Keith Curtis (keithcurtis) wrote,
Keith Curtis

Featured Art, The Mordeth

This is another alien concept for Dan Repperger’s Epoch of Rysos role-playing game and fiction setting. This alien is called a Mordeth.

At the start of the project, I was given a description:

Mordeth are a stout, heavy race. They are shorter than humans, but significantly tougher and stronger. Their bones are thick and their muscles tightly packed. They are covered in leathery, brick red flesh. The Mordeth brain is located inside the chest, and like all the major organs, it is protected by their thick ribs and strong muscles.

A Mordeth’s legs are connected near the top of the blocky torso, with the body suspended from there.  This is somewhat analogous to a human’s legs being attached at the shoulders.  The arms are then floated in sockets connected to the top, outside of the legs.

As a result of their rugged build, it is difficult for most races to compete with the Mordeth in physical combat. However, the same features that make them strong and enduring also leave them clumsy and slow.

Mordeth possess senses similar to humans, but their eyes are located on a nimble stalk which allows them to see in 360 degrees. Their thick skin prevents them from having a well-defined sense of touch, but developed nerves on their feet allow them to feel the vibrations of creatures moving around them.

Like most races, Mordeth have both males and females, however to most races they are utterly indistinguishable. Females will deliver live birth to small litters of Mordeth — usually one to three. The young will immediately be removed from the mother, assessed, and incorporated into the order of society with an assigned rank and task for their life.

Mordeth are omnivorous, but prefer plants to meat. Though they are physically powerful, they are neither swift nor witty enough to hunt most animals native to their homeworld.

Armed with this description, I worked up a page of preliminary sketches. When doing a project like this, I want the anatomy to be as convincing as possible. That means figuring out how masses relate to each other, how bones and muscles (if there are any) are arranged, how such a species would wear clothing, etc. This alien was far more challenging than the Asta (the previous Featured Art piece), since the design was non-humanoid. I needed to create an armature for the unusual leg and arm joints. The torso is suspended from the legs, and the arms are mounted just above and behind.

Here is the sketch page:

After this, we then do a number of back and forth emails, refining the concept. You can see from here that compared to the final work, one of the things that Dan requested was much beefier muscularity. He wanted these things to look like they could casually tear you apart, even though they are shorter than the average human.

Once we worked out the details, I started on the final image. Here was the first proof, basically a work in progress. A lot of details are not yet present.:

The gist of the response to this was that he wanted a redder color. This is pretty simple to do with Photoshop’s Hue and Saturation controls.

The second proof was far closer to finalized:

Dan wanted two specific changes. One: remove the teeth. Not difficult. The second request was a bit more challenging. He felt (rightly) that the eyes looked a bit too much like Googly Eyes. He wanted something more alien. So I did some reading up on the various types of eyes found in  nature, trying for something A) alien, and B) useful. In general simple eyes (like ours) are better than compound eyes, at least in terms of resolution. However, really large compound eyes could approach human acuity. Then I discovered the Mantis Shrimp, which has possibly the most complicated and remarkable eyes in nature. The Mordeth doesn’t need to have exactly the same eyes, since that level of anatomical detail is pretty specialized and beyond the needs of an artistic conceit. But they could echo the design, perhaps possessing a few of the same qualities as mantis shrimp eye. To begin with each eye has three separate imaging systems, giving each one independent trinocular separation. It is theorized that the mantis shrimps eye complexity makes up for it’s miniscule brain power by doing a lot of the image interpretation “up front” as it were. For the Mordeth, this would make sense for a creature whose eyes are so far away from its brain.

Anyway, here is what I came up with:

Once these details were worked out, I presented the final proposed anatomy:

But we weren’t yet finished. This is an ongoing project, which will eventually contain a large number of alien designs. Not all aliens run around without clothes, and clothing is an important cultural artifact. We decided that for humanoid aliens such as the Asta, a detailed surface anatomy wasn’t really necessary. But for a decidedly non-human physiology, we needed both anatomy and clothing. So the final step was to envision how such an organism would clothe itself. This was added as a number of separate layers in Photoshop.

The Mordeth have a view of life similar to the Elizabethan Great Chain of Being, where everyone has a place, from Kings to peasants and down to rocks in the field, and that the universe works best when everyone recognizes and is happiest in their place. As such, I felt it was important that the Mordeth should have cues to other Mordeth as to their station, the equivalent of the different between coveralls and a power suit.

Here is the final illustration. I am omitting the sketch preliminaries here, since there were few if any differences between concept and final:

The patch on the “breast” is something I envisioned as a sort of “Here is who I am” kind of badge. It contains a number of symbols and writing to indicate station. Beyond that, the Mordeth wears a simple undergarment and an ornate tabard (Dan’s idea).

The Mordeth and Epoch of Rysos are © 2009 Dan Repperger, all rights reserved

Originally published at Out Of My Mind. You can comment here or there.


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