The brief for this project was to create a creature that could fit into "The Gloaming", a universe created by sculptor and artist Johnny Fraser-Allen. This involved studying his world and applying this knowledge to the creation of concept designs, a character backstory and finally a bust sculpted in Zbrush. My character is the Taniwha, more specifically the Rakau Tipua or Enchanted Log.
More information on The Gloaming can be found here:
More information on The Gloaming can be found here:
TANIWHA (RAKAU TIPUA): THE ENCHANTED LOG
The Taniwha (or Rakau Tipua) is guardian of the rivers that run throughout the Gloaming. He acts as a caretaker of the riverbanks and beds and all living things that inhabit them. This lonesome creature can be found wading and swimming through the flowing waters, but like many other Water Folk such as the Topielec, he wanders on land, straying into Earth Folk territory. The Taniwha only does this when it tires of of feeding on the slimy weeds that grows along the riverbanks.
In the realm of the Earth Folk, tougher palmaflax and tree leaves can be found, which the Taniwha enjoys chewing to keep his teeth and jaw muscles strong. He does this with caution, as many of the Earth creatures and faeries do not take kindly to his daunting visage, scaring him away by hurling stones, or in the case of the Toad Rider, Blue-Thornies. Many would think with such great size and power one would just retaliate and squash said faeries, but the Taniwha is a peaceful soul and will avoid any conflict unless it is his rivers that are under threat. On occasion the Taniwha attempts to camouflage itself by going into its Sleeping Formation, but this is not as effective in the forest as it is underwater.
The Taniwha’s hide resembles petrified wood, a layer that has built up over many years of dwelling and sleeping in the lush waters of the Gloaming. It acts as an effective body armour, to protect from any intruders and also rogue rocks that it may collide with when swimming through the rivers at great speeds. The nature of its skin allows moss and other plants to sit and flourish, accumulating over time to form a coat that helps to regulate the Taniwha’s body temperature, and help protect the softer skin on its hands and feet.
The mane that adorns its neck is a sign among Taniwha’s of prestige, but since their kind are now scarce its significance has diminished, and so the Taniwha trims it when it becomes unruly, scraping up against large rocks to rub the moss from its head. It is not known exactly how many Taniwha roam the Gloaming, but sightings of two Taniwha together have been reported in the recent times of trouble.
The Taniwha’s tail serves a couple of purposes. It uses it as a way of propelling itself through the rivers and lakes of the Gloaming at great speeds, allowing it to monitor its territory quite efficiently. The tail unfurls (much like the Pikopiko plant of native New Zealand bush) to reveal two sets of large fins, the forefins for thrust, and the backfins for steering. The ferns of the tail also produce special seedlings that the Taniwha disperses into the river systems, allowing them to flow throughout the land and find purchase on riverbanks and beds. These provide nutrients to the Water Folk and keep the rivers healthy. The Taniwha can also use its large dexterous hands to either unblock or redirect any smaller rivers or streams that have become clogged. He does this using the burrowing techniques he has picked up through stealthily observing the Earth Folk.
The Taniwha sleeps in the rivers, camouflaging itself as a log to avoid being unnecessarily disturbed. Because of this it has acquired the name Rakau Tipua or Enchanted Log. It digs its tree-root-like hands and feet into the riverbed to hold it fast against the current, and buries its tail under the soil, giving it a constant sense of its surroundings through vibrations in the earth. Before submerging, it slows its breathing to preserve energy that it would usually use to filter oxygen through its body.
It continues to reside in the rivers in peace.
My creature is based off the Taniwha of Maori legend and myth. The Taniwha is a creature that I felt had not been thoroughly explored in current stories and depictions, so I saw it as an opportunity to design something new and interesting.
Taniwha are usually depicted as scary serpents or reptiles, but I wanted to subvert this trend in order for my creature to be unique and fit well in the world of the Gloaming. Therefore, after much experimentation, my Taniwha has taken the base anatomy of a grizzly bear, with some influences from the lion, ape, and komodo dragon. This mammalian basis gives him a great sense of power and strength, whilst depicting a lovable and calming personality.
Through studying the mythology behind the Taniwha, I chose to base my creation on the Rakau Tipua or Enchanted Log. This allowed me to create a passive and mysterious creature that avoided the risk of designing a predatory being. I also took inspiration from native New Zealand trees and plants, such as the Pikopiko, and incorporated these features into my design to help reinforce this mythological basis, and better integrate my Taniwha into the Gloaming. In many stories, Taniwha also acted as tribal guardians, and so I adopted this into my creation to help give him some grounding and purpose within the Gloaming universe.
The Taniwha’s facial carvings and features take inspiration from the Maori tiki and ta moko, a Maori traditional facial tattoo that depicts the wearers tribal affiliations (iwi) and genealogy (whakapapa). This was incorporated as an aesthetic feature that could fit into the backstory, and create a link with the existing Gloaming character, the Patuapaiarehe chief. I did not want to make this feature explicitly linked to Maori tradition, as I thought that having any specific associations would hinder my attempts creating a convincing fictional character, and only distract from its original purpose.