September 23, 2011
Dragons first appeared in Remember just a couple weeks into its life, and they’ve been a fairly common element since. After almost four years then, it’s about time they had an artistic upgrade.When I originally made the design for dragons, I was relatively new to Inkscape and art in general. This was the age where characters ran with perfectly-straight legs, where copy-paste creatures were not only common but the general case, and where I used far too many objects for individual characters (nowadays, whilst the object count is relatively the same, they’re grouped such that most characters are only about 5-6 objects).
Dragons, as a result, suffered quite a bit. Their necks for example were objects attached directly to their torsos, so I couldn’t really move them around very easily, often making the neck appear crushed or bloated when I tried. The same problem plagued their tails, and consequently both haven’t really been moved much wherever possible.
Another problem was the legs. The hindlegs of dragons are typically drawn as digitigrade, like those of a dog, and initially I drew the whole leg, in place, as a single object. Consequently, I couldn’t move it at all for a long time, at least not without difficulty. Later, I broke it in two, but the spine at the back of the leg was erroneously attached to the upper portion, rather than the bottom, which created other issues.
The front legs meanwhile have, for most of Remember’s run, been very similar to those of horses, folding forwards at the joint. Whilst this makes sense in terms of creatures that stride hilly environments and gallop, it makes little sense for dragons, who spend most of their time flying or sloped close to the ground to stalk prey or clamber over mountain ledges. For dragons, it makes more sense for them to have forelimbs more like our human arms, bending backwards.
Quite possibly the heads of the dragon have been their largest failing. To begin with, they use two different, static, heads for when they have their mouths closed and when they have them open, with no variation between. This makes their level of expression very low, limiting them to more beastial appearances where dialogue isn’t necessary for them. Then there’s the horns, which by themselves aren’t so bad, but they’ve been mispositioned for a very long time, with one horn in about the right place and the other seemingly jutting out of their jawbone. There hasn’t been any racial variation between colours of dragon either, save one appearance in the first pages of Book 5 where each dragon was specially tuned to be a specific colour, but colour is never the only difference between the various dragon races or breeds.
So, with all that in mind, I recently took it upon myself to redesign dragons for Remember. I started off by separating the torso from the tail and neck, into a separate non-geometric object (for those wondering, almost all creatures and characters use squares or circles for their torsos, so an irregular shape separates dragons instantly). This meant I could move it around separately from the other elements and position it how I liked without affecting or adhering to the others.
I then set my sights on the legs. Taking cues from the Juon used by Kerrigan (a much more recent design), I separated the legs into a “foot” element and then used a single, thick, stroke element to fill in the rest of the leg. This means I can position the foot and bend the rest of the leg to suit, allowing a much wider range of positions in a much shorter timeframe. I also used a similar technique to make the neck more poseable as well, reducing it to a single thick stroke. The thickness between the forelegs, hindlegs, and neck also varies, giving indications as to the girth of the limb in question. The hindleg for example is much thicker than the foreleg, giving the impression that it’s more powerful, used for bursts of speed whilst the foreleg is used for more precise steps, not unlike like a big cat.
The head gave me the largest amount of grief, and I had to think for a while on how to tackle it. The first thing I changed was the horns, placing them squarely on the face around the eyes or on the upper edges of the snout, which I flattened the front of in many breeds to reduce the arrowhead appearance dragons have had for a long while. Thinking about the mouth issue, I took another cue from the Juon and added a full mouth element behind most of the head as a separate group, with a pivot point in the jaw that allows me to swing the mouth open however much I need to in order to give the dragon more expression, such as whispering, chatting, or firing its breath weapon.
The style of the horns themselves varies between different breeds, as does the shape of the head in some places, so in theory it should be possible to accurately gauge the race of a dragon even in silhouette. For example, a red dragon has two horns that curve slightly upwards as they pass over its head, but a black dragon’s horns are positioned on its upper jaw and curve like the edges of a trident towards the front of its head.
And so, with all that in mind, I present first the “before” shot with a red and blue dragon in a pair of poses with a moderate difficulty to achieve readily.
And now, in full glory, and in the approximately-same poses which were much easier to achieve with these new model considerations, the “after” design:
There are still some problems, it is for example significantly more time-consuming to change a dragon’s colour because of the folds of skin over each claw, which have to be individually selected to colour them all at once, but overall the new design is a lot more flexible.
I’ve already made a full catalogue of chromatic dragon heads (black, blue, green, red, white) and hope to finish out the metallic dragons (brass, bronze, copper, gold, silver) soon, so changing the head around to reflect the new race is a very simple affair, sort of akin to picking a hat from the wardrobe. The wings haven’t changed at all, despite my earlier hopes of finding a design that would easily fold inward as well as splay outwards to the occasion, but it seems for the time being they’ll just have to be redrawn as needed.
So yes, that’s the dragon design finally redrawn, and whilst I obviously can’t speak for all of you, my dear Forgetfuls, I’m tremendously happy with how it’s turned out.