Creature Anatomy

Terryl Whitlatch
9 Lessons (7h 59m)
9 Week(s)
English French Portuguese

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Course Description

This course is an in-depth exploration into the creation of imaginary animals based on the anatomy of real animals, in order to invent plausible beings for the concept, animation and entertainment arts.

In each lesson, I'll take you on a journey through specific types of creatures, the real zoology on which they stand, concise break-downs of real animal anatomy, and its step-by-step and direct application to imaginary animal anatomy. I'll also show you many applicable examples from my own work and my career. Above all, we will keep in mind the purpose, world, and stories for which our creatures are being designed.

We'll apply and put into practice the following:

- Understanding the "why" of the creature

- How to research and gather reference

- Understanding the different real animal groups

- Step-by-step understanding of real animal anatomy

- Step-by-step creation of imaginary creatures

- Untangling and understanding complicated animal poses

- Creating conceptual narrative illustrations with creatures

Knowing the structure of real animals and applying that structure to imaginary creatures or actual animals adapted for entertainment arts projects is what gives you wings as a creature designer. Sound anatomy is what makes animation possible, and allows the greatest range of possibilities for both imaginative design, and in the creation of dynamic concept art that effectively gets the story across.

Included in this course is a growing library of resource files and materials gathered by previous critiqued students. You can download this collection as a useful tool throughout your career!

➡︎ For the ‘Critiqued Sessions’, students will meet up with Terryl Whitlatch LIVE on Zoom once per week on Wednesdays at 8am PT / 11am ET.

  • Adobe Photoshop

Lesson Plan

In my first lesson, I'll begin with an introduction and course overview that will familiarize you with what creatures are, in relation to both the entertainment arts and science, and how zoology and professional creature design go hand in hand. We'll examine the "why" of the creature, and how to gather research in order to design with intent and plausibility. Next, we'll go over the fundamentals of basic animal anatomy, and then start out with designing a creature based on and yet departing from, the basic human anatomical model.

Fish, amphibians, and reptiles provide some of the most basic, primeval, and yet quite sophisticated anatomical models when it comes to creature design. So many of our favorite characters, from The Incredible Mr. Limpet and Jaws, to the denizens of Yoda's planet, Dagobah in Star Wars come from these groups. We will examine each of their zoologies and anatomies and learn how they are similar and different from one another, and then go on to create our own fantastic creatures based on what we've learned.

Dinosaurs straddle the line between fantasy, science fiction, and reality, and birds are their real life descendants that are all around us. As the inspiration of dragons and wyverns, we'll study the two main groups of dinosaurs, and see how they are quite different from other reptiles. We'll examine their anatomical kinship with birds, and from there, take a good look at wing and feather structure. If you love Jurassic World and The Roadrunner from Loony Toons alike, this lesson is for you.

Dogs and cats are some of our most beloved animal companions, and appear widely throughout popular entertainment. However, how closely have we studied them to see how they and their wild relatives are anatomically put together? In this lesson we will learn what makes a dog a dog, and a cat a cat, and how to invent imaginary creatures that are undeniably canine or clearly feline - so many plots and story lines are dependent on this very distinction!

Hoofed mammals are some of the most intelligent, beautiful, swift, and bizarre of all real animals. In fact no other animal has had more impact on human civilization and storytelling than the horse. We will look closely at the various anatomies and differing zoologies of the main two groups of hoofed mammals, and transfer our knowledge into creating amazing hoofed creatures that will carry us into our dreams.

When one looks at an elephant, one feels prehistory coming to life. Indeed, these modern animals have an ancient lineage, as we'll see while comparing elephant, mammoth, mastodon, and other prehistoric elephant anatomies with each other. We'll go on to create gigantic behemoths to roam sci-fi cenozoic-type planets, or even tiny species for an elven world - stretching the imagination while keeping believability is the goal.

We do not invent imaginary creatures or stylize real animals for them to exist in a vacuum, but rather, to help tell stories within the worlds they are invented for. These visual development illustrations are what movies, games, and graphic novels are made from. In this lesson we'll focus on the profound relationship between story, scene, layout/composition, and creature-ly subject matter - and get started in creating narrative (storytelling) concept illustrations of our own.

The anatomy of animals allows them to assume an infinite variety of poses and positions, which is necessary to both their survival and enjoyment of life, and indeed your creatures must be able to do the same, both in animation, and in the context of narrative illustration. Even after studying anatomy intensively, however, that very same anatomy can seem very puzzling when exhibited by the living animal, depending upon our point of view, or familiarity with that animal. In this class, we will analyze what is actually going on in a selection of challenging poses, and learn to put our creatures into equally dynamic positions as well.

In this final lecture, we'll continue to delve deeper into professional concept/narrative illustration, reviewing the fundamentals, but also going more in-depth into compositional considerations for movies/cinematics and graphic novels, including emphasis on character, traveling and action, crowd scenes and layering. We'll also examine the emotional/spiritual impact of color, light, and environment, all using real and imaginary creatures, and follow the step-by-step creation of another complex concept illustration. We will see how it really is the story that designs the creature.


Terryl Whitlatch

Terryl Whitlatch is an internationally recognized creature designer for film, animation, and publishing. She began drawing at the age of three when she was first able to hold a crayon. She was also captivated by the many animals on her grandfather's ranch at that same time. For Terryl, these two things started a lifelong love of art and animals.

Scientifically and academically trained as a paleo-reconstructionist, she applied her extensive knowledge of anatomy and zoology to creature design, beginning in 1989 for Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic, where she worked on many films, including acting as Principal Creature Designer for Star Wars: Episode One - the Phantom Menace. She has since worked on many other projects, most recently Disney's John Carter and Pixar's Brave. She is the author of several books, including The Wildlife of Star Wars, The Katurran Odyssey, and Animals Real and Imagined. In addition, she has produced several DVDs on Creature Design for the Gnomon School of Animation and Effects, and has taught creature design and animal anatomy for her alma mater, the Academy of Art University.