The concept art behind popular 3D monsters

Maya Lekach

It’s Halloween this month, which means you’re probably frantically preparing your costume and/or playlist of creepy movies to watch with your friends on the scariest day of the year – well, other than your birthday.

To celebrate this fun holiday and all the elements making October 31st the day that it is, we’ll be taking a look at the concept art behind some of your favorite movie and TV 3D monsters that were created with our favorite design tool: the computer!

Design: The beginning of a long process

Although 3D animation is a daunting task when it comes to making movies, it always starts with concept art. This early stage can range from graphic process sketches to actual 3D renderings on programs like Blender, ZBrush and Maya.

From there, top animation firms like WETA, MPC, Digital Domain, The Senate and more do their trickery to turn these ideas, sketches and 3D-graphics into something that looks a whole lot like reality.

tumblr_myf3seMFck1t3vj62o1_500

Smaug in the cave: Alan Lee (via The Art of Alan and John), showing how even a painting, as old school as the renaissance itself, is necessary to create these digital masterpieces.

But before that is where designers and artists like you come in. Everything from basic pen and pencil sketches to 3D graphics and Photoshop texture models are used to make these visual effects look as realistic as possible – even when “real” means a 40 foot tall monster.

To give you an idea, we’ve collected some of the original process artwork for some popular 3D monster creations. While these images can be anything from tame to already-terrifying in this format, they pave the path for something even more spectacular.

Pan’s Labyrinth

PansLabyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth Original Concept Art: Sergio Sandoval (via Deviant Art)

Many image concepts that will go on to be dazzling effects start with the most basic tools: pen and pencil. Creatures specialist, Sergio Sandoval, leaves no scale undrawn for Pan’s Labyrinth, preparing the next stage of designers with some of the more detailed elements of their visual effects.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

Smauug

Smaug Concept Art: WETA Entertainment (via Nerdist)

These 3D concept images were made in Maya 3D and Claybox Sculpturing by Andrew Baker at Weta Workshop . His official title in the film’s production was “digital sculptor”.

Curious what Baker’s rejected concept art for Smaug looks like (hint: it’s all amazing)? Check out his other versions here.

Pacific Rim

PacRim

Pacific Rim: Onibaba (via Import Monsters)

Concept artist Wayne D. Barlowe created this large creeper for another Guillermo del Toro venture, Pacific Rim. This particular creature’s design looks like it was based in some level of reality, with spider-esque legs, crab-inspired claws, and dinosaur/raptor details. Looking at real creatures to make fantastical ones is a common theme when crafting these fabricated 3D monsters.

Troll Hunter

TrollHunter

Concept sketches: nikko (via Kinja)

The Norweigan/American film Troll Hunter riffs on ideas from Scandinavian fairy tales to create these giant beasts. This particular troll grows more heads as it grows older. This is supposed to make it more attractive to female trolls. Creepy!

These 3 design steps were all just for the concept model – even before the actual filming began!

Alien

Giger

Alien concept art originally from ‘Titan Books’: H.R. Giger (via buzzfeed)

H.R Giger was a master of special effects and frightening visual creations long before any of these other films appeared on the silver screen. His drawings and eventual 3D models drew inspiration from biomechanics as well as his own nightmares.

His death last year was a loss to the visual community, although we’re sure that his legacy will be inspiring multiple monsters for years to come. For more on Giger, check out this post we wrote on his chilling career.

American Horror Story

AmericanHorrorStory

American Horror Story: Asylum concept art: alien model (via blastr)

This concept art was never used in the actual filming of the popular TV series, American Horror Story. Created by concept illustrator, Jerad Merantz, this 3D model was created using ZBrush.

Although this insect-inspired alien never appeared on screen during the series’ second season, American Horror Story: Asylum, the concept art became the star in the minds of the producers and actors on the show who had to refer to these never-seen beasts.

Conclusion

Its a new and exciting world (both virtual and real) out there for designers – especially for anyone with a great idea and a way to show it off. If you want to see your work on the silver screen, it’s great to start practicing now. There’s tons of great and free software to use to get involved in this field (or you can go back to the good old pen and paper).

The most important thing to remember is to keep your creativity alive. So keep watching those horror movies!

Do you have a favorite 3D monster? Share them in the comments!

Related articles

How to create unique typography with Illustrator’s 3D tools

How to create unique typography with Illustrator’s 3D tools

Ever wondered how to make your typography pop… literally? In this tutorial, we’ll look at some simple ways to utilize 3D tools in Illustrator to create unique typographic results. From distressed lettering to a slick, vintage style – here are the tools you need to use for wow-worthy letters. To begin a simple text box…

Current Design Contests

Designers, check out these contests so you can start building your career.