Ahh, how many times did you hear this one? I’m sorry that I have to be such a party pooper and tell you again that art fundamentals come first! It doesn’t matter what you draw, so if you didn’t do this already, find yourself some nice art fundamental courses. If you did: Move on and check out what else can help you out! Here are some quick tips for beautiful fantasy creature designs!
Familiarize yourself with anatomy
This is probably the next most important thing. Just as important as art fundamentals: Understanding anatomy is really important. This doesn’t mean that you have to dig deep into animal anatomy up to the skeletal level right away. A general understanding of how the muscles are built up and what the range of movement is is already a good start. Your next step would actually be to dig deeper and get an even better understanding. It will help you get the best out of your creature designs without making them look wonky or unbelievable.
Keep in mind the function of the creature
What is the function of the creature? The first question you have to ask yourself is: Is it gonna be functional or intentional? A functional creature could live in a world and not be bothered by its own anatomy. It’s refined and adapted to its function and place in the world.
An intentional creature is an opposite. There is an intention to its built and more often than not it’s not a functional one. It would be limited in its movement, or it’s generally not possible at all to move the way it’s gonna move.
Some examples are:
- Chimaera (The animals used in this mythical creature are ‘glued’ together).
- Pegasus (Horses are too heavy to fly with the wings the traditional pegasus has).
- Minotaur (The body of a man and the head of a bull, this won’t be functional for obvious reasons).
- Mermaid (Mermaids are not streamlined enough to make sense in water).
- Cerberus (Most animals die young when they carry a sibling with them, Cerberus has 3 heads, and is, therefore, unlikely to survive.)
You probably get the drift. When you answered the first question, you can dig further into its function and refine your creature design based on the set of rules that you are dealing with.
One of the most useful tools you have when it comes to creature designs is exaggeration. Usually, when you start working on a creature design you have a vague idea of what you’re looking for. While you do your research, keep an eye out for animal species that fit the bill, but have some unique features to play around with. They can help you flesh out your creature design. Be sparse with this little tip though, less is more so it would serve you well to pick out only a few features you want to exaggerate.
Using shapes to communicate intention
Shape design is a very powerful tool. It’s the very first thing you put down and it will dictate how the rest of your artwork is going to develop. As such, it is an art fundamental. I do want to point out the intention behind your shape design a little bit extra because creature design in essence is the creation of things we know nothing about.
Just as with character design, we can use ornaments, clothing, textures, and so on to communicate what kind of personality is behind this character, we can do so with creature designs. A pose can communicate aggression, affection, and so on. Motion can tell something about agility or the lack thereof. And general shapes can tell about the creatures’ nature.
- Round shapes are often thought of as cute, think of young animals, but also cats, some dog breeds, (small) birds, guinea pigs, and hamsters. and more). Round shapes are also considered to be feminine.
- Square shapes translate to power and strength, but also stability and safety depending on the context.
- Angular shapes tend to be equal to danger, think of teeth, horns, claws, and the vertical slits of the eyes of some predators.
Toothless from How to Train a Dragon is thought of as a very dangerous creature, but when seen up close it doesn’t only have angular shapes, but also rounded shapes. This creature can be very dangerous but can be a good friend too. Toothless is inspired by dogs and cats that have similar visual traits.
The Indoraptor from Jurassic World – Fallen Kingdom is supposed to be the ultimate predator and that is what he looks like. He is sleek and bony, has many angular forms, and the rounded and square shapes are neglectable. This creature screams death and decay.
More about shape design
- Shape language basics in art
- Analyzing shapes and poses in creatures and characters
- How to use exaggeration in creature design
- Why learning anatomy for creature design is important
Use dynamic poses
Dynamic poses show your creature from different angles at the same time while it’s in action. Dynamic poses tell a story and tell even more about the creature you designed. It’s advisable though to first figure out its anatomy and final design before you move on to draw it in a dynamic pose.
Creating a balance in your creature design can be done in many ways such as by working out the creature’s anatomy, but also where its focal point is, and how you utilize this focal point. This more often than not happens with the help of art fundamentals such as colors, contrasts, and so on.
More about creature design
Life to Legend has an extensive archive about creature design. Have a look and see what else you can learn about this exciting specialization!
Creature design archive