“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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

Of Kayaks and Pultrusion

My next guest in the velvet-lined smoking lounge at Manifesto headquarters is Bruce Quillis: builder, connoisseur of fine cannabis and kayaking enthusiast!  This colorful micro-scale vignette caught my eye as I scanned the matrix this evening on my never-ending quest to bring you quality distractions.  The earth-tone strata look great and even though it’s not my favorite technique the 1×1 trans-rounds for water looks pretty good here.  The kayak design is simple but effective (like most quality micro-scale builds) and I really dig the decorative oar Bruce incorporated into the black frame, it really classes up the joint.  Kayak oars typically have two paddle-blades so it might have been better to put two oars back to back with a connecting element like a Technic pin.  Since I’m complaining anyway, I kind of wish there were some rocks mixed into the water but then the scene would have to be a little bigger to give the rocks scale and that way lies madness;  sometimes less is more.  What can I say, it’s roasting here in the wasteland and I’d rather be kayaking down some nameless river far from here.

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I was not previously familiar with the work of one Mr. Quillis so I took a leisurely stroll through his brief but entertaining catalogue that stretches back about 2 years.   One model stood out from all the rest and immediately captured my imagination immediately.  Predictably it’s a diorama…a very clever and no doubt accurate diorama that depicts Mr. Quillis’ place of employment.  I can’t possibly explain it any better than the builder himself, directly from his Flickr Page:

“Fiberglass Pultrusion Line.  I know that probably no one will understand this, but this is my stupid job.  Making fiberglass products by pulling fiberglass rovings and mats through resin and then a die that heats and shapes it. Makes me wanna blow my brains”

…out?  I think most of us can empathize, I know working retail on Christmas eve made me fantasize about all manner of unspeakable acts. The main reason I’m such a big fan of this diorama is because it demonstrates a process and it does so quite effectively.  It’s like a workplace motivational poster: “Safety is no accident!”  Bruce, if you’re reading this you might as well try to inject some levity into this bleak situation.  It wouldn’t be too hard to turn this image into a workplace safety poster and hang it up in the shop one day without explanation. Think about it, your co-workers would probably dig it.

There is nothing like art born from painful personal experience, but I hope your job pays well, brother.  I especially enjoyed the saw and the dripping red dye, where is the first aid kit?  Seriously, that might have been a nice detail, but maybe not accurate?

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I also found a couple of funny images in my wanderings through the house of Quillis and they seem like a perfect way to conclude our daily conversation.  What can I say?   I enjoy the comedic stylings of both Cheech & Chong and Harold & Kumar.  Until next time, constant reader, remember to stay hydrated (it’s a wasteland out there), stay cool and always pass the dutchie on the left hand side.

Constructive Criticism: Why not?

What do you call a person who refuses to title their models or offer a description of any kind?  A true artiste?  A lazy minimalist?  A pretentious contrarian?  Or is it evidence of pseudonym standing in for a more famous builder who doesn’t want to be recognized?  Today on the Manifesto we will be discussing the collected works of Why not?, the mysterious MOCpages builder who steadfastly refuses to engage with his or her fellow hobbyists and is content to let the building do all the talking.

Let’s begin with Why not’s most recent build, a suitably creepy monster with a large wingspan.  I was drawn in by the tilted head and skeletal wings and I lingered to examine the beautifully constructed rib cage and three-toed feet.  Although I enjoyed perusing the image it left me wanting more.  Mostly I wanted a better photo to examine, but MOCpages is notorious for butchering images and I could not find a Flickr account under the same name.  The proportions of the demon seem just a little bit off, especially the legs which  have stunted, insubstantial thighs.  I know the subject is not human and I should probably be careful applying human anatomy to a demon but it just doesn’t look right.  I also wish the wings were a little more developed, a little more bony structure would really provide additional visual impact to the model.  Likewise I think if the arms had been posed more effectively it might benefit the work as a whole and make it look a little less static.

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Why not’s back catalogue of models is strewn with very intriguing near-misses.  Take for example this  untitled cemetery scene from 2015, it’s a great concept with a unique perspective but too much of the image is dominated by the sloppy looking, studs-out walls of the grave.  My objections isn’t based on an anti-studs rant, I think studs have their place as a good contrast to the smoothness of man-made constructs like the stone cross, but I think all the studs detract from the power of the image.  Graves are not typically emblazoned with the LEGO logo everywhere and I think maybe some wedge-plates would have looked better or at least some smooth sections.  The all-black minifigs are a trademark of Why not, and they work great here to add mystery of the model, but the white sky behind them doesn’t do any favors for the presentation. I can’t help but wonder how the image would look with a gray or blue sky, either photographed outdoors or Photoshopped for that matter.

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Some of Why not’s work recall the early “artistic” offerings from Chairman Zhang, with careful and deliberate use of color (or lack thereof) to make a statement.  Take for example this vignette featuring a naked minifig on a colorful island, surrounded by a monochromatic city-scape and colorless watchers.  I’m not sure what the builder is trying to say here and that’s either the artistic strength of the model or a frustrating weakness where the viewer has to supply all the meaning without enough visual clues.  If I had to guess I’d say the vignette depicts the isolated existence of the creative individual amidst the cold gray society that watches but doesn’t understand the artistic life….but your mileage may vary.  For me, the nano-skyscrapers are not interesting enough in design and the borders where the water meets the city are clumsy.  Even if the purpose of a model is to make a larger statement, it still needs visual interest beyond iconic symbols.

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We conclude our examination of Why not, with a collection of his or her best pieces.  The more I delve into the unfortunately limited body of work by this mystery-builder, the more I appreciate it.  The subject matter is diverse and generally speaking I appreciate the minimalist presentation.  I’d rather have no written explanation than a tedious backstory any day.  Each one of these models has little details that bother me, like the low-res spider on the girl’s face and the thickness of the electric chair’s arms, but there is no denying the power of the images.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the persistent conspiracy theory on MOCpages that accuses the talented and somewhat infamous builder Deus Otiosus of being Why not. The evidence is scant and seems to rest mostly on the notion that Deus frequently comments on Why not’s models, offering an explanation for the action.  I do see some similarities in style between the two, mostly in the clever technique displayed like using wheels for restraints on the electric chair pictured above, but it’s just not enough to pin the pseudonym on Deus.  I reached out to “Big D” for a comment via Flickr and he unequivocally denied the charges.

Ultimately I don’t really care too much about the identity of “Why not?” Every builder is entitled to a pseudonym from time to time.  As long as he or she continues to build thought-provoking (if flawed) models for my consumption, I’m all in.