Reading the latest Model Railway Journal, a letter from Alan Fell caught my eye. It’s quite long, but I’ve quoted it in full, as it could be helpful to us modellers. There had been some discussion in previous editions as to whether the enormous 2mm layout, Copenhagen Fields, (CF) appeared lifeless and ‘dead’ to the viewer. Alan Fell comments:
“The issues raised in the letters of MRJ No. 281 about the quality of modelling in CF prompted me to recall my memories of the layout. I remember well the I emptiness. I found it hard to sustain the highest level of interest in the layout and wondered why, rather guiltily. Pondering now on this matter, may I offer a suggestion?
I believe the issue arises not from the subject itself, nor from the plentiful perception, skill and imagination which created it, but from the sheer extent of what is portrayed in a relatively small area, possible only in a smaller scale.
If we viewed a landscape so extensive with the naked eye, we could see all of it with peripheral vision, but could only focus on one very much smaller part of it at once. In that fractional part we would see much detail, and have some sense of scale and object-relationships thoroughly familiar to our minds. The unfocused full picture would enable us at best to see tones, area-masses, main routes, dominant building materials and major building types, but certainly no more.
It seems to me that the difficulty some find in engaging with CF is that we can see, and are strongly invited to see, an entire large vista in one view, and in doing so we find the detail and density revealed implicitly a disappointment to our of minds by the standard of our ordinary experience of perception, yet adding extra detail in an attempt to compensate would not be prototypical, believable or effective.
If I may venture to say this, it does seem to me that the ‘CF effect’ is one of the potential hazards of 2mm modelling, just as the ‘isolated cameo effect’ of 7mm work carries a risk. These twin effects are not an argument against the use of those scales, where it is clear that frequently much is achieved which otherwise could not be, particularly with some types of subject. Perhaps it does tell us something, however, about the strengths and popularity of 4mm modelling, where, I suspect, it is considerably easier to make ‘naked eye’ and ‘layout’ perception less dissonant.”
I think what is written here is helpful as we detail our ‘N’ gauge layouts. I can see how the comments come about – CF does look quite empty – but in the era modelled, empty streets would not have been unusual. It is only recently that grid-locked streets are the norm. The pictures below illustrate this point.
Perhaps what is needed in ‘N’ gauge is a blend of scenes – some empty areas, but ‘cameos’ of activity such as a group of people at a bus stop, or a group of vehicles on the road. Perhaps this is more representative of a real scene than all-over hectic activity, or all-over emptiness?