A dash of this, a splash of that: Designing Hybrids

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ANIVI

ANIVI

Introduction

When designing hybrids, I often look to history and mythology for inspiration. Mythology has a huge cast of characters to draw inspiration from, especially in the realm of human-animal hybrids. In this tutorial, I want to show you how I take inspiration from figures of legend— like the Minotaur of Crete, the harpies from the Odyssey, or the mighty Sphinx, and how we can interpret them in our own way.

Research & Reference Gathering

I like to start my design process with a little research. Even when it comes to popular creatures I think I know very well, I like to keep myself in check by doing a bit of reading on them. You never know what you might learn when you go looking!

 

I think it helps to dig a little deeper, past what we know from pop-culture. Learning about a creature’s origins, their legends, their place in history, and the cultures that birthed them, is a great way to get inspired, and a good first step to creating a compelling character.


The second part of my preparations is reference gathering. After doing my research on the myth, it’s time to look to the natural world for reference.

 

While these characters may not themselves be real, the parts that make them up are. This is important, not least because of how far-fetched these mixes can get. By grounding as much of each part in reality as we can, we improve the whole, giving the viewer space to suspend their disbelief.

 

I’m going with a minotaur for this demonstration, so I’m gathering reference pictures of cows.

📌 Disclaimer: For the purpose of this tutorial, I’ve drawn placeholder drawings in place of reference images so that I can illustrate how I use them.

Where to Find References

You can find references all over the internet with a simple search. However, if you’re looking for high-quality images that you can freely use, here are some sources I can recommend:

 

For mythology, you can find tons of insightful references online from museums and libraries, just search for “open access” collections on your search engine.

Below is an article by the Museum of Many Artists that collects several sources for public domain images you can use in your art:

As for photographs, I got my references from Wikimedia Commons but there are many websites out there that have public domain images or Creative Commons licenses that you can explore.

 

📌 Remember, not all images on a Creative Commons site are free to use the same way! There are a few different types with different levels of restrictions, and most of these websites allow you to filter for the kind you’re looking for.

 

For example, the Public Domain Mark or the CC0 license means the work can be used freely. But if you see a BY that means you have to give credit to the creator, and NC means non-commercial, and you cannot profit of it. You can learn about the different types of licenses below.

You can also browse the Clip Studio Asset Store for images, but where it really shines is 3D models. We’ll cover that more in later sections... ;)


Using the Sub View for References

The Sub View is one of my favourite Clip Studio Paint features. Before I used it, references would be open on my phone, propped up to the side of my screen! Worse yet, they’d sometimes be open on my PC, taking up half of my screen real estate! 😖

 

I like to use the Sub View in two ways. When I need references for technical things like poses, anatomy, or patterns, I like to import them straight into the Sub View window so I can focus on details.

 

You can find it under [Window] > [Sub View].

Simply click the [Import] symbol and find the location you’ve stored your references. Shift+Click all the ones you want to add and hit Enter! Once they’ve been uploaded, you can click the arrows to navigate between references.


The second way I like to use Sub View is as a visual board for the character design. A visual board is sometimes known as a vision board or a mood board, and in character design they serve as a place to keep your concepts, inspiration, and references to guide you through the process. There are many third party apps that do similar things but with Sub View, we can do it all within Clip Studio Paint.

 

I start with a new canvas and paste in images that make up my character concept. This time, it’s more about the personality and feeling of the character I want to create and it will serve as both a guide and inspiration for me while I create my character.

 

For my minotaur demonstration, I want to explore the idea of a gentle character as opposed to the violent beast in mythology. To capture that, I’ve chosen images of cows grazing in the sun, flower fields, and highland cattle for their soft and fluffy appearance.

After I’m happy with the visuals I’ve picked, I save the document and open it in Sub View, and we’re ready to begin!

One of my favourite things about using this method is that I can continue to edit the visual board whenever I get new inspiration or references. For example, if I decide on a colour palette I want to use, I add it to the file to colour pick from later.

 

To do that, click on the [Open image on canvas] button, and it will open the original file in a new window. Since you can use .clip files in the Sub View, you can easily add or delete elements by keeping them on different layers, and edit it as you would any .clip file.

Extracting Colour Palettes

Speaking of colour palettes, it’s a good idea to keep them in mind while you’re collecting your references. I personally really enjoy using colour palettes from nature because it works to reify the characters and creatures I create.

 

I start with a good quality photo that’s well lit, in natural light. For this demonstration, we’ll be looking at this lovely light-coloured cow. You’ll notice there’s a bit of variation in the colours of her fur and that might be overwhelming. To give us constraints, I pick out the lightest colour (the white by her nose) and the darkest colour (the brown of her cheeks). After that, I pick out colours in between.

This takes a bit of practice, but what I can recommend is squinting or crossing your eyes, and seeing where there are big blobs of colour. Then I take a large solid brush and paint my own blob of colour over the area, and I adjust the colour little by little until I get it right.

 

You can see here where the swatches correspond to the colours on my palette:

📌 You might notice the light parts are very blue and grey! That’s because white reflects the most colour. In this case, it’s reflecting the colour of the sky. You can play with this by slightly toning your white and light colours to match the scene you’re drawing.

This is good training for identifying colour, but you can also just use the colour picker! Usually the answer isn’t pixel perfect because our eyes blur and average colours together, so you will still need to make some adjustments when using the eye dropper.

 

Sometimes, looking for a colour is a struggle! The nose area gave me quite a hard time because there were so many different colours, and I wanted something simpler for my character. In cases like those, I look to [Filters] to help make things easier for me. I like using [Mosaic] because it’s easy to colour pick from, but you could also use [Blur].

 

You can also use the [Blur] filter in place of squinting to help yourself see the areas of colour to choose from.

 

I always pick more colours than I need because I like to have a lot of options, but it’s absolutely fine to pare these down if you prefer a more limited palette!

Combining Human and Animal Anatomy

Designing hybrid characters presents the unique challenge of having to merge the anatomy of two very different creatures. A good approach to solve this is to focus on the similarities in physical makeup. This allows us to blend features that logically, don’t fit.

 

For this example, let’s take the harpy— a half-human, half-bird, from Greek Mythology. They are often described as having the body of a bird and the face of a woman. Most early interpretations choose to stick a human head onto the body of a bird.

Let’s shake this up. We’ll start with the body of a young woman, and morph her arms into the wings of an eagle. Why an eagle? Eagle’s have really large wingspans, which makes them the perfect proportion for grafting onto our harpy.

It might feel more complex to do it this way, rather than just sticking a human head onto a bird, but the transition from shoulder to wing is a strong functional transition that looks believable! And it’s not as difficult as it seems when you look at the bones…

As different as we are from other animals, we are also very similar. Almost all animals share a common ancestor. This means that while our bone structure and features diverged millennia ago, the number and general function of the bones stays surprisingly similar! This is called homology, and you can see it all over nature.

 

As character designers, we can use this to our advantage.

Wings may function differently from arms, but when designing hybrids, we can use our artistic license to let them be a little bit of both.

 

Essentially, in order to combine creatures in a believable way, it pays to study the animal you want to merge, and see where or how parts of it correspond to human anatomy. This doesn’t need to be scientifically accurate, I mean these are fantastical creatures after all. It just needs to feel right, and using these analogies is a quick and dirty way to make a design seem “real”.


Of course, this is not a hard and fast rule. Mythology has many baffling characters that are literal “halves”. Centaurs for example are half-man and half-horse, glued neatly at the waist. Or angels, which are humans with wings pinned on their backs. Anatomically, they make no sense. That’s where magic comes in.

 

So how do we as artists make it work? It’s similar, actually. Well, okay, not magic per sé, but it’s all about lining up anatomy. If you look at a centaur, you’ll notice that in most depictions, the human-half ends at the pelvis. In the illustration below, I’ve highlighted two parts of the human body— the external oblique muscles, and the iliac crest. That’s the part of your pelvis you feel when you place your hands on your hips. Your external oblique muscles rest right on top of it.

Now this isn’t a science lesson, so names are not important. What I’m really trying to get at is that a centaur would not have hips there. Based on the approach I described above, that would be a horses chest and shoulders. But they resemble enough the shape formed by the iliac crest, that we can rest the same muscles on it and they can blend naturally.

 

Anatomically, we know it doesn’t work that way. But it looks right. In fact, they looked believable enough that people of the time thought they had actually existed…


Angels are somewhat similar. The wings are often depicted as connecting near the shoulder blades. And that feels right because like human arms, wings are also part of the shoulder structure. The only difference is human arms fall out to the sides, and bird wings sprout out from the back. If you think about, it’s just like giving the character a second pair of arms.

Using Human Anatomy as a Base

Creating an empathetic character is one of the prime objectives when designing a character. I want the viewer to feel what this character is feeling, I want them to understand what they’re about.

 

Using humans as a base for hybrid character designs is always a useful strategy to achieve that, because as humans ourselves, that’s what we find relatable. A character that has a human face or a human body can make human expressions or use body language that we can understand and feel empathy towards.

 

On the contrary, it’s harder to convey a character’s personality without those relatable human points of reference. For example, no one knows what a cockatrice is thinking.

Using 3D Models

The most literal way to use human anatomy as a base is by using 3D models. It also allows us adapt the animal anatomy around the human muscles and skeleton. Back to the minotaur example— if I were to stick a bull’s head on a man’s body, it would look comically imbalanced because bulls are so much more muscular than humans. There’s no way a human neck would be able to support that weight. So I adapt it to the body by giving the character bigger muscles around the neck and shoulders, and just generally bulk up the character because bulls are wide.

Speaking again of relatable body language, by using 3D models, I can pose the human figure first and then draw the animal parts around it. I’ll demonstrate that here using the visual board from earlier as a reference.

 

I want to show gentle body language, so I’ll have him holding a bouquet of wildflowers. The pose isn’t showy or confident, instead he’s looking down and his shoulders are rounded.

📌 Tip: I used a larger model here so I won’t have to adjust the body mass so much. When working with 3D, I would recommend to use a model as close to the proportions you want because it affects how the forms interact with each other. You can also adjust the default models to a certain degree

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but you can find so many models and poses of different body-types in the Clip Studio Asset Store.

 

This is the particular model I used for this, but I encourage you to experiment and explore the available assets!

OK! So now that I have the pose ready, I lower the opacity and lock the layer. (I don’t want to move it by accident!) And then I begin drawing my character over the 3D model.

 

While drawing, I try to remember to make the adjustments we discussed previously: bigger neck muscles, wider shoulders. But I’m also taking characterization into account. Since I want him to be gentle and peaceful, I’m giving him more body fat, making his features rounder and softer. He’s probably still strong, he’s a minotaur after all, but he doesn’t have a fighter’s body.

3D models are very stiff and precise, so it’s important to remember to bring back “softness” to your image. Try to imagine how muscle and fat stretch and squash. Look at photos and refer to your own body for reference.

 

Now to finish it up with the colour palette I picked out earlier!

 

I start by colouring the whole thing with a midtone from the colours I extracted. (Don’t be afraid to try different colours or adjust the ones you’ve picked out!) I also noticed from my reference images that the hair on the tops of their heads is a lighter shade, with lighter tips, so I added that with some of the lightest colours from my palette. I also used the same light shade around the eyes. I used a bit of the darker colours with a soft brush on the hands and chest, and made sure it blended softly with the rest of his fur.

 

Remember, the palette is meant to guide you and not limit you! I did not end up using all the colours I picked out, and found I preferred a more limited palette for this character. I also could have used the lightest tone for highlights, but since I wanted a stronger rim light, I chose the darkest brown instead and set the blending mode to Add (Glow). I highly encourage you to experiment once you have your base colours down. It’s much easier to explore colour combinations and make adjustments once you have a strong foundational palette.

Make It Your Own

In this section, I want to talk about ways you can step away from the classic designs and make something unique to your own style and aesthetic.

Mixing Animal Traits

As artists, when we want to make gentle transitions we use gradients, or dithering, or we softly blend colours. The same can be considered when drawing hybrids for a more natural merging of species.

 

We can especially consider this when the two are cut in apparent “halves” by introducing more animal elements to the human half or vice versa. For example, we can give a harpy bird eyes for an even more striking appearance.


Design Based on Nature

I mentioned earlier that looking to nature can be a valuable source of inspiration. You can find so many interesting traits for your characters just by studying the animals these hybrids are based on.

 

We can revisit minotaurs as an example. I like cows. But when I think of the classic Minotaur, it’s always a similar species of bull. When I think of all the breeds of cow out there, I can imagine so many different looking minotaurs with different personalities, different stories and different lifestyles.

Anthropomorphism is what it’s called when we perceive animals to have human-like characteristics or traits. And while that’s not how animals work, it’s an excellent tool to use when designing characters with animal traits. A notable example of this is when a chimpanzee “smiles”. What we consider to be a beaming, happy face 😁, is actually how a chimp expresses that its scared.

 

This is a natural things humans do! In many ways, it says more about us than the animals we’re observing, and that’s what makes it a good tool to stimulate a viewer’s empathy.

 

Some cows might look gentle, some cows look tough, but I don’t know them personally! We can use these observations as inspiration, subvert them, or


Designing Based on Culture and History

It’s not mythology without culture. In doing our research we learn a more about the time and place these beings supposedly existed, and the stories and lore that surround them.

 

We can pay homage to this rich history in our designs. It can be as simple as drawing a character styled to match the time and place that existed, or even a contemporary interpretation of their powers and abilities.


Using Animal Behaviour as a Point of Interest

Another fun place to draw inspiration is from animal behaviour. We have talked about using human anatomy as a base because it’s relatable, but there are also aspects of animal behaviour that we understand. Anyone who has a pet can readily attest to this.

 

From having a cat rub up against your leg to seeing it hiss and raise its hackles, animal behaviour can be as charming as it can be frightening. And as always, we can draw on these behaviours to give an extra layer of interest to our designs.

Lions are wonderfully, stubbornly indolent. I can borrow from having watched lions at rest to draw my sphinx…

 

Watching videos of animals, visiting zoos, or simply observing your pet or the animals in your neighbourhood will be able to give you lots of insight into the way an animal moves or acts and you can inject a little bit of that into your character design.

Conclusion

And that's all she wrote! If you’ve made it this far, thanks! I'm ANIVI. I've always wanted to start making tutorials and thought this would be a really fun theme to try. Rather than a step-by-step process, I wanted to create a guide that shows the way I think when I design these kinds of characters. My goal was to give you some tools to create a hybrid-character with your own unique spin on it, and to hopefully inspire you to try it yourselves!

 

Like I've said, this is my first time trying to make a tutorial, so if you have any questions or feedback, feel free to leave a comment! I'd also love to hear about any characters you want to try making!✨

 

See you next time!

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