Aztecs, not just a lost civilization...

While working on a ship earlier today, which ultimately forced me to not only scrap my various attempts but to start over and redraw the aztec panels by hand (or cursor?), it added one more facet to the way I look at Trek ships. It's something that most modelers take for granted and until recently, even I didn't give it much thought. We all tend to just assume a ship has an aztec pattern and make no real efforts to look at the aztecing in and of itself and how it relates to that particular ship.

Obviously, the original purpose of the aztecs (which first appeared in ST:TMP) is to make the ships look more detailed and realistic. The in-universe explanation is because each pixel/square/etc. is a panel in and of itself which is attached to another panel and so on until it makes the entire surface of the vessel. The same thing happens with modern, real-world construction on sea ships and buildings, though in those cases they aren't as numerous and organized. Also, the ones most everyone is familiar with are the Federation ships as most other races' have either a different approach or style. The aztecs on the Federation ships not only vary between each craft, but also between each part of the ship itself. This reflects the methods and engineering required for those sections in addition to the Treknology being used in those areas. Typically, each aztec is inside the deflector grid and the panels conform with the hull lines as they cross the surface.

-Original Constitution: Despite being primarily an 11ft model (most of which is due to the wiring and lighting limitations of the time), the ship in it's original form was devoid of any aztec or panel pattern. This was primarily a result of Matt Jeffries intent to keep everything on a space ship inside where it could be protected and safely maintained by the crew. The ship typically appears clean and smooth, with (prior to the model restorations) subtle and hardly noticeable rings and stripes at varying points. On-screen, it also appeared to not have any deflector grid or other major outward panels whatsoever. The Defiant from "A Mirror Darkly", has kept this intact with the only exceptions being a grid and a faint aztec applied which is visible from certain angles and light sources.

-Refit Constitution: The saucer has a clear aztec pattern and is the one people are most familiar with and that all later Fed ships are based on. The saucer has the dark/light/dark/light patchwork, the hull is more of a striped/checkerboard, the pylons are zigzag, and the nacelles are slanted bars. That's four different styles on the same ship.

-Excelsior: The first ship to depart from the Constitution, not only in design but also in detailing. Instead of the alternating dark/light aztec of the Refit-Connie where each section of the saucer grid is the 'opposite' of the other, the Excelsior is constant with much more obvious and abundant blocks.

-Galaxy: This is essentially the same as the Connie, only on a larger scale and with a bit more uniformity. The saucer has the same checkered look which also carries over to the hull, with the neck and nacelles having the stripes. Also, the model used in later seasons of TNG had a bumpy, raised aspect to the panels which was discarded in Generations and DS9 appearances.

-Ambassador: This one has no aztec due to the complex grid of the saucer and hull, with only bars and stripes on the nacelles and other areas. Obviously, adding an aztec to such a ship would be redundant as it would be overshadowed by the grid. Instead, it has panels and colored regions to give more diversity. Something else that is unique on this ship is that the grid lines of the hull have a thicker colored line highlighting them.

-Defiant: This one is the real departure as it doesn't have an aztec in the usual sense. It has panels and hatches with variations of color. This is key as the Defiant is a small ship so a traditional aztec would serve no purpose and the panels take over that role anyway.

-Intrepid and Nova: Notable in that neither have an aztec, but they do have the grid work and subtle bars and stripes that are only noticeable to keen-eyed observers.

-Sovereign: Another departure in that it doesn't have the traditional aztecing, but a combination of panels with 'blocks' interspersed across the hull and saucer. The grid is more complex and breaks up into sub-sections across the surface, and the blocks are much more obvious, especially in the Nemesis version. This style is closely related to that used on the Excelsior, likely since the Excelsior was a key inspiration for it. Not all of the ship has an aztec or block pattern, as some areas are a single color (specifically, the areas in between the raised panels).

-The Akira is the most unique of these as it doesn't have any notable aztec or grid and only raised panels. One could argue that this is mostly a result of the FC ships being low-res and not receiving the full attention and time as others. However, even the other FC ships that were featured less prominently have at least a subtle aztec. It's certainly acceptable that the Akira was never meant to have the typical aztecs, especially since other more prominent vessels don't have them either.

-The Saber shares the aztec styles of the Galaxy and Connie, but has the panels of the Defiant.

-The Steamrunner has some type of aztec or stripes, along with the Sovereign panels and details.

-The Norway, in all it's blurred glory, has the mottled stripes reminiscent of the Intrepid, with the erratic lines and panels of the Defiant.

-NX: This one has gone back to the late-TNG style of raised panels with the usual checker-pattern. This instance is more feasible since the panels serve as armor and protection in an era without shields as well as making the ship appear more detailed. (Arguments of continuity and discrepancies aside)

The other races tend to have their own unique take on hull panels, very few of which have the Federation's style of aztecs.

-The TOS Bird of Prey and D7 are nearly devoid of any details and are primarily a single color or group of colors. The monotony of their hulls is broken up by slight airbrushing/mottling.
*The D7 seen in "Trials and Tribbleations" had panels similar to the K'tinga except they were flat, with the entire ship having a subtle airbrush/mottling.

-The Klingon K'tinga is mostly a single color underneath jagged panels that are subtly raised above the surface. Most of the variation is in the coloring and lightness of each panel, with a vague hint of mottling overall.

-The B'rel is much like the later Defiant as it doesn't have an aztec, only grid lines and panels of varying size, color, and darkness. They all conform to the shape of their respective parts.

-The Negh'var and Vor'cha also don't have an aztec, but continue the use of slightly raised panels with varying darkness and subtle color changes. Some renditions of each have subtle dirt and striping in between the panels, similar to the Intrepid.

-The D'deridex, despite it's large size, has no real paneling or aztec whatsoever. It has various details, as well as an outline of feathers on the wings which are highlighted by subtle airbrushing. This same airbrushing/striping is on the rest of the ship.

-The Valdore is the obvious departure from these as it has panels and sections with extensive lines and stylized grid work taking the place of any aztecing. This is also found on the Scimitar, both of which have the details which are only truly obvious from light sources.

-The Cardassian Galor class has essentially a bunch of panels and grid lines arrayed across the ship and based on each portion's shape. The panels vary in color and darkness but it isn't as diverse as most other ships. There's also air brushing that stays inside each particular panel without bleeding over to the rest of the ship.


When dealing with the aztec, it's best to take various things into account:

-There's the size of the ship: Small ships like the Defiant and Nova wouldn't need them, though large ships like the Galaxy and Sovereign would. Panels and sections would be less diverse on the large ships and most likely restricted to key areas.

-The details: Windows, grid lines, escape pods, docking ports, weapons, hatches, thrusters, sensors, etc. These would interact with the aztecing and possibly affect how each other are applied. You wouldn't want to have an escape pod right on top of a grid line, for example. There's also the thrusters on most ships which are outside or separate from the grid and/or aztecs. Modifying the aztec panels to reflect the placement of such details could also be an option.

-Complexity: The size, density, and amount of the aztec depending on each part of the ship. It's also useful to consider how each part would have been constructed in 'reality': A nacelle would be built in slices, a hull in slices or jigsaw portions, the saucer/dagger over a framework of the same shape. The bridge and pylons would be more singular and less complicated.

-Simplicity: Putting too much in too small an area is commonly a bad idea. It's best to spread out the panels and details so the ship doesn't look jumbled. The old sayings of "less is more" and "keep it simple" come to mind as too much of something will confuse the eyes and not allow the viewer to take in the entire ship at a glance.

-Symmetry: For the most part, Feds and other races are symmetrical down the middle, only varying in small details and the aztec/panels. Even so, various ships have subtly darker or lighter panels here and there, bits of dirt or streaks of grime, scorch marks, differing windows, hatch locations, etc. This can help break up the monotony of a ship and give it an added realism as modern aircraft, sea ships, and cars have slight or severe asymmetrical aspects.

-Purpose and Race: The particular purpose of a ship and the people who build it can affect not only the ship design itself, but even the aztecs. As noted above, different races approach things differently when it comes to hull panels. Also, warships could potentially have a different style of paneling than explorers, for example.

Now, the point of all of this, aside from giving me an excuse not to do any work, is to help illustrate that an aztec pattern is not a uniform aspect that all ships share and that each vessel has it's own unique characteristics. Certainly, I'm not trying to tell anybody how they should do things, but simply pointing out a part of a ship that is often taken for granted. It's something that if taken into account, can give a ship more depth and diversity instead of just slapping a generic bunch of paneling onto it. I've tried to keep any bias or personal opinions out, and left out discussions of the actual designs and backgrounds of the vessels mentioned.

-Wicked Zombie

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