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The Sea Witch

Julia Lundman takes us on a visual development journey to creating her sea witch in Bobby Rebholz’s course Creature Design for Film and Games.


My name is Julia Lundman. I am originally from Chicago but have lived in San Francisco since May 2000. I have been working for over twenty-five years as a commercial artist in animation and games, starting first in commercial animation as a traditional background painter, storyboard clean-up, and art direction on everything involving color and lighting. Eventually, I moved into games, where I worked for many years in various positions, from concept artist, senior artist, lead, and eventually art director. I worked at Calabash Animation, Electronic Arts, Zynga, Disney Interactive, and Ghostbot and had several freelance clients like Random House and General Mills. I am currently taking a break from working studios in order to develop my own stories, illustrations, and other personal work. Since I haven’t done a lot of creature work in my career, I thought I might dive into an online course to see where it might take me. I found a summer online course at CGMA with Bobby Rebholz that seemed to fit the bill for a general overview of creature invention.

References and Idea Sketching

For the course, I wanted to create a Sea Witch. These were the animals that I focused on for inspiration, mostly rockfish, crustaceans, sharks, some invertebrates, and salamanders.

The first thing we focused on was iterating. I thought this stage of thumbnailing was really fun. I could have gone on forever, and liked how many ideas came out of the process.

Head Explorations

After submitting the sketches, we focused on picking out a couple of thumbnails that worked best to develop. Bobby wanted us to take the thumbnails and create musculature overlays and a note about scale comparison with a human being. I really liked the idea of a fish that has fins that come up towards its face when wanting to appear threatening. This variation was based on salamanders and flying fish.

After we submitted ideas for a few basic designs, we focused on iterating the head. This was the class I think I got the most out of since the head is really what the characters interact with and is so memorable and impactful in dialog scenes. These versions (below) were really fun to draw. I looked at everything from giant squid to walruses to even bats. In the end, I decided they were too derivative of Cthulu for the Sea Witch I wanted for my story. In my story there is another creature of the deep that I want to be reminiscent of Cthulu, so I decided to save any mouth/head tentacles for that creature instead of this one.

Creature Features

Next class, we focused on a few poses for the few variants. At this point, I knew the manatee-like creature was not really cutting it for my story, but it was still fun to draw.

While I am not entirely sure of this design (below), I do like the slinky quality it offers. I also like wispy hair and head lures that might throw off unsuspecting prey in the dark. I like bioluminescence for a Sea Witch, and tentacles of some sort for arms seem creepy. When I drew this version I was thinking about moray eels, who have such great faces.

Final Presentations

For our last class, we had to do a few studies of the final animals that we were studying as a basis of our design. I landed on the Hellbender Salamander and the Bamboo Shark as most of my inspiration points, but there were definitely some other ideas in there, too.

For the final painting of my final design for the Sea Witch, I did two versions: one is total darkness and one in light for modeling purposes. We also were required to make a few detailed head studies for our final class.

Although I am most likely going to edit and revise this character to fit with my story, I am glad I went through the process of taking a creature course. Bobby’s lectures provided so much information, and his feedback sessions had great discussions about many creature considerations, acting, and posing that I hadn’t thought about and I learned a great process for coming up with an entirely new animal. I’m glad I took the time out of my schedule to dive into the creature course!

You can see more from Julia at her links below:

Instagram @Paintkatt

Twitter @Paintkatt

Website www.julialundman.com

Patreon https://www.patreon.com/julialundman