, but whatever you’re referring to isn’t obvious to me. I agree that minifigs shouldn’t be seen as a pillar to the hobby, not because I think they’re unsuitable but because I don’t see a need for pillars in the first place.

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      2. Okay I’m replying to Christopher’s reply, as his comment doesn’t have a reply button. Boy that was too many replies in one sentence.

        Alright, I don’t think there is one unifying design philosophy. But I do think there are tenants or techniques that result in a “good build” (whatever that means to you). Both functionality and accuracy are those ideals. Functionality is a broad definition, that includes everything from moving elements, to changes in color and texture to redirect attention and emphasis certain aspects of a build.

        Minifigures do not conform to those philosophies in certain instances. I admit, they have their place in the community, in genres and builds. But I’m saying, that when you have TLG make creations that don’t need mini figures, such as UCS sets, there might be a negative impact on new and coming builders who might feel that mini figures are required in every build, a sentiment that I feel both of us agree, is not accurate.

        I suppose pillar was a bad word to use, as it really makes it seem that these ideas, and those ideas alone, support the entire hobby. That isn’t true at all. There are other philosophies that are involved with different genres and themes throughout the hobby. I’ve just identified two major techniques that I feel most builders (not all, but most) from all walks of themes and genres, can recognize.

        Hopefully I’m starting to clarify my point here.

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      3. No, your point isn’t clear at all because you keep hiding it behind jargon. I thought I knew what you meant by “functionality” in the article but you seem to have twisted it to mean something else entirely in the comments. What that something else is, I’m not sure. The way you’re using it now, it seems so broad a term to be useless.

        I might see your point about minifigs being detrimental in the hobby itself if you cited any examples at all from the community. I don’t perceive any shortage of non-minifig builds and would even say that non-minifig builds are some of the most popular out there. Just look at the traffic character builds from the likes of Tyler Clites, Eero Okkonen and Letranger Absurde get, not to mention all the Bionicle/HF builders out there. If you wanna make such sweeping generalizations you better have a ton of examples to back up your case.

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      4. “Minifigures have their place, but are often overused, especially by the TLG, but also increasingly within the LEGO community as a whole. ”

        Part of the crux here is that TLG and AFOLs are two distinct groups. Different origins, and deferent foci.

        ” LEGO has no end all, be all. ”

        LEGO does in fact have an end all be all. That is profit. That drives the whole show. LEGO profit is the the AFOL as carbon is to life on earth. Never lose sight of that. Further, never lose site of the reality that the entire AFOL population is nothing to LEGO but an opportunity for free product exposure (also a huge potential liability because of the incredibly violent, or socially inappropriate stuff we build). AFOLs, despite how vocal and visible we are, are little more than a blip on the sales scope of LEGO.

        As for AFOLs feeling “pushed” to include minifigs because they are more prevalent in kits… while that may in fact happen, the real problem is not the minifigs… it’s weak minded AFOLs.

        On your side of the coin, I might agree that many young builders have a tendency to adopt minifig centric building as a default option… but the hobby in general does not suffer from this.

        While I keep emphasizing the separation between TLG and AFOLs, I still thing the two groups come back together when it comes to the notion of “beneficial”. Whats good for TLG is good for the hobby. Strong LEGO bottom line equates to a continued supply of our chosen building material and a continued supply of new parts (ie new building options).

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    2. I’m going to have to disagree with you about the Defense Beacon build. I think the inclusion of the minifig takes an above average sci-fi build and cartoon-ifies it. Although it would have changed the scale of the build, a more realistic-looking brick-built figure would have achieved a much better effect.

      In general, I think the light-hearted, cartoon-like builds are the ones that benefit most from the inclusion of minifigs. For serious subjects, minifigs usually damage the effect that the builder is trying to achieve. For me, all of those war-related dioramas filled with angry-faced minifigs just don’t work, especially those depicting modern day (World War II or later) conflicts. I’m never going to take them seriously. I almost consider somethings like this rendition of of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima an insult to the original photograph (it also demonstrates the posability limitations of minifigs, as the builder wasn’t even able to come close to the poses of the soldiers in the original).

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      1. Agreed regarding cartoonification (if that aint a word, well… it should be!).
        But disagree regarding the implied thesis of “and therefor it’s not as good”.

        The minifig in the build does add a drop of cartoon, but equally adds to the emotional content. It’s not just about the visual image but the message as well. Cartoons are sometimes the best platform for conveying emotion. The exaggeration. Cartoons can often de-ambiguify an images message (even as they detract from the image fidelity!). Bugs bunny struggaling with the controls of an aircraft in a dive communicates the terror loud and clear, while an actual pilot, in real life MIGHT be focused on the controls in an almost zen like state. Feeling fear, but not registering it on his face as he focuses so totally and completely on the task at hand. Or… flip through a few issues of Heavy Metal. Lots of crazy cartoonish action, PACKED with emotion.

        As for the Iwo Jima build, for me it is more about a guy telling us: This moment is worth recreating. That aspect of the message speaks to me louder than the limitations of the medium. An insult to the original photograph? That’s a little harsh. Having said that message trumps medium… gods protect us from an interpretive dance rendition of the same event!

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      2. You say “cartoon-ify” like it’s a bad thing. You’re overvaluing realism. Just because something has cartoon-ish proportions doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t carry emotional weight. Besides which upping the scale that much would border on “big for the sake of being big” just to “correct” the proportions of one tiny part that doesn’t need correction in the first place. And that’s not even going into all the geometry that might not work as tightly at a larger scale.

        The Iwo Jima shot isn’t any more offensive to me than any other minifig photography out there. It would be a stretch to call it a MOC and it’s not very relevant to the conversation in my opinion.

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      3. “You say “cartoon-ify” like it’s a bad thing. You’re overvaluing realism.” Agreed. In fact I find every character build done with Lego to have a cartoony edge to it be it minifig scale or lifesize, which is finally what makes it work in this medium.

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      4. [Not sure how to reply to Rutherford’s comment, since the “Reply” button only seems to appear for the first one or two levels of replies, so I’m replying to my own comment.]

        I’ll agree with you that cartoonifcation can be used as a tool. Like all tools, it has to be used properly to achieve the desired effect. Use a hammer the right way, and you have just fastened a section of plywood to a supporting 2×4; use it incorrectly and you’re in the emergency room with a broken thumb. Not all cartoons/tools are created equally, either. The depiction of the characters in Heavy Metal is far less abstract, and far more “adult” (in quite a number of ways) than most cartoons, including minifigs.

        As far as the Defense Beacon build goes, I’ll concede that the minifig does at least convey a sense of scale, but I’m still not sold on the emotional content. To me, the presence of the minifig says something like “this is a toy, rather than something to be taken seriously as a profound work of art,” rather than conveying some sense of awe or wonder. Even for the purpose of scale, the minifig falls a little short, since it would have been somewhat more effective if the figure were looking up at the top of the structure. But, alas, it is impossible for the minifig to crane his neck.

        As far as the Iwo Jima build goes, though, I’ll invoke the old adage that “something worth doing is worth doing right,” and in my mind that build just isn’t doing it right. Nathan Sawaya’s sculpture is a much better treatment of the subject, although I think it would be possible to do it effectively at a much smaller scale. Clearly, that isn’t quite a fair comparison, since Sawaya is a professional artist and the scales are vastly different, but I think the key difference is that the minifig version injects some lack of seriousness/somberness into the image. Suppose that someone did documentary on the Kennedy assassination, and reenacted the event using Muppets. I have a hard believing that the urgency and horror of the situation could possibly be represented correctly. Muppets aren’t the right tool for the job. On the other hand, using Muppets to poke fun at political blowhards could be a perfect use of the medium.

        I guess for me, minifigs are closer to Muppets than they are to actual people.

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      5. @Vitreolum – No, I wouldn’t call that a parody, but it is unclear to me what that Banksy Cat build is even trying to say. Are the soldiers the good guys (liberators) or the bad guys (oppressors)? It seems to be only tenuously related to the video that the builder references.

        I’m coming to the conclusion that I simply have a fundamental bias that prevents me from taking minifig-related build too seriously. I’m not quite sure where it stems from, and perhaps it is unwarranted, but I don’t see myself getting around it anytime soon.

        I’ll draw one more analogy that I think sums up my view reasonably well: Minifigs are the emojis of Lego builds. They’re a great shorthand for quickly conveying some idea, but they are lacking in real depth and have a limited range of expression. And that’s fine, because they’re primary purpose should be the play value that they introduce into a Lego set.

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      6. I didn’t bother checking out the video for it, I chose to interpret it in my way, namely the rebel on the rubble rousing the people (freedom), the bright graffiti as a representation of art (free thinking) “painted” on (over) rubble (oppression/violence) while the soldiers are clearly the oppressors – it’s obvious the left fig is shouting angrily at the rebel. I know, it’s as basic an interpretation as it gets, but the simple fact that it allows the viewer such an analysis makes it a real standout for me, especially in the subgenre.

        I can understand bias very well, I myself dislike yellow figs for no reason, although not to the point where it ruins the build for me.

        Also, there’s a lot of versatility in them if used right. There’s a wide range of expressions to choose from that can be used to great effect in a scene, and the limited poseability (which can be pushed further with a little creativity and the ole rubber bands) is enough to convey what you want. There’s plenty of depth there, it just involves more effort than just throwing a fig in room, which is what a lot of us do (myself included numerous times).

        And most importantly they’re the way to go when building with limited parts; as much as I’d like to build vignettes with my larger figs, I just don’t have the parts for it. A minifig brings a lot more to the table than any fig you can build at such a small scale.

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  10. While I rarely build in MF scale, I’m a fan of the fellas and have a decent collection.

    First off, here’s what is wrong with your article: you’re talking about us, the builders and giving examples of sets. That doesn’t work since they’re completely different in every way. Speaking of sets, it’s not the minifig that does the limitations alone, it’s the business aspect and the targeted audience that causes the limitations. It’s true, 90% of sets released today are dreadful from a design perspective and I’d be surprised if they’d sell without a license and minifigs; but then aside from ucs/creator expert sets, non minifig ones are just as meh.

    Oh, and that death star would be a borefest however you approach it, it’s a big gray ball. The only way it could be more boring would be if it was a big gray box. I know, I know, hate me if you will, but aside from the fact that it is THE DEATH STAR, from a design point of view it is what it is. I don’t like the current set one bit, but try selling the ball to your targeted audience, see if that works. And since it’s one of their best sellers, they must have done something right there.

    Another thing I find wrong with the article is that you’re pushing your views on other builders; namely functionality and accuracy. I have no interest whatsoever in functionality (which is the same as playability; at the end of the day an opening door, a spinning wheel, a collapsing pillar or a working trapdoor are the exact same thing; you’re just making the functions that are important to you seem more relevant) and I only care for accuracy up to a certain point; I’m more than willing to sacrifice certain aspects to improve the aesthetics or those that simply don’t work in this particular medium. These things are mainly relevant for scale model builders, but that’s pretty much it. The rest of use are more than happy to distort proportions to achieve the desired aesthetic. Also this functionality does exactly what you’re blaming the minifig for: limits and impacts the design.

    The only way the minifig hurts anyone is by driving up the prices of sets. That’s it. Aside from that everyone is free to use them or ignore them (yet even those who ignore them benefit, since, as you said, they get to use the accessories, or even minifig parts in their builds) as they see fit.

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    1. I’m not sure if you’ve looked at my comments or not, but the point I’m trying to defend here is that the inclusion of mini figures as a required piece in a model is not the best approach for the community as a whole, both TLG and enthusiasts alike. While we build whatever we want and ignore whatever we wish to ignore, the first step into the hobby is via LEGO sets and, as people have mentioned, the mini figure. After that, it is up to us to define what we build and what we feel is important. And if the starting point seemingly forces mini figures into every set, than I feel that it begins a slightly limiting trend.

      Your argument is seemingly forgetting about the original UCS death star, the one built as the half completed station as in the movie. UCS sets aren’t suppose to be geared to children, they are, by definition, collector series sets. The target audience is for collectors, not for little kids. While the mini figure death star may not be a UCS set, it still signifies the shoehorned attempt at adding mini figures even if they don’t quite work.

      Now, you’re also claiming that I’m pushing some ideals on LEGO builders. Yes, it is true that I’m speaking from a weak ole scale model builder’s perspective. I think, however, accuracy and functionality are much wider areas that have implications in even the most abstract, art related uses (I’m not sure what other genre you’re trying to refer to, so I’m going to explain this one). Functionality isn’t just moving parts, especially when you look at art piece. Functionality brings a model to life, it brings attention to certain things. I would argue that adding emphasis to one idea or central theme through color changes, element usage, or other techniques, for the sole purpose for art, does fall into functionality. Sure, it isn’t the traditional, run of the mill definition, but it still offers the same value. And if using these basic techniques to create a noted creation is limiting, well, the whole hobby has become a bit compromised in the first place.

      I’ve explained this before but I’ll say it again: I’m not opposed to mini figures or builders that use mini figures in any way. They can be used for great ideas and great scaling. They can be used for great creations. But when TLG turns even the highest UCS sets to extremely expensive battle packs, would that not, even in the slightest, make it appear that mini figures might be an integral part of any model?

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      1. “And if the starting point seemingly forces mini figures into every set, than I feel that it begins a slightly limiting trend.” – I disagree with this, there’s plenty of other scales than mf (especially nowadays), so if someone has any affinity towards those, there’s plenty to choose from. The reason mf scale is so popular is not because it’s forced unto them, it’s because it manages to satiate both the individual’s want for characters and for models. An empty castle is not the same as a castle filled with knights and so on.

        To answer your last question… No, while both the death star and ewok village are minifigure heavy, they are nowhere near expensive battlepack. Both are very heavy on the parts side as well, so if you want to consider those battlepacks, every single set that has a mf can fall into that category given the part/mf ratio. Also, both work together to create a model that doesn’t mean much if you take either side away. What good are those trees without the ewoks and iconic figures? What will you do with the empty rooms in the death star without the figures? Each side works together to create a model that sells. So, yeah, they’re an integral part of the model but not in the negative or forced way you’re trying to imply.

        UCS (if you feel the need to use the term) sets are split in 2 distinct categories – playsets and display models. It’s obvious DS, sandcrawler, ewok and hoth are meant to be playsets. So bashing them for being exactly what they’re supposed to be is strange really. Now, the fact that you’d want them to be something else, that’s a different story. “UCS” “collector series sets” – what a joke. It’s just a gimmick to make adults feel better about themselves for buying a toy, make children feel they have something special on their hands and drive up the price.

        With playsets the target audience is children; hell, even in case of the display models more sales come from children than adults. The fact that it’s a display model doesn’t mean there’s no playability to be had, building the model itself is the playability. As a child I was more interested in building and rebuilding the sets than using the functions of the build. I wanted the big sets for the sake of building the big sets, not for the play elements they offered.

        I haven’t forgotten the (ugly) old ds, but I don’t see how it’s existence disproves my argument. I didn’t claim there aren’t any display sets, my point was that the current ds is not supposed to be a display set.

        I don’t find the minifigure forced at all in sets. It’s a necessary part for licensed sets (it may not be for you, but for many people characters are just as important if not more so than the vehicles; not to mention themes like superheroeswouldn’t exist without them) and the rest of the minifigure heavy themes are aimed at children (city, ninjago, etc) so it’s an obvious choice. The inclusion in ucs sets is clearly for display purposes (adding the heath ledger joker with the ucs tumbler was easily the best move they could make both for the collectors and for the business aspect – yet how does that hurt the model?). You chose to focus on the only ucs set that is affected (wouldn’t know, I haven’t built the set) and a playset- what about the other ucs models that include figs and are in no way affected by it? What harm are they doing by being there and how do they turn those sets into battlepacks? In this case, they are no longer an integral part of the model, they’re there to satisfy all types of collectors. It’s not a required piece, it’s just something extra. Why wounld’t/shouldn’t they include figs?

        Regarding functionality, that’s not what you were referring to in your initial post. You were comparing play functions to certain (moving) functions that appeal to you and trying to make a distinction. Your focus was specifically on moving parts, hence my reply.

        Now you’re broadening functionality to techniques in general (Why not just call them techniques then?) and applying my reply to your new definition? I clearly stated that moving parts are what limit the aesthetic of a model not color or part use. It’s a completely different thing.

        You’re looking at this through that model builder prism that has no interest in characters, hence I can see why you would think this way. But there’s a whole lot of builders/collectors/fans out there that are not interested in/only in models, which is why your article doesn’t apply at all to the community as a whole.

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      1. Noir, (Im similarly challenged by the respond options),

        Your statement here:

        “the presence of the minifig says something like “this is a toy, rather than something to be taken seriously as a profound work of art,” rather than conveying some sense of awe or wonder”

        hints at two underlying assumptions which may or may not be correct.

        1. “A toy rather than something to be taken seriously.” Popeye the sailor was featured in war bond advertisements asking us to help him “nip the nips”… Popeye is a cartoon and yet he is conveying a serious message (the political incorrectness is a whole ‘nuther topic…). Popeye asking for money to win WWII. Through art, the inane can gain relevance. A talking bear tells us that only we… can prevent forest fires. That being said for cartoons, is it much of a jump to the notion that toys as well can be used to convey serious messages? How many times have we seen public service messages about child abuse, featuring slow panning shots of dolls and toys while a quiet authoritative voice tells us about what we can do to prevent this blight? Toys do not equate automatically or exclusively to the realm of the superficial or entertainment.

        2. “A profound work of art” Remember, I’m only saying that minifigs can often convey emotion. The TV show, Three is Company (worst show ever!!!) was chalked full of emotion. Stupid? Yeah. Shallow? Yeah. Profound? Nope. Art? I… guess? But my observation is not necessarily linked to a MOCs profundity. All I’m saying is that minifigs can communicate emotion… not that they make a MOC look like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel! On that note, I do see that you were able to name the emotions that are implied by the minifig in the Beacon MOC. Awe and wonder. How did you choose those two emotions? Well, it’s sort of apparent right? It’s not an epic work… but the implied emotions are actually pretty clear. I bet (I’m betting because I’m damed if I actually know…) that in a random survey of non-lego builders, when asked to name the emotions they affiliate with a photo of the Beacon MOC… most would name those two emotions or very similar ones.

        The fact that another guy does it mo-bettah without any minifigs is true, but not really relevant. That massive gray job in the museum absolutely does look more like the original Suribachi photo. Not disputed. But the fact that it has been done mo-bettah without minifigs does not disprove that minifigs are often used to convey emotion. Even if I concede that its a short cut to that end (which it often is).

        I mean, yeah… clear emotional content, captured only with light, color, shapes… and no people at all? No people of any kind? Both possible and VERY cool! Very rare, but very cool!

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      2. @Rutherford – I can’t disagree with any of your points, including your seconding of Vitroleum’s “completely different in every way” comment. Toys can be used to convey emotion or make a serious statement. And I agree that much of that emotional content depends on the context in which they used. In the Defense Beacon build, because the observer can’t even see the face of the figure, it is possible to glean the emotions of the figure only because of the relative placement of the objects in the scene, and by making assumptions based on knowledge gained from having seen similar scenes in the past (e.g. the 2001 monolith). It’s possible, though, that the builder intended an entirely different emotion, e.g. fear, despair, frustration, or anger, depending on the back-story.

        I think one of your last comments hits on what bothers me about minifigs – they are an emoji-like shortcut to representing humans, from both a physical and an emotion point of view. The minifig expressions are caricatures. There isn’t much subtlety there. I know that it is possible to cite examples where a skilled builder has coaxed out a broader range of emotions, and that there is some “art” in doing so, but those cases are definitely the exceptions. Physically, it is much the same story. A minifig has two arms, two legs, and a head, so it can be used to represent a human body, but, with few exceptions, minifig bodies all have exactly the same robot-like shape, regardless even of their sex. Heck, there is more differentiation even among the highly abstracted characters of South Park. Without some mad skillz, it’s hard to avoid injecting a black cloud of “generic-ness” when placing a bunch of these “robots” in a build.

        So, can you use minifigs to make a statement? Sure. Express emotion? Yea, but you might be somewhat limited there. Demonstrate positions of the Kama Sutra? A few have tried, and it’s a stiff challenge. Are they the best way to do any of these things? Almost freakin’ never.

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      3. One last point I’d like to mention about the emotional expressive range of fig faces: I would argue that there isn’t much variance in human facial expressions and any complexities are emergent of the audience reading into what the character must be feeling based on the context. Actors are often told to look bored or expressionless and it’s actually the editing job that adds emotional punch to a scene. As builders and photographers, we are the directors and editors of the scenes we create. Some of us may not be very good at it, but that isn’t the fault of the actors.

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  11. Minifigures might not be necessary to enjoy Lego, but I think they are necessary for what Lego is. They are one of the defining attributes for the whole brand, and when it comes down to it, that is what Lego is. Now, as far as a community goes, I don’t think that minifigures are necessary. I don’t think many of you would argue with that sentiment.

    I don’t think I had really thought about it before, but as a lot of you have pointed out already, minifigs were my gateway to the community. I started out doing small builds, just having fun with it, but they were mostly focused around a few minifigs. In a sense, the figures defined the build, and I loved that. I started customizing figures, painting them, cutting them up. At some point I shifted my focus though, the model took precedence over figures. As I continued to build my focus gradually shifted to technique, form, color, and other things that made the whole model more captivating.

    Maybe this is one of the downsides to the minifigure, while being absolutely necessary to what the Lego brand is, the figure can only be taken so far creatively until the builder reaches a dead end. You could get into the realms of painting or costume parts, but the unadulterated figure only has so many options before you run out. Right now is the golden age of the minifigure, and maybe that’s because Lego has figured out that their entry point into System can captivate audiences longer if there is an overabundance of ways to customize them. I would wager that the majority of Lego’s customers never reach the point where they no longer need minifigs to define what they build.

    So as a hobbyist, It is definitely frustrating to see a potential over-interest in these figures that I consider nonessential to what I like to do, but it doesn’t surprise me that as it seems to be what Lego is focusing on.

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  12. Minifigs are tools, just like Mishka. They are nine unique pieces. Claiming that they are detrimental or helpful is like saying that cerulean blue is detrimental or helpful to seascapes. It really is a non issue. Not because it has its flaws and focus in a particular direction, but because there is an air that it takes away from flaws and focus in a desired direction.

    I hate the little mutherfuckers to be honest, but I can instantly empathize and relate to them. I am that fucking pilot maneuvering my Galaxy Explorer through an asteroid field without a goddamn chair because I have to deliver that goddamn rover to the Beta-1 Command Base. I am the minifig. Does it define me? Nope. Does it help the narrative? Absolutely. Does it take away from the larger scale builds by including them? Yup. But who gives a shit? Cartoony? Goddamn right. But no more so than the absurdly disproportionate tires that Lego insists are “normal”. And on that note, they are related. And to further that note, they are ALL related. Miniland, minifig, micro, there is always a point of reference that cannot be ignored. That nostalgic empathy IS the minifig. WE are the minifig. Help or hurt? Can’t argue either because there is no good or bad involved. They’re wonderful AND mocking AND expressive AND cartoonish AND good AND bad, which makes them none of the above (If everything’s a priority, then nothing’s a priority.)

    Are minifigs better than Miniland? No and yes. Are minifigs detracting from builds that would otherwise be better? No and yes. Are minifigs keeping us from artistically expressing ourselves? No and yes. When something is intrinsic to the success AND failure of something, it then becomes a moot point. It’s something worth ferreting out all the possible avenues as this wonderful debate has and can do, but I think in the end it will only delineate one zealot from another. And in this interlocking religion, there is no spoon. Some builds NEED minifigs, some don’t. TLG NEEDS money, we apparently don’t. Minifigs NEED a reason, they don’t. They are nine unique pieces, saying that they influence or change the industry in a good or bad way is like saying that wiring bolts together on aircraft saves lives. Yeah, I guess so, but does it really? Proof one way or another is after the fact. The Iwo Jima figbarf was posted with minifigs. Buhblammo! Sawaya’s Iwo Jima was posted without any. Buhblammo! They both sucked!!! Isolating a specific point of reference and interpretation won’t help or hurt either. That’d be like saying the original photo would have been better if there was a bitchen lens flair. And a pin-up! Okay, a pin-up helps any photo, but…

    I think the only conclusion here would be apples and oranges. But it is something worth considering in all our mocs for the effect we are aiming for. Minifigs are tools, just like Mishka.

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    1. Best line: “in the end it will only delineate one zealot from another.”

      The delineation of zealots is key! Without it, all the zealots get mixed up when its best to keep them separated. But don’t take my word for it!

      Second best line: Buhblammo! They both sucked!!!

      I lost track and thought we were talking about the last presidential election….

      Mischkas a tool… you!
      (Make the Rodan noise again!)

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  13. You know, there is a recent minifig trend that annoys me and I’m not sure if I can really pin down where my line is. It’s the sculpted heads. At some point I don’t care that it’s an official Lego product, I just don’t want a minifigure with a perfectly on-model Mickey Mouse head. Or Donald Duck. Or ET, Gizmo or Stripe, but I had to buy them before I realized it.

    I had a similar problem with Playmates’ excellent line of Simpsons figures. After going completist for the first two waves I realized that just because I like a character doesn’t mean I need a little 3D representation of Ned Flanders in my life.

    I look at that ET head and wanna like it but it doesn’t feel like real Lego even though it is. I don’t feel that way about my Jake the Dog or the Harry Potter goblins or really any of the sculpted Star Wars heads. And I realized (while writing this — catharsis!) it’s probably because they left out the “Legofication,” opting for that dogmatic level of accuracy you tend to expect from Disney. I worked with a sculptor once who made most of his money sculpting maquettes for Big D and he said they would literally bust out the calipers to check his work.

    Side issue! You’re welcome! Thought I’d throw down a little crank in deference to our author, who bravely strikes forth in the name of productive discourse.

    Tldr: my birthday’s coming up, but don’t get me a minifig of Sonic the Hedgehog.

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    1. Interesting point about the heads. I think it lends perfectly to Achintya’s argument about the detrimental nature he proposes. Those Mickey heads are such finality, there is no stud on top to continue any sort of building process. It’s a Mickey Mouse head, can’t be any more or any less. At least the standard yellow smiley can have a hat, hair, helmet, another head, and continue. It can be a fat yellow 1×1 round brick. It can essentially be texture on a building with the faces turned inward. Turned sideways to be greebles of a sort. It still adds to the notion of building that Lego promotes because it’s an element to continue with other elements. With the specific molded characters, those seem to fall in the realm of Karf’s skill set to make into something absurdly new and different; but I’m sure that even he would find it nearly impossible to make us view it as anything else. For the rest of us, it’s just a Mickey Mouse head. That seems to be counter to a system based on infinite possible combinations.

      Double on the kudos to Achintya! I think the amount of opinions here and the passion thereof really shows that the itch needed a bit of aggressive scratching. Healthy debate should not only show the other side but also strengthen your own.

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      1. I don’t really see the finality… there’s plenty of examples where the heads are used in builds. Even used a few myself. They’re not the easiest to integrate, but it’s possible and can lead to very interesting results that aren’t possible with regular bricks.

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      2. The heads do indeed have purposes beyond awfully scaled versions of human cranial units. The 787 set, for instance, used two of the heads in the tail section to help angle the rear stabilizers. It was interesting use of the parts, in my opinion. Beyond that, the heads fit inside certain diameter tires, which allows you to add custom hubcaps (such as 2×2 round dishes) for more interesting results. As it has been said before, the mini figure has brought new elements and techniques, without a doubt.

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      3. I think the finality I see is that something so specific like a Mickey Mouse head is just that and it is the end of the build. I don’t see them as completely impossible to integrate or even view as something other than its original intent, but I consider them more as the end note especially without any sort of connection point past the neck hole. They go ON builds more than IN builds. And in that respect, and knowing the author of the debate’s penchant for accuracy and functionality, it may be more a discourse on decoration versus structure. Even the rest of the pieces that make up the minifig are usually decoration/texture/greeble rather than any means of securing function or structure.

        I think in the end, it still boils down to apples and oranges. Structure is one thing, decoration is another, and both are definitely not mutually exclusive nor is one better than the other. Same goes for the entire minifig as a presence in any build. Whether it’s integral for scale, narrative, and empathy or if its dissected parts are a new technique for accuracy, texture, and decoration, sometimes the parts just equal the sum and sometimes the sum of the parts are greater than the whole.

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      4. Structure without decoration is null, even in the limited context of the article, since they go with the accuracy side of things. As for the limited connectivity, that has been around forever. The oldest minifig hair or hat fits the bill. There’s plenty of other parts like the bars that basically have no connectivity themselves, plenty of parts that can only be connected together, like the arms used in aquazone submarines and so on. And it’s all about the build requirements, the most iconic 2×2 brick can be just as redundant for a build as a mickey head.

        These are nothing special in the lego world; you’re just having a hard time going past what they represent and how accurate they are to the source model. They’re no different than the age old ghost figure, just done at a higher standard. And in the end they’re nothing more than another specialized part, something I always welcome.

        I don’t even think I need to mention scala. belville, gahlibleahdor, bionicle and other stuff they’ve done over the years to show there’s no real limitations when it comes to lego. It’s just everyone’s perspective, who considers what relevant, who likes what and so on. I’m sure there’s someone out there that rejects everything except the wooden toys as the “tr00” lego.

        In the end, we as builders only have to gain from this. It doesn’t matter if a theme was utter crap and a complete failure, because of that we have a bunch parts at disposal to use that wouldn’t be in our arsenal otherwise.

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    2. I have mixed feelings about the proliferation of sculpted heads. Mostly I like them. Greedo is one of my favorites. Greedo and Akbar! Never get enough of those heads man. I want to make a market place filled with a hundred Greedo headed people!

      But I think its because I’m not really a Star Wars fan boy. I just see them as cool alien heads. Keith tried to tell me that once you use a Star Wars head, it becomes a Star Wars MOC. Full stop. That’s the only use for many of those heads. I didn’t believe him. Saying, no way man… this Plo Kloon head is totally rad, and it’s just Plo Kloon… how many people even know this guys name? This guy looks like some kind of space vampire! Or space robot vampire! Or Space sponge head robot vampire! It will be fine…

      So I built this big dio, and it was inhabited by various alien types… to include about 7 guys with Plo Kloon heads. I had a father son team that was a Plo Kloon head on Hagrids body, holding hands with a guy who had Plo Kloons head on a Jawa body… cute right? Like a parent and a child right? Like… NOT two Jedi Knights named Plo Kloon right?

      EXCEPT WRONG! Dam kids and their vexing dogmatic world view! They aren’t ready for my genius!

      Kids kept walking up and asking “Why did you put so many Master Plo Kloons in this?” Is this Star Wars? Because um… He’s Master Plo Kloon… and so is he and he and he and him and um there is Master Plo Kloon again…” “Is Master Plo Kloon your favorite Jedi?” “Wow! Why is Master Plo Kloon everyware?” “Why is Master Plo Kloon holding Master Plo Kloons hand?” “What happened to Master Plo Kloon? Why did Master Plo Kloon shrink? Is shrinking a Jedi power ?” “You know Master Plo Kloon is just one guy, not an army right?” One kid kept tugging his mamas hand and pointing to every Plo Kloon as he spotted them… saying over and over: “And he’s Master Plo Kloon, and he’s also Master Plo Kloon, and there is another Master Plo Kloon… I wanted to yell at him: “Seven! OK? Seven Master Plo Kloons! Now go buy some Brickarms!”

      No lie, actual questions… I couldn’t make this shit up! My point is that while I like a lot of the molded heads, I also have to acknowledge that they can be a powerful distractor for your audience.

      I’m gonna build a dio full of Greedo head guys… but for many kids, it’s going to be nothing more than an odd collection of Greedos, engaged in unlikely and un-greedo like activities. Greedo Greedo Greedo…over and over.

      The burdens we bear…

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      1. As if there’s only one dude in all of Plo Koon’s species even if it was a Star Wars MOC. And I’m pretty sure I’ve spotted a few extras in the movies of Greedo’s species too. The only Star Wars heads I’d say are too iconic and culturally ingrained to see as anything else aren’t even heads; they’re helmets. Darth Vader, the classic OT Stormtrooper, and Boba Fett. Just those three. The rest are fair game to mix with Lego’s other space figs if you want a bit more realism in your sci-fi characters than Lego’s in-house themes allow.

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      2. Chris, yeah, yeah… You speak with the voice of logic. But I build to delight an audience, and sometimes that mean kids…and when they walk up and punch me right in the Kloon… it smarts. Obviously, I agree (hence my use of the Kloon Platoon) but kids? They’ll shank you man. Shank you and leave you on the Weight Room floor.

        Pascal… slap yourself! Are you sure it wasn’t the well know actor “George Plo Kloony?

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      3. That Star Wars tunnel vision can happen with anything, not just minifigs. I remember Ted had a lot of kids calling his speeder bike rally a podrace.

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      4. Oh man, not only hearing that broken record of “it’s a pod race”, but the broken-record of “why are there so many Rey’s?”. Two of the speederbike figures were wearing Rey’s desert-do-rag-with-goggles, and so it just had to be Rey wearing them. And then I had a fig with Rey’s hair-piece watching from the stands… I think some kids head’s exploded trying to process your “Zorro-with a light saber”…

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      5. That’s just the limitation of the audience, it doesn’t have anything to do with the parts. And it’s not a very good example, entertaining kids is different than entertaining the rest.

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    3. I had the exact same reaction to the Simpsons figures, I have a great affection for the show but when I looked at the minifigs they just didn’t seem “Lego” to me. Whenever I see them used in a convention I have to stop and remind myself that they are not aftermarket products or some kind of mixed-media deal. I think the only one I own is Groundskeeper Willie, because let’s face it, he’s the best of the bunch.

      I don’t mind the concept of the molded heads, there are some great ones, it’s more about the theme for me and if it makes sense in the broader sense of the product line.

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  14. Ah. I see I forgot to check this page all of yesterday. It’s a bit like calling a ceasefire in a war, only to re-engage with a lot more opponents.

    Uh, well since I doubt I’ll be able to figure out all the new arguments and stuff, I’ll leave it at this: the amount of discussion and debate, as noted by some others, really shows that when you give it thought, the mini figure is one polarizing thing. A lot of people here seem to hate the thing personally, but don’t mind it overall. As someone above said, the whole religious argument really applies here. Just like religion, no matter how full proof of an argument you have, people’s perception of the implications of the subject will rarely line up perfectly.

    At least I now know what to say and do to get people thinking…

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  15. My reply’s rather unfocused, because dang, I’m late to the commenting war. But I think, to me, the most profound issue with the ever-promoted and over-utilized minifigure in Lego’s product line is the specialization. It’s like what Matt said, certain pieces have a finality to them. A Mickey Mouse head is designed to be used as a Mickey Mouse head, which doesn’t lend itself well to Lego’s entire policy about creativity and reuse. This concept exists outside the realm of minifigure specialization, too. To give a different example, i have long been frustrated at the lack of a A280 blaster rifle, or a scale E-11 for my Star Wars MOCs. Because TLG only ever made like 3 blaster designs… or 4… Unless you count the pathetic excuses for blasters that are stud shooters. Way back when, everyone wielded megaphones in the plastic galaxy far, far away. So there has been some evolution… But not much! We are left with over-used, inaccurate pieces representing all sorts of weapons in the Star Wars universe.

    You may have noticed that I don’t post Star Wars MOCs regularly. That was my central focus in earlier days, but the Lego universe is just too broad to focus on some genre so specific. I used to build (poor-quality) dioramas of the battle of Hoth. Sets, heavily modified sets, and Battlefront 2005-based structures occupied the back of my building table, until it just became an investment not worth my time. Still, the blaster inaccuracies caused me to do some editing of my own, including chopping the stock off the back of a “blaster rifle” piece, gluing a flat rectangle cut from, I believe, a 1×1 panel brick onto that, and making a more realistic model of a A280. For the E-11, I chopped the top off an antenna, glued the nub to the side of a “blaster pistol”, cut a droid arm in half, clipped that to the nub as the fold-out stock, and glued the remainder of the “blaster rifle” to the end. It worked pretty well. Maybe I’ll post those some day. (also, I’m pretty sure that one lost its scope to an off-angled mount for Han’s DL-44…). Anyway, that’s pretty off-topic, but I know how much you all love hearing me talk about murdering Lego parts.

    My point is this: there is a specialization in the Lego product line that can be seen across all genres, though perhaps more strongly in minifigures than in other areas. My desire for accurate blasters suggests, to me, that there is some good use to the specialization. But more often than not, insofar as MY contribution to the AFOL community goes, I hardly need or want specialized pieces for my MOCs. But I could care less whether they exist or not. If a brand new specialized piece gives me a single moment of delighted wonder at its bold use in Karf’s latest build, I will thank TLG for designing a new mould. But these specialized pieces don’t really fit my contributions to the hobby. I prefer to build bigger, or smaller, and minifigures are tools I sometimes, but rarely, turn to. In summary, I am pretty much in the middle on this debate, but probably closer to the “does not apply” option. I just could care less if they get more specialized or not. If I want something incredibly specific or extremely vague, Bricklink has my back.

    I think my recently-concluded round of ABS Builder Challenge illustrates my building style well. I used Minifigs in 2 MOCs (technically), with the other MOC using a minfig as a real-life object. It was a still-life model, and I threw the figure in as a Lego reference, but moreover as a balloon weight, and I don’t think it quite worked. But my other two uses, as a silhouetted figure being abducted and as a dude holding a travel brochure, worked perfectly, in my opinion. I really don’t want figs any more specialization than that, which is why I’m pretty happy spending my dollars on bricks, rather than people.

    However, I am delighted by the little people and they must stay. David Roberts’ photostream is reason enough for that opinion.

    To see my lovely modified blasters (I’ve never given money to Brickarms, and I dislike customs for the most part), follow this link: https://flic.kr/p/W8TDom

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