Before the pandemic, Michael Soganic decided he needed an indoor hobby.
At the time, he was working in health-care software and started down a common path; he made model airplanes, some tanks. They were the usual builds you find in the hobby section and eventually got repetitive.
Somewhere along the way he got more and more interested in localizing his work. Having grown up on Vancouver Island and moved to Vancouver, he's well versed in the local sights, calling himself "obsessed" with the "big city" while growing up.
"I liked the idea of making things around me," he tells Vancouver Is Awesome. "I've slowly been doing that."
With COVID-19 offering everyone a chance to stay inside, his miniatures really began to take form with some big projects, most notable a city block that has become a showpiece of sorts for Soganic.
Welcome to the Vancouver Block
"I'm trying to cram as much Vancouver references into a one-foot-by-one-foot space," he says.
The block isn't representative of any one block in Vancouver; it's an amalgamation of how Soganic sees the city. And instead of huge glass and concrete highrises from the city's downtown skyline, he's gone with the neighbourhoods people live in. That means the (now-closed) Little Mountain Gallery, Vernon Drive grocery store and a Vancouver Special — "they have an ugly beauty to them" — all sit on a block above a SkyTrain station.
"There's the Paris Cafe," he adds. "And then there's the hobby shop side in Kerrisdale, they're where I get most of my hobby supplies; I spend half my pay cheque there so I figured it deserved an honour on the diagram."
The block goes beyond a few recognizable storefronts, with posters, ads and vehicles from around the city. The advertising is a particular passion for Soganic, who went to a famous source for inspiration.
"A lot of ads are straight-up cropped out of Fred Herzog photos," he says. "I think Herzog perfectly captured the '60s era of Vancouver and I wanted to replicate that."
Along with the huge, and hugely detailed, city block, Soganic has done other, smaller pieces. He just finished a tiny Earnest Ice Cream truck, he's got local municipal vehicles, and there's a SeaBus being taken down by a Kraken. There's also a huge piece representing the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, with a train, water bomber, and helicopter in a scene familiar to visitors of Duncan's Forest Discovery Centre.
Making the minis
While he's making custom miniatures, the process varies from item to item, and Soganic has learned a lot along the way, he says.
"It's kind of all over the map when it comes to what I've built," he says of how he's made things.
In some cases, it's essentially premade and he's just doing some small customization. The SeaBus being sunk by a creature of the deep can be bought from the TransLink store. Soganic pruned a squid toy, and set the whole thing in resin. For the Vancouver fire truck, it was a matter of creating some high-quality decals (a recently acquired skill Soganic is pleased with) and proper application.
Those are the easy ones.
For things like the storefronts, Soganic is making everything custom. That ranges from 3D printing pieces (a skill he's working on right now) to collecting random material from around town (there's a store in Mount Pleasant he likes to rummage through).
"I have a library of random materials that I pick from a Main Street recycled art supplies store," he says. "They have bins of bits and bobs that people have donated to them and that's a really cool store to pick up stuff."
The block has examples of all sorts of methods, he notes, which is why it's become his showpiece. With more than 100 Vancouver references and details added in all sorts of different ways, the piece is constantly evolving. Those details include references to locally founded brands like Greenpeace, Arctyrx and Ad Busters; movies like Deadpool; and local media like Z95.3 and Stop Podcasting Yourself. There are even some defunct names, like BC Tel and A&B Sound.
"I have a marketing degree I haven't used much of but I'm a bit fascinated by branding and commercials," Soganic says.
Looking at future models
While the miniature marvels are Soganic's passion, it takes a while for each one to come together, sometimes a full year. He needs to learn new skills, wait for something to dry or just deal with life (he just graduated from another program).
However, he's hopeful to turn his growing skill set into something that can pay the bills, or at least cover its own costs.
Encouragingly, he recently got to show his work at a course at the Museum of Anthropology.
"It was the first time someone outside other modelling nerds had noticed my stuff so it was really fun," he says.
Now, he's considering taking the next step with commercial model builds.
"I'm hopefully going to put together a corporate portfolio and start pitching that," he says, noting he's just on the cusp of making that turn.
In the near future, he plans on putting together some "pretend test commissions."
You can see his work on Instagram.