Chimerical Critter Creation
What is a Chimera?
In Greek mythology, a Chimera is a twisted hybrid of lion, goat and snake. But biologically speaking, "Chimera" is applied to any organism consisting of two or more tissues of different genetical compostion, produced as a result of genetic engineering or surgery (grafting and transplants). It is also a monster made out of grotesquely disparage parts. In other words, a mutant hybrid freak.
One of my favourite personal challenges was to ask the intended recepient what their two or three favourite animals were and combine them into one, weird but not too adnormal, specimen. I have also hosted a number of swaps in this theme, where six or seven people each nominate their animals and then interpret each others hybrids as they see fit. It provides an interesting range of results, and also provides something of an artistic challenge.
So you've gotten yourself into one of these groups and now you're stuck - where do you begin? Well, luckily I'm here to help.
Just remember the one and only Chimerical RULE - there are no right nor wrong ways to hybridise two completely unrelated species. This tutorial is designed as an inspiration and guide, not the Chimerical Creation Rules.
For this tutorial, I shall show you how I conceptualise and design a bird/mammal hybrid, where the "bird" is a Crowned Crane and the "mammal" is a Kinkajou.
Step One: Choosing your creatures
What animals you select to make up your chimera may be decided by you, or may be dictated by someone else in your group. There are some important factors to consider before making your choice. Choosing two animals that are similar in appearance are difficult to hybridise (see the "challenges" section below) and do not produce nearly as interesting results. I have found that it is the most fun to choose one animal with rather dramatic appearance, the other fairly straightforward. Selecting from different animal Classes - for example bird/mammal, reptile/bird, fish/mammal also leads to more interesting results. Some animals are also rather more popular than others. In the 4 chimera swaps I have hosted, the most popular species are: panda, peacock, tiger, cat, horse and lemur (although the latter is probably my fault). Whether you choose to go with the popular or the weird and wonderful, is entirely up to you.
Of course, if you're participating in a Hosted Swap, you have little choice on what you will be combining.
Step Two: Conceptualising
You've been given the names of two completely different animal species but you can't even imagine what the freakish offspring might look like. It's time to start conceptualising and see where the imagination takes you. Here are a few tips on directions you might like to go:
The Species:Species Ratio
How much of each species should you use?
Chimeras can range from a funny-coloured individual of one species, to a complex, multi-headed monstrosity.
This is probably the simplest option. If one of your animals has particularly distinctive colouration, whereas the other is monocoloured, you might like to take this option. Simply take one animal and colour it as though it were the other. It's almost TOO easy.
Pairing: Elephant/Gouldian Finch
Just Add Wings
Another simple option - if you've been given a bird and a mammal, it's simple - just add wings, and maybe funkify up the colouration a little. This also works for insect/mammal, bird/reptile or if one of the options is "bat". If one species has a particularly distinctive feature - a long striped tail, a crest of feathers etc, this method can be utilised as well.
Pairing: Pig/Any bird species
The Gryphon (aka "cut n' splice")
To put it simply, take the front half of one animal and combine it with the back half of the other. Tradtionally this works best between bird/mammal pairings but can be utilised for many other pairings as well. It also works well for creating Mer-creatures.
Pairing: Bluejay/Red Panda
The mythological two or three (in this case) headed creature. The body can have legs from each of the different species too.
True Blend Amalgamation
These are probably the trickiest to conceptualise. They involve taking features from the two species and combining them into weird and wild random creations. The following tutorial is designed to help you create something where the division is - if not natural - at least not the "cut 'n' splice" method.
Pairings: Panda/Peacock, Toucan/Lobster, Peacock/Turtle
Step Three: Determining Key Features
One of the first things you should do whenever you are given an artistic challenge is to find reference images. Hunt down several interesting photographs (NOT other artist's interpretations) of the selected species. It is best to find at least one headshot and one that shows the full body. The bigger the better!
Examine the reference photographs and take note of the features that stand out for that creature. You need to make it distinctly obvious what animals your mutant is based on.
Courtesy of Margaret E. Poggio
Courtesy of Dane Lykins
~ round bear-like face, small neat ears, big eyes
~ prehensile tail
~ stocky streamlined golden body
~ feet that somewhat resemble hands
~ Tall and stately
~ Striking facial mask, with wattles
~ impressive crown/crest of feathers
~ large, powerful wings.
Step Four: Basic Anatomy
What you have here is a bird/mammal hybrid. It would be very easy to use the cut and splice method to create a gryphon. This would make for an impressive set of forequarters, but the hindquaters would be fairly nondescript, aside from the feet and the tail. A kinkajou's face is too cute to just ignore - besides, the hindlegs are a bit short.
Another option would be to use a combination of the "unnatural colours" and "just add wings" - taking the basic shape of a kinkajou and adding on the crown of the crane and the striking facial mask.
However, if you want to go for a "TrueBlend" the first step is choose which animal you want the basic anatomy to most closely resemble. This is important if you want the animal to look plausible, not ridiculous. If you want something that looks rather over-the-top and silly, it is also quite possible to combine all the distinct features into one:
But if you want something that looks kinda like one animal, kinda like the other, you might like to use this means instead.
~ Select the animal that you wish to base the body-type on. Are you tending towards the stocky and streamlined or the tall and stately?
~ Decide on a pose. Static "standing there" poses are all well and good, but lack dynamics. What you really want is some sort of action pose. If you're focussing on the bird aspects, you might like to use references of the bird in flight. Or you could highlight the monkey-like aspects of the Kinkajou and go for an arboreal stance.
~ Card Orientation is also important. I often tend towards a "portrait" (vertical) alignment for my cards, which speaks more towards the "tall and stately" whereas you might prefer to work in a "landscape" (horizontal) format, in which case the mammal form would fit the structure better.
Now that you've determined which species is the dominant, body wise, sketch it up lightly. We're about to mutate it rather!
Step Five: Crossing Species
Now comes the fun part. Take some of the noteable features from the other animal and apply it to your sketch. Be careful not to overdo it!
Here are some useful techniques:
~ characteristic features - These should always be included. For example: crane's crown and the kinkajou's tail.
~ distinctive markings - These can lead to instant species recognition - such things as a tiger's stripes, a panda's patches, or a crowned crane's facial mask.
~ mismatched limbs - If the specimen has four limbs, you can base the forelegs on one species, and the hindlegs on the other. Note that wings are forelimbs. Whilst you can give your chimera three sets of limbs, this does lead to a less natural pairing. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
~ eyes - Some animals - like the crowned crane, have very pale eyes, whereas kinkajous have much darker. Swapping eyes between species can be effective.
- pseudowings - If one creation has wings but you don't want to create a third pair of limbs, you can create the illusion of wings by adding on a frilled cape, not unlike that found in a colubus monkey. This is particularly useful for the crowned crane, which has a frill-like edge to its primary feathers.
Once you've created a passable hybrid, it's time to ink your sketch and proceed to Step Five.
As you can see, these two pictures contain all roughly the same elements, whilst also looking rather disimilar. Note the crowned crane's lanky legs mutate into a kinkajou's fuzzy paws. And the Kinkjaou now sports a fine feather-frill mane and cape. Other options would have been switching beak for muzzle and vice versa. But this lends a rather more unnatural look.
Step Six: Applying Colour
It is very important when applying colour to take both species into consideration but also to make use of your own artistic knowledge. Some colour combinations work better than others, some clash or look distinctly unnatural. In the Kinkajou/Crowned Crane pairing I have chosen one animal that is all a pure colour (honey-gold) and another that has a multitude of colours. Thus we shall focus on the colours of the Crowned Crane for the most part. Much of his body colouration is a sort of steely blue-grey, offset by the stark black and white of his wings. Fortunately, blue and gold work most awesomely together.
For the Kinkajou-based piece I have made the majority of the body the honey-gold colour. This is partly because not a lot of his actual body is visible (merely front paws, belly and tail). Also as his face and frills are quite dramatic, I do not want to distract from them with too much colour. His mane I coloured like the Crowned Crane's, but I took some liberties with his "cape". Having the frills change from blue to white gives a smoother change from the blue of the ruff to the white of the last frills. If I had coloured them all in the light blue/white it would have looked too stark.
For the Crowned Crane-based piece I have used a classic division technique. Many animals have a different coloured belly from upper quarters, and the majority have a paler belly. As the blue and gold work nicely together, this looks quite natural and I have continued it onto the tail and lower flanks, where the gold dominates. Although the legs are rather bizarre (being half bird/half mammal) because of the colour distribution it looks almost natural - like he's wearing really fluffy Ug boots.
As these pieces are rather bigger than the regular ATC, I have utilised the "circle cut-out" for my background. This is a technique I like to employ for my larger pieces, allowing me to give a detailed background that was not cluttered nor detracted from the main image. This moves us onto the next step:
Step Seven: Adding a Background
The first thing to take into consideration here is "what is the animal's natural habitat likely to be?" To answer this, you need to look at where the base animals live and take into consideration whether your creature could still survive in that environment. In the case of my two critters, both are still pretty well suited to their original habitats.
Kinkajou are arboreal, and found in the South American rainforests. As my wee fellow is an over-embellished kinkajou, let's add some tree trunks and orchids into his background.
Crowned Crane are found in the dry savannah of Africa, but choose to nest near water. With his long legs and neck, our elegant chap is still well suited to this habitat. Although his large feet may make more of a splash when he wades! His prehensile tail would serve little purpose, except perhaps to help him balance should he choose to roost. So swampy grassland will suit him just fine.
And here is how others have interpreted this same theme:
Artists are: Moondance, Amerasu, ???
Fyrelyter. Tabblyn, Canucksdesz
The mammal/bird hybrid is a fairly straight forward one. But what about more tricksy combinations? Here are some trouble-shooting tips:
Where the two animals are very similar.
You may be given two animals that look very much alike - for example: a ringtailed lemur and a house cat. These creatures share a similar body shape, the ringtailed lemur is even known as Lemur catta. In this situation you need to study your subjects closely. Look for distinctive markings and typical features of those animals. The tail of the lemur, for example, or the variable coat patterns, lengths and colours of the cat. Pinpoint the "trademark" characteristics. Compare the facial structure. Cats have round muzzles and their ears are placed high on their head, whereas lemurs have a narrower, more foxy, snout and their ears are much lower down. The eyes are distinctly different. And don't forget the hands and feet!
Hybridising three animals.
This is not much harder than hybridising two creatures, except that is becomes much easier to "lose" one of the animals. Choose the animal with the least distinctive markings as the "base" animal. For example, in my Sloth/Chameleon/Toucan combination the bodyshape is based on the Sloth. Now select the two most distinctive characteristics for each animal and work them into the picture. Then move onto the lesser ones. Eyes, hands/feet and tail are all good to alter - just make sure that you leave in enough of the "base" animal for it still to be recognisable.
Combining flora and fauna.
This is actually a very simple combination - probaby even easier than an animal/animal hybrid - however probably harder to conceptualise. Use the animal as the base, and study the various parts of the plant - the leaves, the flowers, the seeds. Work out how to incorporate them into your creature. Perhaps it could have leaves or flowers sprouting randomly from its body? A ruff around its neck, a mane of foliage. Cover the body in bark, or add a small amount of "armour".
The Creation just looks silly
Sometimes it is just impossible to make the animal look realistic or natural. In which case, remember the one and only rule for making Chimeras - there is no wrong or right way. Whatever you conceive is correct. And embrace the inner silliness!
If, however, you just can't seem to get it looking right, try changing the base species or adjusting the pose. It took me several sketches to get this fellow looking vaguely passable. Don't give up! And if you really just can't make it work - fall back to the first three techniques discussed above.
Pairing: Tiger/Lionfish/Monarch Butterfly
I hope you have enjoyed my tutorial. Now go forth and MUTATE!