I designed this pair of companion models for the 2018 Summer Joust. The competition had a "Mesoamerican Setting" sub-category, which excited me, but the judges decided that fantasy elements would not be allowed in those builds. This wasn't a limitation I personally understood or agreed with, but I would have to adhere to it in order to participate. It's funny, though, how sometimes constraints can drive ideas...
In fact, this ban on fantasy in the Mesoamerican Setting category led me to choose a beast of Mesoamerican myth for my entry into the Creatures category. I endeavored to build Quetzalcoatl, a Feathered Serpent god from the Aztec pantheon. I paired Quetzalcoatl with my "Temple of the Feathered Serpent" to make the image you see above. Even though I had to enter the two builds separately in the contest, didn't mean I couldn't photograph them together for my own purposes!
Read on to learn more about the processes and designs of these two models.
Temple of the feathered serpent
While Quetzalcoatl is a wholly imaginary creature, the temple I've built is grounded as much as possible in history. I based my structure loosely on a real Aztec temple located at Xochicalco, inspired as I was by the elaborate engravings on its sides. All of the human sacrifice paraphernalia atop the temple is accurate, from the tzompantli (skull rack) to the cuauhxicalli (heart vessel) and chacmool (sacrificial altar). One of the minifigures at the base of the temple holds the two halves of an atlatl, a spear-throwing device used by Aztec warriors. And I've titled my presentation "Sacrilege Against Quetzalcoatl" because Quetzalcoatl was, traditionally, opposed to human sacrifice; the perpetration of such a ritual on his temple would have been quite unholy.
I opted for greys and olive green for the stonework of the temple; these less-saturated hues, paired with the verdant vibrancy of the jungle, created a dichotomy of human-made versus natural which I wanted to highlight. I enjoyed experimenting a bit with different textures for the temple's sloped sides, eventually settling on something with a lower profile to preserve as much of the clean line of the structure as possible while also providing a sense of depth. The big torches at the base of the pyramid were actually the first parts of this build I designed; I originally intended to use light bricks to make them illuminate.
I used out a few techniques for vegetation around the temple, too, with which I'm pretty happy. They're not super complex or necessarily original, but I think they present well and create enough variety to be satisfying. My favorite plant is the flex-tubing tree (which has been done before in myriad forms by myriad builders).
Quetzalcoatl the splendid
Quetzalcoatl, on the other hand, emerged wholly from my imagination. I knew I wanted to build a dragon for the Summer Joust, but also that I wanted to break new ground—I've done quite a few LEGO dragons in my time!—for myself and my art. A rainbow-colored, legless feathered serpent seemed just the right fit for these urges!
I can't say where the rainbow color scheme came from; it just felt right, and was an immediate impulse I had when deciding to tackle this creature. I liked the new obstacle it presented, and I think it gives my Quetzalcoatl a sense of universality or omnipotence. Building a "gradient" out of vibrant and distinct brick hues came as a challenge, and I ended up using 13 colors along Quetzalcoatl's body. I had to make his tail and head feathers green because I only had those spear-leaf parts in green, but I like how they look!
Building a mane of feathers around the face, designing the face itself (especially integrating the flag as a tongue), and making the wings look full were my biggest hurdles in arriving at this finished design. The end result is something I'm pretty proud of, and it's also my biggest dragon yet, at over 23" (61cm) long and with a wingspan of more than 20" (55cm).
Thanks for reading! If you have any other questions about the model, feel free to leave them in the comments below.