Breathing life into creatures, one fantastic beast at a time

Given how artists have to beaver away on a software for years to craft complex creatures for movies, it won’t be an exaggeration to state that creature animation is akin to playing God. Breathing life into creatures on screen that don’t exist in real life and making them believable takes a tremendous amount of patience, imagination and creativity. Not too long ago, one such creature that particularly captured imaginations from the much-lauded movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them was Thunderbird.


Thunderbird, described as the large, avian creature; closely related to the phoenix is said to create storms as it flies and can sense danger as per the description. But how did the artists breathe life into this character? We spoke to senior creature animator Dhanu Muddikuppam who worked closely with VFX team to bring the enormous bird to life.

Speaking about the number of months it took to craft the bird, he informs, “This took almost two months to get the idea frozen. Right from the way wings and the body should move in tandem and find little tweaks.. We gave the plates which were later removed by other artists so we could bring the animal to life. Basically we took references from a variety of birds.”

Thunder Bird

Enlarging upon blending the references with the character, he shares, “Finding the essence from the actual birds and melding that seamlessly into the creature takes time. You need to give the artist the time to find the references and get the best ideas to the table. “

He adds, “This is one of the best  part of my job that I really like that I get to do my own stuff. It’s giving birth to another creature. It’s basically bringing something to life which is believable and that’s what keeps you going like..

There are nuances and details in a winged character as large as Thunderbird. He feels that there is more to it than just look and feel of the character. According to him, movement of the creature also plays a fundamental role in the fidelity and believability quotient. He shares, “If I add a little bit of that head turn, a bit of sharpness there, it can change the entire project. Because the movements dictate the whole energy. If you’re old or young..a boy or a girl..younger or older.. sad or happy or differently abled. You have to make sure you’re hitting the right movements at the right time because it has to be accepted by billions of people.”

According to Framestore head of art department Martin Macrae the idea was in the name of the creature. This image depicts its thunderous state, reflecting stormy clouds, darkening the feathers as it releases its energy . Framestore concept artist Dan Baker shares that the concept was created to show the full effect of the Thunderbird in flight, as it flies through the sky, it generates a ferocious thunderstorm from its large wings.

We will be looking at more exciting creature animations in the future. Stay tuned!