Dozens of HeadsSeptember 2012
I did a lot of head studies between projects during the last 2 years. Unfortunately I still wasn’t able to sit down and wade me through a series of steps I prepared for getting better on this delicate subject. And you can be sure, it takes a lot of time and practice to become a good “head and face modeler” so to speak. (not that I am a good head and face modeler by any means, but I know guys who are 🙂 Although the head is like any other part of the human body, it’s also the part where people recognize immediately if something doesn’t look right. Sometimes they can’t tell you what’s wrong and sometimes it only takes a fresh eye to point out the obvious because you became lost into details. It also happens that you look at one of your sculptures a few months later and just think: oh boy, how on earth could I…
As already mentioned in one of my older postings, nothing works without a basic understanding of the underlying bony structure of the head. The skull is prominent on so many spots, it just can’t be neglected. The rule “form follows function” applies to the head as it does to any other part of the body. There is this beautiful shaped capsule that securely contains the brain or the structure around the eyeball that not only builds up the eye socket but also forwards and distributes the chewing pressure on the upper part of the skull, produced by the mandible. It goes on like that all over the place; nature doesn’t invent form just for fun.
As always and everywhere, there are different approaches for learning and understanding such a complex structure. But I think only an all-encompassing knowledge about the human skull will enable you to create working heads and face expressions. Of course learning anatomy is inevitable and the more you know, the better, but it’s just one part of the puzzle. At the end you are still working with form, be it in digital 3d space, or with clay or any other material. Anatomy is the foundation for creating correct shapes. It teaches you what’s there and where features are located, but it doesn’t tell you how things look “form-wise”! The fact that you know about the “margo infraorbitalis” as the top part of the “Maxilla” is great, but it doesn’t tell you anything about how it is build and how it looks in 3d space. For that reason I bought a plastic skull model to have something that I can hold in my hands during my studies. (Make sure you get a cast of a real skull or even a real human skull if you can!)
Next is the architectural construction of the head based on your anatomy knowledge. Here we talk about so called “planes” or “plane breaks” and the overall simplification of form. Basically you can break the head down to a simple box or a cylinder level and start dividing it into smaller parts, always with the help of pretty simple geometrical shapes. Take a look at Bridgman or Vilppu and their approach for instance. That works not only with the naked skull but also with the flesh and skin covered head as we know it. Proportion and the relation and position between face features come into play. Compared to learning anatomy of every single square centimeter, the head as a whole becomes important.
With all the efforts to make it look right, it’s easy to forget that the head is just a part of the body like any other part is. Therefore look at it in relation to the rest of the body whenever it’s possible!
I start from a simple box or a very simple basemesh – no features like noses or ears. That helps you focusing on the big shapes and proportion at the beginning. Even if ZBrush’s Dynamesh is available and workstations are capable of handling millions of polygons on the fly, I still prefer starting with low res geometry. When working on a portrait, that means some sort of likeness has to be already recognizable on a low resolution level of, let’s say 5.000 to 10.000 polygons. If it’s not, it won’t be there on a subdivision level of millions; not matter how great your details are! The recognition comes from the rather big shapes like the form of the nose or chin and the relationship between them, like the distance between the eyes or how the eyeball is embedded into the eye socket for example. Additional features like a beard or hair play a decisive role. Look closely for any kind of asymmetry like hanging eyelids or a crooked nose.
When you are working on a portrait of someone famous, be careful what reference images you choose. Try to sort out one picture of that you think it gets close to the final result you have in mind. Use all the other reference images to complete your vision – and to complete the sculpture in 3d space. Mixing together different views and expressions of one and the same person doesn’t work; at least for me…
For practicing you don’t have to finish you sculptures all the time and add super small details. Just focus on the main shapes, try to capture a likeness, work fast and stay on a rather low res level (in case you start with a low res mesh) Most of the images here are screenshots straight out of Autodesk Mudbox. I sculpted all of them in ZBrush but because lowres models look kind of jagged there (you can still see some polygons) I brought them to Mudbox. It has this great “smooth surface” function – similar to the smoothing groups you can apply in 3ds max. So, a low res model looks pretty finished from a certain distance.
Three words to conclude this post: practice practice practice! And that’s exactly what I’m going to do now 🙂 Have fun sculpting your own heads!
Go and check out this websites:
Glen Vilppu, absolute fantastic drawing teacher! Take a look at his DVD series, especially about drawing the head.
BonesClones, they have all sort of bones and stuff, product pictures work great as reference images also!
Anatomy Tools, go to store/art and entertainment/dvds/Mastering the human head – this instruction is of great help
Drawing the Head, wonderful illustrated book about drawing the head with red and white charcoal