Crochet a zoo with animator Megan Kreiner

Martingale's Knit & Crochet Friday

Crochet a ZooWhat do you get when cross crochet with an animator for DreamWorks Animation? The cutest, most distinctive zoo full of crocheted toys you’ve ever seen, of course. Anybody who happened to pass by our office when these adorable toys were being passed around could attest to that—our delighted squeals could be heard across the building!

Once the initial excitement died down, it was clear that first-time author Megan Kreiner had written a book that went beyond just cute crocheted animals. Megan’s patterns are incredibly realistic, detailed, and full of character. We asked Megan to share with us how her job as artist and animator for DreamWorks Animation SKG influenced her crochet designs and what makes her toys so expressive. Read on to get a peek into Megan’s day job and her new book, Crochet a Zoo.

Megan KreinerMy name is Megan and I am an animator. I work with green ogres, fire-breathing dragons, and suave cats in stylish boots. It’s my day job and I love it. Of course, ogres, dragons, and talking cats can only exist in our imagination and on our studio computers, so the amount of time I spend in front of a computer screen can be anywhere from 50 to 70 hours a week. Needless to say, all that quality time with a keyboard and mouse often leaves me wanting to partake in a creative hobby that’s a bit more "unplugged.”

Night Fury from How to Train Your Dragon
Photo credit: Courtesy of DreamWorks Animation

I’ve been crocheting since I was a kid, but I only started designing crochet patterns at the end of 2011. For me, crochet has always been an important outlet because it allows me to create something real and tangible outside of what I create on the computer. The designing part of the process came about when I wanted to start overlapping what I knew about animation, art, and design with what I knew about crochet basics.

Harp Seals
“Harp Seals”

The creative process is different for everyone. My particular method is heavily influenced by my day job and the pipeline (or departments) my studio uses to take an idea and develop it into a full blown animated movie. I figured, if this process works for my studio, then it should work for me too when putting together my first book, Crochet a Zoo. For my purposes, the departments I gathered inspiration from were “story,” “character design,” “modeling,” “texturing,” and “effects.”

Story: Even though a book of patterns might not lend itself to much of a narrative, I thought it would be good a first step to explore and consider what kinds of storytelling opportunities a collection of toy patterns might represent. Creating a “big” picture around your designs will often inspire even more ideas. After kicking around a few concepts, I settled on a collection of zoo animals, their keepers, and a few fun extras like felt foods. I thought this created a well-rounded world that crafters could mix and match as they pleased.

Zookeepers from Crochet a Zoo

Character Design: For patterns that are going to be part of a collection, I took a cue from my studio’s character design department. It was essential that my pattern designs not only be visually appealing but also look like they belonged together (meaning, they all have a similar build, look, and/or visually consistent element like color or texture). For this step in the process, a pencil and paper were pretty much mandatory. I looked through all kinds of zoo-related websites and books to see what small details made each animal unique and poked around various toy shops to see what kinds of stuffed animal toy designs worked (and didn’t work). Good planning and good references make for better patterns!

Giant Red Kangaroo and Joey
“Giant Red Kangaroo and Joey”

Modeling: Once my sketches were nailed down, I could move on to building the actual patterns. My preferred method of putting a pattern together is to treat the parts of toy in a modular fashion to make assembly easier. In an animation studio, it’s often more efficient to tweak and reuse models (or pieces of models) instead of building brand new ones over and over again for each character variation, as it saves both time and money. Taking a cue from our modeling department, I also found it more efficient to build a series of toys if they shared similar pieces like legs, bodies, and heads.

Hippopotamus and Elephants
“Hippopotamus” and “Elephants”

Texturing: It’s amazing how a little splash of color can really change the look of a character! Colors and textures are wonderful ways to boost the variety of a design while keeping the basic patterns simple. For example, the bear patterns in Crochet a Zoo are exactly the same with the exception of the colors used and the orientation of the heads. But, even with these seemingly small adjustments, you end up with two very distinct-looking animals with minimal fuss. In addition to playing with colors, I like to use a variety of embroidery stitches to shape and cinch the surfaces of a toy to get the looks and shapes I want without getting caught up in trying to crochet around tricky shapes (like toes and muzzles).

Polar Bear and Grizzly Bear
“Polar Bear” and “Grizzly Bear”

Effects: The final effects! What’s a lion without its flowing mane or a zebra without its stripes? Adding hair, clothes, stripes, and spots can really make your toy stand out. Experimenting with other materials like felt, or using tools like a slicker brush to make the surface of a toy “fluffy,” or applying the technique of separating the strands of the yarn plys to make hair or a mane look fuller can add even more variety to the final look of your creation!

Zebra and Giraffe
“Zebra” and “Giraffe”

When all is said and done and you have a new crochet friend of your very own to play with, the “animation” will be entirely up to you!

Happy crocheting!

Thanks to Megan for a peek inside her day job and what it was like to design the patterns for Crochet a Zoo! We’re excited to get started on our zoo, and we hope you are, too. You can get Megan’s book at—and, as always, when you buy the book you also get the eBook version to download for free instantly.

Which animal from Crochet a Zoo is your favorite? Which will you make first? Tell us in the comments and you’ll be entered to win a free eBook copy of the book. We’ll pick a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won. Good luck!

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Thanks to all who entered the drawing! The randomly chosen winner is Lyn, who writes:

“They are all adorable. Perfect for grandkids, but that purple hippopotamus would have to be my first. Now to re-teach myself crochet after 30 years of not doing any.”

Lyn, we’ll email you about your free eBook. Congratulations!


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