The How to Train Your Dragon franchise is just behind Game of Thrones for public media recognition of the word “dragon”. It’s exciting to see an entire world based around the existence of dragons of all shapes and sizes. Let’s take a look at some noteworthy dragon designs!
Might as well start with this series’ mascot, the Pikachu of HTTYD. The Night Fury is adorable, with a squat, gecko-like body and head, a hugely expressive face and kitty ear-like nubs, it is clearly made to be a character with a personality and not just a creature. Here’s my issue with that: the Night Fury (and later, the Light Fury, which is effectively a recolor) is the only dragon to have this level of humanlike emotion and expression. All of the other dragons in this entire series look more like googly-eyed children’s drawings, which is fine if they were all like that, but it’s completely inconsistent. I find that I don’t have anywhere near the same level of empathy and care for the other dragons in this series, because compared to Toothless, they look unintelligent and emotionless. It runs the danger of teaching us that strange things are bad, unless they are attractive or relatable or otherwise familiar and safe in some way, and actually stumbles on the franchie’s message of accepting differences and bridging gaps between worlds: “Sure, humans and dragons can get along, as long as the dragon acts and looks as close to human as possible!”
Soapbox aside, the Night Fury has wonderful aerodynamics and really feels like a flying creature. It’s kind of shaped like a stealth fighter jet mixed with a multi-mast pirate ship. I love the dorsal or maybe anal fins (sorry, that’s what they would be called on a fish) and the swallow tail-shaped fin at the tip of the tail. It’s rare that I see a dragon’s tail being incorporated so well into its practical design and not just a heavy dangling weight off its butt. Unfortunately, that makes the Night Fury stand out as one of the only dragons that looks capable of realistic flight. If physics do matter, how do the other dragons actually achieve powered flight? If physics don’t matter to these creatures, why did the Night Fury evolve functional wings? This mix-and-match “no rules, just right” thing drives me nuts.
The Stormcutter is a big weird X-wing owl wyvern. It’s certainly cool, but it’s a busy design, with a lot to take in. I can’t help but notice they re-used the Night Fury’s tail-fins, but I’m glad they designed a really truly unique dragon. The red on silver makes for a cool, rusty metal vibe. I like that, practically, it can use the lower set of wings as forearms while on the ground. The head area unfortunately gets totally lost to me because it’s just so busy.
Here’s where we get into dragons that look like they were designed for a different property entirely.
Again, that’s not a bad thing, it’s just that they are completely inconsistent with the physics and design principles of the above dragons. They don’t look like they belong in the same world.
The Monstrous Nightmare is probably the most standard dragon in the entire series – a big, angry wyvern that likes to set itself on fire. I personally can’t stand the bulging eyes set on top of that big pancake snout (where’s the BRAIN go??), but, I do like the wispy, almost delicate appearance of the fins/spines that go down the back, which are clearly meant to evoke flames. The patterns and colors even looks like a forest fire! Fantasy camouflage! See, it’s still good design, it just doesn’t fit with the more realistic dragons.
This is a chicken.
Okay, fine, chickens can be scary. They’re tiny dinosaurs who have no issues being cannibalistic and they’ll attack things way larger than themselves. I do like that this dragon’s face evokes the idea of a beak without actually being a beak. The spines also serve as a cockatoo-like crest. Overall, a good translation of a natural animal into a fantasy creature. The proportions drive me ballistic, though. You shouldn’t be able to fly! Your head size should make you unable to even walk! Ahem. I like that it has macaw colors.
Gods help me.
There is very little about the Gronckle that I believe is salvageable as good design. That lump bee-abdomen tail drives me bananas. What if it were a chunky, ridged leopard gecko tail instead? Or a spiked organic “mace”? If this thing is meant to be the sturdy, heavyweight battering ram of dragons, I want to see something more like a triceratops crest or other head armor that reflects that. Its feet are also so soft and delicate for a tank. And don’t get me started on those tiny head-wings. The only thing that this design successfully communicates to me is that it eats large prey – except it has the wrong kind of teeth for its food, which is rocks. Those pointy predator teeth would shatter immediately. Someone please help the poor Gronckle.
Okay, realistically, it shouldn’t be able to fly – but I don’t honestly think I’ve ever seen this dragon in flight. There should be more species with vestigial (or even better, re-purposed) wings. Looking like it came straight out of the Spore Creature Creator, the Hobblegrunt has some ridiculous proportions, but I find that it all works surprisingly well together. I can honestly say this is one of the only times I’ve ever liked polka dots. I’m a fan of the cohesion between the head and tail frills, and I really love the face, with that eel-like lower jaw full of teeth, and those bizarrely deep-sea blind eyes. Plus, the name is fantastic. Hobblegrunt.
The Flightmare’s theme is ghost dragon, which in itself is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. It glows in the dark, of course, but they actually explain that this is because it eats bioluminescent algae! And in accordance with it’s scary ghost theme, its breath weapon is not fire, but a paralyzing mist that looks like blue fire. I really enjoy the shape of the wings, with those wispy tendrils, which are echoed under the jaw and down the spine. It has the head of a gulper eel which looks terrifyingly large compared to its chubby little salamander body. This doesn’t really fit with its algae-eating diet, but I will admit it looks cool. My biggest complaint, is that its wings are positioned too far back, which makes it look topheavy and unbalanced.
This isn’t my personal taste, but I really believe the Whispering Death is excellent design that pushes the boundaries on the definition of “dragon” and is also immediately recognizable as a dragon at the same time. This whirling corkscrew of spikes and teeth is immediately threatening and those empty, dead eyes make it feel completely soulless and terrifying. The wings are, of course, much too small, and I actually think it would be more effective without that top row of vampire fangs, and instead rely on the rows and rows and rows of teeth inside the mouth for effect.
It’s great to see more small, pest-like dragons. I actually love the disproportionately large head, and all those little rounded nubs down the spine. Does this little guy have six legs, plus wings? That adds an interesting reference to insect life.
A species that was only featured in one episode of the Riders of Berk TV series, these weird little things were tiny pack-hunters that gathered metal for nest-building, and obscured themselves in thick fog. I find something icnredibly attractive about their design – the skull-like “mask” on the face, the cool grey colors with the narrow golden eyes, the huge toad-like mouth. Most importantly, though, check out the tail, especially in the concept art, where it’s a long, forked wisp meant to evoke the smoke they exhale.
This is a very small selection of the many, many dragons in the HTTYD franchise. I find that many of them are samey and not worth mentioning, but you should definitely check out the official Wiki category page for all the dragon species: