To provide context for the Leopard-Man character, I took the excerpts from the story I used in my undergrad illustration course to design the creature. These are the parts in the text that defined the look and attitude of the beast-people in general, and the Leopard-Man in particular.
“It would be impossible for me to describe these Beast People in detail; my eye has had no training in details, and unhappily I cannot sketch. Most striking, perhaps, in their general appearance was the disproportion between the legs of these creatures and the length of their bodies; and yet—so relative is our idea of grace—my eye became habituated to their forms, and at last I even fell in with their persuasion that my own long thighs were ungainly. Another point was the forward carriage of the head and the clumsy and inhuman curvature of the spine. Even the Ape-man lacked that inward sinuous curve of the back which makes the human figure so graceful. Most had their shoulders hunched clumsily, and their short forearms hung weakly at their sides. Few of them were conspicuously hairy, at least until the end of my time upon the island.
The next most obvious deformity was in their faces, almost all of which were prognathous, malformed about the ears, with large and protuberant noses, very furry or very bristly hair, and often strangely-coloured or strangely-placed eyes. None could laugh, though the Ape-man had a chattering titter. Beyond these general characters their heads had little in common; each preserved the quality of its particular species: the human mark distorted but did not hide the leopard, the ox, or the sow, or other animal or animals, from which the creature had been moulded. The voices, too, varied exceedingly. The hands were always malformed; and though some surprised me by their unexpected human appearance, almost all were deficient in the number of the digits, clumsy about the finger-nails, and lacking any tactile sensibility.
I say I became habituated to the Beast People, that a thousand things which had seemed unnatural and repulsive speedily became natural and ordinary to me. I suppose everything in existence takes its colour from the average hue of our surroundings. Montgomery and Moreau were too peculiar and individual to keep my general impressions of humanity well defined. I would see one of the clumsy bovine-creatures who worked the launch treading heavily through the undergrowth, and find myself asking, trying hard to recall, how he differed from some really human yokel trudging home from his mechanical labours; or I would meet the Fox-bear woman’s vulpine, shifty face, strangely human in its speculative cunning, and even imagine I had met it before in some city byway.”
“Yet every now and then the beast would flash out upon me beyond doubt or denial. An ugly-looking man, a hunch-backed human savage to all appearance, squatting in the aperture of one of the dens, would stretch his arms and yawn, showing with startling suddenness scissor-edged incisors and sabre-like canines, keen and brilliant as knives. Or in some narrow pathway, glancing with a transitory daring into the eyes of some lithe, white-swathed female figure, I would suddenly see (with a spasmodic revulsion) that she had slit-like pupils, or glancing down note the curving nail with which she held her shapeless wrap about her. It is a curious thing, by the bye, for which I am quite unable to account, that these weird creatures—the females, I mean—had in the earlier days of my stay an instinctive sense of their own repulsive clumsiness, and displayed in consequence a more than human regard for the decency and decorum of extensive costume.”
“For a moment I could see nothing but the waving summits of the ferns and reeds. Then suddenly upon the bank of the stream appeared something—at first I could not distinguish what it was. It bowed its round head to the water, and began to drink. Then I saw it was a man, going on all-fours like a beast. […] I leant forward to see him better, and a piece of lava, detached by my hand, went pattering down the slope. He looked up guiltily, and his eyes met mine. Forthwith he scrambled to his feet, and stood wiping his clumsy hand across his mouth and regarding me. His legs were scarcely half the length of his body. So, staring one another out of countenance, we remained for perhaps the space of a minute. Then, stopping to look back once or twice, he slunk off among the bushes to the right of me, and I heard the swish of the fronds grow faint in the distance and die away.
Then looking hard, I distinguished through the interlacing network the head and body of the brute I had seen drinking. He moved his head. There was an emerald flash in his eyes as he glanced at me from the shadow of the trees, a half-luminous colour that vanished as he turned his head again. He was motionless for a moment, and then with a noiseless tread began running through the green confusion.
I could see the Thing rather more distinctly now. It was no animal, for it stood erect.“
I opted not to include the clothes in my design so as not to obscure the actual build of the creature underneath it. Additionally, my initial design kept to the text’s description of shorter legs, though for this project I have been giving the Leopard-Man longer, slightly more human looking legs, as this creates an interesting ungainliness to offset the smooth feline gestures I’ve been using for its poses. I gave the Leopard-Man relatively human-like hands (at least in basic shape and number of digits) to add a similarly uncanny feeling to gestures made with them – especially if I can get them to articulate like a cats’ digits do, in a distinctly inhuman way.
The remaining passages here are suggestive to me of the behaviour and postures of the Leopard-Man in particular, separate from the other beast people, and include examples of the more ferocious side of the creature as well as a moment of pathos:
“Who are you?” said I.
He tried to meet my gaze. “No!” he said suddenly, and turning went bounding away from me through the undergrowth. Then he turned and stared at me again. His eyes shone brightly out of the dusk under the trees.”
“For the Leopard-man, released from Moreau’s eye, had risen straight from his knees, and now, with eyes aflame and his huge feline tusks flashing out from under his curling lips, leapt towards his tormentor. I am convinced that only the madness of unendurable fear could have prompted this attack. […] We burst out again among rocks, and saw the quarry ahead running lightly on all-fours and snarling at us over his shoulder. […] The Thing was still clothed, and at a distance its face still seemed human; but the carriage of its four limbs was feline, and the furtive droop of its shoulder was distinctly that of a hunted animal.”
” “Back to the House of Pain, the House of Pain, the House of Pain!” yelped the voice of the Ape-man, some twenty yards to the right.
When I heard that, I forgave the poor wretch all the fear he had inspired in me. […] Then suddenly through a polygon of green, in the half darkness under the luxuriant growth, I saw the creature we were hunting. I halted. He was crouched together into the smallest possible compass, his luminous green eyes turned over his shoulder regarding me.
It may seem a strange contradiction in me,—I cannot explain the fact,—but now, seeing the creature there in a perfectly animal attitude, with the light gleaming in its eyes and its imperfectly human face distorted with terror, I realised again the fact of its humanity. In another moment other of its pursuers would see it, and it would be overpowered and captured, to experience once more the horrible tortures of the enclosure. Abruptly I slipped out my revolver, aimed between its terror-struck eyes, and fired.”
This last part, where the protagonist feels a keen understanding of the animal’s terror and describes it as ‘the fact of its humanity’ is interesting. To my mind, it’s not so much attributing that emotion solely to humans as it is a mark of the shared nature of basic emotions between humans and other animals. The protagonist recognises the feelings he has in common with the Leopard-Man and empathises with it, despite the creature having reverted almost entirely to animal behaviour.
These passages suggest some variations I can play with when animating the Leopard-Man’s behaviour – I can create a version that walks and moves as closely to human-like as its imperfect anatomy could let it; and a version which flips that around and has as close to cat-like behaviour as possible, while being physically awkward in carrying it out.
It also suggests ideas for facial expression – trying to map relatable emotions evocatively enough onto the Leopard-Man’s expressions that the audience can see past the non-human aspects of its face and feel sympathy for it.
Wells, H. G. (1896). The Island of Doctor Moreau. 1st ed. [ebook, 2004] Available at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/159/159-h/159-h.htm#ch09 [Accessed 22 Mar. 2017].