Sunday, August 7, 2011

Designing a monster

At the Illustrators Master Class in June, one of our instructors was the wildly creative Iain McCaig, concept designer for LucasFilms.  One day he taught an impromptu class on How to Design a Monster.  I saw the first three Star Wars films, but as the first one came out in 1976, and Mr McCaig is surely under 50, he did not do designing for those.  I didn't see the later movies, the ones he did design creatures for, but I heard that the designs were the best part of them.  From what I saw of his work, I believe it. 
Here is what he taught us, as well as I remember (I didn't take notes).

Step one
Ask yourself questions about what the monster is like. 
Where does it live?    --sea?  desert?   air?  swamp? 
What is its general shape?    --roundish?  long and thin?   angular?  flat?
Where is it on the food chain?
What does it eat?
How does it propel itself?    wings?  legs?  tail? 
How many wings, legs, etc does it have?
Don't spend too much time working out the details at this stage.  Just go with your first notion.

Step two
Find some things nearby to use as reference for your drawing: a pillow, electronics, furniture parts, dogs, cats: whatever is around.  Find and draw something the general shape of the body you have chosen, something for the legs, tail, wings, etc.  Draw these references, but don't try to put the whole creature together at this stage.  You are just finding references for your drawing.

Step three
Using your references for the shapes of your monster's parts, and the ideas you have chosen for its characteristics, draw your monster.

Today I was telling my grandson Tofu and his mother Hisako about what I learned.  We decided to collaborate and draw a monster.
Here is the one I drew with Tofu's input.
Its body is based on a horsetail reed, its tail a lucky rabbit's foot, its eyes (4 of them) are from the light fixture in our kitchen.  It lives in the desert, eats salt (hence its tongue on the ground); is slimy, and has no feet. 

Here is Tofu's monster.  It lives in Yosemite, has a flat body, five legs, a rope-like tail, and eats grubs. 
Tofu and I are ridiculously pleased with our first venture into the world of creature making.
I think Tofu's father Seth would also be pleased.

It turns out that one of the students at IMC, Chris Pigden, caught 12 minutes of Iain's monster-making workshop on video, which he has put on his website here (on Sunday, August 14).   It's worth watching, for Iain's combination of energy and carefulness, and how he weaves his own vision from the ideas other people give him.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Vicki! I'm going to give this a try with both my students and grandkids. I can't remember if I was working on Rebecca's sketchbook or what, but I ended up missing this creature demo. Thanks for the great notes. I caught Chris's 12 minutes too so I feel like I understand what took place (even though I missed Iain's energetic delivery. Hope to come back here. Bye for now.