Step 1: Find Figures
They also seem to be built at a scale closer to the name-brand (like Lemax� and Department 56�) buildings, so putting them next to the buildings does not make them look like giants living in Lilliputia. Brand-name accessories are really made to be placed in front of their buildings, so their houses look as if they are in the background at a distance. This is called forced perspective. (Look at my picture to see how the non-brand people look much closer in scale than the name-brand.)
The figurines I am suggesting can be placed much closer to the buildings, right next or in them, and still look good.
Step 2: Select Your Figures
Step 3: Improve Your Figures
You can also improve the figures by removing casting imperfections by using needle files. I haven't much of modifying or repainting yet, but I will post back here my experiences when I do.
In the picture I have included, you can see a scene (lower left) of a snowman and lots of kids around him. This whole accessory cost $2 and the only improvement I did was to correct some painting errors on the snowman hat using a Sharpee� marker.
Step 4: Place Your Figures
Bigger figures can be placed in front of the buildings and still look OK, as they provide a forced perspective. They still will not look grossly out of scale.
In the picture I have included, I show a nativity display built from a $1 gazebo (bought years ago at a dollar store) and figures from a cheap nativity set bought at a craft store.
Don't be afraid to place figures inside a building. If a building represents a store, it will have windows through which we can see the products sold. These stores usually look deserted. You can show shoppers by placing figures in a way that can be seen by viewers through those windows.
Let your imagination be the guide. Isn't what this is all about, any way?