In Defense of the Three-Foot Rule

A few years back, I got into a brief tussle with a very fine modeler on The Railwire. This otherwise very intelligent, gifted individual had taken issue over another member who'd invoked the term, "Three Foot Rule." For one thing, the fellow misinterpreted the spirit of the "Three Foot Rule" and, worse, spoke as if it was an actual rule.

Allow me to 'splain...

The "Three Foot Rule" simply places a cap on the level of detailing done on any given model based on how it will be typically viewed—and this is an important bit—by the builder. And by "typically viewed" I mean from some distance greater than, say, a foot or two.

Yes, some people will lean into a layout for a closer look at stuff, but that's at their discretion; the layout's builder may have chosen not to stress over things that may seem off on those rare occasions one might take a closer look. And indeed some modelers don't care to get any closer than a foot or two. Truth.

But, above all, it ain't a real rule! Sheesh, I can't believe that... oh, nevermind.

I was once one of those modelers who would sweat the really, really small stuff. I'd make models that would literally require magnification to view all of the detail. And there were three reasons I did this. One, because I could. Two, because I had really good eyesight (emphasis on "had"). And three, because photography was advancing at an astounding rate. Digital macro photography, image stacking for infinite depth of field... it was all I could do to keep my modeling in step with image technology.

Not any more. For one thing, my eyesight is failing; I'm essentially having the "Three Foot Rule" forced upon me. And for another, digital macro photography is creating an arms race that modelers simply cannot hope to win. Consider, as but one example, a recent forum topic: how will we ever overcome the problem of unrealistic N Scale people? It's simply not commercially viable to produce figures that look convincing in macro images; then again, could anyone ever fabricate them any better by hand? It's an Achilles Heel of any small scale.

Digital macro photography will undoubtedly continue to outpace our ability to fool people with our modeling. So, consider this fair warning: I will stop trying. I will be applying my own personal "Three Foot Rule" wherein, if something looks good to my eye at normal viewing distances, that will be good enough.

Maybe I'll call it, the "Good Enough" rule. Oh, wait...

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