Monday, September 25th 2017

Avatar’s art direction draws on the 1970s’ most spiritual band: Yes

James Cameron’s floating islands of planet are inspired by Roger Dean, a pop artist famous for creating mystical album covers like Close to the Edge and Fragile

BY PAUL KAIHLA — Reviewers insist that the story-line for Avatar owes a lot to Pocahontas but the visual universe that James Cameron created for the planet Pandora owes more to British artist Roger Dean and the portfolio of album covers he created for the progressive rock band, Yes. The ensemble’s front man, Jon Anderson, was influenced by advaita teachings and the early 20th-century Indian spiritual teacher, Paramahansa Yogananda.

Anderson wrote the kriya-like lyrics to Tales from Topographic Oceans (each side of the two-album set is an entire song) while reading the latter’s Autobiography of a Yogi, which is now a classroom text in the post-modern spiritual canon.

yesyes-71-fragile_backDean’s themes were broken off chunks of planet and surreal spirals of flora. Check out the cover he created for 1970′s Fragile, which featured Yes’s biggest cross-over radio hit — a track called, Long Distance Runaround and one of its shortest songs.

You can already see one of Cameron’s winged Leonardo da Vinci-like flying machines on the front cover (left). And in anticipation of Cameron’s ecological-catastrophe theme 40 years beforehand, the back side of the album shows the planet breaking up into the kind of floating islands that hover in the atmosphere of Avatar’s Pandora, while the native population escapes in a wooden space glider.


As Yes and progressive rock faded as a genre during the New Wave 1980s Dean still sold posters and other designs to a cult following as a brand in his own right. Now 65 and living in Brighton, UK, he’s branched out into designing video game covers. Compare the images below, the last of which Dean called “Icarus,” to the scenes in the Avatar trailer above:




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9 Comments on “Avatar’s art direction draws on the 1970s’ most spiritual band: Yes”

  1. good information, i had no idea that cameron was influenced by roger dean. i've seen a trailer for this movie and am really looking forward to seeing it. apparently it has quite a "spiritual" message

  2. Very cool story, Paul. Now I can't wait to see the movie... looks like a treat on many levels.

  3. Go Canada Go! A sure to be great movie brought to life by a Canadian, and a great article by another Canadian, via Finland, and now in the U.S. Does Canada rock or what?

  4. It ticks me off that my good friend Roger Dean does not seem to be given any credit in the promotion of the film Avatar. In fact, the hype seems to be that the film is entirely original. It's clear to all who are even remotely aware of Roger's work on albums for Yes, Asia, Uriah Heep and many others, that much of movie scenery strongly resembles his imagery. You can see what I mean by going to and to

    Is this a blatant rip off? What do you think?

  5. I think Avatar's a message of peace and that all you need is love. What saved the people is their love for their land and each other. We were shown how war doesn't achieve anything except death and destruction. Did they get what they want from the land? No, but they lost everything and the Na'vi people lost in some way too. As a result of their will, determination and love, the Na'vi people survived to live another day.

    It's also about corruption, capitalism and ignorance.

    There's another message of going green and being in touch with your higher self. It's an idealist's view or look at life. I would've loved to live in Pandora and amongst the Na'vi people. :)

    It's an amazing film and I enjoyed it very much as it had a positive message and it was just beautiful. A nice idea delivered in a positive way. I liked how the cripple was the hero and had a lot of heart.

  6. As soon as I saw a movie premiere for Avatar I told my son that artwork must have been done by Roger Dean. I was sure of it. So I came on line to check and only hear that maybe the people who did the artwork were inspired by Roger Dean.
    I’m sure I will see Roger Dean in the art when I see the film, whoever did it. He has been my favorite artist for more then 35 years. As Yes has been a favorite.

  7. When I finished watching Avatar I was so convinced that Roger Dean must have done the art direction that we sat and watched the credits right to the end... and we were very disappointed that Dean was not credited. How could Cameron not credit Dean as a major inspiration for the film?

    Totally insulting in my opinion.. although I did enjoy the film..

    I recently had the wonderful experience of meeting Roger Dean recently at an art opening in San Francisco, and had the pleasure of speaking to Roger about his work, and some of his inspirations.

    Avatar is Roger Dean.

  8. I've saw it... yesterday.

    I can only say... if you do NOT see the MANY messages, you must be blind! ;o)
    It's also definitely got Druid and/or Wiccan, Asatru and (Native American?) Shamanistic influences in it. This is THE most Pagan movie of the year :o D , if not in a LONG time!

    If you really want to know WHICH messages.. GO SEE IT!! We're going to watch the 3D version in a few hours (yes.. we went YESTERDAY.. :o P ), because that must be even more stunning!

    One word of warning... Anyone that claims this movie sucks... the GF and I will shoot on sight!! (we are both into archery, as are many in the movie ;o)

  9. I think the real spiritual message is that Avatar is more real than we think! In many ways:

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