Roger Dean: Other Wordly Art

Roger Dean was way ahead of his time. As an artist, he said he drew what he saw. Well, he must have seen some crazy stuff because his art has always been out of this world. I was a fan of the rock group Yes growing up and Dean’s artwork was front and center on their album covers. To get a Yes album, was not only to get the record, but to get the Roger Dean artwork. However, something has been haunting me the last few months. It had to do with the movie Avatar.

I have to be upfront about this, I did not go gaga over the movie. Visually stunning…yes. The story….no. I felt as if I had just watched Ferngully 3 or The Smurfs Updated. But there was something familiar about the visuals. I just couldn’t place it at the time.

Roger Dean was a designer at first. He designed chairs. Eventually, he made his way into art and his first album cover was The Gun’s Gun in 1968. He gained fame in the 1970s for two reasons. First he designed the famous chair in “A Clockwork Orange” and then he began designing Yes albums beginning with Fragile in 1971. It would lead to a long-enduring relationship between Dean and members of the band that exists even to this day. Dean would go on to design album art for Uriah Heep, Greenslade, and Asia. But it is Yes for which he has achieved the greatest acclaim. I remember coming home with the Relayer album and unfolding it. Staring at the exotic landscapes and rich detail of his art from what appeared to be other worlds.

This was only the beginning for me.

In the 1980s, Dean designed video game art as well. In addition, he continued his work and created more and more landscapes with organic architecture. One of his most famous works from the period is called “Floating Islands”. Dean said he was inspired by looking down from a mountain and seeing other bits of land in the clouds. It was if those bits were floating in the sky. Dean describes his process:

Yeah, as much as any of these things are intentional. It’s like when I’m working, I try to do as little conscious manipulating and thinking about what I’m doing as I can and have it work as intuitively as possible, so I’d say that the DRAMA work was very much an intuitive approach to how to do that cover. I was very interested in having a very stormy sky; that was something I was really interested in. I was very interested in the light playing across the landscape, so there were some bits that jumped out and very stark and bright, and other bits that are very dark–black on dark grey. Yeah, there was a lot going on for me in that, and it was like cooking I guess; I put in the ingredients and stirred it up, and they came out in a way I guess that training and good luck worked together.

And then this image came to me the other day as I was going through some files…

It looks eerily similar to this….

And this…..

Looks a lot like this…
And there are many more images which share commonalities.

After doing some digging last night, my mind is not working as fast as many other people have made the connection before me including Roger Dean. I have read there is a lawsuit in the works. It appears that the world of Avatar was basically James Cameron doing his best Roger Dean impersonation. I would have preferred for him to try this landscape…

Roger Dean’s Website



  1. I have been patiently anticipating the announcement of a pending lawsuit. It was immediately patently obvious to me that Cameron’s film appropriated Roger Dean’s life work without so much as an ‘inspired by’ credit. I wish Mr. Dean well in this pursuit.

  2. I have such mixed feelings when I watch the movie Avatar. It is such a beautiful movie! The first time i saw it I was amazed and very satisfied at how they took Roger Dean’s artwork and brought it to life. I’ve been a fan of his work and of Yes for many years and recognized his organic architecture and futuristic animal life in scene after scene. To find out that he was not even mentioned in the credits was the biggest slap in the face you can imagine.

  3. Pity there is so much bs about. I took my sons to see Avatar and mentioned to them several times excitedly during the show (probably to their annoyance) how James Cameron was tramslating one of my fave artists to the big screen. I waited to watch the credits and was ASTOUNDED to see none for Roger Dean. Icouls scarecl believe it, as the source for so much of the scenery was so obvious. I thought (and continue to hope) that Jams Cameron was a bigger man than that, and while I wait and watch to see how this very disappointing affair turns out, the more people talk about it and put it up on their sites and blogs, the better, IMHO.

  4. Perhaps Cameron could avoid the embarrassment of a lawsuit by agreeing to produce Dean’s Floating Islands film project – something I’d much rather see than Avatar – I concur with yoru comment about Ferngully 3 or The Smurfs, but with a really nasty, brutal edge to it. I see that Dean has removed mention of his project from his webpage – presumably funding has eluded him. Really unfortunate, given how bankable Cameron and others have found his images to be. Though to a lesser degree, Pixar ripped him off in the Incredibles, and Dreamworks with “How to Train Your Dragon.” Maybe they could kick in, too.

  5. It was only a few minutes into the movie when I connected what I was seeing with Roger Dean. I too loved his album covers and later bought books of his art.

    At the end of watching Avatar I was reading the credits, expecting (or at least hoping) to see Roger Dean in the credits. None! I complained “rip off” to my wife all the way home.

    Mr. Dean’s work is inspirational, brilliant, beautiful, calming. I am hoping he gets his due.

  6. Here here,

    I too scanned the credits when I first saw the movie a couple of years ago and saw no mention of Dean. What a shame. The whole visual aesthetic is straight out of Dean’s world. I would think Cameron would have more class, but I guess not. If I were Dean, I think I would contact my lawyer.

    On a Saturday afternoon having just watched Avator on cable, I thought, “I wonder if there is a posting of this on line?” I guess 50 million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. – Really Mr. Cameron.

    PS – Mr. Dean, I am an art dealer and art consultant and have been in business since 1995. Of my many services to my clients has been a professional witness in a copyright infringement trial. We won. If I can be of service to you, please let me know. I have been a fan of your work since I was 15. I am now 45 and still a fan.

    Best regards,
    Greg Thompson – President
    Greg Thompson Fine Art

  7. James Cameron should have done his research if this is a genuine mistake….but this can’t be a mistake,James Cameron must have known about Roger Dean’s art.I enjoyed Avatar immensely,to me it was living Yes world(I am both a Yes and Roger Dean huge fan)

    Roger should sue James……..sorry…….

  8. OK, you know what? Litigation is expensive, emotionally stressful, and there’s no guarentee you’ll win, no matter what the justice of your cause. Cameron is incredibly rich, and a huge cash cow for the studios, and they’ll circle the wagons around him. This “let’s you and him fight” is all well and good if we just want to sit back and watch a fight, maybe urge somebody we’ve admired for decades to go off and get slain in battle. I suggest a different course of action, one that puts us on the hook instead of the beleaguered Mr. Dean. I heard there is going to be an Avatar 2 and 3 (just confirmed at least 2 on Why don’t we start a campaign (petition, YouTube vids, interviews with media, etc) urging Cameron to hire Roger Dean to do production design for 2 and 3? Cameron may be persuaded to do the right thing, rather than being bludgeoned into giving up some of his loot (which he does work very hard for, no doubt) Dean gets the money and credit he deserves, and the designs will be even better and more true to the concepts of this visionary artist. Everybody wins. What do you say?

  9. This is nothing to do with the above comments, I would just like to say that I have a original 1977 Roger Dean Calendar showing images from the Dragon’s Dream Book.

    I can’t seem to find any info on these calendars and have contacted his website and had no reply.

    I may be interested in selling it but have no idea whether it has any value or who to contact to find out.

    Would appreciate any help thanks.

  10. Roger Dean was not way ahead of his time. If Roger Dean succeeds in a settlement for the Avatar makers ripping off his work, then Dean should donate all of the settlement claim to the Rene Magritte Foundation for ripping off Rene Magritte so many years ago.

    None of Dean’s work is original, it’s just that the baby boomers following the mainstream band Yes just assumed this was all his original concept.

    Dean should post on his website a credit to the pre-modern Chinese artists who he ripped off the brightly colored dragons. Or the countless artists who did landscapes of the Mesa with it’s arched mountains. Dean did not create arched mountains, nature did, they are real.

    You can’t copyright an idea. While I’m not really serious that Dean should do the above, artists share other artists ideas regularly. I’m surprised that the blogger who claimed he did some digging on this topic, didn’t come across materials/artists Dean borrowed from – Rodney Mathews, Patrick Woodroffe, Jonathan Swift all who also do floating mountains. I dare anyone to look at Rene Magritte’s work, who was designing floating mountains before Dean was even born, and say Dean did not borrow from Magritte.

  11. there’s no similarity between Dean’s style and Magritte’s style. Cameron clearly is aping Dean’s style. You have tin eyes if you can’t see that.

  12. mattlove, try keeping up with the conversation, we’re not comparing styles, it’s the fantasy subject material that is in question. If you can’t see the obvious same fantasy subject material that Dean ripped off from Magritte, you are wearing Roger Dean tunnel vision glasses.

  13. Interestingly, I found this blog when I searched for “avatar landscapes roger dean”. No doubt in my mind that Cameron borrowed/stole from Dean. That said, Napalm is right in that you can’t copyright an idea. Suffice it to say that Cameron’s style is so overhyped and un-original – Avatar was boring, Titanic was overdone … something Dean’s work has never been. I mean, really – “Pirhanna – the Spawning” What crap! (Aliens had great costumes but was just another slasher flick, and the best part of Terminator was the script). Roger Dean’s work will be known through the ages – Cameron’s shall reign in the dustbin of mediocrity.

    Cameron is not the only one – I’ve seen flying wooden ships in other films, and horsemen across arched passages, and similar landscapes in computer games – don’t know if any of those paid any tribute to one of the great artists of our time.

  14. Pingback: In-Spiral-ed Living « The Shift Has Hit The Fan
  15. You can’t copyright an idea? People do that all the time. It’s not the idea of the floating islands created by a Magritte that’s bugging about Cameron but the fact that Avatar has literally animated Roger Dean’s world, the landscapes, characters, creatures (dragons). There have been images of dragons for hundreds of years but each artist has produced their own stylisation. Cameron has stolen everything the stylisation Lock, stock, and barrel.

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