Design memorable creatures in 5 easy steps

Design memorable creatures in 5 easy steps 2019-03-09

Pokémon Essentials Version
With each new Pokemon gen bringing its new set of memorable monsters, we often dream of creating our own. But most of us seems to lack the genius needed to instill life into iconic critters. I had the same problem once: in my quest to make Exterium, I had to invent a whole world of novel creatures. Even more, everything were to be done from scratch: exters have no relation to existing Pokemon, different stats and typing, new everything! Along the way, I developed a simple, 5-step process, that anyone can follow to come up with a full-fledged concept of they dream critter. So take a pen, a sheet of paper and...

1. Start with a theme

Every new critter starts with a theme, a core concept or idea. This could be anything, from a basic animal/type pair (like "rocky lizard") to an abstract idea (like "bad luck"). The theme will form the core of your creature, so you want to get this one right. I tend to notice the best themes seem to comes from nowhere. But if you are at loss of ideas, feel free to seek inspiration from these sources:
  • pokemon, exters or fantastical creatures you wish were real
  • uncommon or atypical animals
  • fairy tales, myths and legends
  • real-life items that could use a more organic version
  • existing critters with an unique spin
  • randoms words from the dictionary
  • and the list goes on

Once you have decided on a theme, the real work begins.

2. Identify and research inspiration sources

One could be inclined to skip this step. But the more time you can spend on research, the more data you are able to use to reinforce your creature concept. After all, a theme is nothing more than a core idea. To ease the work in later steps, you need to learn more about anything related to that core. Since a critter is summarized into a design plus some data, this is what we will focus on. For the design part, you are most interested in pictures of the real-world counterpart of your monster, drawings and other visuals. Pinterest and Deviantart usually come in handy. Data is usually gathered reading articles, Wikipedia entries, or watching Youtube videos for example. Your aim is to decide the creature behavior and to uncover details like weight or gender ratio.
Even if there is no such thing as too much research, it is okay to proceed to the next step as soon as you feel to know enough about your core theme.

3. Design and draw the critter

As the first impression anyone will have of the new monster, visual design can make or break your concept. Kick-off the process with a few sketches. This way, you will get a better sense of how the different parts fit together. It is perfectly okay to do that in multiple rounds. Simply try to convey your theme in a way that feels "whole". A good approach is to start with a simple animal base, then add details here and there. Aim for cohesion as much as balance. After all, you don't want to end up with the nightmarish mix of a falcon and an octopus (or do you?). Try to steer away from cliché. Not all water animals have to be blue (most fish aren't). Don't over-complicate the design either. Simpler is usually better.

If you are creating the critter for a specific medium, there are other constraints involved. As an example, sprites for 2D Pokemon games can't show tiny details (like scales or fur patterns) so you would rather draw these large enough. Or you should take into account the age (or evolution stage) of your creation. Baby critters are usually cutesy, when adults are look fierce or badass.

If you are simply making concept art, you can skip the next step. But if your critter is to end up in a game, it is time to add a bit more information.

4. Fill-in the data details

Here is another part where the earlier research will prove useful. Data involves everything you know about the critter, except its looks. You can start with a short description, or bullet points outlining a few facts about your creature. Further details will depend of the medium you are creating the critter for.

Recurring details includes strengths, weaknesses, elementary typing, species name or base RPG stats. Bulky critters should have a better defense than leaner ones, fire animals should be weak to water and so on. Base your stats distribution on existing examples or common sense. Is the real world counterpart a predator or a prey? A powerhouse or a wimp? How does the creature relate to other species found in the same area? Are there any moves or aptitudes that should be taken into account?

Once the basics are clearly defined, you may want to stop your work there. But let's assume you want to add more esoteric data (like Pokemon egg group, or growth rate). The above strategy still applies. Just make sure to give believable values.

And that is... almost it.

5. Finalize

What are we supposed to do here? Haven't we covered all the new critters aspects? Yes. Then, it is time to see the big picture. Reviewing the data may have highlighted issues with the design or vice versa. You may have a few details to adjust here and there. Also make sure every aspect of the critter stays in harmony with the intended theme. If you did it right, everything should be coming together at this step.

Congratulations, you just made a brand new creature. Are you itching to show it to the world? Great, that's the spirit! In the meantime, I will get back to studying my own extremely strange critters. If you liked this guide, drop by my lab, and see how many wild monsters you can discover.

Take care,

None required. Have fun
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