How to create Fantastic Beasts
Creature feature The process of designing creatures for JK Rowling’s latest blockbuster was a little unusual, as Framestore’s concept artists explain…
London studio Framestore is best known for its visual effects work on films such as Gravity. But it also has a top-notch art department, which was recently tasked with creating creature concepts for JK Rowling’s latest blockbuster Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The way these designs were to be developed, though, was a little unusual, explains animation supervisor Pablo Grillo.
“The conventional method is that art departments start with illustrations, sketches, 2D images,” he says. “These then get turned into 3D sculpts, which are handed over after shooting to a post-production facility, who then animate them,” he says. “It’s a very linear, baton-passing process.” But here producer David Heyman wanted the artists think about animation right at the start of the process, as an integral part of developing the concept designs. “There’s a lot you can develop through movement and also narrative ideas,” says Pablo. “The idea being that the design of the drama informs the concept.”
In practice, that meant the art department found itself in a continual loop with the animators, as the creature designs were passed back and forth to finesse things as much as possible. As a case in point, concept artist Sam Rowan’s design for the Niffler, a rodent-like creature with a long snout, was taken into pre-viz (an early, basic level of animation testing) and then sent back by the animators with feedback and requests for changes.
“I was told, for instance, that he needed to pick up coins, but the massive paws I’d given him made it difficult to do so,” says Sam. “They said I’d made him too fat to move properly as well. There was a lot of back and forth like that.”
For concept work on characters such the Erumpent (a huge African magical beast
It meant knocking most niggles out of the creature design at the beginning
resembling a rhino), the Swooping Evil (a large, butterfly-like creature), and the Obscurist (a barely visible, malevolent force), fellow artist Dan Baker had a similar experience.
“There was a lot of discussion with Pablo and the pre-viz guys very early on,” he says. “We’d have a look at Pablo’s sketches, I’d come up with some stuff, and it was all really a group task.
“The Obscurist was particularly challenging, as you had to show a force of terrifying dark energy without actually seeing it. We solved that by creating a lot of swirling debris around the actual creature.”
But rather than finding this non-linear way of working onerous, the artists all responded positively to it. “It seemed like a healthy, breath of fresh air way of working rather than being stuck in a room by yourself,” Sam says. “And by keeping all these changes up at the front of production, it meant you could knock most of the niggles out of the creature design right at the beginning.”
To learn more about Framestore’s art work on Fantastic Beasts, visit
An exploration of the Niffler’s coat, trying out downy hair rather than feathers.
A young Marmite – a tentacled cross between a dust mite and a squid.
The Occamy had to look elegant and mysterious, but also show a strong maternal side when threatened. The Swooping Evil juxtaposes the wings of a butterfly-like creature with a terrifying animal skull.