Drawing the Sabertooth Cat and Other Fantasy Creatures

By: Kenny Leones | Posted: 19th February 2010

Fantasy art deals in stretching the boundaries of the elements of composition to bring the subject as close to reality as possible. Book covers and illustrations help bring to life concepts such as dragons, dinosaurs, serpents, ogres, elves, and dwarves by making them look real, and thereby believable. The component of proportion, therefore, is given more attention; texture more precise; lines more meaningful; and colors more expressive. As far as making things as real as possible is concerned, it is the fantasy artist's goal to make everything more real than reality itself, because fantasy shall always remain fantasy.

In the same way, creatures extinct today join the ranks of their fantasy counterparts that never truly existed. The only advantage the former have over the latter is that it is much easier to recreate them through the expert systematic studies available to us today. We can, therefore, come authentically close to rendering a dinosaur than a dragon, or a sabertooth cat than a werewolf.

Like the dinosaur, science has been the first to recreate the sabertooth cat in stunning detail. And the most intriguing characteristic of the sabertooth cat was its oversized canine that may have grown between three to five inches long, or more. They were said to have been plunged into the prey instantly after the sabertooth pounced out of an ambush. This provided the cat with the opportunity to munch on the victim alive even as the latter struggled in vain to freedom.

Calculate the height from the top of the cat's nose to the bottom of its chin: this length would make a suitable length for its great canines. Artists have taken the sabertooth canines and have overused and oversized them to terrorize spectators more. At one hand, giving a tremendous length for these cutters may rob away the drama of its apparent menace and instead give the illusion of being rather cumbersome and too unwieldy for the beast. This is also a common mistake in rendering dragons, wherein the artist tends to stud the creature with too many horns until it already appears too heavy for the dragon to take to flight!

The sabertooth cat may have stood, more or less, at the same size of the Indian lion. Yet drawing it comparatively smaller is also good. The sabertooth came from a time when smaller is better; the Neandertal, their contemporary, will attest to this. Though short, it was packed with muscle.

Heavy, exaggerated musculature has never been absent among fantasy creatures. It has, in fact, come to accent the fantasy creature, be it a dragon, a dinosaur, a werewolf, a kelpie, or even a serpent. Muscles build excitement. A viewer can always expect action in the appearance of a creature with its muscles bulging. It is therefore not difficult for the artist to suggest action by indicating muscles alone.

Lastly, the sabertooth had legs shorter than the usual big cat, and had no tail. This will suggest that the beast was not a runner. Tails provide a creature balance when it has to make turns while running at considerable speed. A sabertooth cat did not go on a running match with its prospective prey; it instead made use of the ambush.
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Tags: counterparts, illusion, prey, spectators, dinosaurs, cutters, elves, werewolf, ambush