Tip 1: Real Animal Drawing and Study
The first and most crucial step in creature design is studying real animals here on earth. Nature has designed millions of different species over billions on years on our planet. There are countless solutions and ideas out there to inspire you! It’s important to produce lots of observational drawing. You can draw animals in parks, at the zoo, museums or even from photographs. Zoos, farms and parks give you’re the opportunity to get up close to the animal. Drawing from life like this will give you a sense of how the animal moves around as well as a sense of scale. You will also exercise your ability to capture gestures.
Drawing at museums give you the advantage of seeing fossils, bones and diagrams of different animals. You may also be able to draw from taxidermy models or sculptures of different species. Photographs and film are a great way to study different animals that may be hard to see in person. I would recommend using multiple photos of the animal as you draw; it will help you realize the volumes and anatomy of its body.
As you draw animals more and more from life and photos, it’s great to move into anatomy diagrams. You can find resources in books (I’ve listed a few of my favorites at the end of this article) and online. Mapping out the internal structures of real animals will not only give you a better sense of how they are put together, it will also give you the ability to mesh different anatomies together when you create creature concepts and designs.
Tip 2: Use Wireframes, Gesture and Planar View to Draw Creatures
When you begin to draw out your creature concepts, using the techniques you use when drawing from life or photographs is a must. I start with wire frames. This way of capturing a gesture is extremely important because it can help you locate the line of action, the skeleton, and the overall pose and attitude of your subject. I tend to use this step after I’ve sketched a few silhouettes at a side view to work out the initial design and silhouette of the creature.
From here I block in gesture to figure out the forms of the creature. This is a great way to keep your concept loose and full of life. We don’t want things to feel to stiff; we are designing an asset that will be animated and interact with an audience.
After I lock in my gesture, I move on to planar view. This way of drawing is essentially breaking the forms into 3D shapes so you can better understand their perspective and volume. Using contour lines will help you understand the direction in which the planes of the creature’s body are pointing. Planar view will give you the ability to draw creatures and organic concepts from any point of view!
These steps are extremely helpful with making your creature design feel organic and full of life.
Tip 3: Color, Shape, Texture and Story - Give your creature a "lived-in" look
Using things like color, shape, texture and story in your creature designs will help your audience better connect and experience your creation. Color can play an important role in adding to the alignment of your creature (good vs evil vs neutral). In nature, high contrasting, bright colors can indicate danger or poison. Using these same kinds of combinations can make a creature design feel dangerous or uncertain.
If we keep the colors warm and soft, the creature can feel more familiar or maybe even friendly. Shape plays big into creature design as well. Thinking about the overall silhouette of your creature can really help push the idea you’re trying to convey. For the tooth fairy, the most important factors are the teeth and wings, we those are over exaggerated so we see them first. Shape can convey personality and characters. Big, boxy shapes are associated with strength and power while rounded softer shapes are associated with comfort and playfulness.
Think about the difference between a golden retriever and a Doberman pincer. The golden retriever is soft in overall tone and shape. They are round in the face and muzzle and their overall shape is very rounded. The Doberman pincer in contrast has striking markings and a sharp looking shape. The pointed snout and sleek build give the animal a fierce look. These animals aren’t inherently good or evil but our associations with shapes found in nature can influence the way in which we perceive characters and creatures. A great example of shape and color theory can be found in the differences between Disney’s Scar and Mufasa. Color, shape and texture can help sell your creature’s evolutionary history and placement within its environment. We always want to put function at the forefront of what we’re designing. Think about how your creature will survive in its environment and what its body might look like to do so. Lastly, but certainly not least, think about story.
Where does your creature come from, how long has it lived, has it been in battles or fights? These sorts of questions will help make your creature feel more lived in and better give your audience and sense of who they are. Showing these experiences on your creature’s body will give unspoken clues to the viewer. Scars, broken teeth or missing horns will show a turbulent past while a pristine looking animal will show the opposite. Adding in a few nicks and tears will keep the design interesting.
Looking over these brief notes, you can easily see that studying, drawing and generally being interested in wildlife here on earth is a crucial part of adding believability to your creature designs.
We want to thank Brynn for these thorough, informative tips, and we can't wait to see what you create after applying them to your own work! Be sure to check out Brynn's website to stay updated on her creations.