Let the building commence
I enjoy being stretched creatively and taking on a challenge—and boy were these LEGO bust sets a challenge! They also weren’t really my cup of tea. Anyone who follows my photography will usually see a single minifigure in a nature scene of some sort. I typically shoot outside and my studio lighting consists of either clouds, or shade with the sun filtered through a bush or shrub for maximum bokeh effect. When given the opportunity to shoot something a bit different, I decided this would stretch me out of my comfort zone. It has been uncomfortable, but I am always pleased with the results and end up learning a thing or two. The LEGO sets I received included: Batman Cowl (76182), Venom Bust (76187), the Batman Classic TV Series Batmobile (76188) (my personal favorite), and Spider-Man & Doctor Octopus Mech Battle (76198). Talk about a random selection!
Batman Classic TV Series Batmobile
Disclaimer: I am not a huge Batman fan. That being said, I really like the look of this classic 1966 Batmobile! It’s complete with flashy red fins and a compartment for Batman costumes. I can see this car being the perfect addition to any LEGO collectors’ cityscape. It would look awesome gliding past the ’50s diner on a crowded LEGO street. Unfortunately I do not have space for something that epic. The classic Adam West Batman figure that comes with this set has great facial markings that accent his chiseled features. I imagine that was the designers’ goal. He also sports a golden (metallic print) bat belt buckle on his famous utility belt. The Cesar Romero Joker minifigure that comes with this set does not seem to really fit in. I think it would have been better to include a sidekick Robin as the car is setup for two minifigures to ride in style. Maybe they want Batman and Joker to be best buds and ride in style together? This car is so photogenic, so I still give it a 7 out of 10 for toy photography.
How does one incorporate a static sculpture in toy photography?
Now for the sculpture-type sets.
I want my toys to be static. Otherwise they’re just a real pain to shoot. If I wanted movement in my shots, I’d be a bird or wildlife photographer. So naturally I thought about these things when drumming up ideas for these static end use LEGO sets. The builds were quite enjoyable and left me trying to figure out how LEGO had designed such organic features using mostly square bricks. I think the LEGO Group has been steering a lot of their sets geared towards the adult collector to multifaceted building techniques and applications that make for more natural static end uses, such as display or decorations. It is certainly apparent with recently reviewed sets like the Bonsai Tree and the Flower Bouquets.
I think we as toy photographers are a puzzling bunch for toy companies. How do they create a happy medium between child and adult demographics? The playability features of the these particular models are fairly dim. This is where my challenge came. I consider myself a child at heart and I still get super excited every time we get a new wave of minifigures. But it’s more than the excitement of playing. It’s the excitement to create new and diverse scenes with my toys. That spark of creativity is my play. It’s that same spark that fuels creativity in children to create deep story lines and rebuild their worlds. This is a key element of why LEGO is a crowd pleaser!
I’m happy to report that I was able to come up with quite a few ideas. I thought of the saying from my english teacher as a kid: “A verb is anything a squirrel can do to a log.” The Bat Cowl and Venom were the logs. My minifigures can be the squirrels. Both models noted they were designated for ages 18+ on the boxes and I got a chuckle when I overheard my kids telling each other they weren’t allowed to build it because of age restrictions. These were the sets I decided to build first, so I could then visualize how I would integrate them into my toy photography. I didn’t want to create standard product shots because I feel this doesn’t really fit my style or achieve our goals here. I like what I shoot to be interacting with the environment in some way.
My youngest boy was basically drooling over this set as I was building it. He’s been a fan of Batman since I’m sure as long as he can remember. My initial idea for this one was imagined as a dream sculpture for LEGO Batman in the Batcave or Wayne Manor. Really pompous and quite self-absorbed, a giant sculpture of LEGO Batman seemed like a great fit for his giant ego. I didn’t really find a great setting for a cave, so the shoot basically turned into shots of LEGO Batman scaling the side of his own face.
The eyebrows on this sculpture pivot and make them useful like intermittent windshield wipers for the eyes. After building it, I am really happy with how this Batman Cowl looks and I think it would add great detail to a Batman fan’s office shelf. Toy photography is a bit on the lean side. I would love to incorporate it as a subtle entrance to the Batcave or something, but my moc skills would need to be honed a bit more before I attempted something like that. So the potential is definitely there, although one does have to stretch a bit. Other than that, I don’t really see myself shooting this display piece much in the future.
The Venom Bust was a fun build and the designers incorporated a hidden chamber to hide money and other valuables within it by easily removing the back of the head. At least that is what I plan to do. It was a cool surprise utility detail—Shhh! During the build I found it interesting that they had so many strangely colored pieces, but it made it much easier to see the different steps during the process. My first idea was to use this creature with the Stranger Things minifigures as it seems much more scary than the Demogorgon. Again, as a display piece, this thing rocks! Dimensionally Venom’s lower jaw juts out and really lends itself to an uncanny valley vibe. The eye builds differentiate from each other which means LEGO went against the grain in terms of symmetry. It really adds to the nightmarish feel of this build. My daughters were totally freaked out by it. Another idea I had for shooting with this was to basically put tons of Spider-Man and Venom minifigures all over the statue—as if it is spawning mini versions of itself. Maybe I’ll try that in the future!
Spider-Man & Doctor Octopus Mech Battle (Diplomatic)
I really like these LEGO Mechs. They really boost the hero power of every minifigure that gets one. I would love to see the Stranger Things minifigs get their own mechs—Ha! Seriously though, the playability of these mechs is awesome and they pose really well. My inspiration for these figures comes mostly from Lukasz Wiecek (@lukasdata on Instagram). He does super fancy posing by pulling legs and arms out of sockets on minifigures. I just can’t stand the thought of removing those parts, though, so I don’t.
It would have been nice if they shortened the name of Doctor Octopus on this set’s packaging to Doc Ock, but I guess that’s just a nickname. Really, any set that comes with minifigures is a set worth photographing. I can always come up with ideas or at least just take a beautiful portrait of the character. The parts and color schemes of these robots are great, though I found the articulations on Doc Ock’s arms a bit on the annoying side. They are a little finicky and tend to come off easily when posing. Photographing them is a solid 7 out of 10. I am not as much of a fan of Marvel and DC characters though, because they all just seem to be mindless, beat-up-bad-guy muscle men. I understand the fun with battles, but honestly why couldn’t it be more like a Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus chess battle, or thumb war or something less violent. That’s where my thoughts were focused, so I changed the narrative.
I actually found shooting the Venom head the easiest for this review, but I had to wait until dark to get the lighting I wanted under the oleander bush in my backyard. I love how much detail they created with the teeth, and I now feel a bit like a witch doctor with shrunken heads in my display cabinet. These really do match shrunken head size, I imagine—not big enough for a real head and too big for LEGO or action figure size. I bet they can be used fairly well in backgrounds if you stop down for greater depth of field. Overall, I give them a 5 out of 10 for photography purposes. The busts really shine in their intention as display pieces and I definitely give them a 10 out of 10 in that category.