Imaginatomy – The Sail-Backed Hyena

One of my favorite projects so far at Art Center was the  one for Imaginatomy.  I do really enjoy making creatures, so it was right up my alley.  We had two real projects that semester (a human ecorche and the creature itself), but at this point I’m just going to post about the critter itself.

Sail-backed Hyena

Our first step was to go and make some silhouettes for potential creatures. I think we were only supposed to make six, but I made a few more than that, obviously. What can I say, I like making creatures?

Imaginatomy Silhouettes 1
Imaginatomy Silhouettes 2
Imaginatomy Silhouettes 3

The next step was to pick one and refine it from there.  In this case, the one in the bottom right of the second page was the one that got picked.   I at first wasn’t sure how I wanted the tusks to attach, because I decided that the ones I had on the original drawing didn’t entirely make evolutionary sense — a predator would probably get hooked on things.  So, I did my best to figure out a happy medium for them. From there, we we developed some skeletons.

Imaginatomy SkeletonsAfter that, it was time to build the model.  The whole thing was based on a frame of armature wire with other, smaller wires to support things like the tail, ribs, etc.

Imaginatomy - Wires

We then covered it in sculpey and baked it.  I think I might have roasted mine a little too much.  After it was baked, I spraypainted it with warm grey and then stained it with furniture stain (I forget what color at this point, but it was a warmish dark brown).

Imaginatomy - Pelvis & hind legs
Just started sculpting. The hind legs are the first thing on.
Imaginatomy - Full skeleton, baked
And here’s the skeleton after he’s become extra crispy.
Imaginatomy - Full skeleton, baked, other side
The other side of the model, which is less refined.
Imaginatomy - Stained
Here’s how it looks after the stain was applied.

The base was built on a large round plywood disc that I bought at the hardware store.  I glued a bunch of the green florists foam blocks to the base of it and trimmed it to fit within a specified circle.  I built it up from there, then started cutting with a small hobby saw (and prying pieces off) to shape it more like the rocks I had in mind.  HUGE MESS.  HUGE.  That foam turns into a static-prone grit that sticks to EVERYTHING.  I left a little bit smooth at the base for the actual “dirt” level.  After I was happy with it, I sealed it with matte medium, then painted over it in black gesso and acrylic paint.  Then I glued dirt to the base and stuck in a bunch of trimmed dry grass stuff that I bought at a home decorating store for like $0.65 because it was on clearance.  That took for-freaking-ever, just so you know.

Imaginatomy - Base 1
Even just getting the basic foam center made a mess.
Imaginatomy - Base 2
You can see just how bad it was at the midpoint.
Imaginatomy - Base 3
The final sculpted rock
Imaginatomy - Base 4
The half-painted base is even starting to look like rock.
Imaginatomy - Base 5
Now, with dirt!
Imaginatomy - Base 6
And with the grass added

Next was the whole building the actual display itself.  It’s made entirely out of foam core.  I scored foam core with my matt cutter on one side about every half inch or so to allow it to bend, then arced that around the base and attached it with hot glue and supports.   The inner walls were attached first.  The background image was painted in Photoshop and measured to match the approximate height and location of grass vs rocks in order to get the contact points to look right.  It took several prints to get the colors to match right, but once it was done, it looked spectacular.

Imaginatomy - Background
You can see how the background is supposed to mesh with the actual built model.

The outer walls were more of an issue because I couldn’t just attach the foam core the same way — it barely curved around the outside of the circle, and I had to use cardstock to cover the top since I couldn’t find a circle cutter that would work on foam core for under $60.  It took a lot of hot glue and supports to get it to stay, and it was kind of obnoxious since I couldn’t reach all the way to the bottom with the gluegun itself just because of the spacing between the walls (about 2 inches, give or take).

Imaginatomy - Diorama 1
The shorter foreground walls were really easy to do.
Imaginatomy - Diorama 2
The back at this point shows my crude support system.
Imaginatomy - Diorama 3
The final build without the info graphic things.

The last step was to attach the printouts I’d made about the creature itself, and then it was done!

The final thing turned out pretty cool, I think.

Imaginatomy - Finish 1
The entire project, finished at last
Imaginatomy - Finish 2
Another angle of the finished project.

2 thoughts on “Imaginatomy – The Sail-Backed Hyena”

  1. This was seriously awesome. How did you connect the thin rib cage with the spine? I see some semi-transparent wrapping around that area – is that glue?

    • The wire section? The semi-transparent part is superglue (Zap-A-Gap, specifically, unless I’m remembering wrong) that has been dusted with baking soda to make it harden faster. I wrapped the ribcage wire fairly tightly around the backbone first, though, so the glue just locked it in place.

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