Anatomy 101

Posted Thursday, January 21, 2010, 5:42 PM

Whenever I model something in 3D that I've never done before, it's an education.

When I first modelled a building in any level of detail, I had to look at the structure of it as though it was real, and piece together all the elements in much the same way you would to build it in the real world. But without the heavy lifting.

So I was acutely aware of how walls meet the roof, and what makes up the details of window frames, or how the door latch works. And now whenever I look at a house, I have a new appreciation of how buildings look and what went into its design and construction.

The same for modelling a car. I learned a lot about how the steering works on front wheels, and how the suspension attaches to the chassis. Even the curve of the windshield is a complicated feature that you don't really appreciate until you see how neatly it has to fit into a very specifically curved slot, unique to each and every make of car.

I have found the same newly discovered fascination with big complicated things like aircraft, right down to small domestic items like computer keyboards, and organic stuff, like trees and birds, which have a whole other level of sophistication.

For the past few days, for a Pick Up And Go production, I have begun modelling a human skeleton, which will eventually be animated as a sword-wielding skeletal warrior and composited into the footage we shot a few weeks ago.

The human skeleton is something we're all very familiar with, but few of us will have had an opportunity to look at one closely. There are 206 bones in the human body, and I have to model each one of them (though some are fused together, and some, like ribs and fingers, are very repetitious) and then piece them into place, at the right scale and proportion to not only look exactly right, but also to be able to move in a way that looks cinematically appealing.

And it's amazing to me how cleverly the bones interact with each other, how the range of movement is so wide, but with limits that suit our needs so well. Admittedly, we push them right to the edge sometimes, and occasionally wish we had more flexibility, or the ability to adjust them, or had a couple of extra limbs (even wings), but what we do have is a miracle of evolutionary engineering, and it was fascinating to see that, as I am putting the skeleton together piece by piece.

So far I've been quite happy with how it's looking. I have been building most of the parts individually, from memory, then comparing it with an image of the real thing including the joint assembly, so I can adjust my model to match closer. However, I haven't yet compared it as a whole to an image of a complete skeleton; I expect I may have to slide the knees or elbows around a bit to get them right.

Though, of course, no two skeletons are the same. It's part of what makes we humans distinct from each other, and the differences go as deep as the bones themselves. Therefore, as long as I have all the bits approximately correct, that will likely be close enough to be acceptably believable.

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