The Life Modular, with Sean Edmison

Modular terrain is certainly not a new concept in our shared hobby, but it’s always interesting to see it done well.  Although I couldn’t pin down the origin of the technique to a specific date or single builder, the Classic Castle City Standard from 2003 was certainly one of the first attempts to codify a standard.  A group of enterprising builders (Medinets, Sava, Hoffman etc.) started with an easy to replicate modular castle wall system and later expanded to terrain, water and buildings.  You may also be familiar with the MILS system or Base8 or any number of offerings by individual builders like Magnus Lauglo who have experimented with the concept over the years.  The core technique inspired by the official line of 1980’s castle sets like the beloved 6040 Blacksmith Shop, and involved wall segments with a common design that could be connected via Technic pins and recombined with other sets or original builds.  It’s probably also worth mentioning the influence of 2002’s Moonbase project which used a similar methodology for building large collaborative displays at conventions.

Fast-forward 14 years and people are still refining the familiar modular terrain concept, with all the updated parts, colors and techniques that you would expect.  The big knock on previous iterations was that the final product often seemed generic or low resolution, sacrificing detail for sheer coverage.  The photos I’m about to show you clearly demonstrate that in the last decade things have progressed to a point where that criticism is no longer necessarily valid.  Builder and frequent convention-goer Sean Edmison says he was inspired by a discussion on Classic Castle Forums to “reimagine” the standard and I think he did a fine job adding value with both the appearance and the structure.  These models are actually about four years old, but I’d say they still classify as new-school building and if they popped up in your Flickrstream tomorrow they likely wouldn’t seem out-of-place or anachronistic.  You may remember Mr. Edmison from such memorable models as Peloponnesian War and Rivendell, or Seattle’s BrickCon where he often collaborates with fellow castle-heads.

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One of Sean’s innovations that I appreciate from my own struggles with the modular lifestyle is the use of short axles instead of Technic pins to connect the modules.  Once you get too many of the standard pins involved in the process it can become very difficult to separate the modules without a good deal of force, damaged pins and flying ABS shrapnel.  It can also be equally as difficult to connect large modules especially if your surface is less than perfectly flat (like your average folding plastic convention table).  Once you fill an entire baseplate with brick and/or plate, it has a tendency to bow or warp in a decidedly unfriendly manner that is the enemy of uniformity and smooth transitions between sections.  When Mike and I took Isla Guadalupe to Texas a few years ago, we had to abandon the notion of actually connecting the modules together because they just wouldn’t line up like they did at home where my table was decidedly flatter.

I’m not sure if Sean came up with this tweak on his own or if he was inspired by another builder, but after playing with it briefly I find it to be a big improvement.  Even though the technique does require double the number of bricks to make it work, those 1×2 bricks with the + shaped void don’t seem to be terribly expensive if you’re not picky about the color and most builders I know have more axles than they will ever be able to use in a single model.  Sean also uses more connection points than you typically see with modular terrain and I suspect cutting down on the total number would save parts/money without compromising stability.

Sean also developed what he calls a “Tank-rutted” road that looks great, especially the visible tracks under the puddle of water.  I’ve never seen this specific type of decorative approach to a modular system and it should get the often-maligned military builders excited about the collaborative possibilities.  Even if you’re not planning on assembling a 64 square foot diorama of the battle of Kursk with a dozen of your closest homies, this kind of modularity comes in handy when breaking down and packing any sized diorama for travel to a convention or LUG meeting.

Two for Tuesday: Matt Bace

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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 an empty bar-stool, because much like Elvis, the builder in question has apparently left the building.  In doing so he has deleted all of his Lego content from the internet, which is a shame.  Matt Bace still resides on MOCpages, but only as a ghost, preserved  for the moment in the legion of comments he left behind on other people’s models.  I’ll tell you up front I have no idea why Matt left the scene, I was not able to find any final statement or even a discussion of his departure. In fact, had Christopher not mentioned it in the comments section of the recent Poland article, I never would have known he left.   Unlike the previous subjects of Two for Tuesday, I don’t know Matt Bace beyond our brief but always friendly communication on MOCpages and Flickr. I never met him in person, so there will be no personal anecdotes in this installment, just a salutary raise of the glass to a guy I wish was still around.  It seems like the assholes never leave, and the stand-up guys fade out, wander off or just disappear one day.

Obviously we’ve lost a skilled builder who raised the bar with LDD creations that ran the thematic gamut from giant battleships to this remarkable Analog Equalizer.  In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a digital builder who stretched himself quite as far, tackling diverse subject matter and scale with such compelling results. The real loss though, was Matt’s influence on other builders and his frequent encouraging comments.  In my brief bit of research for this article, I came across a dozen example of builders citing Matt as inspiration for their own efforts.  From personal experience running the Decisive Action war games on MOCpages, and looking at hundreds of models in the process, there were two commenters whose names came up again and again, with good advice and praise: Clayton Marchetti and Matt Bace.  We go on at length here at the Manifesto, about critique and communication and I can’t think of a guy who better personifies those values.

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Tuesday means double-shots, and for our second round, I couldn’t very well pass up Matt’s masterpiece, a 1:200 scale model of the USS Kitty Hawk that would have been over 5 feet long in the brick.  I’ve included the builder’s take on the USS Missouri as well, because it was just as influential at over 4 feet, the average length of a SHIP, which we’ve been talking about so much lately.  If you’re not a digital builder, (like me), then it is difficult to understand how important these models are.  I remember seeing it when it was posted and being impressed, but again, while researching this article I saw so many references to both of these ships.  Builders from all over the globe talk about how much they learned from seeing how these warships were constructed and talking to Matt, who was apparently quite willing to offer advice and insight into the process.

I was not able to locate a photo of Matt, so we’ll depart from the format here and abandon any notion of fashion critique.  As I said in the opening I’ve never met Matt and I don’t know the circumstances of his departure, so instead I’ll conclude the proceedings with his take on Rutherford’s hero…General George S. Patton, who was also very fond of the word “attack!”  We salute you, Mr. Bace, for your compelling builds and contribution to the warm and embracing community.  If you have any information about Matt’s departure that you’re at liberty to share, hook us up in the comments.

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I’ll close with a call for suggestions how to best preserve what’s left of Matt’s work online.   You may have noticed that the majority of the photos I used for the article are quite small.  With the exception of the equalizer, I wasn’t able to find anything large to work with on Google.  I’m far from an expert in ferreting out content like this, so if there are other  resources or places I’m not aware of to find and preserve Matt’s photos, let me know.  If nothing else we could start a Flickr Group to slowly accumulate what’s left.  Beyond the technical side of things…should the builds be preserved?  Maybe Matt wanted it all gone and we should respect that wish?  What say you, constant reader?

Constructive Criticism: Zambito Bandito

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Artist Formerly Known as Lemon_Boy

When you stick around this hobby long enough one of the rewards is watching talented young builders develop into even more talented adult builders. In my jealousy  I frequently daydream about killing people like Erik and eating their hearts to steal their power, because I’m old and slow and I need the juice!  Erik used to be known as Lemon_Boy back in 2007 when he started posting on Flickr and as such I have always associated this terrible song with him. No, no, I don’t dislike Erik, I think he’s great, but a person’s theme song (much like a nick-name) is completely beyond his or her control.

Flash forward 9 years and Lemon_Boy has transformed into Adult_Boy, but fortunately for us his skill with the brick has only increased over time.   Submitted for your approval is Erik’s latest LDD effort, entitled “Red is not a color, it is a crisis“.  True, the builder is a hipster, but I urge you not to hold that against him.  Look, the spaceship has paddles!  The curves and color blocking are eye-catching and the paddles really take the build to another level of originality.  I still can’t decide if I like the purple inset in the back, but I’m no master of the color wheel so I’ll leave that up to you.  The boilerplate gray wheel-engines are perhaps the only detail I take exception with, they seem like a tumor on the ass of an otherwise unorthodox design.  The engines the job done but I wish Eric had continued the design innovation throughout the model.  I can’t forget the tail-gunner position though, it’s probably my favorite detail.28269186161_9e0ac457fe_o.png

Erik is one of the handful of guys in the hobby like Mark Kelso and Fredoichi whose artistic talent only begins with LEGO and extends well past what many of us are capable of doing.  I should probably speak for myself here, but as a guy who is unable to do anything better than stick-figure scribbles I am constantly in awe of artists like Erik who can translate their vision through any number of mediums.  In fact, If I had the ability to create the kind of images you see below, I would probably give up the hobby for good.  One of the big reasons I’ve stuck with LEGO for so long is that I have zero artistic ability beyond the brick, and even that is questionable.  Erik’s style take me back to the 1980’s and fond memories of Heavy Metal magazine, which provided me with endless entertainment in as a youth and exposed me to cool artists like Moebius (Jean Giraud), Mirko Ilic, and Grant Morrison.

Like any veteran builder who is worth his salt, Erik had a successful fad a few years ago with his series of Awfulworld models.  I have to admit that I didn’t really grasp the popularity of these builds because I find the topic of children’s armies to be anything but “twee” and the style just seems too silly.  I understand it’s purely a matter of personal preference, there is certainly more than enough room for silly under the hobby’s tent.  You may like silly, it’s a perfectly fine choice.  I recommend you fly your twee flag with abandon, constant reader.

Erik wrote one of the best blog articles I’ve ever read for the Twee Affect in 2013 that completely breaks down the Awfulworld theme and takes you through the building process that includes inspiration, influence, technique, examples from other builders and more.  Rarely has a builder been able to articulate the process so well and I wish Erik would blog more often but he’s not a Lemon_Boy anymore, he’s an Adult_Boy and probably has less time for such endeavors.  Although it’s not very flattering I think part of the reason I don’t care for the series is some of the reaction it elicited from overzealous fellow builders who called the builds “adorable” and “Heartbreaking”.  Bitch please, there is nothing heartbreaking about it, unless you find things like Pokemon or steam punk to be heartbreaking.  Also, on a fundamental level I object to the term Twee-Punk which was often applied to the model below, even by the builder himself.  It makes no god-damned sense.  Punk (as in punk rock) can be defined defined as: “a style or movement characterized by the adoption of aggressively unconventional and often bizarre or shocking clothing, hairstyles, makeup, etc., and the defiance of social norms of behavior, usually associated with punk rock musicians and fans.”  There is nothing punk about Awfulworld, when you look at the model you don’t hear Black Flag playing in your head, you probably hear Arcade Fire or perhaps Yakety Sax!  Now let’s examine the definition of twee: “affectedly dainty or quaint“.  I wouldn’t describe the image below as dainty, I guess I can understand quaint but that’s not the first word that comes to mind.  I guess the flags make it affectedly dainty?  Mostly I want to rip the flags off of what is otherwise a rad little model.  The door gunner is a great detail and the scale is interesting.  As many people point out when commenting on Erik’s builds, he’s really good at incorporating studs into his models.  While I tend towards studless building I always appreciate it when a builder is able to incorporate studs in a natural way.

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Erik seems to build more with LDD these days than with the beloved brick, but I think the ideas he’s pushing out these days are far more interesting.  I will end this examination of the artist formerly known as Lemon_Boy with a couple of my favorites .  So if you’ve got the time, take go tubin’ down Erik’s Flickrstream and enjoy more of what you’ve seen here in addition to some great Star Wars builds, SHIPs and a few mecha.  I hope that crappy U2 song is still with you, constant reader, for surely you deserve it.

 

And Here is TV’s Greatest Moderator…

That’s right, it’s our old pal Guy Smiley and his unique brand of LEGO futurism. The Inter-Atmospheric Fighter is the latest model from the intrepid Californian and it has all the style and technique we’ve come to expect from the builder over the years.  The solid gray canopy could indicate a drone of some kind or perhaps a manned fighter with advanced technology, but Smiley leaves those decisions up to the viewer’s imagination.  The red box on the canopy is especially delightful, as is the nose turret and collect-a-fig bases never looked so good.  Be sure and investigate the builder’s photo-stream for additional views and leave him a comment if you have the time.  Everyone likes a good comment.

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But wait, There’s more!

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Back in May of this year, Mr. Smiley also produced a rather striking helicopter all decked out for service in UN livery.  I’m a sucker for choppers and this contemporary model hits all the right notes from the number of blades to the unconventional nose to the sliding door.  I’d love to see three or four of these beauties in a diorama too, but just about everything looks better in a diorama.  The design is so effective it would look great in any number of colors: all blacked out, orange or gray.  Mr. Smiley is definitely a builder I’d like to work with one of these years.  The numbers don’t lie, with 181 favorites on Flickr and counting, this is clearly a chopper to remember.

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Archangel

If Carter Baldwin and FateHeart had a baby, it might look, act and most importantly build like our next featured artist.  I’ve always admired Imagination DUCK for his great stand-alone mecha and related machines of war, but mostly because he also explores my favorite genre: Sci-Fi dioramas.  For his latest model, the builder ventures into well-trodden territory but manages to stake some very interesting real estate for himself.  The category is….futuristic VTOL gunships! (it helps if you think of Alex Trebek reading that last line)  I know, many of you are yawing and saying it’s all been done before, and done really well.  It probably seems like there is a futuristic VTOL gunship in your photos-stream every week, but since you’re already here, my Bucket-Head friend, you might as well have a look.

27916476172_d814a5589f_oObviously the nose is really striking, unlike any cockpit on a futuristic VTOL gunship that I’ve ever seen. The lack of a side-view window seems odd, but I’ll go with it because of the fascinating shape. For once, the blades actually look like they’d be able to lift something that heavy, so I applaud the DUCK  for giving a nod towards greater realism.  I really love the dark grey inset section running down the middle of the fuselage, and the wings look great too.  I kind of wish it had more ordinance under those wings, but what he does have looks good.  The guard rail on top was an interesting choice.  Although it sticks out like a soar thumb it also suggests a larger vehicle or crane might move these things around.

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As long as I’m compiling a wish list, I think it might look better with some kind of tail or additional control surface in the back.  Don’t confuse my small criticisms with any doubt about the overall value of this model, this thing is a beast from every angle, especially the bottom left hand image in the above photo.

I can’t miss the opportunity to give some love to one of Mr. DUCK’s dioramas that I was going on about in the beginning of this post.  I’ll leave you with “Beautiful View” from 2012, which is cool for a number of reasons, but mostly because the builder does a great job of capturing a cinematic mood.  I probably would have put the figs under that perfect spotlight, but I appreciate the statement the builder makes by not doing so.  Enough with the futuristic VTOL gunships, DUCK, we need more dioramas from you.

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