Originally, I had no clue what kind of creepy creature I wanted to model. I knew that I wanted to avoid making an overly hairy creature, and I wanted to stray away from something fully humanoid. When I first started sketching, I tried coming up with some basic shapes and trying to create a creature from those shapes. This resulted in limited success, so I instead started thinking about creepy things I had seen before. One image that particularly stuck in my head was the idea of an octopus tentacle emerging from an open manhole, carrying some kind of lantern, almost like a makeshift periscope. Later on, I sketched what appears to be an octopus-alien hybrid, and with that sketch, I pushed the idea of the lantern actually being one of the octopus' eyes, similar to Sauron from Lord of the Rings.
The alien-octopus hybrid was the design I ended up pursuing, mainly because I am a huge fan of octopuses, but also because I really liked the idea of the creature removing its eye in order to get a full range of view. In order to justify the octopus' ability to remove it's eye, I was inspired by some art that I found online. In particular, the image on the left is very striking, and served as the basis of my model. The empty skull socket is perfect for showing the absence of the eye. I also loved the idea of the skull being the head of the octopus, a solid, almost inorganic element combined with the fluidity and movement of the organic tentacles.
My main goal was to capture a more dynamic pose than what could be achieved with a boring quad-limbed creature. My sketches lack further details because I was unsure what details I wanted to include at this stage, but my side view captures the pose I had imagined, where the octopus is reaching forward with it's eye, searching for unsuspecting prey or intruders in its domain.
I first started the modeling process by making the skull. The skull was the element that had the most flexibility in it's design, and I knew it was critical to create the skull first, because the position of the tentacles would need to be adjusted depending on the skull. After hours of work, and several iterations later, I had turned my simple mesh into a skull design that I was very happy with. I am particularly proud of how the teeth evolved as the model progressed. At first, they were "just okay", but after creasing, pulling, and grabbing the material, I was able to create a tooth array that had more volume and a more "evil presence."
After modeling the skull, it was relatively easy to model the tentacle by comparison. Modeling the skull required me to make specific creases, indents, hollow areas where necessary. The tentacle on the other hand, was a fairly simple shape, without precise creases needed. The difficulty came from getting the suckers to align properly along the bottom of the tentacle.
With the eye, I was unsure of what design I wanted the pupil/iris to be, so I went through many iterations. I ended up settling on a design that was simple, yet effective, with a nice creased outline around the cross shape. The cross shape harkens to the classic look of a regular octopus eye, while still being unique and foreign, turning my creepy creature into something truly mysterious.
With the individual models for my creature complete, my next challenge was to vertex paint the models before I could duplicate the tentacles and rig them. Vertex painting each of the models took several hours apiece, because I wanted my models to "pop" instead of just being flat. The skull was colored with many different shades of tan layered over each other. I added more black and darker tones in the cavities of the skull to push the depth of the model, and the black stains running down from the eye sockets remind me of ghastly tears of some sort, almost as if this is a weeping skull.
The eye was the most fun to paint. I tried to replicate the "Eye of Sauron" from Lord of the Rings as best as I could. Although it does not have the same level of detail, the contrast between the orange and yellow makes the eye almost appear as if it is glowing. I went over the eye many many times with the same colors to create almost a marble effect that really makes the eye bulge out from its socket.
The tentacle received what appears to be a simple paint job, but once again, the final result is composed of many layers of colors that add depth to the tentacles. I went with a dark blue/purple color scheme because I wanted the sea creature aspect to feel familiar, and the blue compliments the light tan of the skull quite well.
Each of the tentacles utilizes the IK property to allow me to move them easily by simply dragging the tip of the tentacle around. In the picture above, the teeth hidden inside the maw are actually bones that are slightly poking out. That is the only place where they are visible, and the effect is unintentional. Since the bones aren't rendered in the final render, this is something that can only be seen from the "viewport window" unfortunately. In the final render, there is never a direct undershot of the creature, so the lack of teeth is not an issue, but I thought the unintentional mouth created from the bones has its own charm.
As for the environment for my creature, I knew that I didn't want to create an oceanic scene. I wanted there to be this element of surrealism, where this creature is unexpected, but not out of place. I was inspired by the skull aspect of my design. I thought of this as an opportunity to present an alternate version of what a "ghost" may look like. The skull could represent who the specter used to be, and now their eight-legged form wanders the graveyard, the one removed eye constantly on the watch for intruders.
Alternatively, keeping with my original alien idea, this creature could be some foreign inhabitant of the graveyard, akin to a hermit crab, where the creature has stuffed itself into a human skull and is now wandering around it's new home. I like this alternate idea as well, because it leaves it up to question what the anatomy of the creature is like underneath the skull.
With my theme for the environment chosen I decided to create a simple scene with a few extra details. First of all, I created several different gravestones that could be spread randomly across the map. Since I did not design my character with hair, nor did I want my character to have hair, I instead used the hair particle system to generate dry grass for my graveyard. Similarly, the crosses are linked to their own particle system, and are distributed across the field as "hair objects."
With my scene completed, materials assigned, and my creepy creature model assembled, it was finally time to combine all the elements together. My main focus was creating that dynamic pose for the octopus, and I spent a good amount of time manipulating the bones in each of the arms to get the perfect shape that I wanted for each of the eight tentacles.
With the final pose of the model rigged, and the eyeball prominently displayed in front, just like in my original sketches, it was time to animate the camera movement. I chose to start the scene off with just an introduction to the graveyard. The camera flies through for a bit before the creepy monster is revealed, and combined with the eerie background music, I think the intended horror effect was achieved. Although the creature itself isn't animated, I did animate the lone eyeball to track the movement of the camera as it flies through the scene. The resultant effect is creepy and mildly disturbing... just what I wanted!
Several times throughout my final rendered animation, the camera will take a quick pause before moving forward. This is because I wanted those pauses to be specific angles that I particularly enjoyed viewing my model from. These ended up being the final renders included below, and I wanted there to be more focus on these angles because they capture the individual details that I put into the project.
For example, there are eight different grave stones spread throughout the map, each with their own unique name. The names are an homage to legendary horror writers/directors, like Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein, or H.P. Lovecraft, who created Cthulhu, which was another big inspiration for my creature's design. In addition, as a fun little bonus, there are three smaller skulls hidden throughout the final animation. Can you spot them all?