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Character Design without bilateral symmetry

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For the past few weeks I've been researching life forms (real or fictious) that did not obey bilateral symmetry and have come to realize that the artists and media that have attempted to depict alien life have had a hard time breaking away from earth-like conventions.
I find myself unsure whether this is because its hard to think in different ways or because there is scientific evidence that bilateral symmetry is a standard mutation.
Anyone seen a good resource where I could find decent concept art that doesn't apply bilateral symmetry?

Likewise, I'm a bit surprised by the apparent convention to group these funcytions together in a single limb (head).
sight and hearing or any other form of spatial sensor.
Ability to eat.

and putting locomotion and manipulation in specific limbs.
Are there not ways to mix and match these functions in other credible ways?

Finally, in regards to sensoring, I'm interested to find others than the human senses for worlds where there may be no sound and possibly no light.
I've been researching deep sea fishes in that regard but I'm sure there are other ways to go.

I'm not sure it is the right place to post but since this is mainly a question of anatomy for concept art purposes I felt it was the most adequate forum. Feel free to move as necessary.

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Just a note on the sense stuff; I believe several species navigate by the location of the poles. That might be interesting to research. When I first heard of such a thing, I believe it was in regards to birds...?

Otherwise, generally I feel people obey the earth-creature thing because that's what we're used to, and it's really difficult to think outside of that. I think when people think of planets they believe would also offer an opportunity to cultivate life in a similar fashion to the way we know it, they think of planets like ours (maybe the gravity is a little stronger, or the climate warmer, or a different day/night cycle, but pretty basic changes) and forget that other planets can be thousands of degrees centigrade and rain glass sideways (and that might be a more interesting environment for your creature to have come from or have migrated to, frankly).

And the bilateral symmetry bit... I think people tend to find it a tad unappealing when something doesn't follow it. Which is something that would be rather interesting put to use in a horror/survival or exploration game, but in "utopian future" kinds of settings... The more human/earth-like, the better, as it's generally easier for viewers to relate to. But for enemies and things designed to make the player experience repulsion, the asymmetrical is something I hadn't actually thought much into.


Most of the asymmetrical concept art I've seen has been characters mutated by some horrible alien source, zombies and the like... Unfortunately I've no links.

Kudos for looking into it, frankly.

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I don't think there is any lack of ideas that break the mold with body shapes.
I think the big problems are more along the lines of, mocap or prosthetics are really hard, and bilateral symmetry is one of the quickest ways to judge attractiveness.
So you make a creature that breaks bilateral symmetry, it costs a lot more, has an unconvincing gait, is hard to do well at all, and people have an instant dislike of it.

That said, SciFi books don't have any of the drawbacks so I recommend looking up fan art for popular SciFi books if you want really off the wall aliens.

For example The commonwealth saga has aliens that have radial symmetry.
Although some artists fall back onto old habits.

Asomov I'm sure had some good ones, I'm trying to think of any fantasy stuff that goes in that direction and I can't really think of anything. Lots of classic sci fi.

Probably the best example of someone breaking symmetry is the Mote in god's eye, that creates a literal asymmetric zoo.
But again, the more appealing ones are closer to the ones closer to symmetric.
http://aramink.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/motie.png (yikes)

Uh, real creatures
Oh wikipedia, looks like I got most of the big ones, but some cool birds.

Then you've got the wonderful world of creepy mutations.

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When I mean not bilateral symmetry, I'm definitely not closed to other symmetries. For example, I've got a liking for the pentalateral symmetry.

Symmetry is a redundancy in anatomy that has proven that specimen with redundancy are more likely to survive and thus to reproduce. Think of it this way, if one had a single eye, and loses an eye, he'd have a hard time surviving in harsh conditions, whereas, having two eyes nets you a clear advantage.

But bilateral symmetry offers more of an advantage than the sum of its part. For the eyes, the net advantage is the ability to see in 3 dimensions, something otherwise impossible with one eye. Depth of the field of view is thus a byproduct of an otherwise mundane advantage.

My though is that species evolving under harsher conditions would probably adapt with more redundancy, such as trilateral or more (hence my liking for pentalateral, while not full fledged radial, it does scream "survive").



Thanks for the examples!

I'm particularly glad you've tossed real world examples.


@Run Cycle Media:

Ya, most of these are still following bilateral symmetry, even if they don't necessarily "look" human, they do feel terrestrial for the most part.


Thanks all!

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Ooh, I think I see what you mean! A bit like a seastar, at a basic level, but could go up and down in level of redundancy...
Something well worth considering, the more likely it is to poke out an eye the more eyes the better, hm? Or, y'know, no eyes and five things for moving.

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But there is also the downside to which each organ takes more food and if the world is so harsh food is probably harder to come by, so too much redundancy might lead to overkill bioengineering and extinction... 5 feels arbitrarily right to me in this regard...

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If you're planning on taking biological inspiration, it's worth noticing that star fish eyes are just barely better than light dark sensors. And they don't have Radial symmetry for redundancy, in nature redundant systems are a rarity. Starfish regrow limbs if they loose them, and they're almost blind anyways and move mostly by smell so loosing an eye or a leg really doesn't slow them down much.



I suspect 5 limbs feels right to you because, if you blur your eyes a little humans kinda sorta look like they have 5 fold symmetry.



I think 5 fold symmetry on something simple like that kinda is falling back on the bilateral human like creatures. 

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I suspect 5 limbs feels right to you because, if you blur your eyes a little humans kinda sorta look like they have 5 fold symmetry.

I wish I knew if that's how my brain works... :S


Starfish regrow limbs if they loose them

You don't even have to go that far from humans to find this awkward property:


The Axolotl is able to regrow its limbs, because its essentially stuck as an 'adult larva'. There's research on this to see how it could be used on us in fact...


Old school option: Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. Interesting because it has a pretty detailed background for each species (which are all taken from famous sci-fi up to that point) and physiological justifications for each design.

Interesting. what level of language should I expect? I'm not very anatomy/biology savvy, so I'm just trying to make sure I'll get it :)

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