Designing for an alien world
Today's update is a guest piece from Extrasolar concept artist, Haley Friedmann.
When I first met up with Rob and Brendan to discuss Extrasolar and their vision for its wildlife, I got very, very excited. It became quickly apparent that we were all on the same nerdy page when it came to biology. It was important to all of us that while we wanted aliens that were strange and new, we also wanted them to make sense on a biological level.
I loved how they pushed me to make it weirder and weirder, while still discussing ideas of how these strange forms could be justified. Did science already have a hypothesis on how a form like this could work? Was there some obscure animal that already did something like this? How well did it work for them?
My best resources were the deep sea and the microscopic world. They assured my inspirations would be biologically sound while looking completely otherworldly. The smaller things get, the more beautifully delicate their structures become and the more unfamiliar they are. Same with the deeper the ocean goes. There are whole ecosystems living on sulfur or methane rather than oxygen, and many that thrive without sunlight as well.
I watched tons of nature documentaries and began to sketch and doodle shapes. The environment was a desert island, so creatures had to be able to deal with the heat, conserve food and water, and have strong defenses or be able to out-breed their predators.
Another direction I was given was the creatures had to look inviting. Rob wanted the players to be interested in the animal, but not scared off. I appreciated this choice and it was fun walking the fine line between the inspiring unknown and the disturbing unknown. That edge between wonder and apprehension. This doesn't mean every creature was beautiful, but I loved them all in their own funny ways.
For instance, the spade burrower is on the odder side of things. I was inspired by creatures who bury themselves in the sand and lie in wait for prey, like flat fish and trapdoor spiders. I was also inspired by animals whose mouths aren't necessarily on a "head," like sea stars. I like to think the mouth is best placed where ever it can catch the most food. Like many other creatures on Epsilon Eridani e, the spade burrower doesn't have very sophisticated eyesight. To catch food it waits until it can feel something running across the flesh pads surrounding the mouth, and then fast as lightning it traps the prey in its jaws. The small eyes that dot its head structure keep a lookout for large moving forms which it assumes to be predators. If one of these forms gets too close it vibrates to quickly unburrow itself and flee.
The rock mole is on the cuter side of things. Its two stalks carry bunches of light sensors, which act as its eyes. These precious organs are retractable kind of like a snail, and they tuck up under the shell while it burrows to get at plant roots with its beak. With the lower part of its body submerged, it fools predators into thinking it's just a worthless rock. It shuffles along in an adorable wiggle waggle as its shell plates contract and slide over each other on each side. Of all the creatures I designed I think this one would make the best pet.
It's been a blast working on this project and watching the animals (ahem, "motobionts") go from 2D to 3D. I wish I could tell you about all of them, but it's far more exciting for you to seek them out yourself in season 1. I hope people have as much fun discovering these aliens as we did creating them, and I can't wait for you to see the new ones coming in season 2! They're wild. Happy hunting, explorers.
You can find more of Haley's work, including more early Extrasolar concepts, on her website at http://haleyfriedmann.com/