In this novel, the character of Zhyx remains easily the most challenging and frustrating characters to execute. Our fire breathing hero have a unique look, but also adhere to certain classic conventions of dragons. He had to radiate a certain nobility, but also he had to be as terrifying as the most frightening of wyrms from ancient and modern literature. These forces were in constant conflict with each other, and the journey to bring reconciliation between them was the most trying of tasks.
Design of this character began prior to David’s involvement. In my dull unoriginality, I simply a cut and paste re-creation of the D&D red dragon design. Afterall, the story began as an adventure set in the D&D universe, so it made perfect sense for this to be the character’s appearance. This sketch details the character’s earliest appearance and was done by me.
Once David was brought on board, he delivered this sketch of the concept. He made some alterations in order to make the design more unique. I was not satisfied with this look, which apart from the smallest tweaks, was a faithful recreation of my own. This was much to my frustration, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
I must admit to being very stubborn in these early days. I was dead set on this look for the character since the project was conceived, and in my closed mind, to part with it was earth shattering. David is the one who deserves credit for breaking down my apprehension, and tearing me away from this quite unoriginal design. So the two of us began effectively to chase Zhyx. It was as if we followed the Great Red Wyrm across the sky, desperately trying to get a good look at Tygan’s elusive savior. Surely enough, little by little, we began to see him.
We began with a series of rough sketches.
Designs A, B, D and E all had the traits we were looking for. A had a good rough template to begin work from, while B had a good look around the eye. D had a good overall shape and length for the head, as well as a good expression on the face. E surprisingly had probably the most features that would later be adopted. Not only was the ridge running up the middle of the snout later taken, but also the crown like crest of horns would eventually make it into the final design.
Additional work was given for the hands and wings as the first composite was put together.
The design of the first hand was selected as fulfilling the needs of the character’s articulate hands, while at the same time still not looking too human. The 2nd hand was far too close to a person and the third lacked the articulation needed for certain scenes in the book. A final design on the hands was delivered along with the first composite of the face a few days later.
Some elements of the original design were added in, namely the chin horns and the small fan on the cheeks. The horns here bear a greater resemblance to design B.
Next was a rough idea of the body. David and myself decided to have Zhyx act as the middle ground between Saar’Jya and Heavy, an even mixture of grace and brutality. His body had to be well built, but also capable of being agile and quick, which would put him at a distinct advantage during his eventual fight with the evil dragon. He was given a longer neck and a more muscular build.
David’s next composite composite incorporated some elements of Smaug from the recent adaptation of The Hobbit, especially in the upturn of the front lip. It was here that David finally incorporated the crown of design E, though early on it had some elements of pachycephalosaurs in its battering ram like appearance.
Shortly afterwards, a few digital alterations were done and sent to David for him to work from. These altered, downplayed and strengthened certain features.
The slight upturn of the lip was removed to avoid any similarities with Smaug and the spikes on the bottom of the chin were pushed further forward to more closely resemble a beard. Going from that, David quickly delivered another composite, further perfecting the spiked crown that would soon before the character’s signature.
Here, David also proposed spikes on the bottom of the throat, potentially another gap bridge between Saar’Jya and Heavy. The crown was quickly becoming a favorite feature of both of us, and the cheek crest was far more subtle than it had been in previous designs, more than appropriate for the character. Though on the home stretch, the head was still a bit too small. This quick digital alteration was sent to David to work from for what would eventually become the final sketch.
The removal of the protrusion under the eye was well as the playing up of the pattern on the top of the head would be the next additions. In the meantime, David turned in both wing proposals and a rough sketch of the body.
This body was what was settled on by both of us, and the wings would eventually be a blend of designs A and C, with B being largely ignored. There was some debate on including a sail on the back of the dragon’s neck, though after applying this to several sketches, we came to a mutual decision that it was no longer needed. Here are some looks at the mohawk like design.
David delivered his next to final draft shortly after. To the side are the requested alterations that would be applied to the final sketch.
The bulge under the throat was removed and the details on the cheek and snout were removed in favor of more subtle details. David quickly applied these changes to the sketch and proceeded to add scales and detail to the picture to create the final product. In the mean time, he provided this sketch of the wing.
In the mean time, David finished his work on the hands. These designs would later be included in the final composite.
David delivered the final sketch a few days later, giving a new face to the character in this nothing short of beautiful rendition.
Note the pattern around the eyes, another trait of Saar’Jya that was applied here. The following frontal sketch was sent a few days later, by far the best front view of one of the dragon characters. Though it is currently undergoing some small revisions, it is still very close to the final. Detail on the neck scales was also provided for Joseph to work with.
The final sketch of the body was delivered a few days later, finally solidifying the character’s new look.
Bits of the original sketch are still visible, specially in the designs of the arms and legs. The spiked tail was given further attention, and the arms and legs were designed to be muscle bound and strong. The detailed and articulate hands were perfect for what the story required. There was only one thing left to worry about, and that was scale.
Zhyx was written to be exceptionally large and imposing, far larger than the dragons found in DragonHeart and Skyrim. His size would allow him to move the party about without much difficulty. Too small and he couldn’t carry them all. Too big and he would be too difficult for the readers to relate to. After a few tests and a dialogue between David and myself, we finally settled on this scale. The main reason was so Zhyx could easily carry two members of the party in each hand.
The latest piece of artwork provided was this of the character’s eye.
Some time later, the issue of color came up. The one thing that remained unaltered from Zhyx’s design was the intended color scheme. Zhyx is, at the end of the day, a very classic dragon in appearance, and what is the most classic color for a dragon? Red of course. These colorizations were done by me using a basic paint shop program.
The eye was first. Both David and myself always pictured Zhyx’s eye being akin to hot lava, so that was used as a color pallet, the idea being that the closer to the center of the eye, the hotter it became.
The horns on Zhyx’s crown were to have a more gray appearance, sort of like tusks on an elephant. In order to give some variety, the spikes on the back of his neck were dulled to appear more yellow, and his front was given a bright yellow tan shade. The end result was this, which both David and I are happy with.
Zhyx now had a face all his own, not one that had been stolen from a previous work, but a visage that for those of us involved in this project, has become unmistakable. It remains my favorite contribution from David Sword. It was at David’s insistence that we explore options outside of the original look that I was dead set on, and after I finally caved, he delivered something that was our own, and better than the original in every regard.
Recently, a very small change was made to the character’s design. David contacted me and said he was not too happy with the nostrils, saying they were too high up on Zhyx’s face, so it appeared they were not connected to anything. He asked if he could move the nostrils down a little and sent me these sample pictures.
In spite of having already completed two illustrations, to edit in these changes would hardly be an issue. I agreed with David and forwarded these pictures to Joseph Buehrer, who has since been using these as references in his illustrations.