First, a bit of history. Although the level of printed detail on minifigures has been slowly increasing for quite some time, it was around the year 2003 that the overall style of the printing, both of the torsos and the faces, shifted (the shift sort of began in 2001, but it was in 2003 that it became really noticeable; interestingly, this was close to the beginning of my Dark Ages). Faces before the shift were generally based on the classic smiling face). They varied in style and detail, but most (not all) still grew out of, and therefore fit in stylistically with, the classic face. After the shift, the faces were based on a "new classic" face, one with eyebrows, a subtler smile, and eyes that have a "sparkle." The eyes and eyebrows are the main uniting factor, with all new minifigures having the "sparkling" eyes and most having eyebrows. Similarly, torso prints before the shift were generally more stylized representations of clothing; after the shift, the printing tended to be more "realistic" and detailed, and the print often extends to the back of the minifigure. The two styles can sometimes be compatible, but often the level of detail on the new prints makes the old look bad (for example, prints that show the folds of clothing make unprinted torsos look out of place, as they lack clothing folds). Of course, the level of detail is hardly consistent; this torso has no back printing: ;
this one does: ;
this one has front, back, and arm printing:
Anyway, a few months ago, I put together some similar minifigures, both from before and after the shift (for example: compared with ,
, etc.). Seeing the minifigures together, I decided that I liked the newer style better. Although the nostalgic part of me wanted to prefer the earlier style, the detail of the new style appealed to me too much at the time, and I decided to use that style in my town. I dismantled the old minifigures.
It was last week, however, that my thoughts began to change. I've been thinking of making an Adventurers photo-comic in which (for reasons you may find out later) I plan to use pirates. I had previously populated my Black Seas Barracuda with minifigures from the new Pirates line, but I decided to assemble some pirates from the old line to use in the comic. It was in doing this that I saw the old minifigures in a new light.
Compare, for example these two minifigures: .
The newer one is much more detailed--the belts are less stylized and hang at a realistically crooked angle, the shirt is torn, the back is printed, etc. This level of detail is very cool; it is also, for me, the downfall of the new style.
If the comparison were just between one of each minifigure, the results would be the same as they were in my earlier comparison. However, I needed a pirate crew, and the new Pirates line only gave us about five pirate torsos--one of which was a captain's torso, another of which was a female torso, leaving us with three torsos to use for average crewmen. This means that, to have a full crew, torso repeats are necessary.
This is when the strength of the older style became clear to me. The Black Seas Barracuda also had only five different types of torsos (but some of those were repeated, and two of the five only differ in the color stripes they have). Since using multiples of one torso is necessary for a full crew, imagine having several of the "old-style" pirates with the same print, and several "new-style" ones.
The faces and torsos of the "old-style" minifigures are stylized and generic; by switching around the color of pants and bandannas, you get two pirates that are different enough; the faces are simple and stylized enough that they can both represent a generic mustachioed pirate. Similarly, the torso print represents a stylized version of a common pirate shirt; since it is stylized, it can also be very generic. Perhaps in one's imagination these pirates would be different--one might be taller and thinner with a hooked nose, gaunt cheeks, and an earring, while the other might be short and stocky with a broken nose and several missing teeth. In the LEGO world, they are represented almost identically; the minifigures serve more as stock character "types" than actual characters (not that older LEGO doesn't have actual characters--Captain Redbeard and the female pirate are examples. But they're meant to be characters, set apart from the average "crew"). I can suspend my disbelief and see several different characters of the same type represented by variations on this stock minifigure.
By contrast, the "new-style" prints represent very specific characters, even among lowly crew members. While there is a great enough variety in face prints to avoid having a crew of smirking pirates with stubble, bored eyes, and one raised eyebrow (as common as this face is, it's hard to imagine several people having it), there are, as mentioned before, only a few torso varieties. With such detail, however, it is harder to suspend disbelief. Cool details like the torn shirt, the uneven angle of the belt, the curve of the stripes, and the fact that the belts are tightened on the second and fourth holes now become odd. It is easier to imagine that two "old-style" torsos, with their lack of precise detail, represent two different characters wearing similar clothing. It is harder to imagine that with the detail of the new torsos. Would everyone's belt hang that exact way, or be tightened that much? Would every pirate have an identical tear in their shirt?
The same problem, interestingly, manifests itself with the faces in the City theme. Although there are lots of face prints that can be used in City, the theme itself is very limited; if one collected only City, one would be left with lots of minifigures with chiseled faces, smirks and stubble, or half-smiles. Again, the level of detail in differentiating minifigures also means that, to be convincing, each minifigure should have a different face. And this, in my opinion, is the problem of the new style, and the reason that I have decided to switch back to the old one.
Edited by Mariko, 14 November 2011 - 10:50 PM.