Creature Features: Bodies

Back on Tuesday (scroll down), I talked a bit about things I think about when designing aliens, specifically faces, so now I figured why not dive into the rest of the alien body.

One observation that has been made is that I tend to draw humanoid aliens: two arms, two legs, vaguely person shaped. This is something nearly everyone else does too, I might add, and it’s often done cuz it’s easy. Coming up with a whole new believable physiology is extremely time intensive, and in some instances just downright impractical (usually because it’s too expensive for the medium, or there’s not enough time in the development cycle). Also, us artists have spent so damn long learning to draw humans semi-correctly that it’s just too much of a pain in the ass to learn a whole new shape and set of rules. And it doesn’t hurt on the reader’s side that the alien form has recognizable components and operation. Lets you use a lot of the same tricks artists use with human characters to convey more subtle things: social status, cultural values, personal tastes, emotion, etc, etc. Most of these secondary bits of information can be expressed through how the character moves, body language, and clothing. Clothing says a lot about a person, don’t pretend otherwise.

Now, just because the humanoid form is pretty easy to work with, has loads of benefits, and is a totally legit shape for sentient life (it’s pretty much the only form we know for sure sentience comes in), doesn’t mean one has to settle. You can get damn creative with alien life if you want, perhaps too creative sometimes. So when I start deviating from the humanoid form, there’s a couple of things I try to keep in mind.

  1. The sentient should have the ability to handle complex tools. Some kind of fine motor manipulator is necessary. This is normally some variation on a hand. I have a fondness for double opposable thumbs.
  2. Those manipulators should be able to reach the mouth (wherever that happens to be located). Eating would be…interesting elsewise. You can totally eat without hands, but it makes civilized dining interesting. Either you have very long forks, or your aliens intentionally eat like horses.
  3. I try to keep my aliens from walking on their hands. While there is nothing inherently wrong with walking on your hands, consider a civilization where people’s hands are constantly dirty. Dirty like your feet are dirty. Not the most appealing thought, is it?

And that’s really about it. Everything else is pretty much fair game. I tend to stick with bilaterally symmetric designs, but there’s no need for it. Occasionally I’ll mess with trilateral symmetry, just for kicks! But aside from those 3 guidelines, I go as crazy as I feel like. Which sometimes isn’t so much when a deadline is on.

About Garth

Born in Known Space, raised by the likes of Lazarus Long, Dr. Susan Calvin, and Lt. Miles Vorkosigan, Garth Graham has only ever partially shared the same reality as most of us. Fascinated by what might be and what isn't, rather than weighed down by the drama of what is, he has forged a tenuous bridge made of ink and paper between our world and some strange unknowable scape where improbable dreams are born. Perhaps it has driven him a little mad. Yet such madness has born fine delectable fruit for our eye organs. His previous works include the webcomics Comedity and Finder's Keepers. In his spare time Garth likes to laugh maniacally about the abstract and fictional concept of “spare time” and does his level best to refute entropy.