-Terryl Whitlatch

One of the major divisions of Creature Design is that of depicting real animals, as opposed to imaginary ones. In fact this is altogether much more challenging; on an intrinsic level we are all familiar with living species—we either own them or have ready access to them via farms, riding stables, zoos, museums, or video. We’ve seen, fed, and touched them. This, as opposed to imaginary creatures, where no one is able to stand up and tell you what is wrong.

One of the tasks I’ve had throughout my career as a concept artist is to supply studies of living animals as reference for various film projects. A case in point is Disney’s 2003 animated feature Brother Bear. This was a film whose overriding sensibility and design was one of extreme naturalism—its closest aesthetic comparison was Bambi, a sublime production produced nearly 63 years earlier.

I was hired to provide the Disney Art Department assigned to that production with as many anatomical analyses and breakdowns of actual bears (as well as moose and other animals) in all sorts of poses—in particular showing how the muscles performed under the heavy fur, and then, breakdowns of the fur itself, showing the blocks, directions, and tracts, for ease in stylizing down for animation.

Fur has weight, direction, and heft, and in healthy Kodiak bears this is multiplied beyond that of most mammals, except perhaps for yaks, musk-oxen, and on a much smaller scale, Persian cats. It takes some in-depth study to understand this, and thus it was my task to supply the production artists and animators with this knowledge in a readily digestible form.

I estimate that close to a hundred of these drawings were produced—from bears fighting, sitting, roaring, hunting, you name it. From there, I went on to do many narrative illustrations, lip-syncing studies (making a moose talk) and further stylizing down to the Brand character. I must say, that is was one of the most satisfying gigs that I’ve worked on, and I was privileged to meet some of the most artistically gifted people that I have ever known, and I’m convinced, ever will know.