Behind the Scenes: Dudu Simas

I love seeing photos of minifigs in natural environments. When they’re well matched to their scale and the narrative, the results are captivating.

More often than not, photos like these are taken outdoors by unflinching toy photographers ready to soil their knees, lie on rocky beaches and risk losing their minifigs to wind and water currents in pursuit of beauty and authenticity. Other times, minifig photographers construct little worlds in trays of gathered moss or baking pans of water that are kept at the ready for realistic photoshoots year-round.

But for Dudu Simas, all he needs to create his minifig-scale nature scenes is a humble houseplant. “I love mini-worlds, like little plants, bonsais and everything that can be a ‘real’ size to LEGO minifigures. I love trying to put together images that can be an immersive image, not a miniature scale image.”

Scale is paramount to lending credibility to his visual storytelling, which is his biggest challenge, Dudu says. “I want to make the image believable, a real immersive world (or a movie frame) with living characters and realistic situations, even in fantasy settings. I want to believe that this world exists. The overall scale has to make sense, the pose, the light. I want people to believe that the character is alive, that it exists and looks interesting, even in a unbelievable fairy tale.”

Enchanted forest

It’s this mentality that results in photos like this one of the three fauns playing music in the woods. The flora fits the scale of the minifigs wonderfully with the girth of the plant stem resembling the trunk of a majestic tree in a magical forest. The lighting, posing and mist all add to the realism: it’s as if you’ve stumbled upon these woodland creatures while on a hike and are quietly observing them from your hiding spot. The characters are all fauns but each fitted with a different instrument and face to show their individuality.

In this installment of the #inthestyleof series, Dudu explains how he used a houseplant as a minifig scale nature scene and how he created a realistic environmental portrait.

Conceptualizing a character and scene

Dudu creates characters with the intent of selling the idea that they are not just plastic toys, but living creatures. To do that, he gives his characters some context.

This character, “Gurm”, is an elaboration of a blacksmith character Dudu shot previously so it even has a little bit of a backstory to build on.

The blacksmith

“For this picture, I imagined where this goblin blacksmith might find the metal needed for his work. Of course he has to steal it. He walks alone trying to find some metal to steal.”

As a goblin and a blacksmith, Gurm’s unsettling facial features and medieval-inspired look fits his character perfectly. Gurm is especially well-appointed with two furry capes around his neck, a hood, a walking stick, an open backpack, a coin purse and a peg leg. His head is from CMF Series 15 Frightening Knight, his torso and arms from the Barbarian in CMF Series 11, and the wooden leg from a Junior Pirates set.

With the character and context set, Dudu moves onto deciding the color palette for the photo he wants to create. “I always think about the palette, and the feel or mood of the image. I know the subject and his motivations. It’s not a happy, colorful image. It’s an adventure in the woods: dark green, lots of brown, the yellow from the minifigure as a highlight. And fog or mist.”

The setup and shot

To create the foggy woods for his thieving goblin, Dudu used a regular houseplant as the environment and an e-cigarette to create some ambience. It might sound like a simple thing to shoot a minifig in a houseplant, but the challenge there is finding ways to hide the edge of the planter in your photo while still composing the shot well.

A houseplant makes a perfect world for the minifig

Framing the scene at just the right angle is imperative in these situations, but Dudu also cleverly used the fog to obfuscate the rim of the planter.

“The position of the fog has to be nice to work with this image. I wanted to create a nice atmosphere but not cover Gurm. Enhance the background, cover the lights, and hide the edge of planter.”

That’s a lot to demand of fog and there’s a quite a bit of trial and error involved but eventually, Dudu was happy with the results. A useful tip he offers if you’re going to vape for haze effects: “I used an old electronic cigarette that uses glycerin to generate real vapour, same as a real size smoke machine.”

Shooting on his balcony at night for this portrait of Gurm at work, Dudu used two desk lamps with LED light bulbs: one indirect, diffused light — which was even more diffused with the fog — to simulate natural cloudy daylight, and the other lamp to highlight the background. “When you illuminate a scene, try to do one light for the main subject and the other for the background. Always try to highlight the main subject and make the background more interesting,” Dudu advises.

The camera was set on a tripod and the scene was shot with a 18-55 lens at f/4.8, 0.4 shutter speed and ISO 100.

Editing the photo

Dudu shoots in RAW and uses GIMP to do his post-processing. “Very minor edits made on this one, just mixed some different fog position shots to enhance the look. I always adjust the exposure, white balance,brightness, and contrast.” Additional edits were made in Instagram like cropping, adjusting sharpness and applying a filter.

Unedited photo

The whole process from creating the context and designing the minifig to having the final edited shot took about 3-4 hours.

The Dudu Simas Challenge

When you are trying to achieve realism in your minifig photography as is Dudu’s goal, scale and story are important. They have to make sense, even when set in a fantasy context. Details such as posing and light also play big roles in shaping the reality and cannot be overlooked.

So for the #inthestyleof_dusimas challenge, I’m going to find a little patch of nature somewhere, maybe in my garden or maybe in a pot, that would make a perfect minifigure scale environment and create a character and context that is a good fit to the scene. As usual, any toy photographer is welcome to join the challenges but please make sure to mention @dusimas and use the hashtag #inthestyleof_dusimas so we can see your work!

This challenge ends on August 19.

More from Dudu:

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Dudu Simas: Instagram

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