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    Rendering anatomy from imagination

    Here's my scenario, I'm sure it's nothing new. I come up with a concept for a figure drawing. I draw it to the best of my ability using construction and all the anatomical knowledge I possess. Then I try to find reference to improve it, both photo searches and mirror work. You never find ideal reference this way and I usually end up taking information from a few different photos. From all of this I can usually come up with a pretty solid line drawing. The problem comes when I want to take it to the next level with a full rendering. My photos will all have unique, inconsistent lighting, so I can't count on them. I try to render with my knowledge of how light works as with cylinders and boxes and such, but that leaves out all the quirky little shadows and highlights that really show the anatomy underneath. I simply don't have the knowledge to fill in the blanks at this stage.

    My question is, will I eventually acquire this ability over years of study of anatomy and drawing from life and reference? Or is the only practical solution to hire a model and shoot that ideal reference?

    I know that when I draw from reference or life that I have usually allowed myself to be so focused on drawing what I see that I am not really questioning what I'm seeing. I know I need to get better at asking myself; what bone or muscle is causing that shadow or highlight? I know that if I do this I will get better at rendering anatomy from knowledge, but I need someone to tell me if that will ever be enough or is anatomy just too complicated to expect to be able to do this from knowledge alone.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mizunodave View Post
    My question is, will I eventually acquire this ability over years of study of anatomy and drawing from life and reference?
    Yes, if that's what you want to do, and you focus on it. On the other hand, a lot of the time shooting a model is still the more convenient solution.

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    Like Elwell says, it is easier to shoot your ref after you've nailed the pose down. Comic book guys can draw the figure out of their head in any position but nobody can paint figures at the level of say Sargent from imagination. So it is a matter of degrees. Even guys like NC Wyeth are making non-realistic rendering from imagination and he was about as good as you can get with that.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    Yes, if that's what you want to do, and you focus on it. On the other hand, a lot of the time shooting a model is still the more convenient solution.
    Yes, as long as you still have enough knowledge of anatomy to actually be able to read that photo reference you've shot. Or you'll be missing clues and important features right and left, and latch onto incidental stuff.
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    Get a digital camera with a remote or timer and shoot yourself in the pose if you can't find anyone more suitable to model for you. Most of the time, you'll have to adjust the figure's age, race, or gender based on the photos you found online, but doing so really helps you push your ability to combine the information from various references and what you've learned from your studies. As you improve your understanding of anatomy, light, color, and texture, your ability to push the image beyond your reference will continue to improve. (And don't forget to do studies from life, of still lifes at least if lifedrawing is not an option.)
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    With enough combined practice from life, reference and imagination, you do get better at making adjustments to your reference...

    It does help to learn all the nitty gritty of anatomy, perspective, how color and light work, and so forth, so you know why things look the way they do. And it does help to practice from imagination as well as life... Drawing from imagination is a good way to take the knowledge you've gained from research and observational drawing and try to really think it through and make something of it.

    If you look at the work of any really good illustrators and compare their finished illustrations with the reference they used, you'll find a lot of the time the final piece departs from the reference quite a lot. Norman Rockwell might be good to look at for this because it's easy to find examples of his process, and he's a classic example of bashing together multiple photos for one picture and making lots of little adjustments that differ from the reference.

    (Oh, and as mentioned, shooting your own photos is WAY more efficient than doing online searches... Even a crappy photo of yourself in the right light and a reasonably approximate pose might get you closer to what you need in less time than scouring through Google...)
    Last edited by QueenGwenevere; May 11th, 2012 at 09:30 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mizunodave View Post
    I know that if I do this I will get better at rendering anatomy from knowledge, but I need someone to tell me if that will ever be enough or is anatomy just too complicated to expect to be able to do this from knowledge alone.
    Yes, anatomy is too complicated, too unique to each individual and too critical to get right (unlike say, getting an oak tree or boulder to look right) to pull it off at a high level of "realism". Especially when you combine the variables of pose, indivifual anatomical differences and the infinite variety of lighting that can occur.

    These are the reasons artists use models...and comics or animation are generally highly stylized. And as has been pointed out, it depends on what you're shooting for as far as end result.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    These are the reasons artists use models...and comics or animation are generally highly stylized. And as has been pointed out, it depends on what you're shooting for as far as end result.
    I read somewhere that Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel figures were mostly done straight from his head. As far as I know, Burne-Jones also worked extensively from imagination. Both artists show that one can in principle achieve remarkable results this way, but in both cases the work does look quite stylized to me (and I'm not sure they were in fact done entirely from imagination). As you say, I suppose it depends on what kind of results you want.
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    Quote Originally Posted by blogmatix View Post
    I read somewhere that Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel figures were mostly done straight from his head.
    Where did you read this? That's not true. Michelangelo used models extensively. I've never seen evidence otherwise. The actual fresco painting obviously wasn't done with live models up on the scaffolding. However, It was done from cartoons and studies that he did make from the live model. Before he died, Michelangelo burnt 80% of his drawings and sketches, so that no one could see the struggle and hard work that went into it. Some of the studies for the ceiling survive, though, such as the famous Libyan Sibyl. The image you posted of God was done with the model lying on his back.
    Last edited by jpacer; May 11th, 2012 at 11:52 PM. Reason: typos
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    Quote Originally Posted by jpacer View Post
    Where did you read this? That's not true. Michelangelo used models extensively. I've never seen evidence otherwise. The actual fresco painting obviously wasn't done with live models up on the scaffolding. However, It was done from cartoons and studies that he did make from the live model. Before he died, Michelangelo burnt 80% of his drawings and sketches, so that no one could see the struggle and hard work that went into it. Some of the studies for the ceiling survive, though, such as the famous Libyan Sibyl. The image you posted of God was done with the model lying on his back.
    This could be. I cannot remember where I read it, and it may well have been an unreliable source.
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    Burne Jones also used models, in fact if I recall, the lady in that particular picture was a favorite model and (I think) mistress...

    The end results may look "stylized" to modern eyes because the artists are going for an idealized look rather than a "photorealistic" look. And in the case of fresco, the final painting must be painted very quickly, so frescoes tend to look more simplified than oil paintings... Sometimes they even verge on the cartoony in appearance, with outlines defining figures and other shortcuts. They only have to look good at a distance, after all.
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    Quote Originally Posted by QueenGwenevere View Post
    And in the case of fresco, the final painting must be painted very quickly, so frescoes tend to look more simplified than oil paintings... Sometimes they even verge on the cartoony in appearance, with outlines defining figures and other shortcuts. They only have to look good at a distance, after all.
    I very much like frescoes, precisely because of that flat, cartoony appearance. :-)
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    Rendering anatomy from imagination isn't that difficult once you understand the mass of muscle groups and where they connect to bone. If you draw something enough you'll be able to reproduce it from memory. The toughest part in my opinion is rendering the flesh on top of the anatomy from imagination. Diffused reflection, core shadow, and bounced light becomes relatively rudimentary with practice. However the Fresnel reflections (highlights) , sub-surface scattering, and hue shifts that makes flesh believable is really the hardest part for me.
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