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.
Creature Design for Film and Games WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
The more you know, the better.
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.
Creature Design for Film and Games Student gallery
Spring TERM Registration
Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021
Laurie M. Satizabal
Bobby was a terrific professor, I will definitely take his class again!
Bobby was very thorough and constructive with his feedback. He was also very encouraging.
Companies that hire our students
environment design Benefits
What makes this learning experience unique?
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.
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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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Interview with Ryan McCowan
Ryan McCowan takes us through design process for his ornithoid creation in Creature Design for Film and Games.
I was born and raised in Charleston, West Virginia. I was a unique, creative kid and was always interested in animals, insects, and almost anything related to nature. I started drawing when I was around 5 years old after watching my older brother sketch and doodle and I decided to try it myself. That set everything in motion.
I drew all throughout elementary and high school designing characters and creatures like three-headed dragons or giant fish monsters for comics and stories I’d write. Creature design is what I’ve always been most drawn to (yeah it’s a pun, I know). It’s still the direction I’m heading in and I want to improve my skills, expand my knowledge, and find employment as a creature concept artist. There was no reason for me to not take this class. I’m determined to bring out my full potential.
Sketching the Idea
The early weeks were fun because there was little pressure. It took me a while to adapt to the 1-3 minute time constraint since I usually don’t draw that quickly and loosely, but it was enjoyable to let my ideas flow and freely explore a variety of shapes, forms, and proportions. I gathered references of eagles, horses, lions, and even dinosaur skeletons for more unique features.
I started off with a specific idea in mind that I hoped to develop throughout the course. My idea was for a fantasy creature design (a gryphon-like animal), but the direction Bobby wanted us to take was for an alien creature - something with a completely different tone and feel to it. I tried my hardest to figure a way for my original design to work for this course, but I soon realized there was no way around it and I’d have to go with a different design and expand on one of my other thumbnail sketches.
My first few sketches were the least difficult since they fit with my original design idea. I was content with my initial thumbnails, but after having to change direction with my concept, it became more difficult to continue exploring and diversifying the ideas. Some uninspired and bad sketches came from this, but what would eventually become my final iteration also emerged.
Refining the Design
The Rostrodon, my completed design, was the result of using bird, dinosaur, and human characteristics from my references and applying them to a simultaneously marine and terrestrial alien. I imagined an animal that spent most of its time in water, but would occasionally travel on land for food and nesting purposes. The name Rostrodon, meaning “Toothed Beak,” is a reference to the prongs on the sides of the alien’s beak that it uses to capture prey.
The most difficult part of designing the final version was figuring out the rostrodon’s anatomy - muscle structure to be specific. This is something I struggle with even when designing other creatures. Muscle anatomy can be fun when you finally figure it out, but piecing individual muscle shapes together is tough. It’s especially difficult imagining how those forms would look from different perspectives. Something that helped me through this was “comparative anatomy” or referencing the anatomy of different species to better understand that of another organism. Most living creatures share the same bone and muscle groups. They just differ in shape and size. Because of the rostrodon’s proportions and overall posture, I decided to reference human and gorilla anatomy mostly for the upper body and torso areas.
I received mostly positive feedback for the rostrodon’s first draft, but I was instructed to make a few changes that would make more sense anatomically. The original neck and shoulders were thinner and smaller, but in order for the creature to be able to hold its head up, walk with the posture it had, and be a strong swimmer its muscle structure in the chest area and above would need to be more fortified.
Another major change that was suggested to me was that the webbing between the rostrodon’s arms and sides seemed unnecessary and that I should get rid of it. I thought the webbing was an interesting feature and added a bit more personality to the design so I decided to keep it but lessen the amount of space it took up along the sides of the torso. A few hours were spent making these adjustments in addition to other changes to the tail, beak, hands, and ankle joint before finally arriving at the finished design.
At this point, I haven’t continued the Rostrodon’s design. I’ve considered applying some new ideas to it or maybe fully redesigning it. For now, there are other creatures I’m currently working on, but the door’s open for me to go back and develop newer iterations after I’ve continued to study and improve.
This class provided me with more insight into what goes into the creative process from start to finish - from thumbnails to finished design. The first few steps, exploring ideas through quick sketches, I think are potentially the most important. You can start off with a plan to design something specific, but you might end up discovering and choosing something even cooler or more interesting. There are so many concepts you can develop and expand on that you never even thought you’d imagine or create. That’s something I want to do more of. Before going
directly for one idea I have and staying with only that, I want to do some more exploring and have more fun with it. It might lead to a different idea that I prefer over the original.
I was essentially given a map to navigate the steps of design from beginning to end. One thing that helped me navigate this map more easily, for this specific course, was having at least a familiarity with anatomy and form. It made the process of exploring proportions, gestures and other shapes easier. There’s absolutely more for me to learn and practice in that area, but it gave me some room to place a little more effort into different details and characteristics I could play around with.
For any future students interested in taking this course, I’ll forward the same advice that the other artists and I were given - the more you put into the work throughout these weeks, the more you get out of it. The more effort you exert on brainstorming, drawing, studying, and creativity, the more you will be rewarded with the outcome. It’s all worth it.
I’ve loved my experiences with CGMA. This is the perfect type of course for me. It’s concise and not too lengthy. We’re given tools and guided through a specific process that we can continue to practice and utilize in future design processes.
To see more from Ryan check out his links below:
Pteracephalous: developing the creature
Interview with Laura Gomez
My name is Laura Gómez and I’m from Guadalajara, Mexico. I graduated from UDG with a Visual Arts Bachelor Degree where I learned traditional arts and techniques. I work as a freelance artist for independent animated short films, mostly in my own country, currently I’m working in the independent short film “Nemi”.
I enjoy drawing animals and I often go to my city zoo to draw and take photographs. I took this course because I wanted to improve my drawing skills and learn how to create my own creatures with a more professional approach.
REFERENCE AND CLIENT BRIEFING
For the mood boards I picked animals who look strong and agile. I added a lot of bovines, they are some of my favorite animals to draw, mostly because I like their general shapes and the design of the horns and antlers. I also picked a bunch of extinct animals, some giant mammals and land birds, and of course, dinosaurs. Prehistoric animals have wonderful features and shapes. Lastly, I added some insects, abyssal fish and sea slugs because these animals are quite strange looking and have really unique and weird characteristics that could help me to make the creature more interesting.
The first sketches came out easily, but I had some struggles as I went forward and felt like I was running out of ideas. In the end I got a lot of sketches, some more successful than others, but definitely the weirdest designs arrived in the last stage of the sketching process. I learned the importance of forcing yourself to keep going, as the saying goes “no pain no gain.”
ANATOMY, MUSCLES AND SKELETAL STRUCTURE
I chose three creatures based in Bobby’s comments on the sketches and my friends favorites. I tried to pick creatures who looked distinct of each other, built from very different animals. Each one of these creatures have their own unique characteristics and personality. I didn't make any important changes in the design at this stage.
For the head structure, I used an American Buffalo as a base, mixed with a Triceratops for the beak and nose in some of the variations. For the eyes I wanted an old, calm personality, I always envisioned this creature like an alien ox, quiet most of time, but also powerful and dangerous if you make it angry. I based the eyes on rhinoceros and cows. Although I liked the final headshot, the eyes didn ́t make it to the final design
FINALIZE DESIGN/HEAD SHOTS/ FINAL PRESENTATION
The final creature keeps, for the most part, the same features that I had in mind from the beginning: a big, strong, lonely animal with big horns. I envisioned it living in wide, semi-arid plains, similar to the African savannah. The head was the part that required the most iterations to get right. The design for the horns changed drastically at each step of the process. From the very beginning, Bobby pointed out that they were kinda useless as a weapon, and it took a lot of effort to come up with a justification that made sense and a design to match.
After receiving the feedback from Bobby, the big challenge in the final assignments was to develop a more “alien” look for the creature. For me, one of the toughest parts of the design was to stay away from the real animal references. I was so attached to earth animal anatomy and functions that my creature didn't look extraterrestrial at all, so I asked my family and friends for ideas. Someone suggested that the horns could work as the feelers of a bug, and that led to the final design: an earless and eyeless head, with huge membranes attached to the horns that would work as its main sensory organ.
I had to make some hard decisions in the final stages of the designs, like taking out the eyes of the creature, completely changing the horns and head shape, adding a lot of bone plates to the skull and removing the ears. I made a really basic 3D model of the head on zbrush to help me with the final design of horns and sails (this technique is a wonderful way to get quick references for different angles of the head).
The body stayed mostly the same from the older versions, except for the legs. In the first stage I was keeping the hooves, but in the final design I went for a heavier structure with small, digging claws. I used a tortoise as a reference for it. It took me more time to figure out all the new changes than the final renders, I spent around 6 hours in the final drawings.
Figuring out the name was a funny part of the final layout. Since the head was the most distinctive feature of my creature, I came up with Pteracephalous which means “wing-head”.
I’m still working on the Pteracephalous, I need to redo the anatomy references for muscles and skeleton to match the current design; and I’m working in a color concept art of the creature.
I think one of the more important things I learned was to stop getting too attached to the original idea in order to keep pushing the design. My previous knowledge about animal anatomy really helped me to keep the believability of the creature, but also made it hard to stay away from it when I want to create something more unique. I had to find a midpoint, and I still need more practice to reach a more fantastic/alien look for my creatures.
One thing that I love from the CGMA classes, is how they help you to find your weak points and how to work on them in order to improve. As you can see, the difference from my first sketch to the final design is huge. My only advice is to try your best in the assignments and don't hesitate if you need to make big changes, and also, have fun! Go for the crazy ideas! I have had wonderful experiences with the CGMA courses, and I highly recommend them to anyone who wants to improve.
To see more from Laura visit her website : https://www.artstation.com/
The Sea Witch
Interview with Julia Lundman
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 rock fish, 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.
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 Chtulu, so I decided to save any mouth/head tentacles for that creature instead of this one.
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.
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:
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