Constructive Criticism: Gil Shaw in the 25th Century

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

Today’s volunteer victim on the rotisserie spit is constant reader and friend of the blog Toradoch (a.k.a. Gil Shaw).  You may remember him from such interesting and popular builds as: Tomahawk MkII, Space Police HQ and the critically acclaimed IP 3000 Hover Response Team.  While I typically review a designated builder’s most recent effort, Gil specifically requested that I apply my critical scalpel to an older model, Ice Base Gamma, from the fall of 2008.  It should be obvious by now that the diorama is my drug of choice, so I was motivated to dive head-first into this deceptively intricate layout.  It may look at first blush like a typical LUGNET.space era offering but there is more here than meets the eye and I hope to convince you that I’m not writing this critique while under that most dangerous of influences…nostalgia.  So get small with me, constant reader and let’s talk about the “Ice Base Gamma“, what went right, what went wrong and which celebrities most closely resemble the builder.

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I like to think that my ability to appreciate and critique Lego models has developed over the years and one thing I’ve learned to admire is playability.  When I first started building and posting I thought playability was for “losers and Canadians” as I once exclaimed on LUGNET to the delight of the crowd.  Although I do enjoy a good swoosh from time to time (I have a soul after all) and I like to push cars round dioramas I was never one for interiors.  I resented the added layer of difficulty and cursed the unfortunate proportions of the minifigs that fucked with scale by turning a mighty-starships into a modest WW2 era diesel submarines.  I also didn’t have kids back then and now that I do have a couple, I find  that  get a lot more enjoyment out of the inside of a model.  All of that is a long way of saying that I love how Gil put just as much (if not more) care and thought into the interior of this mode than the exterior.  The buildings have working doors and coffee machines (a classic of the genre) and science stations and fork-lifts and air tanks and all manner of objects for the minifig employees to interact with.  The moving elevator is the kind of working detail I always want to include but never do and refueling station is the good kind of boilerplate.  This base reminds me of a Lego set in the best possible way.  As I kid I would have killed for something like this and it would have provided hours of play.  And as we know, playtime really is funtime.

Hand in hand with the idea of playability, some of my favorite dioramas are one that convey a process or chain of events.  In this case I love how Gil shows how a cargo container is brought in on a ship, unloaded with a futuristic forklift and placed inside the building in a storage bay.  It’s not glamorous or violent or sexy in a conventional sense but it’s a great way of showing off the features of the diorama in a way that makes logical sense.  I wish more builders would consider this kind of approach, I find it to be much more engaging when looking through dozens of photos and it forces you to catch details that might otherwise be lost.  Since this paragraph is a little terse I’ll also throw in some love for the buildings here.  This isn’t the time or place (a frozen hell-hole) to be getting clever with fancy architecture or overbuilt, byzantine art installations, this is a place where utility is king.  Gil manages to respect that notion while simultaneously giving the viewer something interesting to look at.  I love the gently sloping shape and the dimple roofing.  It would have been easy to do too much here and I admire Gil’s restraint.

I also enjoyed two of the three vehicles, the land rover and the little VTOL fighter.  While Gil may be a crony of the highest order, I’m not going to sit here in my avocado-colored barcalounger and try to convince you these are state-of-the-art, Nick-Trotta obsessive builds, because obviously they are not.  This is mostly studs-up construction with a very conservative approach to the building, but it’s also almost a decade old and I think it’s important to keep that in mind while looking at them.  I may be rightfully accuse of having my nostalgic glasses on here but when I hit the scene this style was the big noise and part of me will always think it’s cool.  The use of a consistent color scheme on all three vehicles is great and really ties into the building well, they look like they belong to the same company/organization that operates the base.  The little fighter is delightful and I would very much enjoy a good low swoosh over the rooftops, and I also really dig the tie-downs Gil uses on the pad to protect it from the harsh arctic winds.  The turned-down wingtips and the double tails are a classic look, well executed on a small model.  The ground-vehicle is fun too, I like the offset cab, fat tires and ambiguous techno-thingies in the back.  I think Gil might have missed an opportunity to have the hauler capable of carrying the previously mentioned blue container, like he did with his classic Kyphon Cargo Outpost, but it doesn’t diminish my appreciation of the model.  You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time out of the gate and I think these vehicles are a nice accent to the project and provide value without overwhelming the model or fucking with the scale.

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I feel compelled to admit that I never have understood the appeal or utility of the beloved, classic Crater Plate from 1979.  Although I’ve managed to accumulate a half-dozen of them over the years I find them surprisingly difficult to use and I can’t recall seeing a single model over the years that used them effectively or memorably.  Because of their regularity even using them for microscale has limited appeal. In this particular case I find that they manage to clash in terms of scale and style when compared to the brick-built rock formation that forms the foundation of the large landing pad.  The shape of the crater plates are just unlike anything else LEGO manufactures and I find their presence here jarring although Gil did a nice job socking them in with angled plates.  I’m not really a fan of the scratch-built topography either, the technique is your typical rock-vomit boilerplate…competently built, but there just isn’t enough of it to make it seem natural to the environment.  It looks like an odd hollow fence made out of rocks.  Perhaps if the entire base was on a hilltop constructed with the same technique I’d like it better, it might allow for some interesting elevation changes and separate levels of action, but as it stands  the combination of the molded crater plates and the sloping rock leaves me colder than a pimp’s heart.

I’m not a big fan of the cargo ship on the large landing pad, which is a bummer because it feels like the most important of the group.  From the jump it doesn’t jibe with my somewhat arbitrary idea of what I think a cargo ship should look like.  This thinkg looks more like a scout ship or a fighter or some kind of pleasure-craft, it’s almost too pretty to be a cargo hauler.  If it were pretty…which it’s not.  Where the other vehicles come across as clean if perhaps spartan in design, this one appears low-resolution and simplistic.  Specifically the relatively large expanse of studs on the red plates of the wings draws my eye in a bad way.  I don’t mind an exposed stud or two and Gil manages to capture that magic and elusive ratio of studs to smooth on the other two vehicles just fine.  I also don’t like the way the blue cargo module sticks so far off the back unprotected.  It looks back-heavy like it might topple the ship in inclement weather or easily come dislodged.  The shape recalls the kick ass Raptor from the Battlestar Galactica reboot, but it seems underdeveloped here like it needed another nose-to-engine layer of detail.  It also reminds me of an official Lego set in it’s sort of generic, in the box thinking.  What the diorama needed was AC/DC to play on it’s biggest landing pad, not Dokken.  To wrap it up, the wings are too stubby, the engines are too small and the canopy is too easy.  You might say I question this ships very heritage.

This falls pretty obviously in the realm of the nit-picky, but the secondary landing pad, for the vehicle that I do like, is way too close to the building.  I understand that in the future the technology in these crazy machines will allow for more precision landings that are possible now, but man there is exactly zero margin for error here.  Once wrong move and an inexperienced pilot could take out a quarter of the base.  This place is supposed to be situated on the windswept, ice-encrusted frontier right?  Why would your risk all the effort it took to establish the base with a such a dangerous landing pad?  To make matters worse, the surface isn’t even flat, the pilot has to put that bitch down in what amounts to a cradle.  Yes I fully realize nobody cares about that kind of stuff, and it’s the future so anything goes, but a little separation might have been nice, and a larger surface area on the pad for minifigs to get into shenanigans.

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I’m not going to knock Old Gil for his presentation techniques for the long-shots of the base, I’m not here to offer constructive criticism on anything except the build itself.  Not everyone has the time/bricks/mental instability to have a Lego-pure image, and not everyone has the time/skill/motivation to Photoshop their stuff either.  With the irregular shape I imagine it would be a bit of a nightmare to process for anyone that didn’t like the process of photo-editing to begin with.  So I don’t hold any of that against the builder, although I think it is incumbent upon me to mention the chains…they brings an unexpected BDSM vibe to the model that you just don’t see every day.  I was tempted to chastise Gil to keep his fetishes to himself but I’m always going on about mecha-feet so that seemed hypocritical.  What I will recommend to Gil or anyone else who is challenged by presenting a large diorama is to photograph the model against a painted wall.  I know not everyone has that luxury or circumstance but the technique served me well over the years, because bed sheets or paper always look distracting.  No matter how well you iron the sheets there are folds and wrinkles and it’ difficult to find a single sheet of paper in the right size and even then it can develop little dimples or scratches that are distracting.  For some idiotic reason that still escapes me I started off with a color called Stinger Yellow, but I think the Gunsmoke Blue I switched to later looked much better.  The current specifics of my Legoratory don’t allow for me to use this technique any longer, and it’s a shame because it’s low-cost, low-tech and usually yields good results.

One more thing…whenever I think of this long-time crony, my thoughts often turn to TV’s Gil Gerard and Robert Shaw, because Gil Shaw is like a hybrid of these two master thespians.  He possesses the luxurious chest hair and fashion swagger of Gil Gerard, paired with the understated gravitas and barely restrained violence of Robert Shaw.

So the bottom line is that I dig this retro-space base and I’d love to spend an hour with a beer and some minifigs to really explore it’s nooks and crannies.

I will close with this boilerplate reminder…if you’d like to have one of your models get the (good/bad/whatever) treatment, just sign up in the comments below.  I have a builder slated for the next edition of Constructive Criticism, but the subsequent slots are wide open.

Constructive Criticism: Mecha-Marco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Constructive Criticism: Oh..that Juan.

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

Today’s volunteer victim on the rotisserie spit is constant reader and friend of the blog [thatjuan], you may remember him from such interesting and popular builds as:Bell-Boeing MV-22B Osprey, my personal favorite the CH-53E Super Stallion and the Fairchild Republic A-10C “Warthog”. Normally I select the builder’s latest model for critique but since [thatjuan] requested a specific aircraft from April of this year, we will instead be focusing on the Edgley EA-7 Optica.  You can find some great images of the plane in this gallery, to inform your opinion on both the model and my opinion of the model.  I’m going try to make the case that the Lego version looks good, but ultimately falls short of it’s intended goal.  So let’s talk about the “Edgley EA-7 Optica “, what went right, what went wrong and my enduring compulsion to put a wooden stake through the heart of Tommy Cruise.  It’s the only way to be sure.

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I give the builder kudos for choosing an offbeat subject to replicate, this isn’t a P-51 Mustang or an F-16 .  As [thatjuan] mentions in his description, the Optica was a relatively obscure surveillance plane (just 22 Opticas manufactured), which isn’t exactly a conventional choice for a model.  This model seems to be the only one attempted in Lego, and that’s saying something in an age where it increasingly seems like everything has been built at least twice.  The basic proportions and profile of the aircraft seem to be spot on, and the most critical goal has been achieved: it looks like the Optica.

The highlight of the build is the tail section, this is where the builder really excels in replicating the Optica design, with a nice mix of techniques. From the cylindrical tail booms to the  twin fins, the tail is both eye-catching and accurate.  My only suggestion for improvement would be to use profile bricks on the rudders.  In the photos the rudders have small horizontal ridges that seem easy to achieve by swapping out the 1×3 bricks for some profile bricks and 1×1 bricks.  Obviously the elevator is constructed with plates so the same trick wouldn’t work there.  nitpick aside, the tail is iconic and really well done.

The landing landing-gear are simple but effective, I dig the economy of parts. Sometimes builders try to overcomplicate landing gear, so it’s nice to see them done in a way that blends in to the rest of the aircraft.  The size is on target and they are placed right  where they should be.  It’s a small detail, but the wrong landing gear can really jack up an otherwise fine model.

Unrelated to the bricks, I have to give the builder props for choosing a great background color.  I’m so sick of the retina-burning, digital white-outs that the soft yellow was a welcome reprieve.  The photo quality is also pretty good and all the angles are covered without overkill.

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From the point of conception, this model was destined to succeed or fail based on the canopy.  While I’m not calling it a failure by any means, the crew cabin doesn’t really work for me.   I know the builder is capable of great brick-built canopies, so it was a little disappointing to see this one.  When you zoom in on the profile, there are gaps between the transparent elements that are distracting and the radar dish on top especially bad, like it hangs suspended over the cockpit rather than integrated.  The assembly works very well from the front, where everything looks seamless and the white round plates on the side work best to give the illusion of a frame round the glass. My biggest objection to the canopy is the rear portion with the 1×1 trans-black tiles.  I know they are supposed to represent windows but that section looks like it’s behind the cockpit and into the beginning of the engine.  I think it’s the octagonal-bar piece that throws me off, it seems like it’s the transition between engine and canopy, not a place where someone would potentially sit and look out the window.

On the issue of scale, the real aircraft can accommodate 3 people and the Lego version only one. To make this work, [that juan] would have to increase the size of the entire aircraft and that presents another set of challenges due to the odd proportion of the minifig, but when you’re trying to replicate a real-world design I think you’ve got to give it a try.  I also kind of wished there was a camera and/or a light on the nose to drive home the notion of surveillance.

The wings are simple but have a nice shape to them, although I wonder if they should be a bit wider.  The real-world Optima has wings that are roughly the same width as the engine, but that is not the case with the Lego model.  The builder widens the wing right before it transitions to the engine, where it should be a consistent width.  The transition is a little rough too, all of a sudden the wing gets thicker and wider.  This isn’t a deal-breaker but it is noticeable enough to mention.

Unlike the real aircraft, the engine assembly is basically an extension of the cockpit and I didn’t like the lack of separation.  The actual housing for the 5 blade ducted fan is so smooth and round that anything less than a smooth interpretation seems inadequate.  While I appreciate the builder going for a brick-built solution, rather than a one-piece-wonder, I don’t think this radial treatment is the right technique.  [thatjuan] might have come closer to the original design by just using curved slopes in a more traditional manner to mimic the shape.  The engine also seems to be a bit too small, it should be at least as big as the cockpit and perhaps a tiny big bigger.

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The weird thing is, if the builder had simply slapped a different name on the model and I didn’t have photos of the real-deal to compare it to, I probably would have liked it better.  I’m not sure what that says about me, but some of my complaints about the design would vanish pretty quickly, or rather never form to begin with. The subject matter was an admirably challenging one, I doubt I could do any better trying to brick-build that cockpit, it’s a bear of a design.  So the bottom line is that I dig the Optica, but it’s a near miss.

The Optica also reminded me of the Bubbleship from Oblivion….which is awesome and so are the rest of the futuristic designs in the film….but it also reminds me of Tommy Cruise, who is not awesome.  I don’t think there is a more overrated actor in my generation and that’s saying a lot.  Tom Cruise always plays Tom Cruise, the smarmy frat-boy who looks like he’s got beer-bongs and date rape on his mind, even when he plays a secret agent or a white samurai.  Tommy owns one of the most punchable faces in Hollywood, a face that hasn’t changed a bit in over 10 years.  He also managed to start the trend of foppish vampires and also screw up the near perfect record of Stanley Kubrik.  Have you ever met a person who liked the movie Cocktail, who wasn’t an idiot?  I started an active boycott of Tommy’s work after sitting through the War of the Worlds remake, that film was like sandpaper for the soul and I kept waiting for Cruise to stop mid-dialogue and try to sell me something I didn’t need.

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

Constructive Criticism:”Don’t believe in Goldman, his type like a curse. Instant karma’s gonna get him, if I don’t get him first”

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s regular feature where I provide a builder with some feedback that is hopefully both entertaining and helpful.  The format is simple: a reader submits a MOC for evaluation, I come up with at least one good thing about it, at least one bad thing and one random observation that falls outside the first two categories. Today’s volunteer victim on the rotisserie spit is…me.  As promised, since nobody signed up in the comment section of last week’s edition, I will critique my own work.

My name is Keith Goldman (formerly Don Quixote 2×4), you may remember me from such popular models as: Logan’s Run, The Dragon Wall and my most popular model of all time with over 70 thousand views… HUB-14 Swag: part 1.  As per standard operating procedures in this column, I will be reviewing my latest model from June of this year, A Bus Stop in Bucharest.  The diorama took me six months to build and it’s my first build of any kind in over a year.  The layout is 4ft x 8ft (the size of my table) and it is the 5th time I’ve covered the entire build surface, the time I went for it was 2014’s critically panned Spirit’s Rise.  Although Bucharest was not conceived as a convention model, it turned into one about 2/3rds of the way through the building process.  The diorama was a collaborative effort and it eventually displayed at the BrickSlopes fan event in Orem Utah, where it took home a handful of trophies.  It should be noted that none of the vehicles are mine, as usual I don’t have the patience or energy to fill these bloated dioramas so I recruited 12 studs and one idiot (Rutherford) to help me breathe life into the dull gray landscape.  Instead we’ll be examining the stage, which is entirely my contribution, and not the actors.  So let’s talk about “A Bus Stop in Bucharest“, what went right, what went wrong and the ghost of an old diorama.

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If I had to point to one single detail that went really well, it would be the transition where the curved towers emerge from the arches built into the slanted wall.  It’s an easy technique, a cheap technique even, but it works perfectly.  When I paired it with the staircases that cut into those slanted walls, it made for a background that was visually interesting but not so complex that it distracted from the vehicles.  When you have so many smaller, colorful, amazing subjects, the background benefits by being a little less detailed.  As I’ve said before, I’m a big believer that the eye needs a place to rest and the bigger the project gets the more I find it to be true.  That single transition from tower to wall makes the whole thing work, and I’m very pleased with the effect.

Bucharest started with the islands in the street, with the canopy-built overhang for the seats.  At that point I had no idea what I direction I was going to take the project, how big it would be or anything beyond, but it all came out of that relatively small section and I’d put that in the ‘good’ column.  Again, the curb technique isn’t reinventing the wheel, but sometimes the simplest answers are the best.  The sloping ramps were intended for wheelchairs that never made it into the final staging, but I was really proud of them at the time and I think the almost mundane simplicity of it will look good for years to come.

In a more general sense, I did a pretty good job providing platforms for action to take place on multiple levels, which I regard as one of the keys to building large-scale dioramas.  I have street-level, bridge-level, train-level and roof-level, with a couple of spots in between that don’t fall into easily labeled categories.  Each terrace had a specific function that allowed different elements to shine: the trucks, minifigs, aircraft, trains, etc.  All of them were well-integrated and didn’t seem tacked on and they were all pretty unique in terms of style, while still being tied together as a whole with certain common design elements like the blue chairs on both the main road and the roof.

Lastly, I think I did a good job with the spectacle of minifig action.  The crowd scene looks great and I think I came up with just enough interesting vignettes to maintain interest without it becoming overkill.  My favorite of these minifig driven setups Simon’s garbage truck running over the dog.  I love dogs, but let’s face it all the best dogs in books and movies get killed, usually in gut wrenching fashion, and I wanted to insert that notion into the model.  The setting is so vast, and a scene like that really takes it down to the “human” level. So I give myself high marks for set-dressing with the minifigs.

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Speaking of levels, Cole Blaq challenged me very early in the process to create a subterranean level that might hold a parking garage or visible infrastructure of some kind.  He envisioned the road ramping downward, with exposed pipes and a HAZMAT spill that would have looked much better with his rig.  At the time I was just far enough along in the process that I didn’t want to take a big step backward to re-work the foundation of the project, and I wasn’t sure I had the resources to create a sub-level and still achieve my other big-picture goals.  In retrospect, I think it was a bad decision and I should have taken his advice and gone the more difficult path.  I think it would have added some much-needed interest to the flat road layout and it would have allowed his central contribution to shine even more than it did.  I think iso would have helped with comparisons to Highway 44, but whatever, we’ll talk about that later.

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Although it’s a relatively small detail when you consider the scope of Bucharest, I definitely dropped the ball with the light-posts.  Although they were one of the first details I worked on, I tinkered with the design during the entire six months of the project and I still wasn’t satisfied at the end.  I tried endless variants but either it looked worse, or it was too prone to sagging, or a number of other issues.  I don’t think they really match the surroundings, they look like they belong in another diorama entirely.  They are basic and chunky, like a mall-girl from the 80’s.  I originally envisioned them with a lot of stuff attached to them like signs and little pieces of technology, like you see in Japan for example, but because of the round bricks I just wasn’t satisfied with any of the attachment points.  In retrospect I wish I’d used rubber bands and figured out a way to make them more interesting…or just ditched the round bricks.  Also, for constructs of that size, I should have at least tried to work in some functioning lights.  I would expand this criticism to include my decision not to make some kind of futuristic stoplight or large-scale road sign or billboard.  sometimes I get really lazy when the fine details matter the most, and I think I could have done a little better with the set-dressing on this one.  A 10 year old could have designed better lights.

The bridge to nowhere on the extreme right hand side of the scene is the single biggest thing that bugs me about the diorama, when I step back and examine the thing as a whole.  I should have figured out a way to have something more satisfying in the foreground for it to connect to, like a tower or a platform…something.  Just having it end looks unfinished and sort of sloppy.  The design itself is fine, but it was supposed to be just one part of a large side-wall that would merge with the eye-block that runs the length of the project.  The intent was to create a corner that would allow me a wider range of camera angles without non-Lego elements in the background.  Ultimately I ran out of gray brick and I was forced to reduce the side wall to just the bridge.  It wasn’t ideal, but on projects the size of Bucharest there are always compromises to be suffered, especially when the deadline of a convention is involved.

I wish I could have a re-do on the train station.  At that point of the process it was the frantic last few weeks where it seems like every sub-section of the project still had a serious issue to deal with.  I’ve got the ticket kiosks, and they are ok…and the chairs are a nice echo of the chairs on street level, but the whole stretch just lacks panache.  It’s just “ok”, and that’s not good enough when you have aspirations to do your best work.  There is utilitarian, and then there is boring, and the train station is boring.  I was fortunate that Rutherford’s bizarro-triangle-trains were there to distract from the mediocrity.

And finally, a gripe about the presentation side of things.  I posted way too many photos and I diluted the impact of the project, which is a shame for all the talent involved.  Less is more sometimes and I was so proud of the project after a year layoff that I went overboard.  None of the photos did particularly well in terms of metrics, although the 89 shots have racked up over 100k views combined.  It was the lack of comments that put me off, and I think it was directly related to the number and quality of the photos.  I also dropped the ball with the photos in general.  I kind of resent the fact that to be seen as a good builder, you have to be a good photographer too because one doesn’t have anything to do with the other.  Photography has always disinterested me, I find it to be a tedious and difficult skill to master and I’ve got no Photoshop skills either.  So this year I decided to use my “smart” phone for the first time and the results were mixed to say the least.  On the one hand, it saved me a lot of time and effort, it was much easier than using a camera and some of the photos are good, but I’m not thrilled with the focus and lighting on many of the shots.  The biggest fail was not getting a good pullback shot that showed the model in its entirety.  Some of that was because I have an extreme aversion to having non-Lego elements in the photos (and that requires serious cropping), but some of it was just that I could not get a good pullback shot to save my life. Having the deadline of the convention didn’t help matters either, it didn’t give me much time to experiment before I had to get it ready for transport.

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throughout the process of building Bucharest, I was obsessing over an older project that would not let me rest.  2008’s Zero Hour on Highway 44 is one of my favorite builds and as soon as I committed to building another 8 feet of roadway I couldn’t stop comparing the two and often unfavorably.  I was determined to make them sufficiently different from each other but I’m not sure I succeeded, I’d be very interested to get your take on this issue in the comments, constant reader.  In the end I tried to embrace the similarities and I’m determined to create the third in the series, with a new cast of characters in the next few years.  This feels like a road trilogy to me, although promise not to split the final installment into separate projects like the current trend in Hollywood.

We’ll conclude with the song quoted in the title.  When he sings about “Goldman”, Bono is referencing an author who wrote an unflattering biography about his hero John Lennon.  Apparently Bono didn’t like reading about Lennon occasionally feeling the need to beat his wives.  How often do you hear your last name in a song though…it’s kind of cool, and I dig the thought of Bono trying to “get me first”.  Who wouldn’t love a chance to kick Bono’s ass?  Even if I lost the fight it would make for a great story.

Just a reminder, if you’d like to have one of your models get the (good/bad/whatever) treatment, just sign up in the comments below.

Constructive Criticism: Get out the stick, it’s time to Lindbo

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s regular feature where I provide a builder with some feedback that is hopefully both entertaining and helpful.  The format is simple: a reader submits a MOC for evaluation, I come up with at least one good thing about it, at least one bad thing and one random observation that falls outside the first two categories. Today’s volunteer victim on the rotisserie spit is Duncan Lindbo (AKA donuts_ftw) you may remember him from such interesting and popular builds as: Necron Tesseract Vault (my personal favorite), Reaction Core Blue and Dracomech Cerulean.  Duncan’s most recent model, entitle “C-Space Zero G worker” is the subject of our conversation.  I would never have selected this build for the old format of this criticism series, because although it’s clearly well-built, it didn’t do much for me when I saw it posted to the big Lego group on Flickr.  It wasn’t bad enough to need much help, but it wasn’t good enough to capture my attention either.  Although mecha is Duncan’s go-to theme, I actually find his non-mecha work far more inspiring, but it is my policy to review the builder’s latest work.  So let’s talk about “C-Space Zero G worker“, what went right, what went wrong and my enduring dislike of all things Classic Space.

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The concept of a maintenance or construction robot designed to operate in a zero-g environment is a tried and true winner and has motivated many builders over the years.  You can tell this isn’t Duncan’s firs mecha right away, it’s constructed very deliberately, with good technique and a high degree of polish.  The basic proportions are good and although you’ll read my impression of the color scheme later, it is blocked very effectively: gray for skeleton, blue for the armored sections and a few highlights.

My favorite detail is the extended shoulders, I like the way the comparatively delicate maneuvering thrusters are positioned out and away from the body and I really like the part-selection for the red and green caution lights.  Even though they are huge and might easily be broken in a construction type environment, the red and green lights look great and catch my eye every time I look at the mech.  The long arms are well done and a builder really can’t go wrong with magnets, so it was really nice to see that extra pair of extending arms that deploy them.  I can imagine the magnets making a satisfying noise as they contact with the metal hull of a starship, holding the robot in place while he welds.

Mecha, for better or worse, tend to be judged by their articulation, which is kind of unique to that genre of building.  The flexibility of the worker robot worker is pretty good, a function of the ball and socket frame that allows it to kneel and bend it’s arms at the elbow. I kind of wish there was some articulation at the head and waste (they don’t seem to be able to turn or bend), but overall it gets good marks for articulation.

Although the head looks kind of standard, undersized fare at first, it rewards a close inspection.  The use of the Nexo Knight shield is inspired and I’m not sure I’ve seen those blue crowbars used as antenna before.  Both instances of NPU are very well integrated into the design and don’t seemed tacked on just for the sake of NPU.

I’d like to finish this section with a word of praise for the builder’s presentation skill, I really  like the photo with some of the blue sections removed to reveal the exposed frame.  The photo quality is pretty good and there ar the right number of photos to show off the model without overkill.

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Even though the concept is solid, I’ve got an issue with the basic form, right out of the gate.  I don’t think a bipedal humanoid shape makes sense in a zero-g environment.  I think you’d want something with more arms and without the clumsy leg appendages.  I can sort of understand it if there is a human operator and the interface makes it more efficient to design it that way, but otherwise it looks kind of odd, like the maintenance robot might suddenly start kung-fu fighting at any moment.  The human form may be the most boring, boilerplate choice for a mech design.  Why do you need feet in outer space?  There have been so many great designs produced over the years that if you’re going with a biped you better do something to make it special and stand out.
Speaking of feet, constant readers of the Manifesto are quite familiar with my mecha foot-fetish, it is the feature by which I determine the quality of giant robots and mecha.  In short, can’t abide these feet, there is nothing remotely sexy about them.  They are simultaneous fat and blocky in the heel, with what appear to be wheels stuck on the sides.  I don’t know why such a device would need wheels in outer space, but maybe it like’s to zoom around on the outside of big starships?  If they are not wheels, then I’m even more perplexed, they look like something that would cause the robot to stumble and constantly bang into things.   The mono-toe isn’t any better, it is attached by a fragile looking, exposed hinge that looks like it would snap off at the first sign of stress or stop working when debris fell into it’s mechanism.  These shoes are neither sexy, nor practical and they would cause the robot great shame when they were hanging out in the bar after work.

There are very specific choices that bug me, like the use of those triangular flags on the chest, they look like they would inhibit the arms and just seem superfluous.  Interesting parts use aside, I’m not a fan of the blocky little head either, with it’s trans-yellow beak and pointy ears.  My final specific complain resides in the chest, where that center cheese-grater and dark blue tile just disrupts the flow too much.  When you have a complicated design you have to give the eye somewhere to rest amdist the chaos and the chest would have been a good spot for a smooth expanse.  Also, any time you’ve got two studs on the chest-plate like that, it draws the inevitable comparison to nipples.  Maybe that’s what the builder wanted, but to me it just looks silly and distracting like nipples on the Bat-suit.

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I think I would have enjoyed this model more if it were not decked out in Classic Space livery.  When you use those colors and call it that name, you conjures images of official sets and a very specific design esthetic.  This giant robot could never exist in the same universe alongside the sacred, never to be mocked #497 Galaxy Explorer, the pretend-technology is different, the style is different…it just doesn’t work for me.  If Duncan had tweaked the color scheme just a little, I think it would have made a big improvement, maybe more yellow would work since it’s supposed to be a high-visibility working robot.  As you know, safety is no accident and the Classic Space thing is just a distractor from what is otherwise a pretty cool robot.

So, Classic Space enthusiasts, this is your guy?  Benny?  This is your guy….it says everything you need to know about a very specific segment of Spacers.  Benny is the ultimate broken toy, a special-needs cosplayer who is destined to take up residence on the Island of misfit toys.  He’s the Lego equivalent of the choo-choo-train with square wheels.

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Just a reminder, if you’d like to have one of your models get the (good/bad/whatever) treatment, just sign up in the comments below.

 

Constructive Criticism: The Devil is in Z Details.

For those of you not familiar with the series, Constructive Criticism focuses on builders that usually reside just outside the spotlight’s glare of the big blogs or right on the border.  There is no escaping the inherent arrogance of the notion, but these are builders who I think need to be pushed and encouraged to take the next step with their models.  Many of them already have a nice Flickr following and it should be noted that my advice is entirely unsolicited. I’m also going to offer my usual disclaimer that I’m a fan of the builder’s work and in no way is this article meant to be mean-spirited.

This could potentially be the last edition of the series because effective after this post, I will no longer be selecting builds to opine about, a builder must request an evaluation in the comment section.  Although the majority of people whose work I have reviewed up to this point have reacted positively, I’d feel better about the process if the victim was self selected.  I will also be switching to a standardized (Good/Bad/Whatever) format that I had luck with in the past, on a long-dead MOCpages group called “Ask Keith“.  The format is simple: a reader submits a MOC for evaluation, I come up with at least one good thing about it, at least one bad thing and one observation that falls outside the first two categories, that is more often than not a non sequitur.

Today’s victim on the rotisserie spit is Sebastian-Z, you may remember him from such popular and outstanding builds as: Modern House 4, Lego Music Teacher’s Town House and Illuminated Bar.  Sebastian’s most recent model, entitled “Cheeseburger in Paradise – Salad in Hell” is like a fast-food cheeseburger, it smells good and the first couple of bites are ok, but the buyer’s remorse sets in before you’re done.  While I didn’t pay one thin dime for the opportunity to view “Cheeseburger“, I still feel disappointed and I want my money back.  So let’s talk about what went right, what went wrong and the smooth jazz stylings of multi-platinum selling artist, Kenny G.

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Straight out of the gate, the concept is a winner: paradise is a cheeseburger, hell is a salad.  Unless you’re a vegan or an anarchist, it’s a universally accepted axiom.  Anyone who has ever been on a diet can certainly can certainly vouch for the truth in the imagery.  So we’re off to a good start!  Heaven’s gate is pretty nice and definitely iconic, it establishes the location right off the bat.  The phrase “simple but effective” comes to mind, not everything has to be the wheel reinvented.  The gold wings are a nice touch too and it’s great to see them echoed as bat-wings on the gates of hell.  The sculpting of the cloud-base is effective and although I thought the street light was an odd choice, it somehow works.

What I really appreciate was the builder’s decision to use a kitten as an incarnation of old scratch.  Kittens can of course be satanic in their own way, but in general it is just so much more interesting than choosing the official Lego devil, a custom-fig or some kind, or a potentially overwhelming brick-built design. The devil isn’t supposed to be the focus here but the builder manages to get some comedic mileage out of him anyway.  I laughed, so mission accomplished there.  I have to say that even though he features prominently in the next section, the Kenny G minifig is spot-on and is instantly recognizable from a great distance.

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Right off the bat, the cheeseburger doesn’t have any cheese.  I see a burger, lettuce and mustard, but where is the classic corner of cheese hanging out the side?  Come on man, it’s not enough to use a Lego-designed “official” burger.  I think the plate was a bad choice too, you can’t see the bottom of the burger.

It seems to me that if you’re going to have Kenny G and his sax serenading you in hell, then you should have a corresponding musician for heaven.  I know there is an angel singing but I guess I’d be happier about it if she had a harp.  Jimmy Buffett maybe?  Since he inspires the model maybe he’d work, but Kenny G is more likely to get through the pearly gates than Buffet.  Elvis maybe? mariachi? When you get down to it, Kenny is just a bad choice, sure his music is sleep-inducing, but is that such a bad thing?  Millions of people have trouble falling asleep at night so really he’s a nice, less expensive alternative to sleeping pills.  Also, I bet Kenny has helped a bunch of old people get it on with a little red wine and a spliff, which is surely not a bad thing.  Ultimately his music is forgettably smooth but it actually performs a service in this grim world.  To me, this classic version of heaven is where you’d find Kenny G, as you drift away eating your cheeseburger on a cloud.  On the topic of music, both of the black demon statues should have guitars, having only one makes my OCD tingle.

I think it would have been more effective to use the same minifig for the main character in each scene, to better illustrate the contrast.  One version with a happy face and one with a sad face.  Right now, the guy in heaven looks like he’s sleep deprived or addicted to drugs and the guy in hell looks like that were-rat from Harry Potter, and it’s distracting.

As for hell…it looks like a bad stage set up for an 80’s heavy metal band.  What are those red sections on the side of the gates, some kind of blood-cloud?  A blood lake?  I’m not sure what’s going on there but it’s distracting.  I’m very rarely a fan of skeletons, they just immediately turn everything into a Scooby Doo cartoon and they look strange here with chains attached to the bottoms of their feet.  They don’t look like manacles, they just look weird.  I have to mention the salad too, it doesn’t really look like a salad, it needs a good deal more greenery to get the notion across.  If ‘salad‘ wasn’t in the title, I doubt I would have made the right connection.  Perhaps a more Satanic salad would have worked? Worms, weird plants? hands?  Eyes?   I guess the fundamental idea of a salad being hellish is the problem.  Sure I’d rather have a cheeseburger but salads are awesome too.  I might have gone with kimchi…sure it’s harder to depict in Lego but it always makes me wretch.  I had a Korean buddy in college and I had to choke that stuff down on social occasions with his buddies and his family.  Hell is kimchi.

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I’d like to see more of this type of model, for lack of a better term the “two sides of the same coin” style.  Elspeth De Montes has an entire series in the same general style called “Then & Now” that  you’ve probably seen on Flickr and elsewhere.  Contrasting scenes, polar opposites, I’m not sure which name best suits the style but I dig it and I want to see more.  I hope Sebastian-Z takes another shot at this type of presentation, but applies more of the exacting detail he uses in his home interiors.

So that’s the new format and the new selection policy.  If you’d like to have one of your models get the (good/bad/whatever) treatment, just sign up in the comments below.

Oh, and if you doubt if Kenny G is gangsta, check out the video evidence.

Constructive Criticism: Zambito Bandito

For those of you not familiar with the series, Constructive Criticism focuses on builders that usually reside just outside the spotlight’s glare of the big blogs or right on the border.  There is no escaping the inherent arrogance of the notion, but these are builders who I think need to be pushed and encouraged to take the next step with their models.  Many of them already have a nice Flickr following and it should be noted that my advice is entirely unsolicited. I’m also going to offer my usual disclaimer that I’m a fan of the builder’s work and in no way is this article meant to be mean-spirited.  With that boilerplate out-of-the-way, today’s victim on the rotisserie spit is David Zambito.  You may remember him from such popular builds as The Northern Wing, Gatehouse and Twisting Tree.. It seems like he’s been on a hot-streak lately, but when When David released his latest model “Micro Air Force Base“, the results were disappointing.  I have a love of the topic and I was hoping from the thumbnail that the builder had created yet another impressive piece.

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

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

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

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

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

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