CREATION

Make a creature

I started making a mythical creature at Christmas and I called him Zoki. Now, I am looking for input from YOU to bring Zoki to life. I thought it would be a fun project to do with people from different parts of the world coming together to create a magnificent beast, and understand something about our universe, other universes, and most of all, ourselves, in the process.

I started with Zoki’s universe, where he lives.  At this stage, I don’t know whether Zoki lives alone in his universe, or whether he has friends and family. I called his universe Kokosz.  I started with the simplest model possible, so that you can actually make a model of that universe with just paper and pencil.

Kokosz is a two-dimensional (2D) universe. For our purposes, this 2D universe is like a vast sheet of paper. Zoki lives on the paper. We will design the towns and houses later, but for now, let us start with Zoki. 

Because Zoki lives in a 2D universe, he has to be 2D too. Which means that Zoki is flat, flatter than a pancake. Obviously, his body parts have to be different from ours. The main difference has to be Zoki’s alimentary canal (digestive system). Zoki’s alimentary canal cannot be similar to a humans’ (which is a tube running from the mouth to the anus (bottom)), because a tube like ours will split a 2D creature into two right down the middle. So Zoki’s stomach has to be like a pouch with one opening and a sealed end. Food enters Zoki’s stomach via his mouth.

From Zoki’s mouth to his stomach is like a zipper, which zips up when the sensors on either side of it sense food. Zipping up reduces the space inside Zoki’s alimentary canal, forcing food to break up. The insides of Zoki’s stomach to be lined with tough and sharp triangles that act like teeth to help chop up the food.

Zippered gullet

He has very simple, tiny cells (which are wet) throughout his body that perform the functions of life. He does not need blood vessels, because nutrients and oxygen diffuse freely through his simple body.

Cells in Zoki’s body are all sort of similar.

I tried this mind-mapping software called Coggle to plan Zoki’s body. It’s free to try from Coggle’s site, and quite easy to use. You might find it a useful tool to organise your ideas. Also, let me know your thoughts about how Zoki’s body could work in 2-D and how we can improve the design. EMAIL: hello@magnificentbeasts.me

This is what I have:

Here’s a beautiful story about a lovely creature called Wind who lives on a Mobius strip:

Make your own creature

Here are some guidelines for you if you want to make your own creature:

1. Environment

First of all, figure out the world that your creature will live in, because environment shapes the body and necessary parts to live in that world, plus lots of other considerations. Your creature has to have physical adaptations to allow it to thrive in its environment. Is its world going to be inside a computer, under the sea, or in prehistoric times? In my example, Zoki lived in a two-dimensional (completely flat) universe that stretches like a vast piece of paper. I chose this, because as a physicist, I am very interested in how forces work in different parts of the universe.

2. Form

Pick a body type. This is like a frame for you to build the finer details on. In a sense, form is not so important, because you can add the subtle adaptations to make your creature survive in its environment. The interesting thing to note is that a creature’s actual body can vary significantly from the basic body type. Believe it or not, birds, whales and snakes were all at one time quadrupeds (four legged animals). To start designing your creature, pick one of the following shapes from the menu below:

In my example, I am not 100% set on what Zoki’s shape is. All I know is that he has to be completely flat (because he is a 2D creature) and he has to be very small (because he is brittle and would break up too easily if he is large). The main adaptation that I have added which was necessary was to his digestive system.  But Zoki does not have much in terms of specialised organs. He is built on the concept of modular structures (his cells) repeating over and over again, a strategy which nature employs frequently. For example, ferns uses the same basic shape for stems, branches and leaves.

3. Adaptations

This is an important part when making your creature. Ask yourself questions such as “Does it need a tail or a pair of wings?” “How does it breathe?” “Does it have eyes?”

4. Appearance

I think this part is important for you, the creator. You need to feel affinity for your creation, to make it real to you. So think about this, what aspects of real-life animals appeal to you? Can that be translated into your creature? What colour should your creature be? Fur? Feathers? Space-age material skin?

In my example, I didn’t have much leeway with designing Zoki’s ‘endearing’ features, as he has to be completely flat and simple. The only thing I could give him to make me fond of him was his big, bug-like eyes. And Zoki has to be grey in colour, because his exoskeleton is made of graphite. I still have quite a way to go before Zoki becomes a Magnificent Beast.

5. Family tree/evolutionary tree

I think this is very important in creature-creation. How did your creature evolve? What do the other species living in its world look like? The dynamics between living beings is one of the most beautiful aspects of life. In Chapter 1 of the book, we looked at the relationship between humans, dinosaurs and unicorns.

I haven’t developed this much yet for Zoki. As of this point, this is how the story goes: Zoki ended up in Kokosz because his ancestors fell off the edge of another 2D universe onto this one. Do they evolve, do they die? I am not sure. All I have decided for now is that they don’t go to war and they don’t get sick, but when their body parts wear off, they just simply lie down and die. But Zoki and his friends live for centuries (in human terms) because they live a slower and gentler pace of life.

This is the real evolutionary tree (from Chapter 1 in the book):

6. Becoming alive

This is the most important part. This is why we are doing this. To bring you to the point of answering this question: “What are your creature’s motives, intentions and goals of being alive?” And by extension, we should then ask ourselves this question:

“What are our reasons for being here on the planet?” 

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Something poetic about virtual creatures written by N. Katherine Hales of University of California Los Angeles:

Yearning for the light, the creatures struggle after it. In water they grow tails and learn to undulate like snakes. On land they clump along, relegated by fate and biology to rectangular shapes joined together with moveable hinges. They show extraordinary ingenuity in making the most of these limitations, crawling, hopping, jumping, always toward the light. Then their creator gives them a new goal, a colored cube reminiscent of a squared-off hockey puck. Put into competition with one another, the creatures learn to jostle and shove their opponents, to encircle the cube, to knock it out of the way so their opponents can’t reach it. When they meet a new opponent, they develop counter-strategies to meet these challenges. I marvel at their adaptability, cleverness, and determination.

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