Terryl Whitlatch
18 Lessons (8h 43m)
18 Week(s)
English French Portuguese

Two Ways to Learn


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  1. Watch Video Lessons at Your Own Pace
  2. Assignments Included
  3. Peer Feedback
  4. Switch Courses as Often as You Like
  5. Access to Schoolism Webinar Archives

LIVE Classes

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  1. Watch Video Lessons with a Planned Curriculum
  2. Scheduled Assignments with Deadlines
  3. Personalized Paint-Overs and Real-Time Feedback From The Instructors
  4. Watch Video Lessons and Peer Feedback as Often as You'd Like
  5. Ability to Contact Instructor with Questions
  6. Digital Certificate of Completion
  7. Weekly Class Meetings LIVE on Zoom
  8. Access to Schoolism Webinar Archives

Course Description

From the saber-toothed cat to the common house cat, felines have roamed the earth for millions of years and I created this course for us to explore all of the fascinating characteristics of these creatures from an anatomical perspective. The best way to understand anatomy is to simply dive in and draw it out, so in each lesson, I'll be guiding you through the exercise as you draw along with me to complete either the surface, skeleton, or musculature of felines in various poses while referencing anatomy.

I've provided all of the reference files you will need to be able to effectively complete each exercise while also being a great resource for you to go back to to give you a better understanding of feline anatomy. This course contains lots of bonus content as Bobby Chiu and I discuss topics like the aspects of the feline, tips on creating an effective design (realistic and imaginary), how I apply these techniques to my other creature designs, and much more throughout each lesson.

By the end of the course, not only will you be able to draw realistic felines but you will come away with a vast understanding of feline physiology that you can refer to when designing original cat-like creatures of your own.

➡︎ For the ‘Critiqued Sessions’, two lessons and their respective assignments will be released per week.

Students will meet up with Terryl Whitlatch LIVE on Zoom once per week on Mondays at 8am PT / 11am ET.

  • Adobe Photoshop

Lesson Plan

In my first lesson, we will be finishing the drawing of the surface of a house cat based on the skeleton and muscle reference photos provided. While we work on that, Bobby and I will discuss the different characteristics of the house cat and how they will affect your drawing, such as the directions in which the cat's fur grows, the thickness of the fur, when to use thicker or thinner lines to indicate interactions with light and shadow, and how to use texture to describe structure and form without getting lost in the details.

Just below the surface of an animal is the complex muscular system that allows them to move and emote, and add an extra layer of protection. In this lesson, we'll be focusing on the musculature that lies on top of the skull of the house cat while Bobby and I talk about the differences between the skulls of large and small felines, which muscles work to move certain features on the face, and what landmarks I look for in the reference photos to be able to accurately draw the musculature beneath the fur.

Compared to other felines, the skulls of house cats have many defining characteristics that differentiate them from bigger felines like lions and tigers. I'll go over these characteristics during my discussion with Bobby while we draw the skull of the house cat together, and talk about the different teeth that cat's have and their functions, and the asymmetry that exists in all living creatures.

Next, we will move on to drawing the surface of one of the bigger felines, the magnificent lioness. As we go through our drawing, I'll be talking with Bobby about the main physical differences between the lioness and the house cats we've previously looked at, how to approach drawing the side view vs. the front view, and common mistakes to avoid when carrying out the exercise.

In this lesson, Bobby and I talk about the details of the lioness skull, including the various muscles and their functions, their attachment points, and how the facial muscles of a lioness differ from those of the common house cat. While we draw the musculature of the lioness head together, I'll also go over the importance of design and searching for the voice of the creature to give it a more lively feeling.

By analyzing the face and musculature of the lioness head, we can establish where different areas of the skull will fall to get an accurate representation. As I draw the skull of the lioness, I'll show you how to think about all of the main parts individually to simplify the process while Bobby and I discuss the variation in fur patterns of the lioness compared to those of house cats, and reiterate the importance of asymmetry to get a realistic result.

To better our understanding of the anatomy of felines, it's important for us to explore the many different poses and facial expressions that they make. In this exercise, I'll be drawing the surface of the house cat while Bobby and I chat about how different fur textures can indicate the environment in which the feline lives, why cats can't roar like lions or tigers, the relationship between fur and feathers on animals, and common mistakes that you should avoid as you complete the surface of the house cat along with me.

Now that we have covered small cats and their meows, let's move on to big cats and their mighty roars! There are many differences between the lioness and the house cat, and in this lesson, Bobby and I will talk about some of those major differences, the anatomy of the lioness face and the functionality of different features, how to use line density to indicate light and shadow to separate areas, and describe my thought process as I tackle drawing the surface of the lioness with you.

Next, we're going to tackle another common expression that all felines display: the yawn. I'll show you how I draw the skull of a yawning house cat and share my thought process while Bobby and I talk about similarities between house cat and cougar skulls compared to lion skulls, how cats are seemingly able to fit into the smallest of spaces, and why paying attention to perspective is crucially important for this exercise.

They say that yawning is contagious, so let's keep the theme going with another yawning pose! This time, we will be focusing on drawing the skull of a yawning lioness. As I draw the skull, I'll be connecting what we learned about the yawning house cat and comparing that to the lioness while Bobby and I go over the main points of the skull to look out for, and talk about how to make something look "cool" as opposed to "cute" when designing creatures.

A snarl may seem like a sign of aggression, but it can mean much more than that. Snarls can convey fear, fright, and even pain, and it's an important expression to be able to showcase properly. In this lesson, I will show you how to draw the musculature on the skull of a snarling house cat while Bobby and I chat about how the fur reacts to this movement, the shapes of the different facial muscles and their functions, and how these characteristics change as a cat ages.

The snarling expression of a lioness is a tricky one to deal with, especially when it comes to drawing the musculature. As I complete the drawing of the musculature of the lioness, I'll go over what happens when the facial muscles contract and fold, the wrinkles that form when the lioness snarls, and the anatomical functions and proportions of the facial muscles. Bobby and I also discuss the details of the pose, the process of character design as it pertains to actual animals vs. imaginary creatures, and some of my artistic influences that I've had throughout my career.

In this lesson, we're going to tackle our first full-body exercise as we draw the musculature of a lion. I will show you how I piece together where certain muscles are while Bobby and I carry out our discussion about the different layers of muscles on the lion's body, the muscle origin and insertion points, the key differences between the lion and lioness bodies, and how I became interested in and learned about animal anatomy and zoology.

We've taken a close look at examples of both the house cat and the lioness, and in this lesson I will go over a few more key differences and similarities between small and large felines as I draw the musculature of the full body of a lion. As we go along, Bobby and I talk about why the heads of small and large felines look so much bigger than the skull would suggest, why some creatures look much different in their infancy compared to adolescence, how exercises like these help me to design original creatures, and how putting your own creative twist on real animals can create and original idea by using the familiar to understand the unknown.

Next, I'm going to show you how to draw the musculature of the house cat in a sitting pose. I'll explain how the cat's body adjusts to various poses like this, why cats are able to squeeze through tiny openings, and which order I recommend doing things in for this particular exercise. While we work on that, Bobby and I have a conversation about how anatomy plays a role in making animated films, the importance of using reference for precise anatomical work, why cats have such great balance, and how adding subtle details to your work can affect how people react and relate to your designs.

You might have only seen a dancing cat in "Cats" the musical, until now! In this lesson, we will be working from a unique pose that really showcases the flexibility that house cats have. This pose is very different from our previous exercises as there is a twist in the body that is shown at an up-angle, which can present some new challenges that we will work through as we complete the musculature drawing. Bobby and I talk about the importance of using reference so we are not limited to drawing from our own imaginations, what to look for when using reference photos, and what makes a "good" reference photo.

One of the most well-known prehistoric creatures is the saber-toothed cat, and for good reason! With its bulky forelimbs and distinctive, saber-shaped canine teeth, it's no wonder why these beautiful and dangerous creatures still fascinate us long after they've gone extinct. In this lesson, we'll be taking everything we learned from what exists now and try to apply it to something from the past that we don't have any real photos or videos of. As I draw the musculature of the entire body of the saber-toothed cat, Bobby and I talk about the history of saber-toothed cats, the relationship between science and imagination, creating realistic vs. cartoony creatures, and why it's actually inaccurate to call them "saber-toothed tigers".

In our final lesson, we'll be focusing on drawing the musculature of just the head of the saber-toothed cat. There are a few key things to keep in mind when tackling this exercise, which I'll go over as I chat with Bobby about prehistoric creatures, the possible behavioral and physical traits of saber-toothed cats, and things that I personally wonder about these fascinating creatures of the past.


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.