The secret to creating creatures that kids will love

Aliens and monsters are always fun to do because you can let your imagination fly. However, certain market have demands on how to draw them which pull your wings in a bit. Children’s publishing can be like that, in my experience. 

While many 12-year-olds and above may not be easily shocked, younger minds aren’t usually ready for images such as slavering, fanged terrors. Most publishing houses I’ve worked with impose guidelines to protect children from such things. Presentation and approach are key. Look at the characters from multi-million blockbusters such as Monsters Inc. Their cartoon styling and humour transforms them to child-friendly fare – despite the presence of fangs, claws, tentacles or anything else.

Experiment with different styles to settle on a suitable look

Experiment with different styles to settle on a suitable look

Making a character look funny is a tried-and- tested method, but even with this you need to moderate content to avoid anything that’s too adult in nature. Accepted practice is that the younger the audience, the less threatening content needs to be.

This makes it a fun challenge, though. Your alien can still have claws, fangs and tentacles. You must present them in a way that’s unlikely to traumatise. Look at real-life creatures. Consider textures. Would a snake be less frightening, if instead of scales it was furry and soft? More like a draft excluder with teeth. 

Consider colour. Is a pink crocodile less scary than a dark green one? While slimy isn’t necessarily scary – just look at B.O.B., the sentient jelly from Monsters vs Aliens.

Artist's secret - work without marks

Paint textures freely with the Lock Layer Transparency options

Paint textures freely with the Lock Layer Transparency options

If your software doesn’t have masks, the Lock Layer Transparency options enable you to paint freely with pattern and texture, once you’ve blocked the shape in. I duplicate and lock layers set to Multiply to paint shadows.

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English artist Nick Harris switched to a digital canvas in 2000, after 18 years of using traditional media. Most of his work involves creating artwork for children’s books, though he has also dabbled in animation, including some background work on the hit 1988 film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". He has supplied a wealth of advice and tutorial help for illustrators in ImagineFX magazine.