Rendering anatomy from imagination

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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.

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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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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Ross View Post
    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.
    If this were true why would artists bother with models after they've reached a certain level of ability?

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    If this were true why would artists bother with models after they've reached a certain level of ability?
    It is true, and some don't. However, just because you can do something entirely from your head doesn't mean it's always easier to (mathematicians still use calculators), and you may want to spend your energy elsewhere. Also, working from your head means you can only work with what's already in there, whereas working from life/photos/whatever puts new stuff in.


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    Sorry Tristan...I just disagree that it is true. If it were they wouldn't bother. If it were people wouldn't go out to nature to paint, set up still lifes or deal with models.

    But yes, working from imagination means you only have what is available in there. At the same time, you can also add to life and express yourself in other ways when not saddled by strict observation. Don't get me wrong...I'm not saying one is better than the other. In fact I would probably prefer a Waterhouse on my wall to a Sargent.

    When this question arises it is important to make a distinction about the goal...if one is interested in creating a portrait in a certain light of a certain individual, in a certain pose...you can't pull that convincingly from imagination. That was my point when the OP asked if anatomy is too complicated to create convincingly from knowledge alone. I think it is, especially when combined with the infinite lighting conditions that can exist.

    Can you create from imagination, a pretty convincing version of life, that may even be more interesting? Absolutely. Though even then usually easier to work from life or personal reference.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Sorry Tristan...I just disagree that it is true. If it were they wouldn't bother. If it were people wouldn't go out to nature to paint, set up still lifes or deal with models.
    Why this "all-or-nothing" mentality? It is true, but as Tristan said, often it is either not economical or fast enough. So people use models instead of spending too many hours calculating the lighting. But people can learn to build a figure without reference; in fact, it helps to have this skill so you can compose your picture without needing models during the early stages. Once you'd've decided on the composition, you would bring in models and pose them as planned in model-less preliminaries. If you personally can't do it or haven't seen anyone do it, it does not automatically mean no one does it.

    (A still life is a bit of a different matter: unlike a model, it does not require payment and can't run away... Plein aire painting is more like life drawing studies; it has come to be regarded as a worthwhile art form relatively recently, and used to serve to collect references for larger paintings and as learning aid for the most part.)

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    Please Please Please

    Could anyone from this discussion please post their best found (or done themselves) figure drawings or paintings PURELY from memory as I am struggling with this very question.If you do continue this thread I promise to publicly humiliate my self by posting my attempts at anatomical memory drawing v's my photo refrence drawings and paintings.

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    You are all talking about degrees of complexity. Any illustrator that makes stuff up just looks cartoony compared to a Monsted or Bouguereau. Same for industrial designers, I guess you all just don't look at high end art that much because no one does it without ref. The OP mentioned seeing all the stuff he sees working from life and any good artists that work from life will always get a better result than someone working from imagination. If you think not, post some to prove it.

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    Jeff, apologies if I'm misunderstanding your point (late here) but most of Waterhouses work was built from observation, kinda frankensteined together from life studies.

    Even in the freakier moments like "Ulysses" you can recognise one of his regular life models in the heads of the bizarro harpie bird women things..

    Edit: so I suppose I'm kinda agreeing with you, even a painter of mythology / literary subjects was still heavily reliant on the model..

    Heh, complicated subject.

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    Jeff: Sorry but I have to disagree. There are plenty of people that can create convincingly real anatomy out of their heads.

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    Jeff, Jason said
    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.
    and then you said
    Sorry Tristan...I just disagree that it is true.
    But then you said
    When this question arises it is important to make a distinction about the goal...if one is interested in creating a portrait in a certain light of a certain individual, in a certain pose...you can't pull that convincingly from imagination. That was my point when the OP asked if anatomy is too complicated to create convincingly from knowledge alone. I think it is, especially when combined with the infinite lighting conditions that can exist.
    which is essentially what Jason was saying.
    The fact of the matter is, any illustrator worth their salt should be able to bang out an in-proportion, reasonably anatomically correct figure, in any position, from their head, with enough detail to be able to visualize their initial concept. From that point on, whether they choose to continue to develop things from their imagination, with the stylization that inevitably results (to a greater or lesser degree), or augment/modify that initial concept with external sources is a matter of choice.

    Last edited by Elwell; May 12th, 2012 at 10:01 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    The fact of the matter is, any illustrator worth their salt should be able to bang out an in-proportion, reasonably anatomically correct figure, in any position, from their head, with enough detail to be able to visualize their initial concept.
    Absolutely. But could you paint your Mom, wife, girlfriend whoever accurately, without reference, in say...evening light at the beach? Dappled light along a stream? You know their face pretty well...can picture it in your mind's eye clearly...have an initial concept. IDK...maybe some folks could paint that from imagination accurately, but I don't think so.

    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    From that point on, whether they choose to continue to develop things from their imagination, with the stylization that inevitably results (to a greater or lesser degree), or augment/modify that initial concept with external sources is a matter of choice.
    Sure. And again you have to distinguish what you're after. Which is why I've tried to be clear about what level of truth, expression or stylization one is talking about. Maybe we're talking apples and oranges...general, well proportioned, even characterized anatomy, in any pose with reasonable detail to establish your initial concept is certainly very doable. My point is you get much further along than that and if you want a reasonable sense of accuracy/realism you need the reference.

    This is just true otherwise artists wouldn't require models...and even more true if one is going for a particular likeness of an individual.

    That's all I'm saying.

    Edit: So yeah...I guess we're all in agreement and saying the same thing. What I took from Jason't comment was that if you draw something enough you can reproduce it from memory...and that lighing is rudimentary. I definitely do not agree with these and part of why I question them whenever I see them is many beginners have the same misconceptions.

    Last edited by JeffX99; May 12th, 2012 at 10:44 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    Absolutely. But could you paint your Mom, wife, girlfriend whoever accurately, without reference, in say......
    The original question was simply "anatomy" but even so the more I draw something the closer I get to being able to reproduce it from memory. Have you ever seen industrial artists draw specific cars from the top of their heads? It's no different. Draw a thousand 1969 model corvettes and see if you can't get those sexy 1969 curves just right without reference.

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffX99 View Post
    What I took from Jason't comment was that if you draw something enough you can reproduce it from memory...and that lighing is rudimentary. I definitely do not agree with these and part of why I question them whenever I see them is many beginners have the same misconceptions.
    Yes Jeff. "If" you draw something "enough" you will. The lighting I specified "is" rudimentary. Diffused lighting, core shadow, bounced light is rudimentary with practice. Meaning these are the easiest aspects of rendering to comprehend. Here's what I said.
    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Ross View Post
    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.
    I'm not quite sure what there is to disagree with considering the fact that people are doing it right now. "Rendering" doesn't have to mean "accurate".

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    The OP asked a question and even gave himself the correct answer. He just wants a little reassurance which he received.

    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? Or is the only practical solution to hire a model and shoot that ideal reference?

    ...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.
    I'm not sure what's harder. Rendering from imagination or getting an alien from another planet to hold still while you paint it.
    Anthony Jones
    Rendering anatomy from imagination
    Adi Granov works from imagination quite a bit as well.
    Rendering anatomy from imagination
    Brad Rigney
    Rendering anatomy from imagination
    Travis Charest
    Rendering anatomy from imagination
    It's probably just easier on ones self esteem the accept that this type of art simply cannot be done without reference.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Ross View Post
    I'm not sure what's harder. Rendering from imagination or getting an alien from another planet to hold still while you paint it.
    Invite enough kids to feed him for the duration of the session?

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    I'm still not seeing anything that comes close to the level of craft of the artists I mentioned.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dpaint View Post
    I'm still not seeing anything that comes close to the level of craft of the artists I mentioned.
    That's because no one asked for any "level of craft" to come close to. Not even the original poster. I just don't see the connection between what he OP asked for and what you expect. Is the term "rendering" the problem? Is this level of craftsmanship the only definition of "rendering" you will accept as such?

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    Doable but Difficult

    My above post was a statement of pessimism at the ability of the human mind to arrive at any basic level of depicting the human form from memory in a serviceable way (in my case as a fine artist I need a drawing complex enough to translate into a 3/4 life size painting or a "High Art" as dpaint put it) lets say NC Wyeth is as good as someone from contemporary existence is able to aspire to then the OP has the real answer -if this is as good as you want to get (good here really means as realistic) then yes its possible if you work very hard indeed.
    1.The Crucifixion study is from direct observation and is a close anatomical investigation using intence anatomical knowledge to uncover what others just would not bring out.
    2.The Risen christ compositional study is from memory and conveys the extent of artistic anatomy and the expressive medium of black chalk and how drawing method in and of itself makes marks that are emotive.
    3.The Risen Christ presentation drawing-I think is from memory??? but that is speculative.If it is this is as good as it gets for anyone and it would be outwith almost even the most talented artist to get to this High Art-though even Michelangelo was human and with in renaissance existence others got close.
    4.NC Wyeth is this a "best case scenario" to aspire to as an artist in contemporary existence???

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Ross View Post
    That's because no one asked for any "level of craft" to come close to. Not even the original poster. I just don't see the connection between what he OP asked for and what you expect. Is the term "rendering" the problem? Is this level of craftsmanship the only definition of "rendering" you will accept as such?
    The OP asked is anatomy just too complicated to expect to be able to do this from knowledge alone. I say yes its too complicated. All the images you post fall short in their sense of lighting and anatomy. These images use reference and knowledge I think they are better. So my argument is reference combined with knowledge and imagination is better than knowledge and imagination alone. These images are just as made up as the ones you've posted as they are not copied from one source of reference.

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