Friday, October 21, 2011

An Interview with Character and Creature Designer Joseph C. Pepe

 I met Joseph C. Pepe in 1990 when he was working as an effects animator and I as a key clean up artist on the Walt Disney Feature Animation film "The Rescuers Down Under". Since then Joe has created effects for every animated Disney Feature leading up to "Home on the Range" (2004), Including "Aladdin", "The Lion King", "Tarzan" and "Mulan". But when Joe left the Feature Animation studio in 2004 he made a career change, becoming a sought after conceptual artist and designer on films like "AVP: Alien Vs. Predator", "War of the Worlds" (2005), Fantastic Four" (2005), "Skinwalkers", and James Cameron's "Avatar". Joe has generously granted us an interview to give us a peek into his experiences, thought processes, inspirations, and tips for succeeding in a very competitive industry.   - Jennifer G. Oliver
  What kind of an art education did you receive?  
I grew up in a household of artists. My father is a doctor and art is his hobby. My mother still creates artistic quilts and wearable art. And both my older and younger brothers are in the film industry. I’ve been around art and artists throughout my childhood. My parents took us to all the museums and art galleries in NYC and D.C. as well as visit family artist friends’ studios. I also participated in local art festivals in Central Pennsylvania. While in high school I started taking formal art classes at a local art studio. From there I studied Industrial Design and received a B.I.D. at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. 
Did you always envision yourself in this type of career, or did you arrive at it through a series of unplanned events? 
 I always loved to draw and I loved film but there were no schools that we knew of that had an education program that taught you how to draw spaceships and creatures. My parents did some research on automotive design and that the artists at ILM had degrees in Industrial Design so I headed in that direction. My goal was always to get into live action film design but my career didn’t start off that way. I was accepted into an internship at Disney Feature Animation in Orlando, FL in the summer of 1990 and followed a great career in animation for over 10 years. Then I transferred to the Disney Animation studio in Burbank to “be in Hollywood” hoping that I would start meeting artists that worked in live action. And to my surprise two of the Effects Animators that I worked with both had been long term ILM animators. Gordon Baker and John Armstrong animated on WILLOW, Witches of Eastwick, Terminator 2 and several other live action films.  

 Could you tell us about some of the artists who have inspired you over the years?
 One of the biggest influences is Robert A. Nelson, father of Mark Nelson. My father collected Robert’s art. He is a fantasy illustrator that my father met back in the late 1970’s. Others include: Leonardo Da Vinci. Michelangelo. Bernini. Egon Schiele. Gustav Klimnt. John Auguste Dominique Ingres.  Jean Leon Gerome. Degas. Hans Bellmer. Arthur Rackham. Heinrick Kley. H.R. Giger. Wayne Barlowe. Moebius. Bernie Wrightson. Nirasawa. Kathsuhiro Otomo. Syd Mead. Sorayama. Katsuya Terada. Takayuki Takeya. Mamoru Nagano. Shirow Masamune. Neal Adams. Barry Windsor Smith. John Bryne. Simon Bisley. Joe Johnston. Frank Frazetta. Renzo Piano. Lebbeus Woods. Joel-Peter Witkin. Peter Beard. Herb Ritts.
What mediums or programs do you use to create your art? 
I use pencil on animation paper or Arches watercolor paper; and Photoshop. I have a digital camera to take photos for integration into Photoshop also.

How did you come to work for Stan Winston Studios?  
My older brother Louis introduced me to a friend of his named Kevin McTurk who is a veteran practical FX artist. He liked my portfolio and we kept in contact. After being laid off from Disney Feature Animation Kevin contacted me to see if I was available to interview with Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr. at ADI because they were looking for a concept artist. They hired me on AVP back in July of 2003 for three months to design the weapons and armor for the predators. Once AVP was finished a friend named Chris Grossnickle asked me “where are you going next?” and I said disappointingly “home.” He said that he would introduce me to a friend from Stan Winston Studio that was coming to pick him up and that he could set up an interview to show my work. Fortunately I carried a portfolio with me every day just in case. I showed Christopher Swift, a veteran Stan Winston artist, my work on the spot. He liked it and I gave him my info. A few weeks later, while brushing my teeth, I received a call from Swift in which he asked: “How fast can you get over to the studio?” and I gurgled “15 minutes.” And that turned into my four year adventure with the gang at Stan Winston Studio.
Pepe's first Na'vi Male and Female designs done for James Cameron. 12/06/2005-AVATAR
  How did you come to work on "Avatar", and how far had the creature designs evolved before you began to work with them? 
 While I was working at Stan Winston Studio about mid 2005, Stan Winston brought the entire studio to the display room for a meeting. He said he spoke with “Jim” (Cameron) who had already spent a year developing his next film, and that we have been given two weeks to show him something “new” and “spectacular” for his secret film “Project 880.” Winston said that only two artists would be chosen to try and accomplish this daunting task. A day later, Christopher Swift and I were called into Stan’s office for a meeting. He said that the two of us “better show Jim some cool shit!” We met with Jim Cameron that week in his Santa Monica office, were given two hours to read the scriptment (which was more than a two hour read!) I didn’t get to finish it!! I’m a slow reader. Then Jim gave us the ultimate download of images from ILM, Neville Page, Yuri Bartoli, Jordu Schell and Wayne Barlowe. I was really excited and intimidated all at once. I went back to Stan Winston Studio and started a lot of research on the Internet. Once I got to the point of starting my first image I put 150% of my time and energy into doing the best work I possibly could for the next two weeks.  Lucky for me my wife was just as excited that I was working with Jim Cameron and didn’t mind that she didn’t see me for two weeks. I spent about 20 hours a day for the next 14 days cranking out artwork. Our first presentation was on my birthday, Dec 07, 2005. It was kind of surreal. It was my birthday, I was getting to show my artwork to Jim for the very first time, and both Chris Swift and John Rosengrant, our Supervisor, were telling me horror stories about working with Cameron on Terminator 2!! I was getting real nervous. In my mind, I was telling myself don’t worry, if Jim yells at me for any reason, just think “C’mon, it’s Jim Cameron yelling at me!” Fortunately, although with a poker face, he really liked my work and the two weeks turned into two months. And after Cameron’s hiatus to finish the script, I worked on Avatar for over two and a half years.
LEFT: Pepe's first version of Tsu Tay 12/14/2005 RIGHT: Joe's final version of Tsu Tay, 1/15/2007 designed from a photo that he took of actor Laz Alonzo
Was a there a character or creature design on Avatar which was particularly challenging? Do you have a favorite design from the film?  
The most challenging creature to design was what became the Thanator. It was originally called a Manticore and everyone took a stab at the design. It was the only design that I know of where Jim didn’t have a complete vision in his head. He had the basic concept “ Toughest carnivore in the known universe. It is a black six-limbed panther from hell, with an armored head, a venomous striking tail, and massive distensible armored jaws.” It took months of artists and hundreds of illustrations. And still Jim didn’t like any. Then late in the production Cameron did a sketch, Neville Page fleshed it out and built the ZBrush model and it’s what you see in the film. I did over 50 iterations myself.
My favorite design in the film is Neytiri, not because I was a key character designer, but because she worked out so well in the film as a character. Jim Cameron really designed her. A lot of artists contributed to her overall appearance. WETA did all the hard work making her look incredible while Zoe Saldana brought her life. It just worked out incredibly well.
Evolution: Joe Pepe's first photo-realistic concept of Neytiri from James Cameron's concepts 12/06/2005 (left), and Pepe's final design, based upon a photo he had taken of actress Zoe Salanda 09/22/2006 (right).
Could you tell us about the process you used to create Na'vi characters who resemble the actors who portrayed them?  

All of the main characters resemble their actor counterpart. Since no one would see Zoe Saldana or all the other Na’Vi human actors it was decided to use the lower third of their face as a reference for the performance capture. Joe Letteri from WETA, Cameron and John Rosengrant agreed that this was a viable approach. Cameron, John Rosengrant and I developed the initial design of Neytiri with Saldana’s photo over a two and a half month period. From there I photographed all of the actors as they were cast for the film and took each one of them and put them through the Photoshop process.  After the initial design was locked down with Neytiri, I was able to do a design for each actor between 2-4 days.
Pepe's final designs for Jake, Eytukan, and Mo'at, designed from photos he had taken of actors Sam Worthington, Wes Studi and CCH Pounder, January 2007
Do you have any fun experiences or stories from your time working on "Avatar" that you can share with our readers?
My favorite experience on Avatar was meeting and working with all the talent that came together to make this behemoth of a film. Working with Cameron was a lot of fun. Watching him work and listening to him think out loud about making a film was amazing.
Pepe's one and only infant Na'vi design appeared in the final film.

Many of my students consider the use of a lot of reference in creating a character or creature a "crutch". What's your position on using reference? 
 Let me start my answer by saying that if H.R. Giger didn’t reference the human body (i.e. the penis, skeleton, and BMW car parts) we wouldn’t have the original 1979 ALIEN creature. If Stan Winston didn’t take Jim Cameron’s “crab mandible” reference idea, we wouldn’t have the original PREDATOR. Not using the world around you is disempowering to the creative process. There should be no rules or boundaries to creativity and art. I don’t know of any master artist or contemporary that doesn’t or hasn’t used reference for inspiration. Everything that you have imagined is from something you have seen or experienced. I believe this is called reference. Truly creative people break barriers and don’t put limitations onto themselves or to their art. Why would you limit your creativity and art by creating rules?

What part of designing a new creature or character is the most fun? What part is the most difficult?
The most fun I have in designing is the research. I really enjoy it. The fun for me is reading about and discovering new things. Learning and seeing something new with research fascinates me.
The most difficult part is split into two sections for me. The first difficult part is starting. The second is getting an approval. A lot of the time I find it difficult to start the design unless I’m under a tight deadline. Deadlines force me to start immediately.  Approvals are a whole other matter. 

Creature-personal concept
 Are there other creature designs that you have done that are favorites, either in terms of the design or work experience, and why?
 One that stands out for me that was also on Avatar was the Direhorse. It started with Wayne Barlowe who did the concept of the small jointed head with the rigid neck/mane.  Neville Page and Jordu Schell did concepts and sculptures before it was passed to Stan Winston Studio to flesh it out. Since I began working on Avatar I had an ulterior motive, which was to see maquettes and sculptures created for the film by some of the top talent in the effects industry. The first artist was Christopher Swift, who designed, sculpted, supervised and puppeteered the velociraptors in all three Jurassic Park films. The second was Joey Orosco. Orosco designed and sculpted the triceratops in the first Jurassic Park and the Spinosaurus in JPIII. I wanted to see these guys sculpt! Because I was using photos in my design work and Swift wanted to sculpt I asked him to sculpt a small maquette of the direhorse head so that I could photograph it and do color designs on it. It was an awesome experience to work with Swift on that. Ultimately he sculpted the final direhorse maquette for the film. I did design modifications and color designs in Photoshop that were the finals in the movie. With Orosco, it was all about seeing him sculpt all of my character designs on life casts of the actors. Seeing my designs go from Photoshop to 3D clay sculptures was so amazing. Both are incredible artists and it was such a pleasure to be part of the process and integrate our techniques to develop the Avatar designs.

Mariq "injured" design and an unused concept for CONAN 2010
 Who are some of your favorite creature designers working today?
Wayne Barlowe. Takayuki Takeya and Yasushi Nirasawa. They still stand out from the rest. I see too many creatures looking like they come from the same designer, film or videogame, even though they don’t. These three artists still stand apart and have broken visual barriers and set higher standards of creativity influencing a lot of artists. 

Personal project-Phantom
 What projects are you currently working on?
I’m currently working at Technicolor in the 3D Conversion Unit trying something different and new. I’m involved in converting a traditional Chinese animated film into 3D. As for design work, most recently I worked on several Tom Cruise films, One Shot; Rock of Ages and Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol, doing makeup, hair and prop designs. Not too long ago I did some creature and character design work on Conan the Barbarian, a live action Monkey King film with Donnie Yen, and set, prop, weapon and armor designs for Predators.  

With a busy career in the film industry, do you ever find the time to work on personal projects?
I try. I’ve been itching to do figure drawing again. It’s been too long. I think the last time I did figure drawing was at Disney. Although I do have a couple of personal film ideas or drawings that I try to keep active so that I can express my own ideas instead of others.
Unused concept

What haven't you done yet as an artist that you would still like to do? 
 That is what I’m trying to figure out. I’ve been joking around with friends that I have a creative bucket list and I have been able to check some important artistic items off that list. But the one that escapes me is the one I haven’t discovered yet.

Personal project- Bloodrayne
Do you ever have "artist's block"? if so, how do you overcome it?
Of course I have it. Work usually is the problem! Sometimes all it takes to overcome the block is a swift kick seeing a friend just drawing or painting like crazy and it’ll inspire me to return to my own work. Sometimes I’ll watch a favorite movie to fire up the inspiration also. 

Can you tell us about one of the most important lessons that you have learned from a fellow artist?
Don’t’ let anyone talk you out of putting your best foot forward.  And don’t let anyone knock your enthusiasm. I had one artist friend tell me that I was a “show off” for producing too many designs on Avatar, after a meeting with Cameron. Although I’d like to say he was joking I believed he was trying to knock my overenthusiastic attitude and abundance of work. It just made me produce even more for the next meeting. And a close artist friend said that it would be impossible to make photorealistic designs that looked good when I started working on Avatar. He apologized to me a few years later. 

Unused concepts
Can you tell us about one of the most important lessons that you have learned on your own as an artist
There are so many talented artists out there, but there is just one of me.
Early "Blackhat" concept 06/07/2006-PRIEST
What do you think is the key to creating a character or creature with "appeal"?
The key? When I find out I’ll let you know. LOL. I just go with what I think looks good. I’m not into thinking I could create an “iconic” character. The public’s response to the whole film will decide what makes a character, creature or the film appealing.
There are some artists that throw the words “iconic design” around like they can design an “iconic” character with a subtle flick of the Wacom pen. That’s quite an ego. I just don’t think that’s how it works. To me it’s the film and story that are appealing, the characters and actors then add to that.

Do you have any additional tips, advice or words of wisdom that you could give to a character or creature designer, or an artist who is just beginning their career in the film industry?
Jump in the industry and enjoy it.  Don’t turn other types of artwork down. You never know who you’ll meet that could hire you on another project. And although there is a lot of negativity in the film industry, ignore it the best you can and concentrate on doing art and being creative. If you don’t, you can get caught up in some crazy shit and derailed from your goals.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Artists Spotlight: Brynn Metheney, Tiffany Turrill and Allison Theus

'Artists Spotlight Feature'

In addition to the normal Q&A interviews I'll be including spotlight features on artists whom I feel show a high standard of quality and originality in regard to creature and character design. In this case I would like to introduce you to three very talented ladies who you may or may not know and if you don't, you should know of them....

I'm featuring the three of them together because aside from their unique and appealing styles, understanding of anatomy and attention to detail, they all know each other and have collaborated on a personal joint project. So without further ado, I'll start by introducing you to each of them and provide you with a little background history concerning their education, experience, their collaboration on their creature project and their relation to each other. I asked each of them a little about how they came to know one another in this vast sea of talent, seeing as how they all love drawing creatures and happen to come together forming a bond of friendship, respect and mutual interest.

Tiffany Turrill

Tiffany is 27, she grew up in Mesquite Texas and attended the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where she graduated with a BFA in Illustration in 2006. Soon after college she was hired on as a concept artist at Gazillion Entertainment's original MMORPG development wing, Slipgate Ironworks for 3 and a half years. Unfortunately the project was never released. She then went on to work for Backbone Entertainment in Emeryville, CA for several (also disbanded/canceled) projects, and one which will be released this fall: Zombie Apocalypse 2. Other clients include & Blue Funk Productions.
"....Many times while working at game studios, I was asked to design characters who seemed to be male in the extreme - overblown, exaggerated, titillation seems to be the rule. Even the enemies of many video games are simply giant musclebound men. The design aesthetics of said games were hodge-podges of whatever was 'cool' - instead of focusing on developing a compelling, cohesive experience...." - Tiffany

"The critter project itself is similarly free-form, since we're all working professionally, it's intermittent and done often as a breather. Each of us also have other personal creature projects and world building stories as well, so for me, the collaboration helps to keep the brain going, and keep me from limiting myself to certain subject matter. We each provide our own original take on a prompt or word, some of which can be more ephemeral, and some more zoology-based. It's wide open. The original intent was to see what trends emerged with each design, (IE; Brynn seems to render more cat-like vertebrates, Allison has a flair for elaborate wormy things) and singling out these traits, refining them, and perhaps building three separate worlds we took turns developing creatures. So far we haven't invested too much time into it, but things have been quite busy! :) - I definitely intend to continue working on it, though, and hopefully it will turn into material for an art book, or series of art books." - Tiffany"My relationship with Brynn and Allison both stemmed from online interactions. I've been admiring Allison's work for years on DeviantArt, and vice versa, but on a gargantuan community like DA, it's easy to find artists with similar interests and styles....I feel that the relationship came more from a mutual respect and interest in the art, and the fact that we're both creature-making ladies was an added bonus. Similarly, Brynn was a later graduate of my art school, and one of the few people there interested in both concept art and creature design. She was also living in Oakland, and after realizing we had so much in common (and many silly interactions online) we met and became friends." - Tiffany One of the things about Tiffany's work that really caught my attention was her draftsmanship and the quality of her line drawings and sketches as well as her uniquely original and odd yet plausible designs. It's important to be well experienced in producing quality black and white line drawings and sketches for multiple production purposes as well as publishing purposes. - Mike"So, seeing the art of Brynn and Allison was something of a self-realization for me, that there WAS a place for what I do, and others with similar styles, concepts, and methods. And further, that perhaps together we could eke out a space where we could be more fully ourselves in a field built mostly of individuals. Artists do need communities, and the internet has tremendous reservoirs and opportunities for that, but unfortunately the whims of design trends keep certain art styles in vogue, and marginalize others. In order to take my interests from a hobby and make a profession out of it, there are allowances that must be made. Frankly, in my working experience, very few people know much anything about animals, how they behave, and function - and in a games context, knowing everything there is to know might initially impress your peers, but at the end of the day you'll still be tasked with designing a tiger that throws fireballs. You won't always be drawing the thing you love to draw the most." - Tiffany
More recently Tiffany has begun to work her way into publishing children's books, taking several private commissions for forthcoming books - one of which will be published under Green Leaf Book Group this year. You can see some examples of her children's book art style below. - Mike The image below shows what it takes to understand and design your own creatures as Tiffany illustrates the evolution of terrestrial mammals to marine mammals/whales in the chart below. Concept design is just as much a science as real world evolution and it's important to learn real world anatomy as the image below illustrates as a great example. - Mike"I feel that Brynn, Allison, and I are each equally skilled at a breadth of work that overlaps in many places, and we certainly have the same sorts of passions artistically, but that we are each rooted into a different venue of operation professionally. We each have different sets of clients, spheres of friends and contacts, and niches we contribute to. That we are all nerdy zoology-loving girls is a very helpful reminder in what can oft-times be a very lonely profession with little to no concrete guidance. However, this is all for fun at the moment. I do know plenty of artists with similar styles who work tremendously well together and get ample work - and others who focused on the stylistic attraction and could not work well personally. I feel it's best to keep things small. Friends of mine have tried to form illustration groups of 6-8 individuals banding together to ensure work after school, and only 1-2 of the group 'made it'. It's an organic process, and although Brynn, Allison and I haven't embarked quite down that road just yet, who knows?" - Tiffany

Brynn Metheney
You can also check more of Brynn's work at her blog: well as her personal project:

Brynn will turn 25 come this weekend - May 14th, she was raised in Mojave Desert, Lancaster, CA and moved to the Bay Area in 2006 and studied at the California College of the Arts and Crafts where she received a BFA in Illustration with High Distinction in 2009. Brynn specializes in creature and animal illustration for the game and entertainment industry as well as fantasy and sci-fi illustration for books and magazines. Currently she's working as a freelance/contract illustrator and Concept Artist. Some of her clients include: EuropaCorp, Sychey Games LLC, Sugar Publishing, Fantasy Flight Games, Present Creative, ImagineFX Magazine, WIRED Magazine, “Science, Sort of” Podcast and St. Mary’s College Magazine. Her work has been featured in such publications and websites as - ImagineFX, Contém Glúten, “Science...Sort Of” Podcast - Ep. 24, Drawn! The Illustration and Cartooning Blog and the popular & Lines and Colors art blogs.
"The internet is an amazing thing. I have actually been following Allison and her work since I was in the 8th grade! I believe I found her on DeviantArt or a similar site. She has inspired me for a long time, showing me the importance of online presence while I still had dial up and of course showing me her amazing skills! She does some amazing work!" - Brynn"I met Tiffany in sort of the same way. Apparently we went to the same school - CCAC. The teacher I was assisting at the time, Robert Hunt, had told me I should try and get in contact with a graduate named Tiffany since we had the same interests. I was so impressed with her work! I had to know her! So I found her on facebook and we started to talk more and more. A couple months later, Tiffany suggested we meet up for dinner and as we talked it turned out we had LOTS in common." - Brynn"We've become such good friends ever since! Tiffany and Allison then invited me to work on this side project and that's how we all sort of became a little collective. I was more than happy (and honored) to be involved and was excited that me and Allison could connect more too. These two ladies are such inspiration to me!" - BrynnBrynn has a great understanding of vertebrate anatomy and while most of her designs are naturalistic she is more than capable of drawing any type of creature. In the posts above and below you'll see unique designs of aquatic creatures, crustacean and alien concepts that still show a strong understanding of anatomy and plausibility. This is what makes Brynn's work stand out among so many other concept artist in the same field. She shows a great love for real world animals as is evident in her work and that's an important aspect of creature design. - Mike"Community is such an important aspect for artists in general. Being an artist can be a very lonely profession, especially if you are working freelance. I think it's a great idea for people with similar tastes and goals to join forces. It helps with personal growth and helps keep you motivated. You have a team of people looking forward to what you might do next and that can be great to keep your mind moving forward. I have noticed a significant improvement in my work since I've been working with these two and even other creature enthusiasts on the internet." - Brynn"When it comes to myself, Tiffany and Allison, it was never actually about us being "women interested in concept art". It just so happened we were all female. I suppose we all related well in that aspect which made us all want to work together but it was always about the creatures. I think it has a lot to do with our tastes too. I have lots of male friends and role models that I admire in my industry and I'd love to work with all of them. This was just the first collaboration opportunity that came up. Later, as we were talking about our project we realized we were, in fact, a team of women. I'm not sure if we will keep it exclusive either. I know we are all proud of who we are and what we are doing and I know being female is a very big part of that but I think it's something that we'd like to keep secondary in regards to this project; our work is what come first to us." - Brynn
"This project has actually been on hold for some time. It was meant to serve as something to work on when we had down-time or needed a place to turn to for prompts. Recently (and thankfully), we've all been too busy with work and what-not to really work on it. It's still a very loose project anyway. We are playing around with themes now and experimenting with a few single pieces here and there. We know we want it to be about creatures and world building. We have talked about making it into a book - sort of a collection of works. That's all for now really although we may start up a blog if it begins to develop more. It's just nice to have a project and soundboard to bounce ideas around in." - Brynn

Allison Theus
Website: Contact:

Allison is 27, she was Born/Raised in Clarksville, MD and attended Carnegie Mellon University where she received a BFA and a Masters in Entertainment Technology (focus in concept art and illustration) from Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). She has worked for various clients including Flying Rhinocerus Studios, Disney Interactive Studios (Spectrobes II), Divide by Zero Games, Rainmaker Games, Rackham Games, Fantasy Flight Games (Arkham Horror, Call of Cthulhu LCG, LOTR LCG, Warhammer, Fantasy RPG, Talisman, and Warhammer 40k), Paizo Publishing, Kobold Quarterly (Tales of the Old Margreve, and Issue Cover #17), The Escapist Magazine (animator on 'Extra Credits') & Dreamworks ('I am Number Four').
Currently she is producing private book covers and illustrations and collaborating with one of the artists from Palladium Books on some Splicers-related work. In addition she is working on two new IP's. You can also catch a sketchbook feature coming up in ImagineFX Magazine at the end of May.

"I found Tiffany some years ago on Deviantart's forums, I thought she was amazing and have been watching her art ever since. I found Brynn about a year ago through the DA's SPLICE contest. Soon after I struck up a convo with Tiffany I found out that she and Brynn knew each other, and here we are now!" - AllisonAllison has a very nice fluid movement about her designs and this shows both in her line work as well as her rendered illustrations. It's easy to relate to her designs even if they seem so far outside the box and alien to our eyes, she always throws something in the design to bring us back to reality. The tail of the creature below is a great example where the head and general concept is strange and eerie but we can relate to the cold weather climate through the incorportation of fur on the legs, back and that striped tail we see in so many real world animals here on earth. - Mike"I think it's important to have people with similar interests around you. We are three very different people and so we interpret concepts and ideas in very different ways. Having the opportunity to look at what other artists create is always beneficial, as it allows us to see alternate solutions to the problems and challenges that we face. In our case, the fact that we were all women really didn't matter. We all had an interest in creatures and a love for creature creation, and it was around this focus that we clicked. And it is always good to have a few people you can bounce ideas off, get feedback from, and to nerd out with." - Allison
"Essentially, I was frustrated with work and with not having any time for my own art, as there's not too much in the way of creature creation in what I've been doing recently. So on a whim I contacted Tiffany about a joint book project - something fun, relaxing, an on-the-side type deal where we could pass designs back and forth and riff off each other. A 'let's get together and make cool stuff' kind of thing. She was game and then suggested we bring Brynn into the fold (that's basically how I 'met' Brynn), so we did! It's still at a pretty early stage, and this year has been downright crazy so it's on the back burner at the moment, but we're all looking forward to picking it up again soon." - AllisonOne of the things that really caught my attention with Allison's work is her sketches and crazy attention to detail and complex organisms. Allison's work still abides the laws of nature and it's easy to see she understands animal and human anatomy quite well but she also makes her monstrosities and alien designs look very natural with recognizable aspects of real world animals and anatomy. - Mike
All three of these talented ladies are also a part of the creature art blog created and run by concept artist Davi Blight: where you may find inspiration from a large list of creature and character based artist in all genres, mediums and fields of entertainment related work.

Guest blogger Mike Corriero is a character, creature, and conceptual designer and illustrator living in New Jersey. Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2003, Mike's client list has included Breakaway Games, Fantasy Flight Games, Allied Studios, Kingsisle Entertainment, Radical entertainment/ Vivendi Universal Games, Liquid Development, Zynga Inc, Challenge Games, Paizo Publishing and Hasbro Inc, among others. Mike's book "PLANET to PLANET creatures and strange worlds" includes hundreds of his sketches of creatures, robots, alien life forms and their environments. I recommend it for students focusing on visual development for games, or anyone who loves creature design. - J. G. O.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Proper Use of Reference and Anatomy in Creature Design - Part Three

Habitat, Environment or Ecosystems play a major role in the development of an animal or creature's design.
It's due to the varied terrain that animals belonging to the same family evolve over time to adapt to their surroundings. This is how individual species are born during the process of evolution, branching off from one animal into many different though similar variations. This is why the environment in which an animal lives is an integral part of creature design. It helps if you think of your design in the sense of it being a species. If you're drawing sketches and designing a creature, if you think of it as a species; then come multiple factors to keep in mind during this process. As is the case with a living animal on earth, we need to bare in mind how this creature functions in all aspects of life. How does it interact within its ecosystem, how has the anatomy come to evolve due to its surroundings? Where does it fit within its fictional Animal Kingdom? - Part One and Part Two of this series.

(Note: Artwork below by Raul Martin)
Camouflage is a result of color and pattern adorned by multiple species each for their own reasons. Color and patterns play a major role in an animal's life and the design of its markings are due to the surrounding environment. The spots of a cheetah or leopard are meant to conceal its body and break it up to blend into the environment when hunting. The same goes for the coloration of shark and fish where the underbelly is bright and the top side is a darker blue/grey/green. It's so anything below the shark looking up won't be able to distinguish the white underbelly from the white light shining down above the surface and anything above sees it disappear into the abyss. Larger animals like an elephant, rhino and hippo don't need to worry so much about attacks from predators but their color is a neutral tone in part due to their size. Usually it's a case of keeping the body temperature down especially for an animal like an elephant where a lot of energy is exerted to move such massive weight and bones. If it were too light or too dark, it might overheat or become too cool. In certain times when the heat is overwhelming, elephants will cover their bodies with mud to block the sun and to cool themselves down.This kind of act of using its environment to regulate its body temperature is another thing to keep in mind when designing a creature. Thinking of various underwater and aquatic animals, you may see shrimp and crab species adorning and decorating their shelled exterior with living plants, algae and other aquatic vestigial life. Camouflage isn't always born through evolution or embedded in the design, sometimes it is created by use of the surrounding ecosystem and manually crafted by the animal. So how might your creature utilize its environment? How might its coloration be put to use based on its size, its purpose in life or its environment? ... always ask yourself "why?" Below are artworks by wildlife and paleontology reconstructionist artists Dick Van Heerde, Robert Nicholls, Tod Marshall, John Gurche, Ron Meilof, John Banovich, Jeremy Pearse, Robert Back, Nancy Howe and Raul Martin. All artwork is copyright to their resepective owners. If so many variations of animals can fall under the same class of marine mammals, the family of delphinidae there must be a purpose why each individual species evolved with distinct attributes. The length of the body or a dorsal fin, the shape and length of a tail fin, the shape of the head, length of the nose, the type of teeth etc. So when you're making decisions in design of your creature, make conscious decisions. Once you're done with your concept, go back to it and examine it... learn from it. Whichever species of animal you borrowed anatomy from, they had a specific purpose so it would help to research that animal and its anatomy to better understand the function of your design.

(Note: The montage of dolphin species below is by concept artist and illustrator Tiffany Turill
Below is artwork of a fictional creature designed by Alex Ries aka Abiogenesis. His Barnard's Swordswallower exhibits a similarity to multiple marine species that exist here on earth but it is unique in its construction and purpose. The anatomy choices in design suit the environment as do the markings in the creature's coloration (light underbelly, dark above). Just as we see species and animals evolve over time here on earth, you should build a history and background to the existence of your own creature designs. Writing little notes or a small story or description about the creature will help. Perhaps there are other creatures similar to it that the creature evolved from or species that have evolved from or are related to it. I mentioned once before in part 01 and part 02 of this series that it's best if you think of your creature design as an animal species no matter how bizarre it is. Now of course there are "monsters" or "characters - creatures of an individual personality" but we will discuss that in another topic. Nothing on an animal's body occurs by mistake, it's all developed and designed over time for very specific reasons. Just as is the case with concept design, some of those changes or choices are discarded and the more affective ones survive. The body of one animal and it's differences from another are relevant to the way that animal runs, eats, hunts, breathes, births offspring, mates or courts a mate, how it digs, balances, jumps, hides and survives the weather. Everything in life has a purpose and with that statement, you should implement that reasoning into your own thought process.

(Note: Artwork below by adeptka biotechu)

There are species of dinosaurs, raptors, oviraptors and pterosaurs with many similar features and body structures depicted with feathered vestigial limbs or bodies. As the design of these extinct animals came to resemble birds more and more over time, it's not hard to imagine a relation. As certain species of dinosaurs evolved into small bird-like theropods there must have been a reason for the development of feathers and eventually species capable of flight. The same reason that other similar animals like the penguin or ostrich though birds had evolved where flight was not a necessity. It has to do with the living conditions, the environment and the necessity of surviving in such conditions that cause an animal to evolve and adapt to its surroundings. Penguins have adapted to cold arctic winds, they migrate on foot, they swim, catch and feed on fish using their beaks. Other birds like a Falcon or Hawk glide and attack from above with talons for grasping and ripping into the flesh of smaller mammals and other birds or snakes. Then still, birds like the Ostrich run quick and gallantly with long strides, they attack with large powerful legs equipped with large nails and they feed on mostly vegetation of sorts and some insects. We're capable of classifying animals such as a polar bear, a grizzly bear and a black bear to have all developed from the same ancestor. If a polar bear lives in the arctic circle and is constantly surrounded by snow and ice it's by no mistake that the animal's fur coat is white. In this example the purpose is to allow the animal to remain hidden from hunting prey, yet in other examples of the arctic hare (rabbit) its purpose is to conceal itself as a form of hiding/camouflage. So the color of an animal or the color of your creature is also very important. Don't simply choose without reason to make your giant terrestrial arhropod that lives on a red planet like mars to be a bright white just because it looks cool in contrast (Though aesthetics in design are often important as much as the reasoning behind the choice.) make sure you put as much thought into the color scheme as you would the functionality of the body and its limbs. Artwork below by Alex Ries aka Abiogenesis. This is his own rendition of the largest flying animal in recorded history, the Quetzalcoatlus pterosaur. (A 12-15 meter wingspan, standing in comparison to the equivalent of a giraffe.) It's important to understand what was possible to make what doesn't exist believable.Now the difference of the artwork below by artist Adeptka Biotechu is an Oviraptor a small flightless bird-like dinosaur, as scientist have suggested possibly feathered species otherwise known as theropods. This would be more closely related to large flightless birds such as the Ostrich or other Ratites like the Emu or Rhea. Other than the largely obvious distinguishable feature that Pterosaurs flew and Oviraptors didn't, they are both bird-like dinosaurs. Think back to Penguins versus Falcons. It's interesting when you study the body of pterosaurs because it's believed most or all couldn't take off from the ground (generally having to fly off cliffs, and rather than flap much like birds today they mostly glided using wind currents and heat pockets - we see the same tactic used by the largest of birds of flight today). Aside from flying or taking off from the ground, they had to walk as well. You can see in Adeptka's rendition above there is one pterosaur landing from flight and one walking. It's too in depth to discuss in this post but research a bit about Avian Flight and you'll see just how difficult it would be for such large animals or creatures to fly. Action and interaction: Once you start to place your creature into a setting involving an environment, other creatures whether predator or prey and the elements of nature, you'll better understand how it functions. You'll want to consider it's general size, how it's bone structure (if it has one; vertebrates, invertebrates) is comprised, how much it weighs, what it eats..etc again, you need to at least consider these options otherwise it's just a random shape that moves without reason or function. Provide yourself with a starting point. Figure out where your creation lives, does it live on land, or water, underground, in the air, in space, jungles, desserts, cold or hot regions etc..

(Note: The 1st image below is by artist John Gurche, other paleo works are by Raul Martin and Todd Marshall as well as others mentioned at the top of this post)
An observation of life in the wild. A sketch of Hesperornis below: By artist John Conway (An Extinct flightless aquatic bird, much like the penguin) shows this species engaged in hunting for food. This is something that should be constantly studied and examined when watching series like Planet Earth or Life or any other show on The Discovery Channel and Animal planet that document animals and their living habits. These are all things you can put to use in your creature designs. As we see in the drawing below by artist Virgil C. Stephens, we have 3 species from 2 different classes (The Mountain Lion and two Buck Deer as well as a bird flying in the background - the Mountain Lion also known as a cougar or puma and the Buck Deer fit in the class: Mammals and the bird in the background though unidentifiable fits within the class: Birds) The most important thing about this drawing is the interaction of 2 species of animal and how they fit within the surrounding ecosystem. This is a classic scenario of Predation (Predator versus Prey), in which the Mountain Lion is giving chase to two male deer. Things to note when glancing at this drawing:
1:Notice the difference in strides of the Mountain Lion and the Buck Deer as well as how the muscles and bone joints of each animal differ from one another.
2:Note the difference in size of the Predator in comparison to the prey. What allows a predator such as this to hunt prey that is larger and heavier in size? (Predators: Often armed with anatomy meant for attacking, grasping, breaking bones, piercing skin, ripping flesh IE; Sharp Incisors and Claws.) These are all things that are important to remember when designing your own creature. Where does it fit within the food chain of its own ecosystem? Is it a predator or is it prey? Does it hunt for its food or does it scavenge or eat flora (herbivore); Flowers, Plants, Fruit, Grass, Berries and Trees/Leaves? What enables your design to be capable of hunting in a similar chasing down fashion as the Mountain Lion? Is it capable of agile speed, is it equipped with the ability to grasp, slice, tackle, tear, rip or attack its prey and how does it do this? Ask yourself these questions while designing and it will help create something more believable with more meaning, even if it's only a winged mutli-eyed creature with tentacles and talons. The sketches below by artist William D. Berry are a perfect example of what every aspiring creature artist should be doing in their sketchbooks. Visit a local zoo, or study birds, squirrels, rabbits and any other indigenous wild life that live within your area. Take notes, jot them down in your sketchbook as you draw quick sketches in observation of how the animal interacts in the wild. Study the movement of an animal, watch how the joints bend, how the muscles contract and expand as it jumps or climbs and how they twist and stretch. Every animal is different so it's important that you at least try to cover the main classes: Mammal, Reptile, Amphibian, Birds, Fish, Arthropods. They'll each provide enough of a varying degree of movement and use of limbs that is distinct from one to the next.When it's possible, study the muscles and bones beneath the surface. Whether you fully understand the complexity of the muscular system or not it's always good to know the basic functions. The same goes for the skeleton, which if you were to take note of a Moose Skull or any other similar animal such as a Deer, Horse, Cow or Goat it may appear quite different from the animal itself because of anatomy constructed of cartilage, tissue and muscle. An elephant skull is a perfect example because of the lack of ears and the trunk. The skull itself appears almost alien compared to the animal itself. This is why appendages such as the trunk are so flexible (it's all muscle/tissue, the same goes for the lips of various animals which are prehensile and serve as an additional way to extend, grab and tear off foliage, leaves, fruit and grass (the lips and tongue of a giraffe). After studying real world animals, their habits, how they function in the wild, what their purpose in life is and how they fit within an ecosystem you'll understand how to combine all of these factors when producing something imaginary. It will help ground your concept even if it's an alien life form from space or another dimension. You may want to check out a few additional art books if you can find them: The Best of Wildlife Art - Painting the Drama of Wildlife step by step - National Geographic Dinosaurs. Also be sure to check out RAUL MARTIN 's website where the majority of this paleo artwork came from, he's an amazing paleo reconstructionist. The possibilities of design are endless because life and evolution are endless, it never stops evolving and changing. If you have so many resources, references and information to study from you should be capable of coming up with an infinate amount of ideas. I'll leave off by including some art studies of the evolution of prehistoric and extinct ancestors of the crocodile by artist Todd Marshall.

I hope this was instructive and insightful, please share your thoughts and provide feedback.
Mike C -

Guest blogger Mike Corriero is a character, creature, and conceptual designer and illustrator living in New Jersey. Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2003, Mike's client list has included Breakaway Games, Fantasy Flight Games, Allied Studios, Kingsisle Entertainment, Radical entertainment/ Vivendi Universal Games, Liquid Development, Zynga Inc, Challenge Games, Paizo Publishing and Hasbro Inc, among others. Mike's book "PLANET to PLANET creatures and strange worlds" includes hundreds of his sketches of creatures, robots, alien life forms and their environments. I recommend it for students focusing on visual development for games, or anyone who loves creature design. - J. G. O.