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.

 

“You want your little baby socks…for your little baby feet.”

Over the span of many years spent looking at LEGO mecha (robots, drones, etc.), I’ve concluded that the single feature that separates the good builds from the great ones is the foot.  Poseability is a close second but nothing screams mastery of the genre to me more than a nice pair of robo-feet.  More than a fetish on my part, I submit that most mecha have unlikely, under-detailed or just plain ugly hooves.  Constant reader the next time you look at a mech I urge you to check out the feet, more often than not they are blocky or just plain wrong in some way.  Never has the concept been better illustrated than the latest build by the usually reliable Gamabomb.  The thumbnail for “WARMATE” got me very excited, until my gaze drifted down to the feet.  My first thought was that those things would sink into the mud like crazy, causing the legs to snap off at the knees when it tried to move. The lower legs look like stilts that would cause the war machine to collapse at the first indication of a strong breeze.

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It really is a shame because the rest of the design is money, from the Xenomorph style head to the beautifully detailed arms to the exacting sticker work.  I’m not sure if the stickers are official LEGO stock or custom, but the little triangles are just the right answer.  In fact, there is great texturing everywhere you look, the head is almost a build within a build and it’s so inspiring that I can easily imagine it as a detail on other models like a tank or  a spaceship.  Gamabomb also hit it out of the park with the Photoshopped image above.  The choice of background, shadowing and logo all combine to elevate the build beyond the common fare.  That’s where the nu-school has it over the old-school in spades; for the most part they have a much greater skill set when it comes to presentation.

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I mentioned that the ability to strike a pose is also paramount to quality mecha design and Gamabomb gets an average score there.  WARMATE seems a little static from the waist down and I wish it could hold its rifle with a little more panache.  The thigh gap on this model may be admirable, but those feet!..it looks like the builder just quit when he got to the knees and that’s a damn shame because the rest of it is stunning.