A few years back, I worked at ILM as a story artist on the (later cancelled) CGI FRANKENSTEIN project, directed by Dave Carson & Brent Maddock. In 1998 I tried my hand at creepy creature design, but was ultimately betrayed by my goofy cartoonist roots..
I knew that in the early days of any animated movie it is not uncommon for the storyboard artists to have a crack at visual development, simply because during that early phase of production the art department might not yet be fully assembled. Many ILM designers were otherwise occupied that year, busy preparing work for the PHANTOM MENACE, thus I scribbled furiously, hoping to get some of my designs into the movie during this brief vacuum.
I cooked up ideas for sinister critters stitched together from bits & pieces, such as OSTRIPUS (half octopus and half ostrich) and a beast I called SQUID KONG (gorilla head and cephalopod body) who I thought would be a particularly tricky foe for ol’ Frank to battle. These abominations were truly creepy to me, but the directors burst into spontaneous gales of laughter at the sight of them. So I redoubled my efforts and went back to the drawing board. A living battering ram made from a lion and a rhino? GIGGLE! Or how about a laboratory crane made from a repurposed giraffe? More guffaws from the directors..
It wasn’t the first time in my life that I learned that if people are going to laugh at you anyway it’s best to act like you meant it, and thereafter I went for goofy ideas in an attempt to deliberately make the directors LAUGH. On that score, POLLY-CAT was a hit (especially hen delivered in a Gilbert Gottfried ‘why am I not surprised’ voice).
My goofy design sensibilities were perhaps not the greatest fit for the creepy and atmospheric requirements of Frankenstein, and so I eventually gave up trying to design cool, tough and scary monsters, and left that to the many experts ILM has on tap, while I tactically retreated to the storyboard department, where I worked until the project was ultimately shelved by Universal.
In a happy epilog, this goofy Chihuahua/Giraffe critter, drawn to amuse the Frankenstein directors, was eventually used in “Work in Progress”, a short film made by the ILM development unit in 2000 as a sort of R&D project to demo some of their new abilities/software etc. at SIGGRAPH.
FRANKENSTEIN was a great project with a stellar crew of all-stars. I do wonder though if what we were trying to do was even possible at such an early stage of CGI.