Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Brick Journal issue 3

A new issue of Brick Journal was just released and is featured on Bricks in my Pocket. Brick Journal is a magazine all about the LEGO hobby edited by Joe Meno and with articles by various AFOLs (I wrote one on minifigs in a previous issue). This issue features an article on vignettes at BrickFest written by Janey Cook on pages 92-93, as well as lots of other great articles on various aspects of AFOLdom. This issue focuses on the various AFOL fests from last year. Okay, stop reading this blog and go to Bricks in my Pocket to download your copy. (Warning, I found that I had to update my version of Adobe Acrobat Reader to be able to read the file.)
Update - It's now in wide release.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A peek behind the curtain

Recently Izzo has posted several great vignettes based on Japanese proverbs that he has posted in his Brickshelf gallery and on his website. Dunechaser has done a great service to English-speaking AFOLs by providing translations on Pan-Pacific Bricks. I've posted on these vignettes three times now, and probably will again in the future as he is already continuing his series. In a response to one of my blog entries, Izzo asked why I chose the ones I did. This is a great question, and I figured I'd answer it here rather than in the comment boxes, as this gives a further chapter in my thoughts on what makes a good vignette and why I choose to feature any particular vignettes in this blog.

First off, notice that Izzo's creations are all beautifully photographed. No blur, great lighting, neutral backgrounds, interesting camera angles, image sizes large enough to show all details but not over-large. It probably goes without saying that good presentation is the first thing in getting any LEGO creation noticed.

More specifically, looking at vignettes, I personally prefer creations featuring minifigs. Not that there aren't many great creations that either do not feature people at all or are at different scales - for instance, in Izzo's case, he has a hilarious Bart Simpson sculpture, a beautiful crane and a very poetic turtle scene - however this is just my personal preference.

As I've said before, vignettes are the haiku of LEGO building. By imposing fairly rigid constraints, these "slice of life" creations force the builder to distill a scene down to its very essence (and, like haiku, they first came to us from Japan). In my previous posting on what makes a good vignette, I mentioned four things I look for in the best vigs - use of space, action, storytelling, and humor. Thinking further on this, I suppose instead of "humor" I should have said "emotional impact," as some vignettes invoke feelings of sentimentality, sadness, or a simple sense of tranquility.

To see better how these qualities are put into action, first consider four of Izzo's vignettes -
"Candle in the wind (To have one's life hang by a thread)", "If you're in love, travelling a thousand miles seems like only one mile.", "Strategem 36: If all else fails, run away", and "To gain one of your nine lives back".

Use of space Both "candle" and "nine lives" use the vertical dimension very well. In the first the low angle of photography makes the fig's placement at the edge of the cliff seem very precarious and in the second placing figs on three levels gives a great impression of a construction site. Both "love" and "run away" do something different; by showing us parts of much larger objects (the subway train and the dragon), they allow our brains to fill in the much larger world around this little 8x8 plot.

Action None of these creations seems static. Each is like a photograph in that it captures an instantaneous moment in time - just as the beam is falling in "nine lives", or just as a wave crashes against the cliff in "candle".

Storytelling Even before Dunechaser provided the translations, the story in each of these scenes is clear. "Candle", for instance, is like a scene out of an old Saturday matinee, with our hero trapped by the evil villain. He looks over his shoulder to see if he can escape that way, but right then a wave crashes against the rocks below. How will he escape? Come back next week to see. In "love" you can tell that the man has been waiting on the platform for his loved one to arrive. She sees him from the window, and as the train stops she jumps off and into his arms. What really makes this scene for me, though, is the way the other figs have turned to see, smiling at this display of young love.

Emotion Again, each of these scenes is full of emotion. In "nine lives" it's that mixture of fear and relief we've all felt in the wake of an accident narrowly avoided. In "run away" it might be fear, but for any Monty Python fan it's probably more likely a hearty laugh. The tension is thick in "candle", and "love" evokes, well, love.

Most vignettes fit in the "slice of life" category and I would judge them by the criteria above. Some, though, are more abstract, trying to illustrate an idea in an artistic way. Unless you enter the tiger's den, you can't steal her cubs and The nail which sticks out gets hammered down are two of these.

For this type of vignette I look to how well the scene conveys the idea and the artistic merits. I have to admit that "tiger's den" probably doesn't succeed as well, but the sculpt of the tiger's head was so great I wanted to include it. On the other hand, "nail" succeeds beautifully. Putting the conformist figs in all white reminds me of a science fiction movie like THX 1138, and contrasting with the brightly colored nonconformist is very effective. It's also especially apt that the conformist figs are all faceless, in contrast with the red fig. This really illustrates well the feeling we've all had from time to time.

Anyway, I hope that gives some further insight into what sorts of things can make a great vignette. What do you think? I'd be interested to get others' views on this form of building.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Community news

I try to keep a pretty good link list of the LEGO community over there on the right -->. However, any comprehensive list of links is doomed to be outdated as soon as it is posted; sites that are included go dead and new sites are created constantly. The solution is to have a community-based interactive link list. Check out Wiki-Brick-Links, a new Wiki site where anyone can log in and edit the link list to add new links or flag dead links. With your help, we can have a constantly updated listing of LEGO fan sites around the world.

In other news, LEGO has announced an exciting upcoming theme. Na na na na na na na na Batman! These sets will be released later this year, and I'm sure we'll see some great vigs inspired by this line. Watch this space, because I'm thinking about holding a contest when these sets come out. Same bat-time, same bat-URL. See more pics from this theme here.

New Classic-Castle contest

There's a Heroes and Villains contest on Classic-Castle. Build two vignettes, one featuring a hero and the other featuring a villain, and the two vigs go together to show them in conflict. Entries will be posted here. Cyin started things off with Bombadil goes boating.

Smitten by the vig bug

God smites Sherem in Nathan Cunningham's continuation of his Book of Mormon series with Jacob 7.

Yo ho yo ho, a pirate's life for me

BuilderQ uses some nice SNOT technique in X Marks the Spot.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

More wisdom from Japan

The other day I posted some vigs by Izzo based on Japanese proverbs. He's posted several more. Hopefully there will soon be some translations on Pan-Pacific Bricks.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Row, row, row your boat

A bit large for me to feature here, but just too beautiful to pass up. Delta has a great scene with Two Sides to look at.

The highs and lows of Nelson Yrizarry

Nelson Yrizarry has posted six great new vigs including Ogg's New Home and Urban Commando.

Down at Odin's Taco Emporium

Steve Bishop imagines what might happen if a Viking decided to snack on a Jalapeno.

A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou . . .

Tiger0207 is consistantly one of my favorites. Can anyone translate his poetry?

In medias res

Melody Brown brings us a scene of Joe In the Media.

Happy birthday, Ben!

Today would have been Ben Franklin's 300th birthday, so it seems a good time to remind people of a previously blogged creation by Googleplexer's brother: Ben Franklin.

Not a vig, but Andrew Becraft has a great Ben Franklin minifig: