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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Lee

How I Designed my Macaquia Creatures

Making creatures to inhabit my world of Macaquia was challenging, but a process I looked forward to every time I sat down to work on it. Creature design has always seemed daunting to me. There's a process to make this easier!

The first step to good creature design is to have a concrete idea of what world they inhabit. Why are they there? Is this a fantasy world, a sci-fi world, or a place based on reality? These are all important questions to answer. My Macaquia world was based on the Himalayas, but more extreme. The mountains were higher and steeper. It would also be much colder. This world would also be fantastical. My creatures are all inspired by the Tibetan creation story, where a monkey came to meditate but was seduced by a demon. He had children who multiplied and lost their tails and hair, which is where the humans came from. I'm simplifying the story, but if you'd like to read more you can here.

Now, I'll break down my design process of one specific creature. Let's go with the Hell Dancer. The Hell Dancer was inspired by the demon in the story. First, I mind-mapped everything I thought this animal could be. I'm considering personality, inspiration, and characteristics. Go crazy! Let all your ideas out, and try to think of things for longer than you want to. It can be easy to stop at the first ideas, but our most unique ideas come out of a lot of thought (usually).

Okay, so we've mind-mapped. At this point, I have an idea of creatures I want it to resemble. Nature is quite creative already, so why not take inspiration from animals that exist? Now it's time to make a mood board.

I have found I can't just look at these animals and expect myself to understand them. It's important for me to do studies of these animals and learn about their anatomy and how they move. Without this knowledge, it is difficult for me to create a creature I'm satisfied with. Sit down and do at least 5 studies of the animals you're incorporating into your design. They can be anatomical or gestural, both are helpful.

It's time for the fun part! Designing. I start with big silhouettes and make at least 20. Really push yourself. For this creature, my favorite designs came at the end. After I make my silhouettes, I go in with line work sketches to add a bit more detail. In everything I draw I am considering the principles and elements of design. This blog explains this concept well. What would be most aesthetically pleasing? What tells me about this creature? Remembering things that make all art successful will help when designing a creature.

My favorite was number 23. Her elegant shape made her look majestic and ethereal, which appeals to me for this character. I also think this is a unique combination of animals. I combined a snow leopard, crane, and hyena initially. Now it's time to make this thing exist. This is where the studies come in handy, and I ended up looking at many different animals as well.

I tested out a few different options that the Hell dancer could realistically exist. My biggest challenge was figuring out how to make such a long body and attach the limbs. Here, you can see a few iterations.

I began by thinking about a snake skeleton with legs attached. Then, a friend gave me a helpful solution, which was to look at a lizard as a base! After this, I found a 3D model of a lizard skeleton online and studied this thoroughly. I then trial and errored different ways of combining snow leopard and crane elements to a lizard skeleton. Terryl Whitlatch is a great illustrator to reference when making up creatures. I like this book by her.

After figuring out the skeleton, I basically repeated the process with muscles. This time it was easier because the hardest part is out of the way. I just need to place muscles based on references to the existing skeletal system.

The final step is to add the surface level features. Thinking about texture, color, and accessories is important here. I decided that the iridescent coat of a white and red beta fish would look magical but a bit scary on the hell dancer, so I imitated that in my rendering.

Now, I created 3 gesture drawings to show how the Hell Dancer operates day-to-day. I was inspired by flying squirrels. I wanted her to have flaps on her arms to glide through the sky. I also decided to show her screaming and being intimidating, as this is a big part of her character.

And that's the basic rundown on how I create a creature! Now, you can put them in any illustration you want and have a good understanding of them.

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