…So the other day I was babbling about the Lockheed D-21 drone to some friends and couldn’t help but realize that in planview it kinda…resembles a moth?
And then just went completely literal with the idea.
Have some sketches. There is a headworld reason why many aerosaurs end up being more or less “draconic” in appearance but you can definitely have some really weird anomalies with them..!
They wouldn’t fly exactly like a moth though, they’d still be fixed-wing fliers like most aerosaurs since they have an engine.
It's always fun to base them off the real thing! Surprisingly I have yet to paint the steam engine I used to work on as part of a small volunteer group, years ago. Sketched a few variants but never got around to finishing/posting them ever. One of these days I'll do it justice!
My characters still have crews and such, they act more like horses responding to their reins being pulled. I'm working on some books surrounding them and using real life occurances, but from the engine's perspective.
One criticism I get too often is the lack of a Thomas face, when they forget that most of those engines have no front or back, and more importantly, handrails in the way.
Personally I'd avoid "Thomas face." Aside from it being a little creepy put in a realistic setting, like you said it erases a lot of details which would contribute to the character of the vehicle, especially on something distinctive. Better yet, to not be afraid to not use "idealized" design or stick to one recipe for expressions/faces. Even if it's weirder, it'll often look better!
My favorite "cartoon train" artist who does this really well is this guy!: nerailwayartist.tumblr.com/
They're still cartoony and bendy and have faces (some of them,) but work with their gritty environment very well, and he doesn't delete important details.
I love his artwork! He even made a short, bouncy LNER Teak coach!