Foundation | Elemex

Lesson 2: The Elemex

Arcturus, the Elemex, woke with the first rays of the sun bursting hot from the edge of the Ungallan plain. He scratched his chin with a hind pawn, yawned, and climbed down out of his nest in the fork of an elem-tree. He ran one of his horns against the tree trunk to smooth out the jagged edge where it had gotten chipped during a scuffle with a Teezorr a few days ago. He won the day, that time–and the prey for that matter–but he felt lucky to have come away from the fight with nothing worse then a chipped horn.

He reared up on his hind legs to the full extent of his great girth and bellowed out another yawn. For some reason he found himself thinking of isopterans: those yummy, little bugs with that satisfying crunch. His stomach growled. What made him think of that? He settled down near some brushy vegetation and decided to graze a bit.

Wait. It’s the day of the Enosh hunt! He remembered. He’d need to join up with Ma’hah and his band Styran Warriors.

As an elemex, Arcturus had certain talents the Styrah could use. Enosh aren’t hard to find, if you know how to hunt them and have the nose for it. You see, Enosh go around knocking down the big, rock-hard mounds isopterans live in. When that happens the isopterans swarm about and let off alarm pheromones. Styrah can’t smell those pheromones, but Arcturus sure can. It’s just a matter of following the pheromones to the Enosh’s location. And, of course, Archturous would be able to slurp up as much of the little bugs as his stomach could hold. His mouth got wet at the thought. He shook his shaggy coat, heaved himself up onto his four powerful legs, and trotted off to meet Ma’hah.

He lumbered up a rocky butte to survey the surrounding flatland, his nose twitching against his broad, flat muzzle, searching the air. Two elemex approaching. Probably the brothers Ferstus and Pilurus; they always traveled together. He hesitated. What do they want this time? The Styrah who educated Arcturus as a cub taught him there was more to life than following the base impulses located in your stomach and loins, but Ferstus and Pilurus did not have the benefit of a Styran education; their stomachs and loins were all they ever thought about.

“And where are you going today?” called Ferstus, picking up his pace to intercept Arcturus. “Any interesting scents you’d care to share with us?”

“Anything tasty?” growled Pilurus, circling behind. “We’d be more than happy to travel along with you and help you out.”

Right, thought Arcturus, then turn against me so you can take it all for yourselves.

“Nothing interesting. Just two stinky Elemex,” quipped Arcturus without slowing.

“No need to be nasty, cousin.” Said Ferstus. “We’re all Elemex here. Let us in on it.”

“I’m going to see what the Styrah are up to. Nothing you’d be interested in.”

The brother’s persisted.

“Styrah, Styrah, Styrah,” Ferstus grunted. “The way you hang around those cud-chewers, maybe you’re not a real elemex. You’re just an orphan, after all, raised by those–what do you call them–Connokee’kah Styrahs. Most bizarre beasts I ever saw."

“Yeah, he even looks like a Styrah. You’re no proper Elemex, Arcturus. You’re just a cud-chewer.”

“I am as much an Elemex as the both of you put together!” growled Arcturus. He spun to face his antagonist, his back mane and chin ruffs bristling. His sharp claws dug into the dirt.

“Let’s prove it then.” Pilurus snarled. “I could do with a bit of a fight to get my blood going, couldn’t you, Ferstus?” He sidestepped to Arcturus’ flank.

“Indeed,” replied his brother, taking the other side.

Arcturus felt a growl in his throat. His eyes went from Ferstus to Pilurus, back and forth, while his mind played through the impending fight in as many ways as he could imagine.

It would be a rough one.

He told himself loyalty was more important than pride.

I promised Ma’hah I would help with the hunt.

“Another time,” Arcturus roared. He turned and galloped off.

“Coward! Calf-raised cud-chewer!” jeered the brothers.

I’m no coward, Arcturus reassured himself as he ran.

The Elemex are large, horned, semi-nomadic, omnivorous hunters that inhabit the scrubby woodlands and foothills of Ungallah and commonly venture out onto the plains in search of isopteran insects, various plants, and small game. This much we know from the story excerpt. These qualities resemble those of a bear, so I looked at a some existing and pre-historic bear species for inspiration: the Spectacled Bear of South America, and its prehistoric relative, the Giant Short-Faced Bear.

The Spectacled Bear
Tremarctos ornatus

The Spectacled bear is a good starting point for the large omnivore that is the Elemex. The bear’s physique is the template for my Elemex’ body design. This particular bear has distinctive markings around the eyes that I have adopted and embellished. Here are some other features that are relevant to the physical design and character of the Elemex.

  • Habitat
    • Scattered populations across South America
      • A variety of habitat types
        • Rainforest
        • Cloud forest
        • Dry forest
        • Steppe land
        • Coastal scrub desert
  • Omnivorous diet
    • Mostly herbivorous
      • Orchids
      • Grass
      • Bromeliads
      • Fruit
    • Occasion meat
      • Rabbits
      • Rodents
      • Birds
      • Bugs
  • Builds tree nests
    • Uses nest as a platform for eating and sleeping

The Giant Short-Faced Bear
Arctodus simus

The giant short-faced bear was a large predator that lived during the Pleistocene epoch. It shares many characteristics with the spectacled bear (in fact, they are closely related) but the giant short-faced bear had some adaptations that made it a fierce and effective predator. These are the characteristics that influenced my Elemex design.

  • Unique skull structure
    • Skull structure similar to spectacled bear
      • Differences from spectacled bear include:
        • Long skull, high-vaulted crown
        • Broad muzzle
        • Eyes set far forward
  • Mouth and jaw structure
    • Adaptations that suggest carnivorous diet
      • Carnassial cheek teeth
      • Large canines
      • Powerful biting muscles
  • Leg Adaptations
    • Adaptations suggest large game hunting
      • Forward facing feet
      • Long legs
        • Forelegs longer than hind legs

Description of The Elemex

As I see it, the Elemex is a powerfully built mammal with a short thick muzzle and a broad head. It has long, muscular limbs, with pronounced shoulders. The forelimbs are longer than the hind limbs. The paws have thick, hoof-like claws, and a Panda-like pseudo-thumb which consists of the elongation of one of the inner wrist bones. This arrangement allows the Elemex to grip objects. The claws on the somewhat short hind feet are more hoof-like in nature and adapted for rough terrain. There are 5 toes on each foot. The Elemex is primarily quadrupedal, but can rear up on its hind legs and take small steps. Both sexes have horns that emerge from the frontal bones of the skull. These horns are large (especially on males), long, and laterally flat. The horns often have designs drawn on them depicting rank or else having religious significance.

Haddax and Ellandorah Styran, Elemex and Teezorr lined up for scale


The head and body fur is short and dense. A shaggy, rough crest extends from the back of the head to a little past the rump. There are pronounced cheek and beard ruffs as well. The tail is very short. The forehead and face have semi-horny rounded ridges, which add an expressiveness of the face. The eyes are small and amber in color. The ears are bordered by stiff, brush-like hair and are very mobile.

The color of the Elemex’ fur ranges from ashy gray to blackish gray. The muzzle is light, and the face has distinctive yellowish markings, as do the forelimbs.

The canine teeth are long and pointed, but the remaining teeth are blunt and more suitable to an omnivorous diet.

Males weigh about 5.5 tons and the females about 2.25 tons. They are about 10 feet at the shoulder and roughly 11 feet long.

An Elemex female has between one and three offspring at a time. The cubs remain with the mother for 5 years.

The Elemex social structure is very loose. Individuals are generally solitary, coming together only to mate. However, fairly large numbers may congregate if there is a common food source, such as a broken isopteran mound. It is also common for a powerful alpha male to gather a pack of both males and females.

The lifespan for a healthy Elemex is around 60 years.

The Elemex is a powerful animal. It has great endurance and is able to gallop alongside Styrah as long as the Styrah are not traveling at top speed. While it is very nearsighted, its sense of smell is unsurpassed, and it can track the pheromones and scents of underground isopterans.

It has a mixed diet, eating large insects (especially isopterans), small prey, roots, tubers, and other vegetation.

Inhabiting scrubby woodlands and foothills, and venturing out onto the plains, the Elemex is semi-nomadic within a territory. It has the ability to create crude tools and tree nest dwellings from sticks, bones, and the hides of prey. These nests are only possible in the crotches of the lower branches of the huge Elem trees, from whence the Elemex derives its name.


The Snow Elemex

There is another species of Elemex, the Snow Elemex (below), which is found close to the southern pole of Amalthea. It is a great swimmer and hunts upon the ice looking for sea mammals, but will eat anything available, even its own kind. It is the largest and longest of the Elemex and is also solitary in habit.

The Snow Elemex is longer and rangier in build than the common Elemex, and is about 11 feet at the shoulder and 14 feet long. Large males can weigh up to 6 tons, females up to 3 tons.

With the exception of its nose and lips, it is entirely covered with 3 coats of thick white fur–even the soles of its feet. Underneath the skin is a thick insulating layer of fat.

They burrow into snow banks during the coldest months of the year, hibernating when necessary to conserve body weight.

As has been mentioned, the Snow Elemex are excellent swimmers, and have been observed as far away as two Amalthean miles from shore.

Their only known enemy is the ocean-going, carnivorous marine unguloid, the Rhinorca.

Creature Design Practicum

Exercise 1: Reread this lesson’s story excerpt about the Elemex.

  • Take note of physical descriptions and behavior details. What real life animals (other than the ones mentioned above) share characteristics with an Elemex?
  • Do some research into large, omnivorous hunters or semi-nomadic animals or animals with interesting horn varieties, etc.
  • Try to find some other traits that can support the “whys” of the Elemex differently than the traits I chose to focus on. Save your findings so you can refer to them later.

Exercise 2: Practice drawing the animals in your research.

  • Try to find photos or diagrams of the animals’ muscles and skeletons; practice drawing them, as well.
  • Pay special attention to the details you want to incorporate into your own Elemex design.

Exercise 3: Write a short description of an Elemex as you would design one. You can use my design as your base with just one or two notable differences, or you could do something altogether distinct.

Design Steps

Now that you have researched real creatures, familiarized yourself with their anatomy and decided on the features for your version of the Elemex, it is time to move on to the more concrete steps of creature design.



Do a series of thumbnail drawings to work out your ideas. Here are the thumbnails I did for my version of the Elemex.

Don’t worry about making them perfect. Just get an idea of what you want the creature to look like. Once you settle on a design, move on to the rig skeleton.


Rig Skeleton

Break down the anatomy of your Elemex into a simplified body plan called a rig skeleton. Here is how mine looks.

Practice drawing the rig skeleton of the creature until you feel comfortable with it. Experiment with proportions and rhythms (gestures). Once you’re ready, move on to the Volumes and Forms step.


Volumes and Forms

It’s time to round out your creature in volumes and forms corresponding to the muscles, bulk, and body outline. To do this, place a sheet of tracing paper over the rig skeleton and draw in the simplified muscle forms. Here is an example of this step with my creature design.

Once the basic muscle structure is in place for your design, it is time to move on to the Action Muscles.


Action Muscles

Do an action muscle diagram of your Elemex. If you are confident in your ability to design a realistic skeleton, use that as your base for the action muscles. Otherwise, you can use your rig skeleton or volumes and forms drawing as the base.

Here is the action muscle diagram for my design.

Surface Anatomy

Finish your design by finalizing your Elemex’s surface anatomy. Build this drawing off of your volumes and forms drawing. Look at all the reference material you have gathered (i.e. pictures and realistic anatomical drawings of real life animals, your thumbnails, etc.) and try to make this final drawing as detailed and realistic as possible.

Here is the finished design for my Elemex.

Character Bio: Arcturus

Orphaned as a cub, Arcturus was adopted by a family of Connokee’kah Stryah and raised in their mystical tradition. He has grown into a powerful, young Elemex and, although he continues to value the teachings of the Connokee’kah, he is also guided by the instincts of his own species. Everyday is a struggle to reconcile his upbringing with his nature, but he considers himself a better Elemex for it.

Arcturus mostly lives a solitary life, but often associates with Ma’hah and his band of young warriors. He has proven himself to be an able warrior and his superior sense of smell makes him an asset on Styran hunts.

Arcturus is average in size for a male Elemex–which still makes him quite impressive. His Fur is a charcoal gray with tawny undertones. His horns are unadorned with any sort of symbol of status or pack affiliation.