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The Creature in the Details: Bringing the Idea to Life

Adreana Tan tells us about how she built up her otherworldly creature with design techniques she learned in Bobby Rebholz course Creature Design for Film and Games


Hi, my name is Adreana Tan. I am from Malaysia. I decided to take some courses to further my art skills. It’s part of the 2D Character Design program, though really, I’m interested in the idea of creating your own creature.

Reference and Loose Sketching

The animals I chose for my mood board were horses, okapi, deer, rabbit, Gulabi goat, wolves, leopard, Komodo, wildebeest, hammerhead shark, maned wolf, cheetah in the mood boards. I chose them because I find them to hold a certain grace.  Although the Gulabi goat may be a bit unique looking, the lambs have beautiful ears.

With the initial sketches, I don’t have a favourite really, I tried my best with all five. They are the favorites from the whole batch of thumbnails I did. It was very difficult to limit myself to 1-3 minutes per sketch. But after a while, I got the hang of it.

Creature Heads

For my reference I used an okapi skull; they look very otherworldly and bizarre (for me at least). For the eyes I got the idea from spiders, they have big beady black eyes that have many functions, and there’s the pronghorn that has a vision of wide-angle 8-power binoculars. Overall I wanted it to have a curious, stalking, quiet, graceful, observant nature.

Designing Function

From its poses, I wanted to show that it’s very observant, as it has very strong senses, but it is also quiet. It can attack or defend at will. The antenna serves as sensors, the protruding spine is for attracting mates, as these creatures mate for life, and the twin tails are to help in its threat display when its spots glow. Although I liked the ears hanging, I decided to acquiesce to changes and connect it as part of the antenna, and make its muscle structure more pronounced.

Final Presentation

For the final design, I decided to add glowing spots on its body to help with threat display, make the antenna more prominent, and make the legs muscular. The biggest challenge was keeping the main design intact, and maintaining proportions. So, I made sure to map things out and keep extra eyes on the details.

I received feedback that I needed to explain more about the functions. I actually had it all written down, but I didn’t really put them in the earlier submissions, so I compiled them and put them in the final. It took about 5-6 hours for weeks 6 and 7 combined to complete, and another 6-7 hours for the actual final, rendering, and layout design.

Final Thoughts

I’ve learned how to pace myself, really think the details out, and get a better sense of the steps of designing a creature. Going into this class with a strong sense of perspective and proportions is helpful, plus I’ve always liked drawing animals, especially mythical ones.

What I would say to other artists is it really helps to practice. I know it sounds boring but that’s basically what I did. Be sure to keep a list of all your favourite animals too. CGMA classes have been Interesting and Informative, and sometimes they can be very fun.

You can see more of Adreana’s art at a_grand_biscuit on Instagram.