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…

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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.

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