Let’s face it, Link just doesn’t fight enough dragons. Fighting dragons is a classic element of any fantasy, and I really wanted to make it part of the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project.
In the beginning of the project we determined that to match the cosplay costume, we would confine our pictures to the games featuring adult Link, so dragons like Blizzagia were off the table.
In Ocarina of Time Link squares off against Volvagia—a cool dragon to be sure, but the long, sinuous body is clearly of the Asian ilk, and I wanted the chance to pit him against a more Western breed.
In Skyward Sword Link must find three noble dragons. This was a cool concept, but the execution was disappointing–they looked more like anthropomorphic snails than anything.
And then there’s Argorok from Twilight Princess.
Yeah…I could work with Argorok…
How to Choose Your Dragon
Argorok begins the battle clad head to tail in armor, which Link systematically breaks off. After that, Link strikes a great jewel on the dragon’s back until it breaks, and the enchantment that animatesd him is undone.
This was the moment I though’t I’d capture—Argorok plummeting away from Link into the cloudy nether, spewing a desperate fountain of flame as he splinters from the inside out.
Although the two-wings-two-legs wyvern style of dragon has been very popular in films lately, finding a base dragon image to turn into Argorok was surprisingly difficult.
You see, while dragon pictures are a dime a dozen, dying dragons are harder to come by.
After extensive searching, I couldn’t find a still picture that captured the look that I wanted. I did find a film though. If you compare the gifs above and below, you’ll see that Argorok’s death and Smaug’s (from The Hobbit) have a lot in common.
Unfortunately, pulling a photo out of a film is a challenge though.
The first problem is resolution. I couldn’t just use a YouTube video or the film still image would be tiny and too grainy for quality editing.
The second problem is motion blur. A dragon clawing at the sky is a pretty active target, and although the whole scene looks great in motion, if you freeze an individual frame you’re likely to find that it’s pretty blurry.
I addressed these problems by getting a super HD version of the film (the kind with almost more frames per second than your eye can register), hooking my computer up to the biggest, high-resolution screen I could find, and then taking screenshots of the frames I was interested.
I sorted my catch and decided that this picture would serve my purposes best:
Once I had my base picture chosen, I set about editing Smaug to look like Argorok. I started by building a jet of fire breath. Then, to enhance the feeling that Argorok was coming apart at the seams, I painted over his eyes with a manic glow and molten tears streaming across his face.
It actually turned out pretty cool. The lit-up eyes didn’t look at all like he was dying. They looked angry and full of life.
Suddenly, it seemed like such a pity to kill him.
So, after all that work to find the perfect dying dragon, I decided to change the picture completely. This time, Argorok wouldn’t be defeated—he would be the one putting Link on the run.
Of Towers and Clawshots
Link actually does spend a lot of the battle running. He dodges Argorok’s fire blasts by using grapplinghook-like devices called clawshots to swing between tall towers in the storm.
Well, technically there are also some flying plant things involved, but they would have been hard to make look realistic, so they didn’t make it into my picture. The towers were fanciful enough on their own.
What’s fanciful about towers? Lots of real-world castles have towers!
That may be true, but the engineering of the Middle Ages didn’t allow these towers to be quite so tall and skinny as those seen in Argorok’s city in the sky.
So, I explored a lot of real-world locations to stand-in for the towers, like the Piazza Leonardo Da Vinci, and even the Washington monument, but every option seemed to either be the wrong proportions, not have pictures at the right angle, or have too little texture for Link to believably hold on to.
In the end, I wound up turning from reality back to fantasy. The towers that I ended up using were all photos of the “big-ature” for Orthanc in the film version of Tolkien’s The Two Towers.
Orthanc had the proportions and the texture that I needed, and since it came from the same film universe as Smaug, it matched the aesthetic of my Argorok model.
The downside to using Orthanc was, of course, that it’s so recognizable. To minimize this, in my final image I cropped off the distinctive tops of the towers and obscured them with rain and clouds as much as I could.
I played around with the clawshot idea for a bit, but I just didn’t see a way to make the accessory’s function register quickly without making it look cheesy.
In the end I decided to simply suggest the clawshot by having Link swinging away from the fire blast on a length of chain.
The cosplay photo I used for this aerial Link was originally intended to be a jump attack, but it had him suspended in the air just the way I needed, and the facial expression was perfect–determined, but with some obvious fear showing in the wide eyes.
I removed the blade and hilt of the Master Sword and replaced them with lengths of chain which I shaped with the Photoshop perspective warp and puppet warp tools. I then used the smudge and blur tools to get an increased sense of motion in the shot.
Sometimes in art things don’t turn out quite the way you imagine…they turn out better!
Someday perhaps I’ll revisit this picture and try again to pull off Argorok’s epic death, but for now, he’s alive and well, and as a result the picture has that much more action!