11 top tips for creating fearsome creatures

Pro creature concept artist Sam Rowan shares his top tips for creating a fearsomely imaginative movie monster.

Sam personal project

Sam has created creature concepts for a wealth of blockbuster flicks, including TMNT

With Halloween just around the corner, we asked Sam Rowan, a specialist in creating creature concepts with a list of credits that include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men: Days of Future Past to share his top tips for how to draw realistic creatures.

01. Study real life animal anatomy

Visit zoos and look at your pets. Think about how they move and what features enable that beyond their flesh.

sam's personal

One of Sam's personal projects: some Tranformer-style robots go head to head

02. Read books

Pick up fiction, non fiction and academic compilations. Pictorial encyclopaedias in particular will help broaden your knowledge and ideas.

03. Mood boards

Pinterest and PureRef are invaluable tools for research/mood boarding. These can help you generate ideas and organise your thoughts visually.

sam rowan creature

Concept creature based on creatures described in The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, they are blind predatory cave-dwellers

04. Work to a brief

Create a fictional brief – this will push you to be more creative and prepare you for doing the job.

05. Consider audience

Being aware of who your audience is will direct many of your choices when designing. This includes what age the story is pitched towards – certain attributes wouldn’t sit well in children's film, but could work for a scary R-rated movie.

Sam's Splinter concept

Seeing TMNT's Splinter in various angles, which different backgrounds and poses allows Directors to really imagine him in the film

06. The 'Read'

Ask others to tell you what they see on viewing your design, and consider whether this fulfills the brief. The more points of view you can gain, the better as you are not just designing for yourself!

07. Limit visual statements

Too many and the eye will not know where to look. Focus on certain aspects of a creature – don't over complicate the skin textures when the main focus of the beast is their piercing eyes or razor sharp claws.

sam's read

One of Sam's "Slan" creations, set inside the caves the creatures inhabit, according to the book

08. Light and shadow

Leaving parts to the imagination can be a good thing in early stages of design – particularly with creatures and horror-based concepts, what's more frightening than your own imagination?

The iconic Splinter, half hidden in darkness - adds a more mature and mysterious quality to the character

09. Make the most of the method

You can use one 3D model to produce multiple 'shots' which can be painted up to tell a story, just like in a film.

10. Set the scene

Placing your character in an environment with mood and lighting can help sell your design. This plays straight into art directors' imaginations, feed it to them and make it easy for them to see your design working within their film.

slan by sam

The creatures described in The Emperor's Blades, named "Slan" gave Sam a brief to come up with his own concept

11. Colour

If time permits, colour can help your design to stand out more than greyscale sketches. Humans are naturally drawn to colour, so if your design is sat next to a handful of black and white illustrations – you know who's will grab their attention first!

creature from all angles

Show the creature from all angles, and tell a story with shots - play it like a film!

Words: Sam Rowan

Sam Rowan is a Scottish concept sculpture and artist currently working with Framestore's Visual Development team in London. He began his career as a character modeller working for studios such as Weta Digital, MPC and The Mill. You can follow him on Facebook.

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