Donna Urdinov shared some of her recommendations and anatomy tips, which will help you make your 3d characters a little better!
Hey guys, I’m Donna Urdinov, a half Macedonian, half Slovakian artist with a focus in 3D Character Art. I’m currently working as a freelancer, and have worked on projects ranging from cinematics, to commercials, to VR, to 3D printed doll making, but most are not available to the public just yet.
I completed my post-secondary education at the Gnomon School of VFX, however due to being on a student VISA, I had to go back to Macedonia, which is where I currently reside. Prior to Gnomon, I had just completed my high school education in which I had very little formal art training, and virtually no experience in 3D, so I would say that I learned a lot over the last 3 years.
Starting a project
Before I get into the specifics about female anatomy, we need to take a step back.
The first and most important step to creating any form of art is deciding what it is that you are trying to communicate. I call this decision “ethos”, the spiritual brother of “thesis”. They both serve the same purpose, and that is to answer the same question of “what are you trying to show/say?”. I cannot stress how important it is to ground yourself and give yourself a direction, whether that direction is broad or very specific. It will keep you from becoming indecisive, leading to a lot of redoing and time wasting.
Tools of communication
So you have an idea of what you want your ethos to be, but what’s the next step? Well first, gathering reference. It’s absolutely imperative to gather reference for real people, photographs are great, 3D scans are even better. Then you want to find elements that support your ethos such as proportion, anatomy, gesture, silhouette, rhythm, shape language, lighting, expression, clothing, and the list goes on and on. It’s important to think of it like an essay, your paragraphs have to support and expand on the thesis, but even if you have a very well written paragraph and does not fit in with your essay, the final result incoherent.
The morphology of the female body
Morphology is a concept that refers to what forms actually appear as, instead of what the underlying structure is. It’s imperative to know the underlying muscles of course, but there is a lot of value in knowing how forms in the body manifest themselves (rhythm and flow) layered with fat, bone and skin. Above are two illustrations to help people understand the directionality that the forms they are creating should flow in, as well as areas where women typically put on weight. I’d also like to point out that one difference between male and female anatomy is that due to higher levels of estrogen, cellulite is much more visible on women, even if they are thin, this is especially true in the upper thigh/buttock area.
Everybody’s body is different, so not all of those fat pads will be affected equally, the same thing with bones, not everybody’s bones protrude at the same intensity, so you should analyze your reference and see what the distribution of each of these characteristics is. Whatever the distribution of fat and muscle tone is, however, will not change the direction of the flow of forms, however, it will affect the rhythm and proximity of those forms.
Female Body Types
The female body comes in all sorts of body shapes, however, there are general body type groups that we can acknowledge to make our lives easier. All of these are defined by the relationships between the shoulders+chest, waist and the hips. A thing to keep in mind is that a higher body fat percentage or more muscle mass is going to exaggerate the inherent shapes in these body-types.
The breasts, chest, and shoulders
When it comes to female-specific anatomy, this is one of the areas that I see people misunderstanding a lot. Two of the most common mistakes I see is people treating the breast tissue and the pecs as a uniform mass, often-times resulting in a strong S curve from the pecs to the breasts, and people seeming to be afraid of giving women pectoral muscles, giving the armpit area a U shape.
Another aspect that I see very much misunderstood is how shoulders on women look. Unless you are creating a woman who works out a lot/has very developed deltoids, you are going to see this bulbous form pop up in the shoulders which are the head of the Humerus bone. A majority of women actually retain a lot of fat in the upper arm area giving them a soft look, while still showing the definition of the bottom of the deltoid. A great example of this is Marilyn Monroe, if you look at her shoulders you will see what I’m talking about.
Another landmark of the female form is the hips. One of the biggest differences between the biological function of men and women in childbirth, which is why women tend to have wider hips than men. The two anatomical features that affect the shape of the hips is the pelvis, or ilium, flare (the bit of bone that tends to protrude at the hips) and the position of the great trochanter. Even in women with an inverted triangle body-shape, the hips will probably flare out wider than in a typical male pelvis, however, you have to be careful with how you treat the rest of the body to still give it a feminine feel, even if say the woman is muscular.
Now I know that knees aren’t a unique characteristic of women, however, I find that it’s extremely difficult to find a comprehensive guide on the morphology of knees, instead of simply the underlying anatomy. It’s also more common for women to retain more fat in that area, especially compared to men who are more fit, which is the CG world is the standard male.
The most brilliant description I’ve ever heard of knees is mushed cherub faces, which is exactly how I started to approach knees from that point on. Knees are hard to understand because they look quite different when the leg is bent, and more importantly, everybody’s knees look vastly different. Even on the same person, you can find vast asymmetries on a person’s knees, however, I tried to illustrate a guide on how I approach sculpting them, and some insight into knees that pop out more is flatter, or have different fat distributions.
Sculpting the body
“Ok Donna, this is all great information but I don’t really know how to even approach sculpting this…. 🙁 ”
Don’t worry!! If you take a few hours out of every month and do anatomy studies here and there, really trying to understand your reference, the mileage will kick in. But always remember to work smarter, not harder. Don’t try to invent anatomy if you don’t understand it, instead take the time to analyze the forms. However, for those interested in how I sculpted this body from a simple base mesh, I recorded the process, which overall took me about 4 hours and 15 mins. I did however later go back and tweaked some proportions and smaller features.
If your final product isn’t going to stay inside of ZBrush, it’s a good idea to export it out to the renderer or engine you’ll be finalizing it in. In my case, I’m using Marmoset Toolbag 3 to check and see if all my forms are reading well through the camera and some nice lighting and a simple skin material. Marmoset can handle several million polygons, so I directly exported out my ~5 mil poly body along with a simple block-in for the hair, eyes, and teeth. The texture is a simple polypaint. This way I can see if there are any areas that I should go back to and work on some more.
Now that you have finished sculpting your body, you might be second guessing if your proportions look good. For the Idealized figure, I went with the proportions outlined in Andrew Loomis’ ideal female proportion chart, however, I wasn’t too thrilled with the result, considering that I wanted to go for a more realistic looking figure. I analyzed like 10 different photos of women of varying proportions and heights, and none of them exceeded the 7.5 head measurement, even very tall supermodels. Likewise, with very short women, the cap off seems to be 6.5 heads (obviously this doesn’t apply to people affected by dwarfism), however I would say the average woman is between 7 and 7.5 heads tall. I ended up liking the Realistic Tall variant the most, which is the one I chose for posing.
For the pose, I chose something fairly simple so I didn’t have to resculpt much since I used the transpose master in ZBrush to do it. A couple of things I kept in mind while posing was making sure the head was on top of the center of gravity, that the line from the crotch to the belly button was straight. All the twisting that happens in the torso tends to happen between the bottom of the sternum and the belly button. The reason this happens is because the belly button is situated right above the pelvic mass, which since it’s kind of like a bowl, can’t deform, and neither can the ribcage (the ribcage only deforms when it’s expanding or contracting as the lungs pump air in and out, however it cannot twist).
Adding some basic form of clothing
Considering that many non-art specific social media platforms enforce censorship towards nudity, once your anatomy sculpts start looking a little bit too realistic, some random person can report your post, and sometimes even the algorithms can auto-flag your work and instantly remove it. This is why you might want to consider giving your characters some clothing that won’t cover up all the hard work you put into sculpting their lovely body.
It’s important to note that most underwear has some form of elastic band so that it can adjust to slightly varying sizes, this, of course, leads to pressure on the flesh. It’ll give your character a more believable look if you try to show that depression in the skin, this applies to armbands, stockings, belts, whatever type of clothing that could cause tension on the skin, this doesn’t apply to bones, however, areas with less fat and more muscle will still experience pressure, just not as deep as a more fatty area would.
A lot of these principles apply to both female and male anatomy, however, I think because the majority of the industry right now is composed of men, it’s a little harder to find solid information on how these principles affect the female physique. All of these principles apply to both realistic and stylized work, only that with stylized your decision-making skills have to be even sharper. The simpler the shape language, the more obvious your mistakes will be. It is also important to note that in real life, people’s faces might not match their bodies, or say their feet don’t look like they match their legs, but you are not creating reality, you are designing a narrative. It’s always important to look at the reference, but to build on top of it and make it more interesting, not to be a slave to it. There is much more room for information to be covered, however, time is money and it would take me a lot of time to go over everything in detail, however, I did want to give back to this awesome community that has taught me a lot.
I hope that you guys found this guide helpful and easy to digest! Don’t be afraid to shoot me a message, especially if you’d like to see more tutorials.