Brynn Metheney “specializes in animal anatomy and movement as well as creature focused concepts for film, publishing and entertainment.”
With an impressive list of clients from the likes Wizards of the Coast to Tor Books as well as HBO, Warner Bros., Disney, and seemingly everybody in-between, she’s worked in the industry for over a decade.
Brynn’s a delight and I recently had the good fortune to talk with her about her work, inspirations, and some recent phantasmal projects. Also, goats!
Thank you for taking the time to talk with us today, Brynn! How and when did your artistic journey begin?
My pleasure! I’ve been an artist my entire life. I’ve always liked to draw and create things. When I was a child, I traced big cats out of a “How to Draw” book called, Cats in Action. I’ve always been fascinated with animals and so I loved that book. The work inside was very expressive and the drawings were easy to trace with regular paper. From there, I went on to trace cartoons I loved. After that, I started making up my own creatures, drawing animals and characters using the muscle memory I had developed, and from observation. I was fortunate and had a family who all encouraged me to pursue art as a hobby and eventually as a career. I attended CCA(C) to study illustration and from there, worked on a variety of small projects and built some momentum working in film and large clients.
I feel like I should also ask where did your artistic journey begin? Because I remember a conversation we had a while back, you were explaining a theory you have that everyone has a certain kind of place that especially charges their imagination. That different artists gravitate towards particular biomes which in turn inspire in unique ways. Can you tell us more about that?
My artistic journey did begin with animals. I’ve always been excited by them, their lives and their anatomy. When I was a child, I was basically a cat/dinosaur/horse until I got into middle school. I wanted to be a vet before I became an artist and a lot of that informs my work and subject matter today.
I am touched you remember that conversation. I grew up in a place that most people find barren and devoid of interest: The Mojave Desert. It’s one of those magic places where if you know, you know. Of course, I took it for granted as a kid and tolerated the same sunny weather day after day, the heat and the strangeness of the place. It wasn’t until I moved away to the Bay Area that I felt home sickness in a very real way. I realized I’d missed those 125 degree days. I’d missed the starry nights and the horrible winds. I missed the colors that the desert paints itself. When I’d visit, I’d feel better.
Humans are connected to the planet in a very profound way. We’re very much from it and I think sometimes we forget that. However, I think there are times when we remember; when we stumble upon or rediscover a place that speaks to us. Those moments have power to inspire us.
How did you get started in creature design and what have been some favorite projects over the years?
As a young artist, I had an affinity for creatures. I loved to watch movies like Alien, Predator, Star Wars and Ghostbusters as a kid. I knew that I wanted to be involved with film when I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. Seeing that was mind-blowing and I knew I had to be a part of it. I also have a huge place in my heart for animated films. I grew up watching everything and anything animated. I still do. I love the medium. Somehow I weaseled my way into this. I’d always marketed myself as a creature designer and I think at some point, clients bought it. I’ve had a very fortunate career in working with some lovely clients. Some favorites include: Meeting and working with Luc Besson, even if it was brief. I love the 5th Element so it was a treat. Working on Scooby Doo was a highlight. I love working in animation. I wish I got to more. Dungeons & Dragons is always a favorite client. I love the subject matter and the folks I work with are lovely. Working with Boots Riley on Sorry to Bother You was probably one of the coolest jobs I’ve had. He’s an amazing artist and working on such an interesting and original film was very rewarding. Of course, Ghostbusters! Not just because of this interview either. I genuinely loved working on that film. The team was small and we were close knit. It’s been one of the highlights of my career for sure!
Ok! Let’s talk Ghostbusters: Afterlife. You worked on everything from the Terror Dog to the little Stay-Puft Marshmallows! Tell us what was that like. Were you drawing upon any fond (or terrifying) Ghostbuster memories during your work?
I worked on every creature and ghost in that film. I didn’t think I’d have such a huge role but they kept giving me characters! It was a very fun experience. It was also a challenge. Working on something like Ghostbusters, you have to keep in mind the spirit of the IP. One of the things Jason asked me as I interviewed for the gig was “What makes a Ghost, Ghostbusters?” I had to think about for a second but I explained, that for me, Ghostbusters came from a time that was very iconic. The 80’s and 90’s were restricted in creature and character design. There wasn’t a whole lot available with CG just yet and so things had to be built with physical materials. This meant that you had to keep things economical. The same was true for animation at the time. Characters in animated films were often kept simple. This lead to decisions. What do we keep and how do we communicate the character in an effective and precise way. When we think about the Terror Dogs or Stay Puft, they have 3-4 components that make them who they are. Stay Puft is round and white, he’s got a cap with a blue ribbon and a blue sailor’s collar. So when I redesigned characters like the Terror Dog or created characters like Muncher and The Sentinel, I kept in mind how I could keep it feeling intentional. We have incredible capability to make anything a reality with CG now but for a film like Ghostbusters, it’s important to pull back and stay true to the look.
I had watched Ghostbusters as much as any other kids. I was every excited to work on the Terror Dog and The Sentinel. Those characters scared me quite a bit and having the chance to revamp the Terror Dog in an effective way so it could run around like the demon dog that it is was very satisfying.
For myself, I’ve found that working with established creatures is rewarding, as long as I feel that I’ve got enough room to stretch out and make things my own to a certain extent. Did you find your experience working with established creatures and monsters much different than designing from scratch?
Absolutely. You have to think about how the audience, who likely grew up with these things, are going to receive the character. This means you must keep core features the same. However, it’s also important as an artist to put your own take into things. You want things to evolve and become relevant. The Terror Dog, for example, didn’t have tongue barbs of triangular pupils or spurs before I got there. I added in those things to keep the creature feeling functional and to give it some lore and backstory. I can’t tell you if the original Terror Dog was thought of in that way but it is a really beautiful design and I was honored to push it a little further.
I do find working on original or unestablished characters to be a more rewarding, however. I am excited about all that’s happening in animation at this moment because we are seeing a lot of original stories and characters. The majority of the film work I have done has been reimagining of established characters that we’ve seen before. The expectation is that they remain the same. So it can become a little repetitive. Recently I had a job where I was designing characters that hadn’t been established visually. They were only ever written about. That was very fun. You can go in lots of different directions and try some new things. I want more jobs like that!
When you think back to your time on the film, what’s a favorite memory? Memorable fan reactions?
I have a few! Meeting Adam Savage was a huge highlight for me. He’s been a hero of mine since Mythbusters and getting to talk to him about his work and have him listen to me ramble on about how eagle tongues work was a big highlight. He’s an extremely nice person. Working with Jason Reitman was awesome. He’s a very collaborative director and really trusts his artists and designers. It was rewarding to get something approved by him because he really put a lot into it.
Fan reactions have been extremely kind with Ghostbusters. I was so surprised at how lovely and supportive they have all been toward me. I’ve gotten drawings, paintings, letters and emails, pictures of folks in costumes, interviewed by podcasts and requests for signatures. I never expected to be contacted by any of the fans and yet, they have been so warm and excited about the work we all did on this film. It’s been very sweet.
Hey, tell us about the goats! And the cheese!
Ah, my secret life. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be around animals. One of the things I knew I wanted to do in my lifetime was to own goats. I love goats. They’re perfect creatures and are linked to us humans over thousands of years. They are suited for rocky, arid land and are good with drought. They are collaborative, smart and hilarious.
I decided I’d begin my goat journey in 2022 and learn a thing or two about them, their care, and how to make cheese. I contacted a local goat dairy here in Santa Fe, and asked if they needed volunteers to help out. I got lucky. The owner agreed to apprentice us in cheesemaking and goat ranching in exchange for our labor. So I currently work with about 22 goats, 6 alpacas, 2 barn cats and a livestock guardian dog. I care for them five days a week and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve learned to make ricotta, chèvre and feta – all delicious.
It’s never felt more right. We’ve got plans but I’ll talk more about that later. I do share a little about the goats in my newsletter and on my Patreon.
Thank you asking. 🙂
Thank you so much for talking with us today, Brynn! Where can people find you online?
It’s an absolute pleasure talking with you, Cory. Thank you for having me! People can find my online whereabouts via my linktree: https://linktr.ee/brynnmetheney
I am currently working on a book that will be published this year. It’s about the desert southwest and the flora, fauna and strange things that live there. More to be announced soon.