Friday, 29 August 2008

The Hundred Days

Vive le Masoko Tanga! This blog has been defunct for quite sometime now, I was hit with school, work, something of a social life, and a general dim age has descended upon my hobby of LEGO building.  Tom may actually be dead. Well, who knows, perhaps he might strike at the flanks with a well prepared article. Enough talk, I move to the point of this post, and a most glorious point it is - to restore Masoko Tanga to its previous prestige!

Lukas, a Young Spacer who unlike myself still qualifies as a TFOL, has advanced his skills far passed what they were when he started building. I've known him loosely since he came to the Classic Space Forums - I've always been a relative outsider, and my inability to attend festivals will leave me to this fate more or less indefinitely.  I've always held Lukas in high regard, he never becomes egotistical about his skills, never lowers himself to blatant elitism, and generally tends to avoid internet drama - skills which seem to be lacking in the general Space community these days. So I sat down at my computer today and had an interview with him! I know he was recently interviewed by LAML, so I tried to ask questions that weren't of the basic and obvious variety.
 Now, in the last couple of years the demographics of the LEGO community have really changed. Back in 2003, you could refer to the online community as the AFOL community and it would make sense, the majority if not the entirety of the community at places like LUGnet were adults. 
"The starting group in toy chat rooms, LUGnet, and ultimately Classic-Space was started by men pretty much over the age of 30" says Lukas, "I think that the age demographic of the more intense LEGO community declined as time went on. ... along with a burst of internet activity, young people joined in". LEGO has and always will be targeted at the young audience, so its not as if the fans don't exist. By the time of LUGnet many younger fans were even online, as Bzpower is an example of, and smaller forums like Saber Scorpian's. But the group isn't the same as those, today there are many younger fans who show the same level of skill and effort that was previously only possessed by AFOLs. 
"We weren't aware of this more intense way of building until we were old enough to get on the internet and realize we could participate too". I think the last part there is ringing on a greater truth. At the start of my online excursions, settled into the Lego General section of Bzppower forums, I became aware of the AFOL .Space (who were not yet on Classic-Space); it never really occurred to be that I could join them, at least not at that stage in my building skills.
Lukas also came from a smaller community of younger builders, "I think it helped me ease into the serious building". There's a certain change that occurs in the mind of a LEGO fan when they discover a trove of people online who share the same passion, and another more significant change when that group is weeded out of those who will move on from LEGO once they pass the target age; "I realized how much people really cared and how much work other people put into the hobby".
There is also something to be said about coming from such a community and how it plays out upon a builder's skill and attitude, "if I had hopped right into Classic-Space, Classic-Castle, [or] the higher up forums it probably would have been more of a shock, and might have turned me away from the hobby". While harsh criticism is the best way to improve skills, sometimes it does a lot of good to be grounded with others around the same skill level.
"It also gave me a feeling that some people are very stuck up.... The high standards go both ways". There is often a thin line between tough love and though.  Sometimes the though love is needed, sometimes just the though, and other times neither. Its a situation that is dependent upon both sides as to what is needed. When I finally immigrated to Classic-Space forums I knew that I was going there for harsh and real criticism, of the kind you can't get there today. Such, I was not deterred when my first handful of models were largely dejected. Still, I was putting forth my best and hoping to make it better.
"People should put their best foot forth. ... the models that they have worked on the most and are most proud of" says Lukas, touching on the hierarchy of builders within the community, "some people reject all people who, while [they] might have incredible ideas or techniques, may not be able to make a spaceship with a consistent colour scheme". Luckily in my stay at Classic-Space there was no rejection of community members and I received the 'tough love' I needed.
"I still poke my head into both the higher-up and the lower forums, just so I can get the best view, I suppose".
Another recent change to the community was another migration. Just as many members left LUGnet and splintered into separate forums, many members are using flickr these days to host images of their creations and to interact with the LEGO community. 
"I still dislike thinking in terms of better and worse builders, but it does exists, and a forum where any builder, no matter how inexperienced [and] no matter how many years of grammar can join, things will go downhill eventually. This is one of the reasons why I enjoy flickr so much" that is, the ability to control who you are dealing with - while at the same time being part of a community with such a large pool of members, new and old.
"It makes it easier for new people to join, .... and with such a web of users, new people can quickly find experienced builders and learn from them". Whether or not flickr has the longevity that no other community site has achieved, remains to be seen, but it seems to incorporate a lot of features that people longed for in the sites of old.
We then moved to questions involving building. This blog has always had a soft spot for Microscale Space, so I kept the questions focused. Microscale has risen anew in the last couple years to heights of prestige never previously enjoyed. It seems like such a specific genre, but in fact it is the most open of any building style.
"Once you toss the minifig out the window really anything can be made.... it lets extraneous parts get unique uses and doesn't destroy my collection. It also allows for a myriad of unique shapes unrestricted by gravity or that pesky thing known as 'common sense'".
Why then did it take so long for Microscale to become an established and popular style? Before builders like Mike Yoder or Jerac came along, microscale was relatively obscure and the only models that enjoyed celebrity were those of Paul Baulch. 
"It just goes with the ebb and flow of building styles and fads. I feeling it fading a bit nowadays but that's fine. MICROSCALE WILL STRIKE AGAIN". Hah. Perhaps it has something to do with the fascination many AFOLs had during the LUGnet period with producing SHIPs. When you have enough parts to create big ships that fit with minifigs, microscale doesn't even begin to enter the equation. However, as mentioned earlier there was a great rise in the number of serious younger builders - who undoubtedly had much smaller collections than AFOLs and therefore couldn't produce SHIPs. 
I dared to dive into the builder's mind and clarify a few details about the thinking process that goes into creating a model.
"Generally when I get an idea it comes in shape form, then I decide whether that should be in microscale or minifig scale" he admits that occasionally this process is reversed. I know that I usually separate my scales and sit down with the intent of building in one particular scale. However sometimes there will be a shape or a configuration of parts that will get me thinking abstractly, and scale is left in lieu until I reach a part that grounds it.
"Depending on my collection and how some parts work out, details may change but for the most part I get my idea out there the way I wanted it to be.... if it doesn't end up the way I planned you don't see it" for the most part, he says. Working abstractly can be good, but it also can end with wasted time and effort.
I moved onto the final topic I wanted to question Lukas on, and that was the photography of LEGO models. Is it really so important to properly document your model?
"Immensely. Sure a poorly photographed but amazing model will get known eventually, [brickshelf user] kero40 for example, but good photography makes the model the star of the show, rather than your dirty laundry or the gritty background you chose, and that makes the model more appealing". There have been a few attempts to educate the masses how to do this simply, I know because I've written a few of them and hope to publish another here on MT soon, but perhaps education through suggestion isn't enough?
"A few contests of late have required decent photography, which I think is a good rule" and here I tend to agree. For the sake of the builder, nothing can compare to seeing a model in person, so good photography is very important in giving your viewer the best impression.
"Good photography should bring out the depth of the model, but when you can physically move yourself around it you get a better sense of where parts of the model are in relation to each other" this means that bad photography is going to seriously detract from a model and undermine it's success with the community as a whole.
So how does Lukas photograph?
"I toss a sheet of poster board up against something in natural sunlight. I own a nikon D40 DSLR camera which I take the pictures with and then I touch them up with Photoshop CS3". Now, not everyone has access to CS3, but I know many a good photographer who makes due with the plethora of free options floating around the internet.
With that we brought the interview to a close and Lukas left to attend to other business, but I hope this article has touched upon atleast one subject that has been the musing of your mind and that you'll continue to read as Masoko Tanga turns a new leaf and hopefully puts out many more such articles before she keels. 


Jon Dowland said...

Hi, as an outsider/newcomer to the LEGO Internet community I found this very insightful. Just one thing though, it's thick with acronyms that are inpenetrable to beginners (LAML I might figure out, TFOL? AFOL? SHIPs?) A glossary of terms would be great.

Mike said...

Teen Fan of Lego, Adult Fan Of Lego, Seriously Huge Investment In Parts. has a fairly extensive glossary of terms.

Good work Brenden. It's nice to see someone's still blogging.

Bren said...

A glossary at the side for some basic Acronyms would be a good idea, I had no idea people from outside the community would read this! Thanks guys.

Anonymous said...

Excellent. Almost 10 years old and it still hits several nails squarely on the head. The friction experienced by new comers to the hobby, the tyranny of the minfig, and the importance of presentation are all every bit as important today as they ever were. These are enduring ideas, principal level concepts and you lay them out quite simply in this article. Well done. Attack!

Tom Buck said...

Has it been 10 years already? Masoko Tanga.. there's a name I haven;t heard for long time.. I'm not dead and still very much alive. Long live Masoko Tanga!