11 September 2012

It strikes me that there are two problems to deal with when designing a cover for 'Dragonfire'. First is the paucity of photos of the chief villain, Kane -- there are a couple of smiling-to-camera publicity shots, which aren't really appropriate, or there's his melted head, which rather gives the ending away. Second is the obvious desire to give the cover a cold, icy feel, given the setting and Kane's nature and modus occidendi. But the title is 'DragonFIRE'; bit of a contradiction there. I gave both posers some thought and hope the solutions for my cover are effective.

I came up with a way to tackle the second issue first. I already had a rough layout in mind of the Doctor and Kane at the bottom and the Dragon hovering above them (the villain was a given for my cover style, and the Dragon is the only really memorable image from the story). I had a photo in mind for the Doctor -- and indeed was lucky enough to find a good resolution copy that cleaned up well -- which I knew would sit best in the bottom right corner, and just that small detail led me to the idea of bisecting the cover diagonally between the Doctor and the logo, with a fiery Dragon on one side and an icy Kane on the other. This would provide a nice contrast of colour as well as satisfying the setting and title of the story. (And, unintentionally, tying in nicely with the title of the making-of documentary on the disc.)

I thought the Dragon would look good (taking some artistic licence) rising aflame from a blazing background, and looked online at a few Photoshop tutorials for creating hot fiery effects. I didn't follow any directly, but some of their suggestions were in the back of my mind as I played around with the image. The final effect is a mix of gradient maps, flame brushes, inverted patches to provide white-hot areas, and finally some sparking eyes in a little tribute to the VHS cover.

As for Kane, there is one other photo of him offering his coin to Ace, as used on the official DVD cover. It's not a great shot and I couldn't find a decent quality copy of it, so once again I had to resort to screengrabs. In the end this wasn't a problem given the eventual treatment I gave Kane, but initially I hadn't decided this, so I scrolled through the episodes looking for usable shots. I knew I'd need at least a waist length body shot, ideally a close-up of his face to provide greater detail, and I thought it'd be good to have him reaching out an icy, death-delivering hand if possible. I thought the last element might come from when he threatens Ace at the end, but found a better shot earlier when he threatens Belazs. In fact, Kane is composed from seven different screengrabs -- four main ones (body, arm, head and helmet) and others to patch over missing or obscured areas of his costume.

One advantage when cobbling together Kane was that I didn't need to worry about colour matching the parts, as I planned to render him in blues. When researching fire effects, however, I came across one tutorial for creating figures as if composed of water. It was rather long-winded and I didn't read it all, but it gave me the idea for making Kane look like he was made from ice. Given the artistic licence I'd already taken with the Dragon, this seemed a good way to really contrast the two sections of the cover. I played around with a few techniques, trying not to obscure the details of the figure too much. In the end, applying this to all of Kane -- as if he were an ice statue -- was too much and looked indistinct, so I restricted it to just his head and hand (now he's a clothed ice statue!). I think what (if anything) sells the effect was painting in the inside of his collar and cuff, which I find really suggests the rest of him is seethrough.

Delta and colour choices

Given the illustration for 'Dragonfire', I had a choice of colours for the cover's background. Knowing my 'Delta and the Bannermen' cover was blue and 'Remembrance of the Daleks' purple, I went for orange here to provide contrast on the shelf. However, in looking over my Season 24 covers, I was reminded that I really, really didn't like my 'Delta' illustration (the original notes for that cover discuss how uninspired I was at the time). Indeed, not long after completing it, I acquired a large number of back issues of DWM and found among them a far better copy of the photo of the Doctor, in particular not as tightly cropped as the one I'd originally had to use. I made a mental note of this and figured one day, when all my covers were done and the site becomes an archive, I'd quickly drop in this new Doctor photo.

Then, at some later point, I had a brainwave that, when devising a framing device for the characters in the illustration, I should have used a honeycomb pattern instead of those awful circles. Now I don't want to get into a habit of reworking covers unnecessarily as I'm conscious from my own use that it can be costly and time-consuming to print them out, and I don't want to annoy people who have been using my covers by revamping them all (Revisitations-style re-releases aside). However, I disliked the 'Delta' cover so much (and it is the only one I really don't think is up to scratch) that I decided to make this one exception. So for anyone who wants it, there's a new cover here.

The upshot of that, however, was that the illustration didn't fit with a blue cover. In fact, it needed to be organey. Ah. Fortunately, 'Dragonfire' had two dominant colours. So I have done two versions -- one blue, one orange -- which you can use depending on which version of 'Delta' you choose. Or just pick the versions of either you prefer if you're not worried about a small similarly coloured area at the bottom of the spine. The choice, as they say, is yours.

Download your choice of DRAGONFIRE cover here

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