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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sculpting Verdi in passes

Here's a digital sculpture I did especially for the book. It's a copy of a small sculpture of the composer Verdi I bought last week in Florence. It replaces an excellent example from the great Andrew Loomis, because I couldn't figure out how to get the rights, and decided it was faster and easier to just make my own example. Artistically it's not as good, but for the purpose of explaining, I think it will do.

Another interesting thing you should know is that this is my first attempt at serious digital sculpting (my only other attempt was a silly cartoon hedgehog I did a few weeks ago), and that the only other sculpture I ever did was this one. Why am I telling you this? Because I think it demonstrates the power of understanding the creative process. You can drop yourself into any artistic medium, and start getting reasonable results almost instantly.

The work took about 5 hours and 9 major passes to complete - that roughly half an hour for each pass. Half an hour is a good time-frame: it gives you just enough time to complete 3-4 major improvements, but not quite enough time to start getting carried away with it.

I started with "something to change" - a simple and VERY rough approximation of the figure. Because I knew in advance this was going to serve as an example for working in passes, before every pass I took care to write down exactly what I was going to improve. Below is a numbered documentation of the process, that corresponds to the numbers in the image. It's a rare chance to get an authentic view on how artwork evolves through careful and controlled scrutiny.

*Please remember that this list is NOT a plan of action made before starting to work; no one can know in advance how a work is going to evolve, and what would need to be fixed or improved in each pass.

pass 1: head shape, shoulders shape, chest shape
pass 2: place facial features, place clothing
pass 3: define hairline, define facial proportions, define collar

Pass 4: [profile pass] eyebrow shape profile, hollow cheek, bottom nose connection, chin+upper lip profile
pass 5: [front pass] eyes & pupils, define hair, wider nose, narrower temples, fix around hollow cheek
pass 6:: break symmetry, create expression

pass 7:: basic hair/beard texture, define clothing
pass 8:: detail up hair/beard texture, fix nose
pass 9:: detail eyebrows area, thicken top hair, fix tie


  1. that is indeed an impressive result for a newbie in that medium. really nice.
    for me, the reason you're getting good results in any tool you use is your knowladge of anatomy and chatacter design,
    not so much the fact you took these particlur steps you're presenting.
    i think the lesson here is more like: you can learn how to make an animated walk cycle through watching a tutorial
    on youtube or by observing people walk, analyzing it and trying to recretae it through trial and error.
    since your way is the latter - i believe this is the reason you can do that successfully.

  2. You're right of course, anatomy and character design experience certainly played a part here. BUT I can testify to you, that using this knowledge on a medium I'm not used to was very difficult for me before I took on studying the creative process.

    In a sense, the whole idea of "The Art of Art" is that knowledge, talent and experience easily go to waste when you don't have a really good methodology to implement them through. It would be like a company that has a really good staff, every man the best in his trade, but really lousy management. From experience, I can tell you that no matter how excellent your resources, everything goes bust when the management sucks. And by the way, it also goes the other way - an excellent management will usually succeed even with mediocre staff. In the same way, mediocre talent with little experience CAN produce great results using an excellent creative process.

  3. Hey Gigo, maybe you should also show the sculpture that you're using as reference.
    That way we can make the comparison you made in every step, and follow your line of thought.
    I have no idea what Verdi looked like, so when you write "wider nose, narrower temples" I have nothing to compare to.
    other than that, it gets the point across I think, although you are very good in shapes (2 dimensional and 3 dimensional) and that plays a big part on your success in sculpting.

    I think your way of thinking helps not being afraid to try and to change things when you are creating something you've never done before.