Search form

Vilppu Drawing Online: The Landmarks of Anatomy

Renowned drawing instructor Glenn Vilppu offers the seventhinstallment in his bi-monthly Animation World Magazine online drawingcourse.

This is the seventh in a series of articles on drawing for animation. In these articles I will be presenting the theory and practice of drawing as a "how to" instructional series. The lessons are based upon the Vilppu Drawing Manual and will in general follow the basic plan outlined in the manual. This is the same material that I base my seminars and lectures on at the American Animation Institute, UCLA, and my lectures at Disney, Warner Bros. and other major studios in the animation industry, both in the U.S. and their affiliates overseas. Most lessons will also be accompanied by short QuickTime clips of me demonstrating the material discussed. If you have not seen the previous lessons starting in the June 1998 issue of Animation World Magazine, it is recommended that you do. The lessons are progressive and expand on basic ideas. It is suggested that you start from the beginning for a better understanding of my approach. It is a truism that you cannot draw something unless you know what it looks like. It is also true that just because you know something very well, it does not mean that you can draw it. I have taught many medical personnel, including doctors, nurses, and various specialists, with much more understanding of anatomy than myself. In fact, it took a while for me to realize that you cannot draw something unless you know what it looks like, but knowing anatomy would not make me draw better. What I needed was a method of understanding anatomical facts, so that I could use these landmarks as tools of communication and expression, without violating basic anatomical reality and thereby, detracting from what the drawing was trying to communicate.

Illustration No. 1

Anatomy 101

Let us first start with some basic landmarks and simple facts about the figure. One of the most basic and useful facts about the figure is its symmetry. The symmetry of the figure is an obvious tool that is too often overlooked. In Illustration No. 1, drawings "A" and "B" give us the basic landmarks that we need to understand and use. From the front we have the line created by the pit of the neck, sternum, naval, and pubic arch, giving us a center line. In the back, we have the spine itself as a center line. The ends of the shoulders are basic landmarks from both front and back. Moving down the front, we have the corners of the rib cage at the bottom of the thoracic arch, and the corners of the pelvis at the end of the iliac crest. Going down the back, we have the lines of the scapulas, and the ends of the iliac crest where it meets the sacrum.

Now let us see how we use these basic landmarks. Thinking of the center of the form is the key to using symmetry. In most cases, (with the exception of the shoulders which have considerable independent movement but which generally conform to the basic concept), the landmarks are at right angles to the central axis of the form. When the central axis of the form changes, the landmarks move with it and, generally, exaggerate the change. Study Illustration No. 2 of the torso and notice how the landmark move with the change of the form. Notice the compression and stretching that takes place when the fixed landmarks move with the changing central axis. While achieving a clear understanding of the action by amplification of the shift in the central axis, we bring into play fundamental dynamics of reality as well as basic design elements. By simply shifting the weight to one leg, we automatically create a curve in the torso, as we generally shift the rest of the torso to compensate. This shifting doesn't stop there, but extends to the neck and head, going up, which tends to move in the opposite direction again.

Illustration No. 3

In this simple shifting, you have the basic elements of a classical rhythmic arrangement of forms combined with the twist that was the hallmark of Renaissance aesthetics. Look at Illustration No. 3 and take the pose yourself. Try standing with your weight equally balanced and then slowly shift your weight from one side to the other and see what happens. If you try to maintain a basic vertical position rather than leaning to one side or the other, you will look like Illustration No. 3. Notice how one side of the body is stretching and the other side is compressing. The accordion in Illustration No. 4 is a diagram of this action. The basic design element involved here is the fundamental concept of opposites, the most basic of design principles. The use of opposites is a tool that not only creates visual interest, but each helps to clarify the other. The Italians called this pose "Contra Posto."

Looking at Limbs

The limbs have their own landmarks that we look for and use as tools to help us understand and describe an action. As in the torso, symmetry plays a key role and, of course, is defined by the central axis of the form. The most useful clarifying elements are the ends of the bones at the various joints. First, let us look at the elbow. The uniqueness of the elbow joint creates a very practical means of showing the direction of the form. Illustrations No. 5A and 5B show you how this joint is formed.

Illustration No. 5A

The end of the ulna along with the epicondyle of the humerus create three clear points that you can use in your drawing. When the arm is straight, these points create a straight line. When you bend your arm, the tip of the ulna drops. This triangle then becomes the end of the cylinder of the forearm. The axis created by the line behind the condyles defines the orientation of the cylinder in space. Since the radius has the ability to twist independently of the ulna, the wrist is often best described as a squared shape due to the flatness of the radius on top. Again, this is an observation that becomes an excellent tool.

Illustration No. 6

The shoulder is a little different in that we do not really see the humerus clearly. Here we must use the way in which the deltoid attaches in a semicircle to the scapula and clavicle. The acromion process at the end of the spine of the scapula becomes the point that we use in drawing the line across the shoulders. The line created by the spine of the scapula is also very useful as is the lower corner. Study Illustration No. 6

Illustration No. 7

The knee is used very much in the same way as the elbow in that we concentrate primarily on the epicondyle of the femur and condyles of the tibia. It becomes quite useful to see this joint rather squarishly to help show the direction of the leg. The patella functions in much the same way as the end of the ulna does in the elbow,helping to give direction to the leg. Study Illustration No. 7.

The way the fibula and tibia fit into the foot in a front view gives a clear indication of which way the foot is going. Study Illustration No. 8. You will notice that in these illustrations I have included diagrams that show the flow of the lines created by the basic forms. These "rhythms" have a corresponding use to the basic structural landmarks in helping us see the total action more clearly. You should look at these landmarks as ways of helping you see what you're looking at and not as rules. The point is to develop a strong systematic approach that frees you creatively. In Part Two (Lesson No. 8), we will discuss further some of the major anatomical masses.

Glenn Vilppu teaches figure drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and is being sent to teach artists at Disney TV studios in Japan, Canada and the Philippines. Vilppu has also worked in the animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students. Glenn Vilppu first wrote for Animation World Magazine in the June 1997 issue, "Never Underestimate the Power of Life Drawing." His drawing manuals and video tapes may now be purchased in the Animation World Store.