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Illustrator, Concept Artist, and student Xiaofan Zhang brought her incredible sketching skills to CGMA’s animal drawing class. In this breakdown, she explains her approach from muscular structure nuances to scales around reptilian eyes. Don’t miss out on these creatures, including:

  1. Canine and Feline
  2. Bony Fish, Sharks & Reptiles
  3. Odd Birds
  4. The Cotylorhynchus
  5. Flying Fox

Hi, my name is Xiaofan Zhang. I am an illustration and concept art student from Toronto, Canada. Currently, most of my time is spent on homework assignments. My professional work mainly consists of book covers and private commissions. The rest of the time I spend drawing dark, moody, atmospheric and cinematic pieces for my personal projects.

1. Canine and Feline

I grew up watching a lot of nature documentaries, so I was familiar with the general shape of most animals, but I didn’t know the exact placement of the joints or major muscle structures.

Explore CGMA’s Animal Drawing Course taught by Freelance Illustrator Shannon Beaumont.

The comment that I remember most from this unit was that cats are generally much longer than you would think they are. To this, I picture someone picking up a ragdoll cat and it spontaneously doubles in length as it is lifted into the air. Overall, the lessons helped me understand that felines are generally much “bendier” than canines and the curvature of their spines changes much more as they move. If we look at the wolf that I drew compared to the cheetah, it’s pretty clear that the cheetah has more mobility in its spine.

I chose the animals I focused on to explore how species differ by shape and size. The overall structure might remain relatively the same but the stature, mood and personality of each species can differ wildly.

The lion and leopard are heavy-set to take down large prey animals, while the lynx looks like its feet and legs are too big for its body, but they help it traverse through the snowy terrain that it calls home. At this point, I really wanted to get the muscle structure and anatomy correct, so I didn’t spend too much time on rendering.

2. Bony Fish, Sharks & Reptiles

I remember telling Shannon that I really like the weirder looking inhabitants of the deep sea. They’ve fascinated me ever since seeing them on the aforementioned nature documentaries that I’ve watched many years ago. So for this unit, I picked two of these alien looking creatures, the anglerfish and the viperfish.

I picked the other species that I drew mainly to explore their shapes. These include the sleek torpedo-esque structure of the bull shark, the funny looking eyes and feet of the chameleon, the carapace of the tortoise, and the prehistoric looking crocodile.

These creatures differed even more in shape and stature. The arrangement of their feet were different from each other, and completely different from the digitigrades in the previous unit. They also differed drastically in terms of their skin texture, and it’s during this unit that I started rendering.

Scales and wrinkles on the skin will always follow a pattern, and they usually correspond to the underlying muscle and bone structure of the creature itself so I tried to emulate the contours of each animal by hatching in the direction of the contour. In cases where the animal was covered in scales, I only rendered the area around the focal point; usually around the eye and faded everything else out. This saves a lot of time and gives more life to the sketch.

Check out Creature Design for Film and Games taught by Freelance Concept Artist Bobby Rebholz.

3. Odd Birds

Again, I tend to gravitate towards the weirder looking members of the animal kingdom, so for this unit, I picked the prehistoric looking shoebill, the misunderstood raven, and the sardonic expressions of the owl.

It was during this unit that I finally learned how feathers are arranged and how birds fold their wings without messing everything up.

They’re actually much simpler than they look and as long as you break their components down properly, it isn’t too difficult to draw them.

Scroll through to zee Xioafan’s owl progression.

Interested in 3D animal drawing? Check out Sculpting Anatomy: From Animal to Creature taught by Tan Bi, a 3D Artist at Industrial Light & Magic.

4. The Cotylorhynchus

Shannon suggested one of the subjects for my final project; the extinct Cotylorhynchus which had a comically small head in proportion to its body. It was really fun and challenging applying the knowledge from previous units to extrapolate what this creature might have looked like if it were alive from its fossils. I used the iguana and monitor lizard as modern day references. There isn’t much information on its habitat and diet so I had to make some educated guesses.

5. Flying Fox

The second subject I picked is the flying fox; the largest bat species in the world. The goal with this piece was to explore the structure of their wings which are very different from a bird’s wing.

Final Thoughts

  • I attended this course because I wanted to understand how to draw real animals so that I could apply it to drawing and designing creatures.
  • The most important piece of knowledge that I gained from this course is the importance of the bony landmarks. If these are rendered correctly, it will increase the believability of creature designs based on real animals.

LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

RELATED LINKS

Check out the rest of Xiaofan’s work on her ArtStation.

Explore CGMA’s Animal Drawing Course taught by Freelance Illustrator Shannon Beaumont.

Check out Creature Design for Film and Games taught by Freelance Concept Artist Bobby Rebholz.

Interested in 3D animal drawing? Check out Sculpting Anatomy: From Animal to Creature taught by Tan Bi, a 3D Artist at Industrial Light & Magic.