Avatar and Roger Dean

Avatar’s floating islands compared to Roger Dean’s painting:

Avatar vs. Roger Dean

Avatar vs. Roger Dean

Avatar’s arched rock formations compared to Roger Dean’s work:

Avatar vs. Roger Dean

Avatar vs. Roger Dean

I went and saw Avatar last night for the first time and really enjoyed the film. Beautiful colors and lovely phosphorescent lighting were peppered throughout the film, and I liked the contrast between the nice jungles and cold steel of the military ships. I won’t go too deeply into a review of the film, because that’s not what this blog is about :)

I would, however, like to point out one element of the film which relates to one of my favorite artists, Roger Dean. I saw a promo poster which featured big floating islands which immediately reminded me of Dean’s work, so I got pretty excited when I saw them appear onscreen. One of my favorite paintings come to life, which is pretty cool. Then another scene featured huge arching rock formations, reminiscent of yet another Roger Dean piece. Awesome.

I enjoy it when filmmakers use traditional works from the past and recreate them “for real” onscreen, and what better artist to gain inspiration from when dealing with alien landscapes?

On a related note, Alex over at ISO50 wrote an article discussing some of the typography choices of Avatar. Check it out.

33 Comments

  1. Thanks for showing Roger Dean’s work. It is super cool.

    I think Ridley Scott was the one who used Giger in the original Alien:
    Some trivia from the IMDB:
    Dan O’Bannon first encountered H.R. Giger’s unique style when the two were briefly working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ill-fated attempt at making “Dune”.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078748/trivia#

  2. james (Author)

    John, my memory bumped on me there. You are totally right. I’ll revise the post.

  3. Roger Dean is one of my favorite artists! This is a really good comparison of his work, and it is interesting to see in a different context, all though I really do love YES album covers :)

  4. I didn’t realize that Roger Dean did the Asia cover, along with this fabulous work, thanks!

  5. Yes I had the same impression, and I wonder why I didn’t see any mention to Roger Dean on the credits, as for him I wonder what he thinks since I guess he was planning to make a fantasy film about his work long time ago.

  6. Really cool post, Dean’s floating mountains are awesome. Thanks for posting this!

  7. Kash Sayles

    Is it a world inspired by the work of Roger Dean, or out and out theft? The similarities are just too great, and given that the movie has already passed the $1 billion mark in box office receipts, it seems shameful that this theft of intellectual property is not more widely acknowledged. If there is no legal basis for compensation, there is certainly a moral basis.

  8. james (Author)

    Pedro and Kash, and that’s what we don’t know at this point. I’m the eternal optimist in these cases and hope Dean might have worked on the movie with Cameron, but that is probably something we won’t know until the DVD is released.

  9. That’s hilarious, I was JUST talking about this with a coworker today. This might look a little familiar too: http://fantasy.mrugala.net/Roger%20Dean/Roger%20Dean%20-%20Dragon.jpg

    I hadn’t picked up on the arched rocks though, that is definitely 100% Roger Dean right there!

  10. Vincent

    Don’t forget Roger Dean’s awesome work for numerous Yes cover desogn !
    I dream to have some of his paintings on my walls !
    I’ve just saw his new website is online with affordable mini-prints…

  11. malcolm

    The film is clearly a complete homage Dean and references so many ideas that the inspiration is clear .. I think the film is visualy superb but so are the paintings …. Surely the question must be asked if Cameron owes an acknowledgement and payment to Roger Dean ?

  12. David J

    Those two comparisons are great, I had the same thought as I watched the movie – I just stepped into a Roger Dean painting come to life. You should also check out Dean’s Morning Dragon painting – it (and others) have flying brightly colored dragons that also look like those in the movie. It will be a real shame if Roger Dean is not acknowledged here…

  13. Joe

    The whole of Pandora felt very Roger Dean, or what I feel it would be like to live in a Roger Dean world. Which was great, like you say it was great to finally be able to enter into that world in 3D! But… When I saw the Tree of Souls I almost lost my breath because it was so obviously Dean inspired!! Beautiful.

    I really do hope that Roger Dean worked or at least was consulted on Avatar. It’s a shame he didn’t do the logo :-)

  14. Geoff Ward

    A blow-away film, but original – I think not.

    I look forward to a multi-million dollar law suit for intellectual property theft, at the very least.

    Many (most?) producers etc take inspiration and even pay homage, by way of small cameo pieces, to those that went before, but this is blatant rip-off. Its brilliantly done, admittedly, but the volume of concept-theft puts this film in a class of its own.

    I feel sure that Roger Dean (Ltd?) could donate a large part of the litigation income to some save-the-rainforest campaign, but would’nt it be great if the now-fantastically-rich film-creator of Avatar were to donate his whole profit from the film to the rainforest cause – with or without admission of liability of intellectual property theft.

    PS The imagery-theft isn’t limited to forest, floating mountains, flying dragons, etc, etc, – check-out Roger Dean’s dragonfly-inspired and winged elephant images that echo back to the Viet Nam helecopter warfare.

    If it proves that there is evidence in print from the time of first release of Avatar that Roger Dean was the concept inspiration and a major consultant for the film, I will happily withdraw this invective.

  15. Sven

    Imitating Roger Dean was very cool. Using papyrus in the subtitles… not cool :P

  16. Kevin Campbell

    I just witnessed James Cameron ground breaking film Avatar(3D). While watching this be-dazzlement on the eyes and mind, I leaned over to my friend and said, “Roger Dean”. He agreed! The images, background completely taken
    right out of the mind of Roger Deans artistry! I own a few prints and publications from the prolific amazing Dean, and have studied his style. To bad Mr. Cameron can’t give a nod towards the inspiration of this film to this original sci-fi scape artist. One can only hope in this media savy world, someone could put this debate on air. Possibly the extra’s on the blue ray/dvd could be considered once released! Of course that’s up to Mr. Cameron (to admit it).
    Amazing film none the less!

  17. Laura H

    I leaned over to my 15 year old daughter in the movie and told her that Roger Dean was the inspiration for the floating mountains. I came home and showed her images, and had her dad break out the book he did in the ’70’s so she could see for herself. As a young inspiring artist, she was blown away with the work Dean did. He was a huge inspiration to me when I was in high school, and it was amazing to see what his work would look like on the screen. I do believe, however, that James Cameron should give a nod his way. Some of the images are a rip off of the original work, that’s obvious. And I agree, the film was amazing and very imaginative!

  18. Peter Payne

    I loved the movie Avatar, and I think there can be no doubt there was extensive influence from Roger Dean. As readers of this post will no doubt know, Dean is much more than a 70s album cover artist; he is a visionary artist, architect, designer, and thinker, very active to this day in designing life-supporting environments, from pods to villages.
    Elements of Avatar highly reminiscent of Dean include: the floating rocks; the style of the trees and other vegetation; the flying dragons; the coral- or brain-like markings on animals and vegetation; the rock arches; the insect-like flying machines of the earth people; the organic looking mechanisms of the earth-people’s machinery; and even the appearance and face-markings of the Na’athi. WAY more than could be explained as a little innocent borrowing. Dean’s books Views and Magnetic Storm show all the evidence.
    Shame on Cameron. Dean should now be publicly acknowledged and brought in as design consultant on the next movies, as Alan Lee was by Peter Jackson for the Tolkien movies.

  19. Mario Usui

    Here in Tokyo, it is a great topic these similar arts.
    We really enjoyed AVATAR movie because it realized like the Yes Songs Art
    by Roger Dean.

  20. Armando R. Venegas

    It’s so obvious JC designed the “original” scenery of ‘Avatar’ landscapes, based on Roger Dean magnificent album artwork… For all Roger Dean fans.

    Just take a look to Roger Dean’s wonderful “VIEWS” illustration book. Then watch ‘Avatar’ once again… The floating islands… The arched rock formations… Even THE FLYING DRAGONS!!!
    All of this IS ROGER DEAN’S ORIGINAL ARTWORK!

    But at the very end… ‘Avatar’ itself is no more than Low-level science fiction of the worst quality!!!!
    BOOH BOOH BOOH, James Cameron!!!!

  21. Wesley Roney

    I thought ‘Avatar’ was visually stunning, certainly on BluRay but moreso in 3D. After I first saw the movie with my three sons, I carefully studied the credits. I was surprised that there was no acknowledgement of Roger Dean. Upon returning home, I Googled ‘Avatar’ and found no mention of Roger Dean. I showed my sons, ages 8 through 12, several Roger Dean images and they immediately saw the connection.

    If nothing else, Mr. Dean benefits indirectly: The very night I first saw ‘Avatar’ I visited rogerdean.com and bought two sets of wallpaper images for the computer upon which I am now typing.

  22. I am so glad others are pointing out the direct connection to Roger Dean and Avatar. I was a huge fan of Dean when I was in school and was looking forward to his film release. Avatar did an excellent job of bringing his art to life, but if those involved thought we wouldn’t catch it, they were sadly mistaken and at least we can give credit where credit is due.

  23. Hale Relic

    I can’t speak for Roger Dean but I was very disappointed when, after seeing AVATAR and every scene that came up was a direct copy of Roger Deans artwork, organic architectural landscapes, his textures, his color palettes, his beautifully mutated animal life, his floating boulders with trees and waterfalls, his rock arch complexes, his flying dragons, the entire Tales from Topographical Oceans set that Yes toured with complete with the coral rock shapes that lit up from inside, the concept of the spirit tree from Olias of Sunhillo, in other words his entire artistic and intellectual portfolio, but there was not one credit, not one mention, not even a hint of appreciation towards Roger Dean. Cameron owes Roger Dean big time and anyone who is familiar with Yes Album Art and Roger Dean’s other works can see that this is blatant plagiarism, thievery and the largest boldfaced rip-off I’ve ever witnessed.

  24. Reb

    I found Roger Dean’s book “Dragon’s Dream” , foreward by Syd Mead and Rick Wakeman (the Yes man : ) in a used book store for $8.00.
    What a deal! About a week later I went and saw “Avatar”…. what a steal! I thought for sure Cameron worked with Dean on the extraterrestrial scenery, but didn’t see Dean’s name in the credits!
    What gives Cameron ?

  25. Brian Aust

    I loved Avatar and, like those of you who mentioned previously, immediately saw tales of topographic landscapes throughout the movie. The floating islands and the arches did not in any way come out of Cameron’s imagination and the flying steeds are straight out of Roger Dean’s “Morning Dragon” painting. I imagine that the Yes albums made a good living for Dean, but Cameron owes him big. I read an interview with James Cameron wherein he was asked “did you get your landscape and creature ideas from prog-rock album cover artist Roger Dean?” His reply was insulting: “well, maybe deep in my head were some imprints from a youth spent smoking way too much pot.” That’s horse manure. The thing that bugs me most is how millions of people who don’t know Yes music or Roger Dean’s work have seen Avatar and thinking “Wow, what a cool world!” I know several and they all say “who’s Roger Dean? Really, Yes album covers? No way….”

    We all love Roger, and it isn’t pleasant, but he should sue. It’s his intellectual property and James Cameron was absolutely wrong for not including Dean in the process of making Avatar. He should especially sue in light of the next 2 Avatar sequels. My sense is that all Cameron had to do was recognize him and he would have been happy, even honored to be onboard for such an otherwise breathtaking cinematic experience.

  26. René Mélançon

    I’ve been a big fan of Roger Dean since I was young…I believe I have all the books published of his artwork….I finally watched ‘Avatar’ and scanned the credits twice…thinking R. Dean would be listed there….no such luck ! It is clearly not coincidence regarding the similarities… even the texturing on the animals is identical…even though James cameron is a fellow Canadian …I am suprised that he let Stromberg TOTALLY RIP OFF R.Dean..

  27. Caroline

    I loved Avatar.It is truly Yesworld imho.I think David Cameron should have at the very least mentioned Roger’s work;Ths similarities can’t be coincidental.

  28. Daniel J.Pukalo

    I was in Devonshire ,England in 1973. I was befriended by Rick Wakeman and his then wife Denise. Got to know them on a non-professional level. We had conversations about Roger deans artwork on their “YES” covers. He told me that they would be on everything they would ever do and they are. Roger would be both pissed and complimented at seeing his art copied. We all know who influenced the feeling of AVITARS’ visual concepts and applaud Roger for being there first. All the greats are copied in both art and music.It’s just like that.Impersonation is sometimes a form of homage.

  29. I can say for a fact that Roger Dean was NOT consulted about this. I have worked with Roger for the past 13+ years. And, for now..that’s all I’m going to say about it.

  30. James Cameron seems that will not pay a penny, was sued but there is no trials results favorable towards Roger Dean case. I’m lover of prog rock music and Roger give the visual thing to shaping music into a new level. Hopefully, Roger will be anyhow granted by a demand on this obvious infringement done over copyrighted material made awfully. I give my vote as Roger is the real creator of the Avatar worlds and creators of Pandora.

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