A flying lizalfos? That’s not a thing…or so I thought when I came across a picture part-way through researching Lizalfos for another picture.
But “a thing” Aeralfos very much was!
Aeralfos is the winged lizard mini-boss of the “City in the Sky” dungeon in the game Twilight Princess. As I’ve said before, I’d always love to see Link fight more dragons and this guy pretty much counts.
What’s more, with his bipedal posture, he looks more like a dinosaur than a lizard. For a dinosaur lover like me, that sealed the deal. I had to make it into a picture.
Building the Baddie
As I started building Aeralfos, I knew I wanted to go with a member of the dromaeosaur (“raptor”) family. There are a lot of good pictures of raptors leaping into battle and their ferocity is iconic thanks to the Jurassic Park series.
After considering a few great raptor representations, I decided on using the velociraptor statue from Disney World’s Animal Kingdom.
I loved this statue because it was important that the dino look like it was flying through the air because…well…that’s exactly what Aeralfos does.
In the game, Aeralfos attacks Link in a tumbledown tower where there are holes in all four walls and the roof. He swoops out of these holes at random and makes his attacks. Link’s only hope is to ground him using the clawshot tool.
To get the most action and movement possible out of the scene, I chose to portray a moment when Aeralfos is diving down on Link.
For the wings, I’ve always loved the way a swooping eagle’s wings billow in the final moments before it strikes its prey. In that moment, with its head and body all suspended from its shoulders and its talons extended in front, it looks especially fierce.
Finding dragon wings that could approximate this pose was a bit of a challenge. There are plenty of representations of dragons out there, but most artists stick to simpler wing poses such as straight out or folded up on its side.
I searched long and hard for the right wings, and eventually found them in my favorite line of dragon toys: McFarlane’s dragons.
One particular toy in this line has enormous wings curling menacingly around a hapless knight.
I particularly liked the left wing of this model, so I used different angles of it to create both of Aeralfos’s wings.
In addition to the shape of the wings, I really liked their size. I always prefer dragons with extra-big wings that look like they could actually lift a giant lizard into the air.
Given the small scales on the Velociraptor statue, I needed a more subtly textured model to use as the mini-boss’s shoulder. I drew on a small portion of this sculpt to get a smooth transition between dinosaur and dragon.
In addition to having wings, Aeralfos also wears armor and caries a sword and shield. Unfortunately, if I tried to represent all of these, I ran the risk of turning him into a visual Christmas tree and looking cheesy.
To get a look that would feel familiar but not overloaded, I cut back his accessories to only his shield and the armor on his head and neck.
Fortunately, finding armor that would fit the long muzzle and serpentine neck of a Velociraptor was actually easier than you might think. I simply used actual plate maille from medieval horses!
Smoke and Lights
Even with his wings in the right position and realistically attached to his body, my creature still looked more like he was floating than actually flying. To get the right look, I needed to pull several tricks out of my bag.
I started by adding motion blur to the wings. This (naturally) made them appear as if they were actively flapping, rather than just sitting still like the figurine they were taken from.
This helped, but didn’t quite do the trick.
Next, I added a bank of fog around the room, but cleared it away from beneath Aeralfos’ wings as though he were creating a gust of wind that had swept the air clean in its wake.
This was yet another improvement, but it still kind of looked posed. Finally, I added a strong diagonal sunburst that traced the line of the lizard’s descent and added the visual sense of motion that the picture had lacked.
Adding perceived motion to the image through sunlight was a slick trick, but while it solved one problem it also complicated some other aspects of the photo.
With such a strong light source present, everything else in the picture needed to be edited to react to it, or they would look out of place and incongruous.
Thankfully both Link and the Velociraptor had already been lit from above in their original forms, and I only needed to accentuate their natural shadows using the Photoshop burn and dodge tools.
In addition, I needed to have Aeralfos’ wing cast an appropriately-angled shadow on Link’s shield.
Finally, in response to the strong light, I needed to make the dragon wings somewhat transparent. This would make them appear less like hard plastic, and more like leathery membranes.
The effect is subtle, but if you look closely you can see hints of background architecture and of the lizard’s tail through his wings. It took a lot of tries to get this just right. Too opaque and the wings would look thick and rigid—too transparent and they would look ghostly.
The end result of this creative process was a battle with an aerial foe which had a lot more intimacy and action than is even present in the game itself.
After all, if you were being attacked by a flying velociraptor would you calmly whip out your clawshot, pull him down, and walk over to beat on him with your sword without so much as compromising your perfect posture?
Nah…I think it’d look a little more like my version.