Creature Design, The Basics


Yesterday I covered a very broad or macro concept when it comes to my idea of worldcrafting.  That sort of broad stroke is not always the best place to start, so we are going to look at monsters.  At times a company or person will approach you with a job or a need, it is very rarer that they will know exactly what they want to see or know how to communicate what they do want.  It is up to us as artists to fill in those gaps.

Monster or creature design is just one tool you can use to help fill that need.   Let’s take just two simple facts and use them to build our creature.  A) The animal is a beast of burden, B) the world is volcanic.  What we actually have is a lot of useful information, our creature is a beast of burden and as such fits into the same niche as a horse, ox, yak, or bull on earth.  This creature is used to either: transport goods, transport people, as a basic war machine, or to assist in difficult manual labor jobs.  In this case we will go with mining, so our creature is now filling the niche of transportation of people or goods and manual labor support on our world.  For fact two we have that this is a volcanic world, so we are looking at a planet wracked by instability and earthquakes with either vast fields of openly flowing lava or large areas of ash wastelands.

For this example we will go with a nice mix, lava lakes and rivers are quite often open to the air, but as the world supports some form of life and human settlers a good portion is the more settle-able ash wastes.  From here we are able to build a more complete picture by adding this second fact and move toward flushing this guy out.  We are dealing with a creature that is either the size of a horse or larger, that is domesticated but hardy enough to thrive in extreme temperatures.  In this case let’s give it thick hide, which grows in much like a shell or exoskeleton but in this case as interlocking rock plates.

As this would make it much heavier than a horse let’s double its size and make it a bit slower, while lowering to the ground like a lizard.  As there is no surface water on this planet our creature has a massive plow shaped head with rock or bone crests above its nose which it can use to dig or plow for water sources.  Also much like a camel, a digestive system designed to harvest and store water for months at a time.  In this case our creature doesn’t have a hump, but just a massively wide head and set of shoulders.   As the largest herbivore on the food chain our creature has a need for self defense, something it skin helps with but let’s add a powerful and dexterous tail which it uses in combat.

All of these elements build the creature itself, and its general look and feel, but we also know that it has been bent to the will of human settlers and is used as a beast of burden.  Well its too large and too low for a normal saddle, so we will go with a platform wide enough for a driver a few passengers, with a hitch trailing behind connect to either a wheeled or sledded wagon.  As the beasts mouth is massive and capable of biting through rock we have an over sized bridle that slides about its face which can be used to steer and our driver has a shock spear or whip as a less than gentle reminder of how and when to turn as well as how fast to move.

Now we have something to start with and a direction to move in as we illustrate this creature, and these same basic steps can help us begin to design a look of its handlers.  Once an illustration or concept sketch is complete we can even look into the hundreds of other factors that may control this world.  What type of predators are there for this animal?  How do humans live here?  What are they mining?  What types of other creatures exist?  What does this creature eat?

Its important not to get wrapped up in the improbability of any given scenario, or to let the “what ifs” run away with you before you have a solid baseline, but these things can become tools to flush out the rest of the world once that basic creature is established.

For my next trick… stay tunned!

-Thegrav

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