Saturday, July 31, 2010

Roger Dean: Other Wordly Art or How Avatar Ripped Him Off

Special thanks to Todd Johnson from  for exclusive permission to reprint this great post:

Roger Dean: Other Wordly Art or How Avatar Ripped Him Off

Roger Dean was way ahead of his time. As an artist, he said he drew what he saw. Well, he must have seen some crazy stuff because his art has always been out of this world. I was a fan of the rock group Yes growing up and Dean’s artwork was front and center on their album covers. To get a Yes album, was not only to get the record, but to get the Roger Dean artwork. However, something has been haunting me the last few months. It had to do with the movie Avatar.

I have to be upfront about this, I did not go gaga over the movie. Visually stunning…yes. The story….no. I felt as if I had just watched Ferngully 3 or The Smurfs Updated. But there was something familiar about the visuals. I just couldn’t place it at the time.

Roger Dean was a designer at first. He designed chairs. Eventually, he made his way into art and his first album cover was The Gun’s Gun in 1968. He gained fame in the 1970s for two reasons. First he designed the famous chair in “A Clockwork Orange” and then he began designing Yes albums beginning with Fragile in 1971. It would lead to a long-enduring relationship between Dean and members of the band that exists even to this day. Dean would go on to design album art for Uriah Heep, Greenslade, and Asia. But it is Yes for which he has achieved the greatest acclaim. I remember coming home with the Relayer album and unfolding it. Staring at the exotic landscapes and rich detail of his art from what appeared to be other worlds.

This was only the beginning for me.

In the 1980s, Dean designed video game art as well. In addition, he continued his work and created more and more landscapes with organic architecture. One of his most famous works from the period is called “Floating Islands”. Dean said he was inspired by looking down from a mountain and seeing other bits of land in the clouds. It was if those bits were floating in the sky. Dean describes his process:

"Yeah, as much as any of these things are intentional. It’s like when I’m working, I try to do as little conscious manipulating and thinking about what I’m doing as I can and have it work as intuitively as possible, so I’d say that the DRAMA work was very much an intuitive approach to how to do that cover. I was very interested in having a very stormy sky; that was something I was really interested in. I was very interested in the light playing across the landscape, so there were some bits that jumped out and very stark and bright, and other bits that are very dark–black on dark grey. Yeah, there was a lot going on for me in that, and it was like cooking I guess; I put in the ingredients and stirred it up, and they came out in a way I guess that training and good luck worked together." ~ NPR radio

And then this image came to me the other day as I was going through some files…

It looks eerily similar to this….

And this…..

Looks a lot like this…

And there are many more images which share commonalities.

After doing some digging last night, my mind is not working as fast as many other people have made the connection before me including Roger Dean. I have read there is a lawsuit in the works. It appears that the world of Avatar was basically James Cameron doing his best Roger Dean impersonation. I would have preferred for him to try this landscape…

Here is a nice slideshow of his work with music by Yes and the London Philharmonic Orchestra