Great Debates! LEGO vs Hobby Modeling

The Manifesto is proud to present the first installment of what will hopefully develop into a regular column by noted TFOL, Achintya Prasad.  If you dwell exclusively in the lands of Flickr you may not be aware of him (he’s on Flickr but not as popular as he should be), but Mr. Prasad has amassed quite a following of admirers on MOCpages, where he is well known as a builder of outstanding military models.  What makes him unique though is his dedication to the power of debate and détente between community members, running groups devoted to the topic.  As it turns out, Achintya is also an aspiring scribe and unlike so many of you who have expressed an interest in writing for this venerable blog….he actually came through.  Bested by a teenager, the shame of it all.  If you are not familiar with his work and you’re too lazy to take the links, here is a sampling of Prasad Heavy Industries most popular offerings.

So move aside you rubes, and let the man come through. Writers live and die on feedback, so don’t hesitate to engage in the comment section with your usual vigor.  Take it away Achyntia!

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first ever out-of-left-field discussion of the intricacies an existential analysis of the hobby we all love, LEGO. In this first installment, we are going to delve deep into perhaps the biggest rivalry you have never heard about: LEGO versus Hobby Modeling. To give some perspective on my position, I have been involved in both LEGO and Hobby Modeling projects, and have seen the methods and processes of both interest areas. So, with that cleared, let the analysis begin!

 
To be clear, when I talk about Hobby Modeling, I’m talking about all forms of plastic building kits, from the likes of Revel to Hasegawa. While many associate Hobby Modeling (hither forth referred to as HM) with model aircraft, the truth is that the community has expanded into numerous fields, from warships to classic cars. While this comparison is still quite apples to oranges, we shall still pick apart the two fields and see what each area is actually made of.

 
LEGO’s cornerstone is the LEGO brick. The quintessential element, the humble 2×4 red brick is a staple in the minds of millions across the world. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you know LEGO is far more than that, crossing into the complex world of mechanical and structural engineering via the Technic system and other LEGO branches. Finer details, sometimes known in the trade as “greebling” is accomplished by miscellaneous pieces, from tiles to minifigure utensils.

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HM, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have such an internationally recognized standard. Unlike branches such as Technic and Power Functions, HM primarily focuses on static display, coupled with skills in painting. Detail work of models is also done via water or oil based decals, designed to offer fine, natural looking detail without the thickness of stickers. For the most part, a HW box will contain anywhere from a dozen to hundreds of tiny plastic elements, attached to sprues.

 
Both branches, in the material sense, do share a common component: plastic, though to varying degrees. LEGO is world-renowned for its military grade precision in its factories, from the injection molding machines to the robotic transporters. HM, on the other hand, prefers to handle the challenge of assembly of even base elements to its enthusiasts; “flash” (or extra plastic left over from the molding process) cleaning is a vital step before the assembly of any model.

 

Now, examining LEGO and HM in a much wider aspect, we get into something known colloquially as “Kit-bashing.” It’s the bane of any child or parent attempting to ensure a LEGO kit is completed correctly, and the downright insanity that plagues the first HM projects, where the amateur rips the pieces off the sprue before even consulting the instructions. Both, however, tell an interesting tale of the fundamental difference at the heart of LEGO and HM: focus. Put it simply, LEGO is accuracy, and HM is precision. When you’re putting together a 1/72 scale model of an SR-71 Blackbird, you know the final product will look like a Mach 3 spy plane, unless you saw off the tails. What really counts HM are the details; making sure each individual dial in the cockpit is painted and labeled, and each landing gear strut might as well have come from SkunkWork’s planning division themselves. LEGO is far different. It’s simply impossible to recreate that same Blackbird with that level of detail at that scale. Instead, a LEGO builder must attempt to find accuracy in the final looks of the aircraft. Preserve the dark exterior and basic shape, and forget about any realistic attempts of finer detailing (unless you paint your pieces, in which case, shame on you!) Examining Kit-bashing, you see a similar technique. Kitbashing for HM is a very precise game, where elements from other kits are often filed down or otherwise modded to fit another kit, via putty or other techniques. LEGO, using its own universal dimensions, completely does away with any compatibility issues, again because the focus of the LEGO brick is on accuracy. The turbine inside that SR-71 is built with a similar, compatible piece as the third gear in a transmission of a power functions tractor-trailer. The same can’t be said for the detailed components of an HM kit.

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Before moving on, I’d like to bring special attention to a comparison that really drives home the accuracy vs precision argument. Below you will see two images, one of a 1/36 scale F-14 Tomcat built by the world’s premier LEGO aircraft builder, Ralph Savelsberg, and the other being a 1/32 scale Tomcat from Tamiya, an HM model company. Excusing the slight differences in scale and image quality, the point is seen clearly. The use of LEGO curved slope elements lent a fuselage shaping almost precisely to what we see in Top Gun. Tamiya, however, simply molded the shape to the exact specifications of the plane. Ralph nailed the paint job of the aircraft as a whole, but the Tamiya model managed to incorporate every panel gap, every warning label, and every bolt. Both are outstanding models, but each play to a completely different strength. Working inside the confines of the square LEGO universe, Ralph recreated the rippling, muscular body of the Tomcat, while Tamiya model managed to take Tom Cruise’s aircraft and throw it into a shrink ray. To the casual observer, these differences are hardly noticeable. To us enthusiasts, however, the differences draw the definitive line between LEGO and HM (unless you aren’t a purist, which is a discussion for another time).


From aircraft builders to even the most dedicated train builders, the differences are stark and apparent. I remember the day the Emerald Night Train kit was released. I watched the LEGO interview of the designer behind the project, and distinctly remember his pride in announcing several new train wheels. For years LEGO hadn’t done much for the train community, with few new elements for train enthusiasts to choose from. For HM, however, that has never been an issue. Think the train wheel included in your S2 class Baldwin locomotive is too small? That’s fine, just purchase a Soviet IS class steam locomotive and switch the wheels (actually, I have no idea how trains work, so apologies to the facepalming train fans, though the point still stands). The Kit-bashing of HM, while tricky in terms of compatibility, offers something LEGO fans today dream about: a larger, more specialized component pool.

 

Of course, those are the stories of the materials at hand. But the true test of these hobbies are found in the hobbyist. Both clubs are known to have different presences in communities, both locally and online. In terms of local clubs, the LEGO group is by far the more active in communities, with LEGO events scheduled via both LEGO official stores and LUGs. HM’s, meanwhile, are more fragmented, with no real support from concrete stores from the makers of model kits. While this can be attributed to the decline of sales for these companies since the early 2000’s, it shows a clear difference. While hobby shops still keep entire aisles for hundreds of different pots of paint for models, none of that compares to LEGO Land, not to mention the massive site Bricklink and LUGs, officially sanctioned by the LEGO group themselves.

 
But what does all this mean? How do these two similar yet different hobbies compare? In the end, I think the advantage of expanded areas and development must fall to LEGO. The humble brick is far more than a model builder; it’s a story-teller, one that reflects the ideas and personality of many different builders. HMs, meanwhile, have the advantage in realism. Building a LEGO F-22 Raptor would never end up in a completely accurate scale model, at least compared to the sharp lines and intricate detailing a HM can afford. My personal experience has always been the same: LEGO’s handicaps are its strengths, that is, its universal compatibility system. Quite simply, the blasted system makes it impossible to recreate the small details on a battleship or train. HM, however, allows me to include each individual air vent on a Bofors 40mm, but leaves me high and dry when I want to build something on my own. Really, it’s up to the viewer, which do you prefer? Story telling imagination, or realistic detailing? Is your hobby a sanctuary for your own ideas and thoughts, or is a projection of your skills onto the real world? Let us know in the comments below.

Friday Night Fights [Round 18]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another rear-naked-choke edition of Friday Night Fights!  This week’s bout features two classic album covers in a generational battle of the bands, fighting for record company payola and Grammy awards.   Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the Karma Police Headquarters, it’s Anthony “The Wookie” Wilson and his “OK Computer“.

And fighting out of the blue corner, from the point of no return, it’s “Nitro” W.Navarre and his “Kansas Album Cover“.

As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner before announcing the next bout.

Last week, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the fanciful joust of the centaurs, where System and Bionicle squared off with a giant feed bag of oats on the line.  In the end  “Never Surrender” nobu_tary impaled his opponent with a commanding 11-2 victory over  “Lion-hearted” Lego 7.  Nobu_tary records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while Lego 7 falls to (0-1).

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“You don’t bring me flowers…anymore”

Come to think of it, you don’t write me love-songs either…you lousy bastard, it’s over!  Get your stuff and get out of my life!

While you mope brokenhearted in the gutter with a needle sticking out of your arm, you may console yourself with this beautiful and creepy bouquet from newcomer Barbara Hoel.  Because that’s how I’ll remember your cheating ass, beautiful and creepy.  The actual title of this attention-grabbing creation is “Yesterday’s Flowers“, and I almost missed it because from the thumbnail on my phone it didn’t immediately register as Lego.  This is a tough subject matter, and the builder handles it flawlessly with some interesting choices from both System and Bionicle.  The variety of translucent parts is particularly effective.  The only thing I’m not sure about is the dark gray propellers, they almost break the illusion but it might be due to having gold components adjacent.  It’s a small nitpick though, the overall effect is satisfying.

I wonder if the hobby will ever get to the point when seeing the work of a female builder doesn’t seem like an oddity to me, like getting a glimpse of a unicorn or drawing a royal flush.  They are not nearly as rare as black AFOLs, but considering they comprise half the population you would think we’d have a better mix by now.  Of course from the very earliest stages of the hobby we’ve had these exotic builders in our midst: Deborah Higdon, Millie McKenzie, Mel Finelli, Heather Braaten, Caylin Malloy, Alice Finch, Breann Sledge and my personal favorite (because she’s rad and builds huge, kick-ass dioramas) Anu Pehrson, but it always seems like the gender ratio is hopelessly skewed towards sweaty mankinder.  That list is far from comprehensive but that’s where I ran out of gas and I look at a lot of models. At least the ladies have one good ratio on their sides that the men can’t claim.  There are very few lousy female builders, I can only think of one or two off the top of my head.  The conspiracy theorist in me thinks perhaps the ladies like to find the weak sisters and silence them before they are noticed by the wider viewing audience.  No, that sounds like a more masculine policy.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but maybe the relatively recent proliferation of sets targeted at girls will help improve things for the next wave of builders.  Or AFOL fathers passing on a love of the Lego action to their daughters.  Maybe dropping the slang FFOL would be a good start too, what a horrible word and it’s impossible to say out loud without sounding like a tool.

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This one is for rountRee, we like to sing it to each other at conventions:

Omnibus: “There is no spoon.”

That low rumble you can feel in your chest cavity can only mean one thing constant reader, the Omnibus is pulling back into Manifesto station to take you on another guided exploration of a single building theme.  In the past you’ve enjoyed tours devoted to board games, Captain America, Owls and an exhaustive (some say torturous) look at float-planes and the men who love them.  In this latest edition we’ll be gawking appreciatively at models inspired by the 1999 ground breaking sci-fi extravaganza, The Matrix and it’s two unfortunate sequels, “Reloaded” and Revolutions“.  It’s the movie that brought us bullet-time, a soundtrack for the ages and Laurence Fishburne in tiny legless sunglasses.  So call for an operator, it’s time to see what the Matrix has to offer.

Just like the opening scenes of the film, I’d like to get things started with a bang.  Let’s begin our examination of Neo’s Lego journey with my favorite offering in this rogues gallery of great Matrix models.  “…See your enemy…” is the single most impactful mosaic I’ve encountered to date and that includes a slew of more technically complex lenticular examples that are out there.  As with most great Lego creations, seeing the mosaic in person adds a whole new level of appreciation, the trans orange has the power to draw spectators from across a convention floor.  Simply put the mosaic is stunning and I’d be willing to wager that builder Brandon Griffith has been offered some serious cash for the piece since it’s posting in 2009.  On more than one occasion I’ve been tempted to copy it for my Legoratory wall, since my multiple efforts to abscond with it have not gone as planned.3219830255_a57d13e37f_o.jpg

Perhaps the most obvious and popular choice for the Lego treatment is the tunnel-running hover-ships that populate all three movies.  Although it is my assertion that we have not yet seen the definitive Lego-built Nebuchadnezzar, some might argue that Adrian Drake got the closest way back in 2002.  While his version was certainly very popular at the time of release and featured a full interior, it hasn’t aged well, the available photos are tiny and The Drake such an overbearing lurch in person that I don’t want to promote his stuff beyond a link for historical value.

The Nebuchadnezzar-inspired hover-ship on the left is called “Novalis”, and it was designed by the criminally underrated Paul Meissner along with the “Cerberus” on the right.  For my money “Novalis” is the best model in this very specific hover-ship sub-category.  The angles are just right, the hover-pads are plentiful and it looks ready to fight off  a swarm of robotic Sentinels.  I even dig the blunt nose, it looks both mean purposeful.  The “Cerberus” is a strong effort as well, but I don’t particularly care for the trans-yellow bits and the lines feel more choppy and almost pixellated to me.  I’m also not a fan of the tiled-over dorsal section, I think there was a missed opportunity for more shaping or texture.  Both vehicles are fine examples though and it would be interesting to see Paul revisit the form.

 

Chris White took a shot at the Nebuchadnezzar and while I don’t particularly like the undersized hover-pads, I do like the decision to go with trans blue and I think he nailed the challenging shape of the fuselage better than most.  If imitation is a form of success, Chris was successfully selling reproductions for several years, at a time when such an endeavor wasn’t as common as it is today with everyone and their mother pitching designs for Lego Ideas and selling models on Bricklink or Ebay.1308088562m_DISPLAY.jpg

Friend of the blog and long time crony Andrew Lee also had the Matrix fever back in the day and his “Ganesha” definitely makes the cut for the Omnibus.  I like how he changed up the color scheme and the nose holds up quite well in the intervening 9 years.  It’s also got a bitchin’ ramp right under the cockpit and a detailed (if sort of stunted) interior.  As with everything Lee builds, it somehow looks infused with heavy metal, booze and a hard to quantify “fuck it” attitude.  3017071476_880a7157bb_o.jpg

The once and future “Porn King of Utah”, Ryan Wood tried his hand at a hover-ship with pretty good results considering it is 13 years old.  Ryan pioneered this particularly effective style of hover-pad which elicited more than a few exclamations of “NPU!” back in the day.  It’s kind of a chibi-version of the Nebuchadnezzar called “The Nacon“, with distorted proportions, but it is important because it inspired quite a few builders to take a shot at their own hovership and that minifig visor technique was widely copied in a number of sci-fi applications.  Unfortunately we’ve pretty much lost Ryan Wood the builder to the Merlin entertainment group, where he presides over the construction of massive projects for the many Lego theme parks around the world and that’s a shame because I miss his creativity and boundless enthusiasm for the action.  He’s is one more example of how that job basically kills a person’s desire to build for fun.

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Unfortunately only a tiny photo remains of the “Logos” hover-ship from former wunderkind Bruce Lowell but you can still make out the enticing curves and unique shape.  I’m pretty sure this a microscale creation but I can’t tell for certain.

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This 2012 microscale version of the Neb is easy on the eyes, and greatly enhanced by the minimalist background diorama and typically impeccable photography.  It was constructed 5 years ago by the always reliable SPARKART! and it almost seems to float with a View-Master quality to the image.  It’s no mean trick to make a dark gray model pop against a dark gray background but the builder manages the task in style.

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Staying small for the moment, enjoy this 2009 microscale Neb from Frankus!.  The proportions might be a little wonky and the tail section seems a little thick, but some people like big butst, and they cannot lie.  It’s too bad Frankus! (I love any screen name with an exclamation mark) stopped building after a short but promising run, he was just hitting his stride when he wandered off.

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Continue reading “Omnibus: “There is no spoon.””

Happy Father’s Day

I’ve got some serious barbequing to do today with my wee ones, so I’ll spare you my typical long-winded blathering.  I don’t have any fond childhood memories to share of playing Legos with my dad, he wasn’t too into toys or fun for that matter.  I do greatly enjoy building with my kids, and we’ll probably do some of that today, in between water-balloon fights, ice cream and episodes of Samurai Jack.  Thanks to my 9yr old there is some action going on in the Legoratory and I am more than willing to share that with you. She’s very creative and a great deal of fun to collaborate with, although I may come to regret introducing her to Bricklink.  This is just the beginning of a sprawling equine-themed diorama that should keep us busy all summer long.  My little one is more into destroying projects than creating them, but that’s fun too.  Life is good in Casa de Goldman, and I hope you guys are knee-deep in some quality Lego time with your kids.

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I looked around briefly for a fatherhood-themed model to spotlight, but all I could find were some low-res dioramas from The Empire Strikes Back, you know, the whole: “Luke, I am your father” thing.  That’s not going to fly today because to quote the late, great Freddy Mercury: “Jaws was never my scene and I don’t like Star Wars.”  Since I have a strict policy of not posting Star Wars creations, I decided to simply go with something cool.  Thank you F@bz, your work is always entertaining.

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I’ll leave you with a movie clip that sum up my feelings about Father’s Day better than anything I could write.  For all you dads out there, enjoy your day!

 

Friday Night Fights [Round 17]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another slap and tickle edition of Friday Night Fights!  This week’s bout features two armored man-horses jousting for the right to appear in the official Lego Monster Manual and a bucket of oats.   Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from his throne on the dizzying heights of Mt. Olympus, it’s “Never Surrender” nobu_tary and his “Centaur Knight“.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from a place where the streets have no name, it’s “Lion-hearted” Lego 7 and his “Centaur Knight Mech“.

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As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the model that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner before announcing the next bout.

Last week, on Friday Night Fights….

It was the Battle of the cronies as KeithLUG and WACKlug brawled in the thin air of the angry red planet.  In the end, Shannon “The Savage” Sproule and his “Unity Outpost“ scored a decisive 7-4 victory over Brendan “The Brawler” Mauro and his “Modular Mars Base“…proving once again that KeithLUG is the superior LUG.  Sproule records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while Mauro falls to (0-1).

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I don’t know dude…

A couple of weeks ago, in the comments section of this thread, friend of the blog and skilled builder Christopher Hoffman had this to say:

And if I may make a recommendation, this dude does some unique stuff and only has 2(!) followers on Flickr so far.

Now, I’m always up for a suggestion, especially from a valued reader who contributes regularly in the comments, so I took the link with high hopes.  I was not prepared for what I found on Geng Lee’s Flickrstream, and even though I’ve had a few days to chew on the bone, I still can’t decide if the models are great or bullshit.  I think of the guy as “Murmurdog” because the builder uses the signature to irritating effect on all of his photos.  The name is kind of creepy and interesting but I hate when people put their stupid logos and signature lines on their models.  It seems incredibly pretentious to me, all the more so because the medium of choice is a childrens toy and more often than not the people who use such icons don’t produce compelling models.

On the upside, Murmurdog has his own distinct style, even within a relatively small sample size of creations.  His models and general style of building don’t really remind me of any other builder and that is kind of rare these days.  My favorite of his efforts to date is the Donald Duck image you see below, it’s a wonderful perversion of the classic Disney character with a hidden stomach cavity that contains the brushed gold device you see him brandishing.  I’m probably a little more inclined to like this one because I have a strong aversion to all things Disney and the cult of people who worship at the mercantile temple of the mechano-rat god.  But no matter how much I can appreciate demented Donald, he’s terribly low-resolution and kind of crappy when you get down to the nuts and bolts.  After spending way too much time considering the issue, I was left asking the question: is weird and artsy enough to be considered ‘good’? Or is this some sloppy action masquerading as something more.

On the downside it’s probably worth noting that he’s only got 18 followers (including me) and a handful of favorites.  Perhaps the most damning evidence is that the Manifesto seems to be the first and only blog to pick up his work.  BrickNerd posts just about anything Disney themed and TBB is so thirsty these days they will post anything that is remotely interesting, so if neither one has taken a flier on Mr. Lee, then I think it’s safe to say that the models don’t conform to the widely excepted standard of what makes a compelling Lego creation.  I know it’s stupid to base a decision like this on popularity slone, but people don’t seem to be all that receptive to Murmurdog’s models and that’s probably worth pointing out, if it may seem a little mean-spirited to do so.

In the end I guess Murmurdog and Christopher Hoffman win because I had enough doubt to make this post, but I’m putting the issue in front of the jury of their peers.  What say you, constant reader?  For those of you who refuse to comment because of a language barrier, Aspy-based fear or the all-encompassing death by inches of apathy, I have included a poll to make things easier and less time-consuming.

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