A survey of Lego mosaic faces that I have created during the last two years.
About this creation
At this point, I have done roughly 50 Lego mosaics. Many of them have included one or more faces. Since faces tend to be a difficult subject to represent in Lego bricks, I thought I'd do a retrospective of some of the faces that I've built. I don't know if many people will actually read through all of this, but I wanted to catalog my successes, failures, and technical improvements for my own benefit, even if no one else is interested.
I have grouped the faces according subject matter:
Head-on view female faces
Side view female faces
Partial side view female faces
Head-On Female Faces
One of the earliest full faces I created was Grace Kelly's. While details like the hairstyle and jewelry hint at who it is, the face is otherwise fairly bland. Blonde hair is always problematic, too, since using brick yellow for hair leaves only bright yellow as the only reasonable choice to represent blonde hair. At least the proportions were pretty much correct in this one.
Next in chronological order was the face from Sweet Ride. Considering how small this face was, I thought it actually turned out pretty well. All the proportions are pretty reasonable and the simple hairstyle worked well to frame the simple face.
Next came Modern Day Siren. Definitely a step in the right direction. Although the treatment of the eyes and eyelashes was a little heavy-handed, the shaping of the mouth and jawline turned out very well. This was also my first experiment with layered hair, and that too, seemed to be a success. For those of you who were wondering, this mosaic was actually based on a very early photograph of Pamela Anderson (I changed the hair color).
Some time later, I did a number of mosaics based on bomber nose art. Miss Jolly Roger was based on the nose art from an RAF Buccaneer bomber. While I like how the hair came out, some of the facial features seemed off, especially the somewhat cross-eyed eyes and a mouth that stands out too much. I can write that off to the original being imperfect as well, but I think I took a step back with this one.
Another mosaic based on a fictional character was Taarna. While I thought the body and body armor came out pretty well for this mosaic, the face was a little bit of a disappointment for me. My version of her face seemed a little too long and thin, and the eyes seemed too dark. The overall effect was to make her look a little too much like Dee Snyder, although that may have been what she looked like early on during the production of Heavy Metal. The production staff made a deliberate choice at some point during the creation of the movie to "soften" her, making her more sexy and less Amazonian.
Quite a while later, I created a mosaic version of Jack Vettriano's painting Heaven or Hell. The face in this one was medium-sized. I felt that this one was a major success. Despite its modest size, I thought that the faced captured the soft, beguiling look of the original pretty well. Figuring out a way to use pink, rather than red, for the lips no doubt helped quite a bit.
Most recently, I built a mosaic version of a Patrick Nagel serigraph. I feel that this face is probably the best I've done. Nagel's somewhat deliberate representation of details like the heavy 1980s-era makeup is well-suited for Lego treatment. This mosaic was also the first time I tried to use shadows to accentuate some of the figure's features. The shadowing worked well enough that I have continued to include it on a number of mosaics since this one.
Side View Female Faces
I haven't done too many mosaics with side-angle faces, but one of the first was in Her Favorite Bikini. While I managed to find good techniques for representing the mouth, eyelashes, and eyebrows, the shaping of the neck and ear bothered me.
A while later, I did Leaving the City. This mosaic was a huge success, mostly for its representation of the shadows of the city buildings in the murky water. The face in this one was small, and the angle didn't allow for many features to be represented, but by rotating the head relative to the body, I managed to do an almost perfect job with the hairstyle and sunglasses.
Most recently was another Nagel Commemorative. From the side angle, this is definitely my best work. The shadowed chin, fine details of the eyelashes/eybrows, and well-shaped mouth and ear really made this one work.
Partial Side View Female Faces
The first partial side angle face mosaic I did was actually a cartoon character, Jessica Rabbit. This one actually turned out pretty well, but, to be fair, Jessica's exaggerated features made her pretty easy to represent with Lego bricks.
One of the earliest real-subject, full-face mosaics I created was Farmer's Daughter (based on a photograph of model Hillary Fisher). In my opinion, this one was an unmitigated disaster in terms of representing the face. It was here where I learned the importance of getting proportions correct for the face. The mouth was just way too large (actually, it was only about 15-20% too large, but for facial features, that is like the Grand Canyon - the human visual system is so well-tuned to processing faces that even small variations are extremely obvious).
Next came a mosaic based on a photo taken from an SI swimsuit edition photoshoot, featuring supermodel Marisa Miller wearing nothing but an Ipod. The eyes were a little strange, since the pupils got a little lost in the thick, black eyelashes, but other than the "pimple" on the nose and the use of bright yellow for her hair, I liked most of the rest of the face, especially the softer-looking pink lips.
From my series of bomber nose art mosaics, there was Pacific Princess. The eyes and mouth came out looking a little strange in this one, since the face was built on on the same "stud grid" as all of the other parts of the mosaic, so they looked sloped relative to the face. Since this mosaic, I have generally tried to rotate the faces to align the eyes to stud grid.
Next came another SI Swimsuit supermodel, Kathy Ireland. Once again, the eyes were a huge problem. This time, I tried to handle some of the hard-to-represent contours of the eyes near her nose by dithering in some gray, but it just didn't work. Aside from that, the eyelashes were just too heavy. I have since realized that unless I am working a very large scale, it is often better just to omit the eyelashes, especially the lower ones.
Following some time after that, was Pom-Pom Princess. While not anywhere close to perfect, this mosaic was a step in the right direction. Rotation of the face relative to the body allowed for a better representation of the eyes and mouth, but I had some trouble shaping the cheek and forehead on the right side of the subject's face. The billowing hair on this one, though, was a total success.
After a bit of a hiatus, I created Beckoning Beauty. This was another big step in the right direction. The rotation technique continued to yield good results, and I did a much better job representing the small details of the eyes, mouth and nose by scaling the reference image so that as many of the features as possible were an even number of studs/plates in size. The shaping of the eyes was still a little weird, though.
Soon after that, I created Temptress. The face in this mosaic was smaller than most and had a lot in common with the face I did for Heaven or Hell - understated pink lips, simplified eyelashes, and a "pimple-free" nose. While the eyes/pupils weren't perfect, I felt like I successfully managed to capture the softer look I had been looking for in many of my earlier mosaics.
Next among the partial side angle female faces was the woman's face from A Perfect Morning. I feel that this one may be the best face I've done from this angle. I used a new technique to representing the nose, dropping the cheek behind the nose by a layer, rather than raising the nose. In addition, this face was a triumph of scaling - all of the facial feature lined up perfectly with the stud grid, so that the eyes and mouth look very natural.
After that, I wanted to see how well I could do with a very large format face mosaic, so I did Rapture. I continued to use a version of the technique from A Perfect Morning to represent the nose, but had a little trouble with the shaping of the tip of the nose. All of the other facial features turned out very well. I even managed to do a very realistic representation of the subject's teeth.
Finally, there is Totally Terri, a Nagel-style rendering of Playboy model Terri Lynn Doss. While the face is not perfect (some observers noted that the shaping was a little off near the chin and cheek), I feel that it is among my best, especially considering the relatively small size. I feel like I managed to do a reasonably good job capturing the look in the model's eyes from the reference photo, and the recreation of the overdone 1980s hairstyle seemed to be very good overall.
I haven't done nearly as many male faces, but the first one (that wasn't part of a couple) was Eric Heiden. This one turned out fairly well, except for the mouth, which is just plain scary. I used a new techniques to try to represent individual teeth and it did not work. What did work, though, was the recreation of his squinty eyes to capture his determined look.
Next came Edwin Moses. Once again, I think I managed to capture the determined look pretty well. The facial hair, built from a collection of flat plates, tiles and hinges, was also a success. But this mosaic was a triumph of parts usage, with the dark orange croissant perfectly filling the role of Moses' lower lip.
My greatest male face, though, was Clint Eastwood. I think I pretty much captured all of the details I wanted to, including, most importantly, Clint's signature squint, and the cigarette hanging off the end of his mouth.
I have done a number of mosaics featuring couples. One of the earlier ones was Shall We Dance?. While I really liked how I captured the overall poses of the dancers, I wasn't entirely happy with the faces. The man's faces looks a little angular (robotic, almost), and he looks like he's wearing an eye patch (he's not supposed to be). The woman's face was a little better - the contour of her cheek looks pretty good, and I also like how the protruding eyelash looks, but I wish I could have included a little more detail, even given the partial rear view.
A little later, I did Here's Looking at You, Kid, recreating the famous Bogart/Bergman scene. I used some new techniques on this one to try to represent Bogey's somewhat jowly face, putting his mouth at a lower layer than most of his face. That sort of worked, but something still looks wrong. Bergman's face has more artifacts in it than I would normally like to see, probably because I choose a bad angle at which to orient her face (focusing on the bridge of her nose, rather than her eyes and mouth). I feel that I could a better job now if I were to redo this one. I have plans to do a Bogart/Bacall scene at some point in the future, so hopefully I'll get a chance to redeem myself.
Even later, I did Moonstruck. This mosaic was a throwback to some of my earliest two-tone mosaics. I created it as an experiment to see how well I could do applying some more advanced shaping techniques to one of these simpler mosaics. I'm pretty happy with the shaping of the faces in particular, as a number of people commented that they could see the couple's expressions. I have some plans to do a few more of these simple mosaics in the future. I'm hoping they turn out as well as this one.
Quoting Nick Barrett
Fascinating to see your art develop, thanks for sharing your insight.
Thanks. It was definitely a worthwhile exercise for me. Looking back on my work reinforced some of the hunches I had about what was working well and cast some light on those areas that still need improvement.
Quoting Doug Hughes
Nice to see the progression, honestly each one is so good it is hard to remember that the earlier ones had some flaws, so bravo on the constant improvement!
Thanks. I definitely have learned some things and made improvements along the way. The progression probably would have been more obvious if I had included some more of my (pretty bad) earlier attempts.