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Designing Dragons: Space Dragons (Part 2)

October 20, 2007

Detail from Cover painting for “Dragonflight”

I first read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight in late middle (or early high) school. It was after I had read The Hobbit, and before I plunged into Piers Anthony’s many Xanth novels. And, even though it had a female protagonist (and her dragon), I really enjoyed it. Since it took place on another planet, it reminded me of Princess Leia and Star Wars a bit…of course, I loved the cover by Michael Whelan (the real reason I read it):

“Dragonflight” cover by Michael Whelan

Imagine my surprise when I received a call from Delrey books in 2001 to do a “new” version of Pern – fully illustrated and aimed for younger readers. Wow!

Needless to say, I was giddy to be walking in the tracks of Whelan to bring my own view of Pern to life…but alas, it never really happened to the full extent of my vision.

Pern dragon sketches

You see, a book like this has a loooong history with a lot of people attached. Bringing in some new, “unknown artist” who wanted to tear the place apart and redesign everything, ruffled feathers. And so, many of my early space dragon designs were abandoned. I am posting some of these images here for the first time. The rest will have to wait for my Art of Tony D book…

Rough comp of “Dragonflight” cover

Here, for once, I did not feel the constraints I had felt when I designed the terrestrial dragons found in D&D. I was thinking less-dragon-more-space-creature, and had great fun exploring shapes and forms. I looked at a lot animals for the head design: antelope, hippo, and fledgling birds. Finally we settled on a horse-like form – not my first pick, but it certainly appeared gallant on the final cover.

Final Pern dragon design

Like Dinosaur Summer, I am pretty sure my version of Dragonflight is out of print. However, the labor that went into this book was not a loss to me. Projects where I can explore ideas and flesh out concepts are always rewarding – even if it all doesn’t make it to the final product…which often happens with me. I do a lot of sketches before I even think of preparing for a final image.

Cover painting in progress

So, the dragon-design knowledge (as well as the world-building designs: people, clothing, architecture, etc) I gained here became very useful when I began laying the groundwork for a new series of books I had created with my good friend Holly Black…

Up next: Spiderwick dragons!

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Never Abandon Imagination Tony DiTerlizzi: Never abandon imagination.

Imagination is a world of possibility that exists within each of us. It is what makes us uniquely human. It is our creative fingerprint that touches and influences the world around us. Imagination is essential to art and science; to innovation and prosperity. It gives us hope, calls us to action and leads to change.

Whether it’s fairies, dragons, robots or aliens, all of my children’s book characters are siblings born of my imagination – an imagination strengthened through years of encouragement from family, teachers and friends. While so many others abandoned it during their transition from childhood to adulthood, I fiercely held onto mine, hoping for a day when I could share it to inspire the next generation of dreamers. Innovators. World changers.

Imagination empowers us to envision and create a reality of what could be. We must hold it dear, foster it and never abandon it.