Sunday, March 4, 2012

Love Is a Many-Headed Thing, Part II

It’s been a while since I’ve worked on the hydra that I wrote about in my last post. Sometimes life takes us in unwanted directions and puts a monkey wrench in our hopes and dreams. Anyhow, I’ve been reading up on creature design, and there’s this adage that goes, “Form follows function.” This means that any creature’s appearance should ultimately be based on what it is capable of doing. I’ve also been reading some fascinating material about adaptations, which are traits or capabilities that evolved in a species to solve a particular problem of survival. Even in fantasy setting, imagined creatures must abide by these principles for readers or players to willingly suspend their disbelief.

Let’s take the hydra. Chaos Wielder, for whom I am creating this model, asked me to work within a couple of parameters in designing the creature:

  • The hydra is a many-headed venomous snake like the monster that appeared in Jason and the Argonauts. In other words, Chaos Wielder wants the classical, mythological hydra, not the many-headed dinosaur from the D&D Monster Manual.
  • The hydra should be appropriate for a swamp setting.

Whether I wanted the hydra to sprout two heads for every one that got chopped off was up to me. Now this is fortunate, because apart from the difficulty of creating a model that could do that, this capability just doesn’t make sense. If the hydra is a vertebrate, as all snakes are, where would the neck bones of the extra head attach to? Isn’t there a physical limit to how many heads a hydra can grow? Otherwise, wouldn’t the whole world eventually be covered with hydra heads and necks?

At this stage, I could see that growing new heads just wasn’t going to happen.

For a snake to have more than one head raises more problems than it solves. Snakes do not bite off chunks of flesh from their meals. They swallow their prey whole. Snakes’ teeth are designed not for tearing off meat but for keeping prey from escaping their mouth. A snake with more than one head would have a tug of war over who gets to swallow their food. This isn’t a what-if scenario. It’s a fact. Like other animals, snakes occasionally give birth to conjoined twins. A two-headed snake could struggle for hours over which head gets to swallow its prey. Having multiple heads is not an adaptation. It is an accident of nature, and the unfortunate creature with this trait is unlikely to pass on its genes to the next generation.

But that’s not all, as they say in infomercials. Looking at stills from Jason and the Argonauts, I had more questions that I probably should have asked before I started modeling the hydra. If the hydra is a serpent, why does it have a bird’s beak? Putting in a trait because it looks frigging awesome isn’t a good enough justification. Remember, form follows function. Also, if the hydra lives in the water, wouldn’t having a split tail make it more difficult for it to swim?

Holy Harryhausen, Batman. After all that work I did on the hydra, I realized I had to start over from scratch. Nevertheless, as they say, no experience is ever wasted. I learned some new creature design principles and 3D modeling techniques.

In case anyone is wondering, I did make progress. Since the hydra is basically a water serpent with many heads, I’ve been creating a 3D model of a snake.

Don’t laugh. It wasn’t easy. More on my next blog post.


Eguintir Eligard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eguintir Eligard said...

Hello Elysius,

This is often the case in 3d studio myself. I guess my mantra of planning everything out isn't just for modules.

If you have time I would really appreciate an email to:

I am attempting to create a couple monsters for NWN2 monsters and while 3d tutorials abound, there are few who know the overall process to get it into NWN2.

Lance Botelle (Bard of Althéa) said...

I have the feeling that you may be suffering from "over thinking" this, which is something I also suffer from. :)

The main difference I can see between the MM and JatA version is "legs". The former creature has them and the latter does not.

The best way of approaching things sometimes is to not get so bogged down in the detail or the "why" something looks like it does (especially as we are talking about fantasy creatures) and go with what works and is pleasing to look at.

Therefore, a many-headed "snake" like creature (with or without dragon looking faces) or, what one might simply call a many-headed dragon can both woek I reckon. :) You may even be able to do both versions?

Anyway, all the best with this project ... not an easy task I suspect.


Frank Perez said...

Two versions of the hydra? OMG, I'm gonna faint from exhaustion. :P