Creature feature: An expert’s guide to making memorable monsters

Creature function: An professional’s information to creating memorable monsters



Video video games have introduced us an unimaginable vary of memorable and iconic creatures over the many years, from Trico in The Final Guardian, to Creepers in Minecraft, Goombas within the Mario sequence, Huge Daddies from BioShock, Ultimate Fantasy’s Chocobos, or Gorons within the Zelda franchise.


In a Develop:Brighton discuss entitled ‘Bringing Creatures to Life: Make Good, Emotionally Interesting Creature Designs’, Sam Santala detailed the foundations for making creatures come to life in a means that is smart for video games, whether or not they’re monstrous foes or lovely allies.


Santala has labored as a senior idea artist since 2014, engaged on video games resembling Uncommon’s Everwild, Ubisoft’s May & Magic: Elemental Guardians, ArenaNet’s Guild Wars 2, or Avatar: Pandora Rising. In 2020, he launched Songhorn, his outsourcing artwork studio focusing solely on creature design.


Sam Santala, senior idea artist and founding father of Songhorn


“I really like creatures each actual and imaginary,” he defined. “I believe that creatures have this particular potential to create an emotional reference to us, and thru video games we will create actually interesting creature designs which can be in a position to communicate to us in a means that different facets of video games cannot.”


He admitted that creature design can sound like a “very area of interest space of recreation design” however clarified that it is truly fairly broad and might embody:

  • Killable enemies
  • Buddies & companions
  • Mounts
  • Races/Characters
  • Creatures as environments


“Creatures design just isn’t merely four-legged creatures, it is all types of issues,” he stated. “Should you perceive the ideas of anatomy, evolution and aesthetic, you’ll be able to create some wonderful designs that are not humanoid.”

Desk of contents:


Credit score: Sam Santala

Take into consideration your creature’s operate


In video games, “all creatures ought to in the end try to serve a operate,” Santala stated. And enthusiastic about that objective, that enchantment, must be the place to begin of any design.


“Enchantment is basically when a creature’s design adheres to its emotional or useful core,” he stated. “What’s the core of the creature? [Some creatures are] designed to easily exist, present you the place its weak spot is and provide you with one thing to hit.


“[But] if you happen to design creatures that do not have these emotional cores or these useful cores, I really feel like you find yourself with creatures which can be extra like an train in merely transferring shapes round. They’re probably not reaching a purpose. They’re simply present. It is high-quality to do if you happen to’re simply practising, however if you happen to put a kind of inside a recreation, it’d distract from the aim of the sport. Specializing in that useful or emotional core is totally paramount to making a design that is each memorable and useful.”


Practice A Dragon’s Toothless


Santala took an instance from exterior of video games to elucidate his level: Toothless from the Practice A Dragon sequence (see proper). He stated Toothless may be very efficient in switching between its two capabilities: harmful and threatening on one hand, and lovely on the opposite.

Know your anatomy fundamentals


To be able to be creature designer, it’s important to actually hone in on real-life animal anatomy, Santala continued. It is good to know these guidelines so you realize whenever you’re breaking them, or why you are breaking them if you happen to’re doing it on objective.


“It’s important to examine your fundamentals, and usually the perfect ones are horses and canine, as a result of they’ve such an emotional connection to us as individuals,” he stated. “Equally to how we will simply inform if one thing’s fallacious with somebody’s face as a result of we’re so [familiar] with it, we really feel the identical means about canine and horses. And basing designs on these issues are inclined to [trigger] stronger emotional responses than one thing like an insect.


“This actual life anatomy even comes into fold whenever you’re designing issues that are not particularly natural as properly. So consider Horizon Zero Daybreak, as an example. All of these creatures (see beneath) are very robotic however they use extraordinarily representational mechanical components that resemble animal anatomy. We intrinsically perceive what that ought to appear like, how that ought to really feel. There are components to them which can be strictly robotic however the reality is that they are grounded in our actuality as a result of we perceive anatomy.”


Creatures from Guerrilla Video games’ Horizon Zero Daybreak


Nevertheless, whereas anatomy is essential, Santala clarified that it is not every part. He took the instance of raptors within the Jurassic Park franchise, which for many years have brought about limitless debates as a result of they do not precisely symbolize what these creatures appeared like.


“There is a degree of reality to that [but] I assumed the designs had been nonetheless strong,” Santala stated. “I assumed they appealed to that core that’s presupposed to be horrific and scary but additionally likeable, and whereas I believe that the anatomy helps, I do not suppose that by adjusting the anatomy of these designs, it will have made them fulfil that function any higher. The entire level of these designs is to be terrifying, to be precisely what they ended up being.


“And once more, anatomy helped, however it’s like increasing your vocabulary. Should you attempt to put a sentence along with just a few phrases, you will have a sentence however it will not be that good. However if you happen to solely know lengthy phrases and you haven’t any thought about grammar or eloquence, you are going to not have a very stunning sentence both. To me, that is what anatomy is; it is a software. One thing which you could develop, however one thing that you must apply fastidiously.”

“You do not have to be taught all of the trivia, you simply must be taught these blueprints, and anatomy and creatures grow to be quite a bit simpler”


He admitted that anatomy is a “tough balancing act” as animals will be extraordinarily assorted on the anatomy plan, opposite to people. However the easiest way to proceed is to simplify issues, deal with the “key kinds,” and evaluate what you are doing with anatomy you realize as bones are related throughout species.


“By studying these landmarks, yow will discover that you do not have to be taught all of the trivia, you simply must be taught these blueprints, and anatomy and creatures grow to be quite a bit simpler,” he added.


He ended this portion of the discuss with fast anatomy ideas in terms of designing creatures:

  • Life-style influences an animal’s shapes (herbivores are typically thicker and predators are usually thinner, designed for pace)
  • If an animal wants one thing, it’s going to be greater (ie. bats have huge ears)
  • Relying on the warmth, animals grow to be smaller or greater (ie. fennec foxes vs arctic foxes)
  • Examine prehistoric life for uncommon inspiration

Idea artwork by Sam Santala/Songhorn

Deal with key focal factors and movement


Specializing in key kinds additionally serves a objective linked to your creature’s core operate and the connection the participant goes to be constructing with it.


“By specializing in a couple of choose key areas you’ll be able to inform that useful or emotional core rather more successfully than you’ll by having too lots of them,” Santala defined.


“You need to deal with the important thing factors of the design. So if it is a killable enemy perhaps it has a weak spot or a weapon. But when it is one thing you are attempting to narrate to, one thing that you just’re attempting to be taught and emote to, consider how they categorical themselves, consider markings on their physique, however make them apparent. Make them readable sufficient that the participant can see that, query that, and in the end need to be taught extra about them.


“Every focus ought to clarify or improve the operate of the core. Something extra to that, if this creature had one thing random on it that’s distracting, it will be tougher to grasp and it’d create irritating gameplay, which is the very last thing we need to do.”


He as soon as once more took an instance from Horizon Zero Daybreak, on this case the sport’s Grazers (see beneath, proper). On these creatures, the contrasting colors and their movement draw consideration to what’s essential on them: the yellow canisters.


A Grazer from Guerrilla Video games’ Horizon Zero Daybreak, idea artwork by Miguel Angel Martinez


“Your key areas ought to both be instantly noticeable or must be telegraphed to the participant utilizing movement, utilizing form language, utilizing silhouette, utilizing something you should use to try to information the gamers’ eyes to these key areas,” Santala stated.

Add character


Generally in video games, creatures are simply “handled like objects” with their solely operate being “to exist and to be shot,” Santala stated. However creatures are “characters in their very own rights,” he added. You’ll be able to (and will) add character to them.


“Even [with] just a few small issues, you’ll be able to actually convey out a character in a creature. Some examples may very well be a set of scars, or ageing. Perhaps they have extra wrinkles, perhaps they have longer horns, perhaps they’re sagging, perhaps they have chipped enamel. However perhaps it is not simply the bodily design of the creature. Perhaps it is posture, it is gait, the way it strikes and interacts.


“By attempting to grasp these creatures, we will try to make them extra relatable. What’s it attempting to do in the mean time? Is it hungry? Is it drained? Is it wounded? Is it proud? These are issues which can be small modifications however could make an incredible distinction to how particularly the emotional core of those creatures resonates with our viewers.


“Are we simply designing a bag of bones and meat with some horns on it and hoping that the viewers understands it? Or are we designing characters which can be in animal kind however enable us to resonate and empathise, and generally worry?”

“Creatures have a capability to the touch the soul and to encourage a way of marvel, love and connection”


He gave three normal ideas for including personally to a personality:

  • Should you’re caught on a creature and try to construct emotional connection, design its child because it instantly helps you relate to its grownup model extra
  • Should you’re attempting to design a creature that is eerie and as far eliminated as attainable from us, take away the eyes (the extra distant a design is from people, the scarier it will get)
  • Want a extra relatable creature? Simply make it a canine (ie. Maximus, the horse in Disney’s Tangled, who truly behaves like a canine)


Concluding his discuss, Santala stated that creature design is about creating emotional resonance, regardless of the emotion you are attempting to realize is.


“I centered on guidelines like anatomy so you’ll be able to discover ways to make the essential constructing blocks, I centered on focal factors so you’ll be able to clarify these factors extra clearly, and I added character as a result of I needed to show you how one can convey these creatures to life and make them extra emotional.


“Creatures have a capability to the touch the soul and to encourage a way of marvel, love and connection. I might like to depart you with one closing quote from Harvey Dunn, and he was speaking about portray: ‘The spirit is the one factor that is true about something’. Which suggests if you happen to’re creating one thing with no core, with out some spirit or some focus to it, then it is empty.”





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