Friday Night Fights [Round 22]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another Indiana-hook edition of Friday Night Fights! This week’s bout is all about making a scene, with the customary bragging rights and a discount coupon to the Pancake House on the line.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the other side of midnight, it’s the always dangerous “Fabulous” Fabio Maiorana and “The Red Room”.

35832887341_846df57042_o.png

And fighting out of the blue corner, from an abandoned oil rig in the north Atlantic, it’s “Relentless” Revan New and his “Abandoned Factory.

34785799544_04a0e0c700_o.jpg

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 a little girl tag-team death-match, with the Intercontinental Champtionship belt on the line.  In the end,  “Madman” Moko and his Love Laika scored a 7-3 victory over “Lightning bolt” LegoWyrm and his “Ladybug & Chat Noir”.  Mr. Moko records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while Mr. Legowyrm falls to (0-1)

29939999840_2126fc0383_o

 

 

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.

832414706_c6f6dc20fb_o.jpg

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.

47567_fe8859af54_m.jpg

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.

7391999392_b0e4a51d58_o.jpg

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.

3405430053_73290c769d_o.jpg

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

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.

3439503799_af058de9df_o

 

 

 

the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-1966-the-good

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.

the_bad

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.

4072429920_9547811c22

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:”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.

the good the bad and the ugly - 1966 - the good

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.

The_Bad

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.

24526626502_1f0468ec43_o.jpg

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.

4072429920_9547811c22

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.

Two for Tuesday: Angka Utama

tuesday

Good evening constant reader, its happy hour and our bartender Lloyd is setting them up neat, just the way you like it. Tonight’s V.I.P. in the Manifesto lounge is Indonesian builder Angka Utama, whose stable of fine automobiles have been burning up the streets of Micropolis since 2010.  I think I appreciate Angka’s work so much because as a kid we were too poor to do the LEGO thing so my go-to toy was cheap-ass  Hot Wheels, purchased from the local grocery store…and if I’m being honest, sometimes shoplifted from the local grocery store (I was a terrible kid).  So every time I see one of Mr. Utama’s models it brings me back to those pumpkin-orange track segments that also made for great weapons to duel away the afternoon with my jackassy friends.  The sound of a well places slap on the thigh or upper arm was a thing of beauty.  See…I can be nostalgic too.

Enough of the old “slap & tickle”, you’re not here to read about my stupid childhood habits, so let’s get on with the sweet Lego action.  First up is Angka’s brilliant Rally Kit, which is a sort of generic truck platform that can be customized with any number of modules.  Although the racing variant is shown here I can imagine it roving the moon with scientific equipment, carrying troops to the battlefield or transporting sensitive cargo in the urban core.  I’ve built one myself and it is a delight to roll around the table.  I don’t often replicate another person’s build unless it is for a specific project, but since the time and resource investment was so low, I couldn’t resist.  It is going to be very difficult to restrain myself for building more trucks and an environment for said truck to roll around in, but that’s a dark road of ever-escalating ambition that can end up taking months instead of days. It is about the highest praise I can give a builder though and it’s not limited to this model, many of his cars have me reaching for the bin full of fenders.  I’m not sure what special ju-ju Anga wields, but there is an ocean of these little 4 wide and 6 wide cars out there and typically they don’t move the needle for me in the slightest.  Just like nnenn with his Vic Vipers or Jon Hall with his warbirds, the V.O.A.T. thing just never gets old with Angka’s models.  Maybe it is the accessibility of both designs, they seem very attainable to even casual builders.  Unlike The Chairman with his uber-rare and expensive parts, or Tyler Clites with his complexity, most people with a modest collection and skill level can play ball.

Unlike most people I feature in this series, I have not had the good fortune to meet Angka.  As much as I’d love to explore Republik Indonesia (especially the Prambanan Temple) it ain’t gonna happen and there is nothing in Angka’s photostream that would indicate a trip to Vegas is on his list of things to do.  I can share an anecdote though, the year was 2010 and I was perusing The models for sale on Chairman’s Zhang’s laudable holiday tradition, Creations for Charity. I was a little cash-strapped as people tend to get during the holiday season, so I couldn’t throw down on a big model or even a small model by a high-vis builder.  You can imagine my excitement when I came across the very reasonably priced Mitsubishi HSR, that had been generously donated by Mr. Utama.  It remains one of my favorite models to this day that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to acquire from my fellow Lego-nerds.  I was so impressed by the car that I was immediately inspired to construct a suitable background for the sports-car, that like many of Angka’s builds, looks very futuristic.  I even saved the box, because how cool is it to get mail from Indonesia?

5437313541_f5cc5e5f35_o.jpg

After scouring the usual sources for a photo of Angka, this is the Bookface avatar was the best image I was able to come up with.  If you know of a better one, constant reader, please don’t hesitate to mention it in the always lusty comment section.

420150_402529106477328_2118779732_n

Frankly, I can’t tell much here, he might be a cyborg of some kind?  Please recall that a precedent has been set in this ongoing series that we will be reviewing the fashion choices of each builder.  In this case Angka is sporting a T-shirt of indeterminate color, possibly gray and I can’t tell if he’s wearing pants of any kind.  In the absence of further evidence, I cannot ask Rupaul for a verdict on this one so we’ll let it slide.  Until next time,  anda mengontrol tindakan.

 

Elevating the Theme

I’ve always considered Blacktron II (aka Blacktron Future Generation) to be the weakest of the early official Space themes: the set designs were bland, the trans-neon green was obnoxious and the minifigs looked more like a pro-sports team than an intergalactic force.  It reminds me of a terrible sequel to a cult favorite film, like Highlander 2 “The Quickening” or Escape from L.A. The original Blacktron was perhaps the coolest theme ever created by our corporate overlords, it featured minifigs that still hold up with the best of today’s offerings despite not having modern features like two-face craniums or printing on the back of the torso.  Blacktron II replaced those bad-ass space criminals and replaced them with a bunch of milquetoast “B” boys who looked more likely to serve you a corn dog than steal your spaceship.  In all the years I’ve been looking at models online I don’t recall a single example of a Blacktron II done right, with the one exception of Nathan Proudlove’s outstanding SHIP from 2007.  So I was both surprised and delighted to run across the “Ghost Stealth Ship” by Stephan Niehoff.  The shape of the hull is just wicked and it somehow looks incredibly fast even while sitting still at the dock.  Every time I look at it, I hear the Miami Vice theme playing in my head.  While the accompanying diorama seems like a bit of an afterthought, it is very clean if under detailed.  My biggest issue is with the crane, the legs are nice but it doesn’t quite look minifig scale.  The simplistic lights also seem like a missed opportunity but the cargo crates are pretty nice.

28832923251_f709cf5b56_o.jpg

I’m a little confused by the tiny cluster of plants in the corner, they look good but it seems like there should be more of them scattered around the diorama.  The entire dock might benefit from being raised a bit, or those crates would wash away with the first decent sized wave.  The plants might look better tucked under the dock where it can’t interfere in the cargo loading operations.  The hexagonal background is a great touch, it elevates the presentation above the typical blinding-white space that is so prevalent these days.  I could probably do without the water marks and do-dads in the corners, but it seems to be a millenial thing to slap your brand on everything.

If you enjoy the Ghost, be sure to take a trip through Stephan’s photo-stream, where you will find a plethora of builds in his “Projekt Blacktron II Special Forces” series.  Although I think the Ghost is the best of the bunch, I also enjoyed the slick engine on this  “AT-04 Rhino” space-train.  One of these day’s I’ll get around to an Omnibus posting dedicated to Sci-Fi trains and this one will no doubt make the cut.  So thanks for proving me wrong Stephan, Blacktron II can be cool after all.

25770450891_4df06d6d6e_o.jpg

 

“Taking a savage beating is part of being a hero!”

With one or two exceptions, I hate superhero movies with a passion.  Marvel, DC, independent, I don’t care, they are equally terrible and they’ve hijacked our theaters with their spandex nonsense.  Why bother with original Science Fiction when you can trot out Captain Buttocks for the 9th time or give the world Viking-Steampunk Batman?  I have no fond childhood nostalgia for comic books either, I always found the stories to be idiotic even as a youngster although I enjoyed the characters.  I do enjoy watching some of the better TV cartoon series with my kids,  but even those are basically one long fight scene.  The only good thing to come out of all this comic book overkill is the apparently never-ending stream of cool Lego sets and the occasional fan built model.  Most of the work done by AFOLs within this particular brand of building is decidedly uninspired and at least 50% of all comic book related builds are some version of Iron Man’s walk in closet where he keeps all his armored suits.  When you boil it down to gravy most builders who indulge in the comic book genre don’t really build at all, they focus entirely on the minifigs.  I get it, the little dudes are undeniably cool, I endorse them without qualification but it isn’t enough for me.  Without a compelling build to go with the figs, all you’re left with a catalog shot at best and clone-on-a-plate at worst.  Now that you’ve stepped off my lawn, we can get down with today’s build.  It was very refreshing to recently discover the work of Nexus-, who takes the shiny heroes and gives them a suitable stage to play on.   I don’t often look at a build and picture it as an official set, but I would buy this particular set in a heartbeat.  The scene is called “Cyborg – 0 – Application”.  The gray-scale background really makes the figs pop, the details ar tight and I admire the clean look of the base.  All good vignettes tell a story, like a cell in a comic book and Nexus- appears to have a good handle on the narrative action.

28222168904_1f1d4f7977_o

The diorama is part of an ongoing series that features a number of familiar heroes from across party lines and it represents a step up for Nexus- whose previous vignette efforts were not nearly as polished or ambitious.  You can see a real progression in skill and style if you take a trip through the 2-year-old Flickrstream and it’s a pleasure to see.   The series as a whole reminds me of the old line of Star Wars Micro-Machine toys from the 80’s, with its emphasis on iconic figures in small settings.  The compact nature of the builds is very appealing and even though the super hero vignettes do not appear to be modular, they look like they could be with very little modification.

Bespin_Micro

It is surely boilerplate to trot out this observation yet again, but every piece in a vignette must earn its place and Nexus- seems to understand that.  With each new model he is clearly making the attempt to improve his work and that’s all you can really ask of a builder regardless of genre.  I should probably also point out that Nexus- clearly enjoys writing back-stories for his builds and although they are not my cup o’ tea, his many followers seem to enjoy them immensely.  If the builder can continue on this difficult path of steady, measured improvement, I think it’s clear we can expect truly great things from him in the future.

Each one of these builds has an interesting technique or dynamic action on display and unlike most builds in the genre and the movies that inspire them, they actually leave me wanting more…even with Aquaman involved.  Especially with Aquaman involved.  I’ll leave you with a clip from my favorite superhero series, Batman: The Brave and the Bold.  In case you were wondering Aquaman is voiced by John DiMaggio who is responsible for both Bender and Jake the dog from Adventure time.