We have my six-year-old son to thank for the fact that this is a whole diorama and not just a model dragon.
You see, as I was in the process of building it, he asked what I was making. Having just assembled that red and gold curve that forms the sinuous belly of the beast, and not having built the Ninjago Ninja of Fire his own dragon in a while, I replied “a fire dragon”.
However, as I built I found myself radically altering the orientation of that curved section from what I had expected, so that the dragon was to be posed standing upright. Upright is not a good orientation for a dragon that’s expected to support a rider, so I of course didn’t build it to seat one.
I finished the dragon model and showed it to my son. “I meed to change it a little,” he says, takes it out of my hands and removes a small piece of the back so that Kai can sit on it.
Not what I had in mind, son. Great thinking, but I don’t think this dragon’s supposed to have a rider.
After he went off to do something else I undid his well-meaning modification and thought about it. “Well, maybe it can’t seat a rider, but there’s no reason I can’t include Kai in the scene,” I mused, and posed the Fire Ninja on a rocklike element facing the dragon.
The composition, almost accidental as it was, struck me as a good one with great potential. “I can work with this,” I thought.
Now, normally any background scenery I build is something of an afterthought. Just enough to give the impression of some surroundings against the underside of a chessboard that I use as a photography backdrop. I’ve only really tumbled to the potential of scenery to add dimension and emphasis to a model fairly recently, and I rarely think initially in terms of a whole scene. In that sense I still build like a kid or a TFOL, I suppose. AFOL techniques, but all the focus is on the vehicle or creature. The household’s LEGO brick collection is such that it’s difficult to put together a really good SNOTwork base in a reasonable colour palette without rainbow inclusions, so my instinct is normally to go with the limited background option.
But in this case, I knew I had to do better. This had too much potential to skimp on.
Tan is both a good colour that works as landscape and a colour we have a halfway decent selection of 1xwhatever bricks in. It also goes well with a variety of other colours like dark tan, grey and brown to add just enough visual interest to be engaging without detracting from the diorama’s main focus, the encounter between the ninja and the dragon.
Add a small temple or shrine, because Eastern dragons guard temples the way Western ones guard treasure, and some foliage because my skills need work, and there it is.
What struck me most and triggered the whole diorama idea was the ambiguity of the composition. Is the dragon an adversary barring the ninja’s way to the temple, or a wise counsel instructing the ninja, or something else entirely? Is that even Kai, or is it just a generic ninja who likes to trim his mask with red? All of this is possible.
There’s a story here, and for once I’m deliberately not telling it. It would ruin the diorama to tie down its meaning.