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.
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.
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.
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.
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.