TUTORIAL - Creatures by Design - by Bobby Chiu

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  05 May 2006
TUTORIAL - Creatures by Design - by Bobby Chiu

Hey Everyone,

I promised Rebecca a tutorial and I always mean to keep my promises. I hope you like it. It's from my latest book - "Creature Sketches"


As a professional artist, you will probably be called upon at some point to design a fictitious creature or character. You might be given a few adjectives for guidelines (menacing, cute, funny, etc.) beyond which you can paint or draw whatever you want.
Endless possibilities.

This is a scary thought to a lot of artists because it can feel like being stranded in the middle of a desert with 360 degrees of free movement but no destination in sight. Where do you begin? Where do you end? And what goes in the middle?

Creative Evolution
Before you go randomly designing a creature, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Just because your creature is fictional doesn’t mean you are free to throw down anything that crosses your mind. Consider this: the most compelling creatures have a purpose—they’re compelling because, even though they’re not real, they MAKE SENSE. A polar bear-type animal with thick fur living in the desert wouldn’t make much sense. The creature would be JARRING, not COMPELLING.

So here’s your first consideration: real life animals typically look the way they do for a practical, evolutionary reason. Every detail—like a leopard’s spots or a chimp’s opposable thumbs—exists for a logical purpose. So keeping this in mind, imagine that you’re not so much CREATING your creature so much as you are watching the results of its natural evolution.

Let’s begin with its habitat, since how a creature has evolved is often dictated by its environment. So, where does it live? Maybe it’s a cave-dweller. If this is the case, how does that affect its appearance? Its skin might have minimal pigmentation due to its lack of contact with sunlight, leaving it very pale and pink in color. For the same reason, maybe it has tiny eyes but large ears because sound is more important to it than sight is as it navigates through pitch black caves.

If your creature lives in a cold environment, how does it stay warm? Is it extra furry or fat? Or on the flipside, if your creature is from a hot environment, how does it stay cool? Is it hairless? Or perhaps its body is long and thin so that it doesn’t retain heat?

Does its coloration help to camouflage it into its surroundings? Or is its coloration very bright and eye-catching in order to serve as a warning to predators? Maybe the creature has a distinctive pattern that serves some other special purpose, such as markings that look like eyes to keep predators from trying to sneak up on it while it’s sleeping.

This creature, for example, wards off predators because the combination of its colors and its folds gives it a tiger-like appearance to confuse and intimidate other animals which might otherwise try to attack it.

In addition to color, also consider texture. Does your creature have tough skin like a rhino or possibly a shell like a turtle?

Do they mate? If so, how do they attract the opposite sex? Do they have long manes like lions do? Or colorful spots, stripes, or other body parts (the bright blue snouts of mandrills comes to mind) with which to attract a mate?

Once we’ve brainstormed some ideas about its basic appearance, let’s consider structure and function. Think about locomotion: how does your creature get around in its environment? Does it have claws to climb up trees? Does it have large fins to help it swim?

How and what does it eat? If it’s a plant eater, it might have predominantly large, flat teeth for grinding. If it’s a meat eater, its teeth would most likely be pointed and sharp so that it can cut and rip through a carcass.

How does it get its food? Does the creature hunt its prey, and if so, how does it do this, by chasing it down, sneaking up on it, or by lying in wait? Or perhaps the creature is a specialized forager with a body (or body parts) suited particularly for its favorite food. For this, consider the long neck of a giraffe, which allows it to reach the tender leaves at the tops of trees, or anteaters, which have long, specialized tongues, which they can reach into anthills.

When you are standing in the desert with endless possibilities before you, every question you ask yourself about your creature is a signpost to your final destination. Come up with your own questions, the more the better.
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Steampunk Myths n Legends

Last edited by digital-bobert : 10 October 2006 at 01:18 AM.
  05 May 2006
My Creature
I made a list of descriptions and wrote them down on a piece of paper. I thought about this list as I sketched and I kept coming back to it as I painted. How can I tie these points into one another?
Here is my creature on paper:
• It lives in wooded and grassy areas—earth tones.
• For defense, it has quills on its back like a porcupine.
• It also has a big, flat head to ram its predators.
• It is powerful but front heavy so it has a long tail to help balance itself.
• Its average size: 5-feet tall, 13-feet long, 1200 lbs.
• It hunts monkeys by head-butting trees and catching them as they fall out of the branches
• It has poor hearing.
• It has a very loyal temperament but is not very bright.
With these descriptions in mind, I sketched out the general shape of the creature and added direction of light and shadow.

As this creature’s natural habitat would be plains and woodlands, I made the background grassy with the creature blocked in with a warm dark red.

Now I build up the fur while slowly turning down the opacity of the layer with the original sketch on it until it has completely disappeared.

Final touches include long quills along the creature’s back and down its tail.

Final concept
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Steampunk Myths n Legends

Last edited by digital-bobert : 10 October 2006 at 01:24 AM.
  05 May 2006
Booooobyyyyyyyyyyyy ! Thank you very much kind sir!

::Flemish Classical Atelier::
Art residencies:: Intensive Drawing and Painting workshops
in Brugge, Belgium

  05 May 2006

W00t! Thanks so much Bobby! This is super.



Korpus School of Art + Gallery
Facebook Page | Blog
Downtown Los Angeles

  05 May 2006
bobby, awsome stuff once again!, thanks for helping out the community aswell

  05 May 2006
ahahahah that bunny/kangaroo thing is soo great.
Really great tutorial, and thanks for the effort!
nice too see a bit of your mind!
Enter my anatomy thread
  05 May 2006
I am speechless, this is just too... too awesome,
the challenge
the anatomy thread
the blog

"you can't see until you learn how to open your eyes"
  05 May 2006
Thanks very much Bobby. A good insight in the mind of your craziness.
"There Really is No Secret"
Martin Brennand - mocha Product Manager - Imagineer Systems
  05 May 2006
Thanks for sharing man, very much appreciated
It is not length of life, but depth of life.
  05 May 2006
~want that book~

Wow - some of these I didn't see in your CA thread. Love them all - really excellent work Bobby. Really need to get this book...


- d.
sorry if you expected something clever here, I'm working on it.

ca.org sketchbook thread
cgs sketchbook

  05 May 2006
Hey this is really neat! Thanks so much for sharing =)
  05 May 2006
Wonderful tutorial, thank you so much!

I'm really inspired to try out a creature of my own .
  05 May 2006
WoW super designs! and tchnicue is perfect!
  05 May 2006
Thank you very much.
  05 May 2006
great tuitorial.. i really enjoyed the insite and all your works. thanks
character animator
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