- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 9, 2005

Television viewers who haven’t seen Animal Planet’s pseudoscientific opus to dragons, those legendary fire-breathing winged wonders, still have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the amazing production via the World Wide Web.

The 90-minute show “Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real” explored the possible existence of the mythical creatures by examining biological similarities to actual animals and highlighting some amazing-looking computer-generated creations.

The show’s complementary Web site delves even deeper into the myths and potential realities of the beasts by presenting a multimedia haven for middle schoolers to enjoy.

Dragons are coming

Site address: www.dragonsarecoming.com

Creator: Discovery.com, located in Silver Spring, developed and maintains the site.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to bring viewers more in-depth information related to the making of the Animal Planet feature ‘Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real’ in addition to delivering new and innovative ways for our viewers to explore the mystery and myths of these great creatures,” says Mona Abutaleb, executive vice president of new media and network services for Discovery Networks. “The Web site sought to nurture our viewers’ curiosity and passion surrounding these mythical creatures.”

Word from the Webwise: Visitors first watch a commercial for the show that combines a video clip embedded within a large, colorful image of a dragon’s shadow moving over a field. Section titles then magically appear, including Mythology, Inspiration, Animators and Expert. A hidden menu — activated by placing the cursor over the word dragons — leads to a multimedia look at Prehistoric, Marine, Forest and Mountain varieties of dragons.

Science lovers first should look at Inspiration for a primarily text-based lesson on the reality behind the fantasy. Through nine informative pages, visitors get information on how fire breathing could have occurred, the basis for a dragon’s size and how it might have been able to support itself in flight.

History lovers get six narrated slide-show presentations in the Mythology section. They explore the origins of dragons while touching on the regions where they were most prevalent, time periods and some of the knights who slew them.

The high-tech crowd will appreciate the Animators section and its four two-minute video snippets presenting a behind-the-scenes window into how a leading special-effects company, Framestore CFC, generated real-looking dragons.

I was most impressed with the multimedia dragon areas. Each features a 360-degree view of the creature, detailed analysis of its major parts (also anchored by some scientific facts) and video footage culled from the program to show the beasts in frightening action.

Ease of use: Visitors should have a high-speed connection, the latest Macromedia Flash plug-in and current browser for their PC or Mac.

Don’t miss: I am a sucker for puzzles, and the site offers a quartet of virtual challenges involving some of the show’s stars. Visitors get a 48-piece scattered conundrum to put together by dragging pieces onto a rectangular work space. Perplexed players can use the shift key for a preview of the finished work.

Family activity: The site provides a “further reading” list of books that will enhance a visitor’s knowledge of dragons. It includes the titles “Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary” (Princeton University Press, 2003, $45), “The Flight of Dragons” (Overlook Press, 1979, $24.95 ) and “Mythical Monsters: Fact or Fiction” (Studio, 1992, $9.99).

Cyber-sitter synopsis: Visitors should try to find a time when the program is being repeated on the Animal Planet network (https://media.animal.discovery.com/schedule/schedule.jsp) to fully enjoy the Web experience. However, the site still offers enough information for a cool school report and gives families a starting point for exploring an animal that has appeared in myths and legends from nearly every culture around the world.

Overall grade: A

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

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