There are species of dinosaurs, raptors, oviraptors and pterosaurs with many similar features and body structures depicted with feathered vestigial limbs or bodies. As the design of these extinct animals came to resemble birds more and more over time, it's not hard to imagine a relation. As certain species of dinosaurs evolved into small bird-like theropods there must have been a reason for the development of feathers and eventually species capable of flight. The same reason that other similar animals like the penguin or ostrich though birds had evolved where flight was not a necessity. It has to do with the living conditions, the environment and the necessity of surviving in such conditions that cause an animal to evolve and adapt to its surroundings. Penguins have adapted to cold arctic winds, they migrate on foot, they swim, catch and feed on fish using their beaks. Other birds like a Falcon or Hawk glide and attack from above with talons for grasping and ripping into the flesh of smaller mammals and other birds or snakes. Then still, birds like the Ostrich run quick and gallantly with long strides, they attack with large powerful legs equipped with large nails and they feed on mostly vegetation of sorts and some insects. We're capable of classifying animals such as a polar bear, a grizzly bear and a black bear to have all developed from the same ancestor. If a polar bear lives in the arctic circle and is constantly surrounded by snow and ice it's by no mistake that the animal's fur coat is white. In this example the purpose is to allow the animal to remain hidden from hunting prey, yet in other examples of the arctic hare (rabbit) its purpose is to conceal itself as a form of hiding/camouflage. So the color of an animal or the color of your creature is also very important. Don't simply choose without reason to make your giant terrestrial arhropod that lives on a red planet like mars to be a bright white just because it looks cool in contrast (Though aesthetics in design are often important as much as the reasoning behind the choice.) make sure you put as much thought into the color scheme as you would the functionality of the body and its limbs. Artwork below by Alex Ries aka Abiogenesis. This is his own rendition of the largest flying animal in recorded history, the Quetzalcoatlus pterosaur. (A 12-15 meter wingspan, standing in comparison to the equivalent of a giraffe.) It's important to understand what was possible to make what doesn't exist believable.Now the difference of the artwork below by artist Adeptka Biotechu is an Oviraptor a small flightless bird-like dinosaur, as scientist have suggested possibly feathered species otherwise known as theropods. This would be more closely related to large flightless birds such as the Ostrich or other Ratites like the Emu or Rhea. Other than the largely obvious distinguishable feature that Pterosaurs flew and Oviraptors didn't, they are both bird-like dinosaurs. Think back to Penguins versus Falcons. It's interesting when you study the body of pterosaurs because it's believed most or all couldn't take off from the ground (generally having to fly off cliffs, and rather than flap much like birds today they mostly glided using wind currents and heat pockets - we see the same tactic used by the largest of birds of flight today). Aside from flying or taking off from the ground, they had to walk as well. You can see in Adeptka's rendition above there is one pterosaur landing from flight and one walking. It's too in depth to discuss in this post but research a bit about Avian Flight and you'll see just how difficult it would be for such large animals or creatures to fly. Action and interaction: Once you start to place your creature into a setting involving an environment, other creatures whether predator or prey and the elements of nature, you'll better understand how it functions. You'll want to consider it's general size, how it's bone structure (if it has one; vertebrates, invertebrates) is comprised, how much it weighs, what it eats..etc again, you need to at least consider these options otherwise it's just a random shape that moves without reason or function. Provide yourself with a starting point. Figure out where your creation lives, does it live on land, or water, underground, in the air, in space, jungles, desserts, cold or hot regions etc..
1:Notice the difference in strides of the Mountain Lion and the Buck Deer as well as how the muscles and bone joints of each animal differ from one another.
2:Note the difference in size of the Predator in comparison to the prey. What allows a predator such as this to hunt prey that is larger and heavier in size? (Predators: Often armed with anatomy meant for attacking, grasping, breaking bones, piercing skin, ripping flesh IE; Sharp Incisors and Claws.) These are all things that are important to remember when designing your own creature. Where does it fit within the food chain of its own ecosystem? Is it a predator or is it prey? Does it hunt for its food or does it scavenge or eat flora (herbivore); Flowers, Plants, Fruit, Grass, Berries and Trees/Leaves? What enables your design to be capable of hunting in a similar chasing down fashion as the Mountain Lion? Is it capable of agile speed, is it equipped with the ability to grasp, slice, tackle, tear, rip or attack its prey and how does it do this? Ask yourself these questions while designing and it will help create something more believable with more meaning, even if it's only a winged mutli-eyed creature with tentacles and talons. The sketches below by artist William D. Berry are a perfect example of what every aspiring creature artist should be doing in their sketchbooks. Visit a local zoo, or study birds, squirrels, rabbits and any other indigenous wild life that live within your area. Take notes, jot them down in your sketchbook as you draw quick sketches in observation of how the animal interacts in the wild. Study the movement of an animal, watch how the joints bend, how the muscles contract and expand as it jumps or climbs and how they twist and stretch. Every animal is different so it's important that you at least try to cover the main classes: Mammal, Reptile, Amphibian, Birds, Fish, Arthropods. They'll each provide enough of a varying degree of movement and use of limbs that is distinct from one to the next.When it's possible, study the muscles and bones beneath the surface. Whether you fully understand the complexity of the muscular system or not it's always good to know the basic functions. The same goes for the skeleton, which if you were to take note of a Moose Skull or any other similar animal such as a Deer, Horse, Cow or Goat it may appear quite different from the animal itself because of anatomy constructed of cartilage, tissue and muscle. An elephant skull is a perfect example because of the lack of ears and the trunk. The skull itself appears almost alien compared to the animal itself. This is why appendages such as the trunk are so flexible (it's all muscle/tissue, the same goes for the lips of various animals which are prehensile and serve as an additional way to extend, grab and tear off foliage, leaves, fruit and grass (the lips and tongue of a giraffe). After studying real world animals, their habits, how they function in the wild, what their purpose in life is and how they fit within an ecosystem you'll understand how to combine all of these factors when producing something imaginary. It will help ground your concept even if it's an alien life form from space or another dimension. You may want to check out a few additional art books if you can find them: The Best of Wildlife Art - Painting the Drama of Wildlife step by step - National Geographic Dinosaurs. Also be sure to check out RAUL MARTIN 's website where the majority of this paleo artwork came from, he's an amazing paleo reconstructionist. The possibilities of design are endless because life and evolution are endless, it never stops evolving and changing. If you have so many resources, references and information to study from you should be capable of coming up with an infinate amount of ideas. I'll leave off by including some art studies of the evolution of prehistoric and extinct ancestors of the crocodile by artist Todd Marshall.
I hope this was instructive and insightful, please share your thoughts and provide feedback.
Mike C -
Guest blogger Mike Corriero is a character, creature, and conceptual designer and illustrator living in New Jersey. Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2003, Mike's client list has included Breakaway Games, Fantasy Flight Games, Allied Studios, Kingsisle Entertainment, Radical entertainment/ Vivendi Universal Games, Liquid Development, Zynga Inc, Challenge Games, Paizo Publishing and Hasbro Inc, among others. Mike's book "PLANET to PLANET creatures and strange worlds" includes hundreds of his sketches of creatures, robots, alien life forms and their environments. I recommend it for students focusing on visual development for games, or anyone who loves creature design. - J. G. O.