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Creature Design for Film and Games

An 8-week course structured like a studio and freelance workflow focusing on creature design

Course overview Course overview

Course Overview

Dream up believable creatures

This course will teach you how to design your own creatures by using Earth’s animals as a guideline. Nature is a powerful tool when sketching ideas and Creature Design for Film and Games will show you just how to use real life references in your creations. We will begin with rough and quick sketching to generate ideas and then slowly refine these ideas into a polished portfolio piece. Students will learn how to design creatures using basic forms, how to really see the design and function of the creature, and the importance of anatomy.


Course Format:   Standard
Lecture Type:   Pre-recorded
Feedback:   Individual recordings
Duration:   8 weeks
Assignment:   Due each week. Expect to spend 8-10 hrs/wk viewing lectures, q&a, and time on assignments.
Q&A:   Once a week
Materials:   Photoshop (or equivalent), OR sketchbook, paper, pencils, pens, brushes
Skills level:   Advanced
Prerequisites:   Analytical Figure Drawing (recommended) Animal Drawing (recommended)

Creature Design for Film and Games WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

What you'll learn

The more you know, the better.

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Students will gather reference images of animals that coincide with the creature description given by the client. This will teach them the importance of gathering and using reference and show them the importance of observing the real world.
Using rough, quick gesture sketches and basic shapes, students will begin exploring creature shapes. This stage is meant to be quick and dirty and will help you loosen up and mitigate the stubborn need for immediate details.
Students will learn how to narrow down their selections and will begin fleshing out their creatures using the references gathered and their imaginations. Since anatomy is vital in making the creatures believable, they will study the skeletal and muscle structure of the referenced animals they chose. The students then will begin to sketch the skeletons and muscles of their creatures.
Students will make head and face studies while putting emphasis on the eyes of the creatures, since the eyes tell a lot about the creature’s attitude. They will make a detailed sketch of the creatures’ skulls in the process using the animal reference images to make it believable.
Students will begin sketching their creatures in action poses while giving them at least one major function. This could be a defensive function, offensive, feeding etc. Each function has to be unique to the individual creature and cannot be repeated among the other choices. By using the animal reference images, the students will have a good idea of how their creatures might move and they will use those images throughout this stage.
At this stage, the client has narrowed down his or her choice to one creature and needs the creature fleshed out and rendered. This is when the students begin learning to put it all together. They will determine final stances with both front and rear poses plus one head shot. Sketches will be done in a more refined fashion but not fully rendered yet. Sample sketches will be shown.
Students will begin making final design choices on the face and sketch a detailed head shot. By doing so, it will become easier for them to implement the head on the full body sketches.
This stage is vital in showcasing what the client wants. The students will have a detailed head shot, a front and back ¾ view of the creature, and call-outs showcasing skin textures and materials as well as an important and unique function.

Igniting your imagination

Bobby is a freelance concept artist working for video games and film. He was recently recruited by Netflix as a creature designer for a currently unannounced film. Upon being a visual arts teacher for over eight years while teaching fundamental and industrial design drawing, Bobby has worked with such clients as Method Studios, SyFy, 3D Total, and Brightrock Games. Bobby loves being active and playing games.

Student interviews


October 9th!

fall TERM Registration

Jul 29, 2019 - Oct 14, 2019




October 9th!

Pricing & Schedule

Even though our courses are the most affordable for the quality of education.

These Finance Options allow you to focus on your goals instead of the barriers that keep you from reaching them.

Employer Reimbursement

Animation Guild CSATTF

Payment Plan

Companies that hire our students

  • Naughty Dog
  • Luma Pictures
  • Google
  • EA Games
  • DreamWorks Animation
  • Blizzard Entertainment

environment design Benefits


What makes this learning experience unique?

Personal Feedback

Receive personal individual feedback on all submitted assignments from the industries best artist.

1+ Year Access

Enjoy over 365 days of full course access. This includes all lectures, feedback, and Live Q&A recordings.

Certificate of Completion

Earn a Certificate of Completion when you complete and turn in 80% of course assignments.

Flexible Learning

Learn anywhere, anytime, and at your own pace with our online courses.

Speak to an advisor

Need guidance or course recommendations? Let us help!

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Show us your skills

Not sure if you have the skills, or are you proving you do? Show us.

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Creating a New Species: Design Steps for Creature Design

Interview with Laura Heinen

Laura Heinen begins her design journey with real life inspiration and breaksdown how she devleoped her new animal in Creature Design for Film and Games

Creating a New Species: Design Steps for Creature Design


My name is Laura Heinen and I’m an artist from Birmingham in the UK. I love watching science fiction and horror films, and I also read a lot of classic science fiction. I chose this course because I wanted to improve my ability to draw from my imagination. As an artist I work mainly with acrylic and oils but I would like to work towards a career in concept art.


Reference and Client Briefing 


Animals are my favourite thing to photograph and so my mood boards include a couple of images that I took at Zürich Zoo. There is an image of an arabian oryx, which is one of the few antelope I’ve ever seen up close. I also like the marabou stork, which is sometimes called one of the ugliest birds in the world. At this stage of collecting images, my preference was more for interesting shapes and textures than a particular type of animal. 

I found it tough to begin the rapid thumbnail sketches. There’s usually no reason for me to complete a sketch in under 3 minutes! But it really is a practice thing. The second week’s sketching felt much easier and it was also a lot quicker.  I didn’t have any problems working in traditional media and then scanning it in. If I did the course again with the equipment I have now, I would probably have done more of the rough sketches digitally, because it’s so useful in fixing issues about size and proportion in the early stages. I still feel I have more control over the really fine rendering if I work in pencil.



Loose Idea Sketching  




In week 2 Bobby talked about creating unique shapes. I found it really helpful thinking about the silhouettes before the details, which it’s so easy to get distracted by. I drew 60 more thumbnails, including some inspired by marine creatures and insects. But by the end of the week I saw more potential in the mammal-based ones I had been sketching. I was playing around with different features on an antelope-based creature with wings, which I imagined being roughly giraffe-height. 



Anatomy, Muscles and Skeletal Structures 


In week 3 I began to develop two creatures, one of which was a hairless polar adapted to exist amphibiously in an environment destroyed by climate change. This one stalled after a couple of weeks (I might pick it up again later!). 

The other featured here was antelope-inspired. I find antelope really elegant and there’s so much variety in antlers and proportions. There’s nearly 100 different types of antelope, but I decided to add another one anyway! 
My most difficult decision was with the wings, and whether to make them functional or not. The skeletal structure of the wings had to be considered in the anatomy of the creature, which I did by adding extra joints to the spinal column. But I wasn’t totally satisfied with the results. If I wanted my creature to fly the wings would have to be huge and I didn’t like the way that altered the existing proportions. For a time I settled on them being non-functional, and played with the idea that they could have a defensive purpose. This was developed in week 5, but by the final design the wings had been replaced by defensive spikes running along the spine. 


Creature Heads and Funtional Details



In week 4 I studied the bone structure of several animals, most of which were different antelope or bears. For the head I wanted to create something fairly sculptural and unreadable-looking, and so far I had envisaged a mantis-inspired face. But the deeper I got into establishing the personality of my creature, the less I liked it. I felt it was looking a bit like an Area 51 alien. So I started studying various types of insects, especially dagger-flies. 

I imagined my creature’s habitat as being a tropical forest. This developed later as being on a planet with a weak sun-source, and so the creature is roaming around in twilight and darkness. Its eyes are enlarged but adapted to the narrow spectrum of the light it experiences. I imagined it as having highly-developed telepathic abilities. I liked the idea that it could gather with others of its kind. There’s so much of herd and swarm behaviour that remains unintelligible to us, which suggested some potential for creepy behaviour. I think being surrounded spontaneously and silently by a great number of any creatures would be pretty terrifying. 

Also, not only can it communicate with its herd, but it can sense the presence, behaviour and intentions of other creatures. I had to consider what it would eat and how it would kill. I heard somewhere that antelope are the buffet of the natural world. They’re prey to so many other animals, and so I liked the idea of creating one that could attack and defend itself a bit better! 

I liked the idea of a proboscis that could inject the victim. This made it to the final design. The proboscis is long because it mainly feeds on insects in the forest and needs to be able to reach them. But I imagined it also needing a nutrient like iron which it could get from killing a would-be predator. Some insects can secrete a proteolytic enzyme which liquifies the tissue of their victims. I imagined my creature functioning in a similar way after stabbing their victim with the proboscis. 

There’s a couple of ideas at this stage that I was playing with. The idea of tiny air-holes running down the length of its neck seemed unnecessary later as the design came together. The legs became more elongated and insect-like, which challenged me to think more about movement and musculature, and how to show the weight distribution through stance. 


Finalizing the Design 



The main feedback from week 6 was that the head of my creature didn’t match the body. That was really my greatest challenge for the rest of the course. I went through so many different versions trying to get a plausible mammal/insect balance, adding features and removing them. The final week was definitely the most difficult because I was trying to get everything just right. Honestly, I didn’t manage it. But the feedback from my presentation in week 8 helped me reach the image you see below. 


My final design shows a creature I imagine as being about 14 feet tall and weighing 1825lb. It’s a mammal with insect mutations. I called it a “Psycholope”. I hope the design suggests a creature that is agile and suited to living in a tropical forest. The eyes are still oversized but not as much as before. The antlers and body are based on that of an impala. The skin on the underbelly is more textured and delicate (almost reptilian) than on the rest of the body. The spikes along the spine are almost the consistency of the thick, wiry hairs that you see in the macrophotography of some insects, especially flies.  The design isn’t perfect and I have different ideas every time I look at it, but it was a lot of fun to create. 


Final Thoughts

One of my favourite things about the course was the instructional videos. I loved watching Bobby draw and he gave me some really good practical advice and feedback. I also really enjoyed seeing the progress of my classmates. I used traditional media throughout the course but seeing their work inspired me to do more digital work. I have since completed another CGMA course in “Environment Sketching” where all my work was done digitally. 

I think the main thing I took from the course was to slow down and divide my processes a little. I feel it helps me make better decisions and I can still work quickly. I really like the choice of specialised courses CGMA offer, and that I’m able to take them even though I live in Europe.  I hope this is helpful to anyone thinking of taking the “Creature Design for Film & Games” course. I would like to thank Bobby Rebholz and CGMA for the positive experience. 

Laura is currently living and working in Switzerland and her work can be found at leheinen.artstation.com 

The Creature in the Details: Bringing the Idea to Life

Interview with Adreana Tan

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

The Creature in the Details: Bringing the Idea to Life

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 favourites from the whole batch of thumbnails I did.  It was very difficult to limit myself to 1-3 minutes per sketch. But after awhile, 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 it’s 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 it in the final.  I took about 5-6 hours for week 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 artist 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.