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How to Draw Animals: The Great Extinct Mammals

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

There are animals that we'll never see alive again, ones that had been roaming the earth long, long ago before any human. While we accept that dinosaurs belong to the other world, the world of giants, it's a bit harder to deal with the loss of great mammals, living among us just about ten thousand years ago. 

Woolly mammoths, saber-toothed cats, giant deer - they all had a chance to meet humans, yet they don't exist anymore. With their looks being so similar and yet so different from their currently living relatives, they are very appealing to us. Drawing them is an adventure and requires a lot of research, since there's no way to find any photo reference. 

In this tutorial I collected all the information you need to draw each of these great mammals properly, with accuracy and a pinch of imagination.

How to Draw Smilodon

Body Features

There were three species of smilodon, but for drawing purposes (as long as it's not for a scientific illustration) we can treat them as one. There are a few features that will let you draw an accurate smilodon:

  • The legs were quite short, strongly built, designed for endurance, not speed;
  • The paws were typical cat-like, with retractable claws;
  • The tail was short, similar to contemporary lynxes;
  • The body was stocky, with a slope across the back;
  • The famous long canines exceeded the chin line;
  • The forelegs were especially strong, to hold throwing prey and keep it from breaking the canines;

Head

The head can be drawn very similarly to the lion. The most important here is the flattened forehead and the long canines - the other anatomical differences are negligible for an artistic depiction.

Due to enormous canines, smilodon need to open its mouth much wider than any modern cat. However, these impressive jaws weren't as powerful as a lions'!

Colors

The most interesting thing about smilodons is that we have no idea about how their fur looked. Seriously. It's the same with dinosaurs - we can color them however we want to. They could even have a mane or a tail tuft, or some other feature non-existent at contemporary species - we'll never know. Does it mean you can let your imagination go wild? Not exactly.

The key word here is probability. There are no green mammals nowadays, and it's not likely they ever existed. Smilodons could have been spotted or striped, with their hunting style that requires stalking, but they could also have been plain, like lions. So you can stick to modern big cat colors and modify them to your liking!

Saber-toothed vs Scimitar-toothed

A less popular relative of smilodon that also shared its fate was a scimitar-toothed cat, homotherium. It was better designed for running than smilodon, and its silhouette resembled a hyena. The canines were shorter and flat.

A silhouette comparison of smilodon and homotherium

How to Draw Woolly Mammoth

Body Features

The woolly mammoth is the most popular and the smallest of mammoths. Some of them still lived in Siberia until about five thousand years ago, long after the last smilodon had passed away. A lot of their well-preserved remains have been found, so we know a lot about these furry giants:

  • They were about a size of an African elephant;
  • Their fur was long and coarse, brown in color;
  • The tusks were long and curved, developed by both sexes;
  • The silhouette was sloped, with distinctive shoulder hump and bulging forehead;
  • The eyes were small, hidden in the fur;
  • The tail was shorter than at modern elephants;
  • The legs had four toes;
  • The ears were small and thin;
  • The trunk had two "fingers".

Head

A head of a modern elephant can be used here, just remember to add long, curved tusks and a lot of fur covering shapes. The "cap" of fur on the forehead is also very important for a mammoth look.


The tusks could grow asymmetrically to each other, they also could be curved in various ways.

Mammoths are very similar to elephants (they're closely related), so you can easily use my elephant tutorial to learn more about drawing them.

How to Draw Giant Deer

Body Features

The Irish elk, also knows as giant deer, is the largest and the best known of megaloceros family. Despite its name, it's more closely related to the modern fallow deer than to the elk. It wasn't much different from modern deer, so you can use their anatomy here. To emphasize how "giant" they were you can use even more massive body with well stressed muscles.

Color

Just as with smilodons, we don't know what their color was. Studying cave art we can come to conclusion they had darker patches on the back and neck, and a distinctive shoulder mane, but it's still just a guess.

Head

If you know how to draw a deer head, there's no need to learn it once again - for my restoration I used a gentle look of a fallow deer mixed with red deer's strength, but the usual elk will do too.

The most distinctive feature of the giant deer is, of course, its antlers. You can think of them as big hands with curved fingers. Although huge, they were proportional and not so troublesome for the bearer.

Giant deer's antlers - side view
Giant deer's antlers - front view

Congratulations!

It's the end of our journey into past! All these beautiful animals will never come back, but you can use your skills to save them from oblivion.


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