Use 123D Creature to Shape, Mold and Paint Without Getting Messy!

It’s not quite 2D drawing… it’s not like 3D clay… it’s something in between that will certainly challenge your students’ spacial awareness. Reminiscent of  the popular computer game Spore, Autodesk’s 123D Creature combines the best of sculptural manipulation with today’s technology.

Creating on this app is fun and relatively easy, as the program makes use of the iPad’s multitouch functionality. Using hand gestures like tap, drag, swipe and pinch, allows your students to shape and mold basic lumps of virtual clay into almost anything they can imagine.

The best way to comprehend the power of this 3D app is to take a tour of how it works. There are four basic components of this program: create, sculpt, paint and render.  Here is a short intro to what is accomplished in each section.


When creating a new creature, the artist is presented with a strange stick figure. This creature has a skeleton. White lines indicate the creature’s bones and blue dots represent the joints. Clicking on the Move tool allows the user to extend or shorten the creature’s limbs. The Create tool lets the artist add new joints. It’s easy to add limbs, ears or even a tail. All the limbs are created at the same thickness, but with the Shape tool, any section of the creature can be made thicker or thinner simply by swiping a finger up or down.



Tip: The tools react slightly differently in this section depending on the direction of the creature. The beginner needs to spend a little time exploring the tools in this section while rotating his or her creation.


Once the artist is satisfied with the basic shape of the creature it’s time to select “Bake Skeleton”. This will take the user to the next section. Keep in mind that once the creature is baked it is not possible to move or add new joints. The Sculpt tools allow the artist to add details like carving eye sockets, indenting spaces between ribs or creating a bumpy vertebrae. However, these tools are the most difficult to manipulate. Sculpt Out and Sculpt In seem to work intuitively, but it takes time to understand what effect they will have on the creature. Adjusting the Brush Size and Brush Strength are imperative to achieving the desired outcomes.




Once the sculpting is completed, it’s time to paint. While it is possible to paint your creature using the brush and color palette, the real fun comes by turning the Image Paint switch to “On”. This gives the artist access to a plethora of built in furs, skins, feathers and facial features to paint with. The list becomes limitless considering the ability to import images from the Photo Gallery.



Tip: Zooming in on the creature allows a smaller pattern to be painted while zooming out makes the same pattern larger.


With this final step, the artist can sort through a selection of lighting effects and background patterns which, although somewhat canned, give the creature a polished look. Now the creature is ready to email or post to your favorite social media.


Tip: There are several online companies that accept 123D Creature file uploads and, for a small fee, will use 3D printing technology to reproduce your creature in plastic or other materials.

Overall, 123D Creature is intuitive enough that students naturally understand the program. The one complaint that might arise is the inability to turn off symmetry in the create section. This makes it difficult, but not impossible, to create objects like a single horn. However, this is an easy concern to dismiss in what is otherwise a fantastic application to present to students.

Have you ever used 123D Creature in your classroom? How did you like it? 

Are there similar apps you would recommend? 


Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Ingrid

    I loved this app! My junior high students loved it also, although I took
    some of the pressure off by assigning “an alien” as their finished
    product. That let them learn without the perfectionism of making a horse
    or other animal “look right”. I did have one …(not so) sneaky student
    try to pass off one of the community uploaded creatures as his own.
    That was a little frustrating and confusing, as it is a fun app, and he
    also thought it was fun- I think maybe he wanted to impress? Not sure on
    that one. But just FYI, teachers, scan through the community section,
    let your class see that everyone knows how it works and can be an
    inspiration (and maybe a starting point of altering another person’s
    work) but not a cut-and-paste solution for your assignment. That said, I
    really liked it. There is another interesting 123D app that lets you
    print out patterns for cardboard assembly, but it seems to only be for
    spindle-type radially symmetrical creations. (Or maybe I haven’t figured
    all of it out yet!)

  • iansands

    The alien idea is a really good plan since they can get hung up on “trying to get it perfect” the first time.

    Another fun idea, once they get the hang of it, would be to create a creature in this program, print out the image and then use it as reference to recreate the creature as a clay project.

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