Author Topic: Designing unique looking aliens  (Read 2593 times)

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Designing unique looking aliens
One thing that annoys me about most mainstream science fiction is how unoriginal the alien species are. In the first category, you have what are basically humans, just with some minor feature to distinguish them. Humans with pointy ears, humans with bumpy foreheads, humans with fangs, different colored skin, fur, tails, etc. How boring!

Then you have the second category, which is slightly more creative, but still getting overdone. That's animals from Earth with humanoid features. Lizards, dogs, cats, birds, etc. that walk on two legs and have opposable thumbs. I've seen enough of those to last a lifetime.

It can somewhat be excused in older live-action series like Star Trek TOS since they had a limited budge and CGI wasn't invented yet, but when it comes to mediums like drawing/animation or prose, you can do whatever you want, but so many people stick to the uncreative humanoids.

This is why I love the Shivans so much. They are so unique looking, it's hard to think of any other alien that looks like them:



Some other designs I like include the Shadows from Babylon 5:



Elder Things from H.P. Lovecraft:



(He came up with this almost 100 years ago!)

Mycon from Star Control:



What are some of your favorite aliens that truly look alien, and what are some good tips for designing them?
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Offline DefCynodont119

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Offline spart_n

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
i think the arachnids from starship trooper looked cool, or the shrimp from district 9

 

Offline General Battuta

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Simply familiarize yourself with all the forms life has taken on Earth, in every various niche and adaptation, and then, once you have all that in your head, draw something different

 

Offline Iain Baker

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
I agree absolutely, it has always been one of my bugbears, and one of the reasons I have 'gone off' most popular sci-fi. Once you have seen / read / listened to descriptions of truly 'capital A' Aliens the 'humans with bumpy heads' and 'big weird Ant' aliens seem amateurish in comparison. Which is why I wrote the three-parter below.

FS actually does a better job than most - the Vasudans are physically unable to speak 'human' and I assume we are physically unable to speak Vasudan - hence the need for the translator. BPs take on the Shivans, Vishnans, GD etc. are also far more interesting than most popular sci-fi aliens.


https://vocal.media/futurism/the-implausibility-of-popular-sci-fi-aliens

https://vocal.media/futurism/the-implausibility-of-popular-sci-fi-aliens-part-two

https://vocal.media/futurism/the-implausibility-of-popular-sci-fi-aliens-part-three
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Offline Iain Baker

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
i think the arachnids from starship trooper looked cool, or the shrimp from district 9

The Prawns were originally going to look far more alien - you can see some of the concept art in the making of feature on the blu-ray edition. However, they decided to make them look more human, and the little one cute, because they were afraid that most audiences would be incapable of empathising with a co-protagonist that was so thoroughly alien.

Shame really, the original designs were far more interesting, and I would have found a thoroughly un-human character far more memorable.
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Offline Iain Baker

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
I can not post Alex Rie fast enough


https://twitter.com/alexriesart/status/1285117812478865409/photo/1

https://twitter.com/alexriesart/status/1207733715683512320/photo/1

https://twitter.com/alexriesart/status/1281076641502949377/photo/1

https://twitter.com/alexriesart/status/1255520950654849028/photo/1

https://twitter.com/alexriesart/status/1308268337072275458/photo/4


I LOVE how he manages to make things that are utterly alien, yet with a familiar context.

He is honestly a massive inspiration for me.


Agree absolutely. I wasn't familiar with the name, but I have seen his work before and loved it. He has created a whole ecosystem and has shown the Birrin evolving from primitive tribal Birrin to advanced spacefaring Birrin in plausible space suits. I'll make a point of remembering his name from now on.  :)   
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Offline Iain Baker

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Simply familiarize yourself with all the forms life has taken on Earth, in every various niche and adaptation, and then, once you have all that in your head, draw something different

Brilliant idea in theory, but this requires a level of creativity that only the most talented artists possess, since coming up with something truly original takes artistic genius.

I wonder if human creativity in this regard has evolved over time? If you look at the various gods and monsters from the ancient myths, legends and religions most were either oversized variants of real world animals or were mash ups of existing species known to the peoples of that part of the world: For example: Anubis - head of a dog, body of a man: Gryphon - head of an eagle, body of a lion. Ganesha - Body of a human, head of a Elephant etc.  As far as I'm aware (and I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert) but creating images / models etc of things that were more original, or were mashups that blended the attributes of different species didn't start appearing until the late 19th / early 20th century. 
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Offline Lorric

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Anyone remember these guys?



Love them. So well done. Iirc, they never explicitly told you if they were robots or alive, but I believe that they were living mechanical creatures, thanks to the story they wove with the behaviour of these creatures. Oh and of course, they mated and had the kids! :D



Also, the obvious one.

« Last Edit: October 21, 2020, 07:52:16 am by Lorric »

 

Offline Iain Baker

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Loved batteries not included -  classic 80s sci-fi comedy, up there with the likes of Short circuit.
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Offline General Battuta

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Simply familiarize yourself with all the forms life has taken on Earth, in every various niche and adaptation, and then, once you have all that in your head, draw something different

Brilliant idea in theory, but this requires a level of creativity that only the most talented artists possess, since coming up with something truly original takes artistic genius.

Oh word?

 

Offline Lorric

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Loved batteries not included -  classic 80s sci-fi comedy, up there with the likes of Short circuit.
Yes, I remember it fondly, as well as Short Circuit, now you mention it.

Making aliens alien is an obvious goal with aliens, the Alien Xenomorph is great, but it can also be good to draw from the familiar. Insect society aliens are a great example, imagining our own insect societies on a galactic scale. Hell, even something like the Kilrathi, big cats with their predatory instincts and personalities shaping their society.

 
Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Simply familiarize yourself with all the forms life has taken on Earth, in every various niche and adaptation, and then, once you have all that in your head, draw something different

Brilliant idea in theory, but this requires a level of creativity that only the most talented artists possess, since coming up with something truly original takes artistic genius.

I don't think so. You don't have to describe the exact metabolism of Aliens to describe their look. Also nobody expects you to make a professional-Artist level painting of it.

 

Offline The E

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
I wonder if human creativity in this regard has evolved over time? If you look at the various gods and monsters from the ancient myths, legends and religions most were either oversized variants of real world animals or were mash ups of existing species known to the peoples of that part of the world: For example: Anubis - head of a dog, body of a man: Gryphon - head of an eagle, body of a lion. Ganesha - Body of a human, head of a Elephant etc.  As far as I'm aware (and I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert) but creating images / models etc of things that were more original, or were mashups that blended the attributes of different species didn't start appearing until the late 19th / early 20th century. 

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
I wonder if human creativity in this regard has evolved over time? If you look at the various gods and monsters from the ancient myths, legends and religions most were either oversized variants of real world animals or were mash ups of existing species known to the peoples of that part of the world: For example: Anubis - head of a dog, body of a man: Gryphon - head of an eagle, body of a lion. Ganesha - Body of a human, head of a Elephant etc.  As far as I'm aware (and I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert) but creating images / models etc of things that were more original, or were mashups that blended the attributes of different species didn't start appearing until the late 19th / early 20th century. 

I summon an old testament angel to refute your theory.

Bayonetta still has some of my favorite portrayals of angels in games. Also Neon Genesis Evangelion has some excellent creature design even if one of them is just a d8.
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Offline Iain Baker

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Simply familiarize yourself with all the forms life has taken on Earth, in every various niche and adaptation, and then, once you have all that in your head, draw something different

Brilliant idea in theory, but this requires a level of creativity that only the most talented artists possess, since coming up with something truly original takes artistic genius.

I don't think so. You don't have to describe the exact metabolism of Aliens to describe their look. Also nobody expects you to make a professional-Artist level painting of it.

I was referring more to the level of imagination it requires to come up with something truly original that is not inspired in part by something that exists already. The ability to actually draw it afterward is somewhat separate, as would coming up with a workable physiology.

It would make for an interesting challenge / thought experiment to try to imagine something totally unlike anything else, then try to describe it without using comparisons to something else. Any takers?  ;7
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Offline Iain Baker

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
I wonder if human creativity in this regard has evolved over time? If you look at the various gods and monsters from the ancient myths, legends and religions most were either oversized variants of real world animals or were mash ups of existing species known to the peoples of that part of the world: For example: Anubis - head of a dog, body of a man: Gryphon - head of an eagle, body of a lion. Ganesha - Body of a human, head of a Elephant etc.  As far as I'm aware (and I'll be the first to admit I'm no expert) but creating images / models etc of things that were more original, or were mashups that blended the attributes of different species didn't start appearing until the late 19th / early 20th century. 

I summon an old testament angel to refute your theory.

I stand corrected  :lol: TBH I had forgotten about those, which is pretty stupid of me considering one of them was a major antagonist in one of my favourite books as a teenager (Weaveworld) and is the name of a gunship in a mod I wrote a roughly 5K three-part article series about - DoH!
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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Bayonetta still has some of my favorite portrayals of angels in games. Also Neon Genesis Evangelion has some excellent creature design even if one of them is just a d8.

who wouldn't want to take her on a d8

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Offline Nyctaeus

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
I know people who disbelieve me, when I tell them that space cats were once a pinnacle of creativity in sci-fi.

...
Looks at Strygon and his rabbit aliens
Okay, but it's a different thing.

Heptapods from Arrival are awesome in this regard. Not only because they look so strange, but also because the movie portrays that aliens also may think in completely different way then us. Whole Alien Planet animation comes with tons of cool, strange, alien lifeforms. There was also one movie with closed area thing, mixing genetic information of every creature inside. The alien being portrayed there was made using 3D fractal generator. One episode of Netflix's Love, Sex and Robots comes with awesome, arthropod alien things. There are of course, also the good, old zerg.

I found the mentioned issue extremely annoying. At some point I'm not sure, if "Mass Effect style" generic and unimaginative aliens comes from lack of creativity and lazy writing or more economic causes. It's generally much easier to model/animate humanoid aliens or prepare makeus/dentures, so I guess it's a mixture of both. It's worth noting that it's more forgivable for older franchises, such as Star Trek or Star Wars because technological limitations. Later it's next to impossible to drasticly redesign key visuals, but modern examples have absolutely zero excuse. ME is my favorite example how bad things can be, as it's a franchise focused on interactions with alien species which... Comes with absolutely nothing interesting, original and alien. The most interesting species of ME is straightforward Shivan rip-off.
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Offline Iain Baker

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Re: Designing unique looking aliens
Looks at Strygon and his rabbit aliens
Okay, but it's a different thing.

Heptapods from Arrival are awesome in this regard. Not only because they look so strange, but also because the movie portrays that aliens also may think in completely different way then us. Whole Alien Planet animation comes with tons of cool, strange, alien lifeforms. There was also one movie with closed area thing, mixing genetic information of every creature inside.

Annihilation - great film. Nothing like the book, which is also worth a read on its own merits, although its sequels apparently got a bit to weird.
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