Classic Human Anatomy in Motion: The Artist's Guide to the Dynamics of Figure Drawing (2015)
The human figure can move in an infinite number of ways—from the most ordinary movement, such as walking up a flight of stairs, to a powerful twisting action, as when a soccer player leaps to kick a ball through the air. The body can instantly maneuver from one position to another in an elegant, flowing manner or can execute multiple movements in succession at various speeds and tempos. This choreography of the muscular and skeletal systems makes the depiction of movement challenging, whether an artist is creating animated figures or “freeze-framing” a body in motion.
The term sequential movement describes a figure or body section going through a series of changing positions. The mechanics of movement depend on many factors, including muscle dynamics, joint action, shifting of weight, changes in a figure’s center of gravity, and the influence of gravity on the moving figure. Animators work with an even longer list of factors—timing, tempo changes, slower and faster acceleration, body language, facial expressions, and vocalizations—and must have a deeper understanding of the laws of physics as they apply to figures in motion.
In previous chapters, we looked at how to infuse a stationary pose with movement by observing how body structures turn, tilt, tip, and twist and by applying a rhythmic quality throughout the forms. Now we will examine, in a simplified way, how the body changes in actual movement and how to depict that action. The exercises here are not genuine animation procedures. They are meant to serve only as simple guides to help figurative artists in all genres to strengthen their skill in recognizing joint and muscle movement and to improve their ability to depict it. For those who need more in-depth knowledge, I recommend getting solid training from expert animators or digital artists—either through books or online tutorials or, better, in person at an art or design school.
Mechanics of the Gait Cycle
Let’s start by looking at the mechanics of the gait cycle for both walking and running. These two gaits have some similarities but also some differences. A basic understanding of walking and running gait cycles will help you as you do more complex sequential studies depicting actions from sports like soccer, basketball, and tennis.
The Walking Gait Cycle
A walking gait cycle consists of two steps: a right step and a left step, which together make up a stride. (The terms gait cycle and stride are synonymous.) Each step can be further broken down into two phases: the stance phase and the swing phase.
In the stance phase, one leg is bearing the weight of the body and the foot is in contact with the ground. It consists of several stages:
· The heel strike, when the heel of the foot first meets the ground
· The foot flat stage, when the entire foot is in contact with the ground
· The mid-stance, when the leg straightens and the weight of the body is directly positioned over the lower leg
· The heel-off stage, when the heel lifts up from the ground
· The toe-off stage, when the toes push off the ground, helping propel the foot forward
The swing phase is the portion of the gait cycle when the foot is off the ground and the leg is swinging forward. The swing phase, which begins immediately after the toe-off stage, consists of three stages, and ends with heel striking the ground:
· Early swing (or acceleration)
· Late swing (or deceleration)
When beginning to study the gait cycle, it’s easier to focus on just one leg. The following drawing emphasizes the stance and swing phases of the right leg—referred to, technically, as the right stance phase and the right swing phase. The small footprints show where on the sole of the foot the weight of the body is concentrated during the heel strike and toe-off.
As the right leg moves through the gait cycle, so does the left leg, with the phases in reverse order. At one point during the stride, both feet are touching the ground—a stage known as double support. (This does not occur in the running gait cycle.)
The arms tend to swing in opposition to the swing of the legs: When the right leg swings forward, the right arm moves back, and when the left leg swings forward, the left arm moves back. In ordinary walking, arms are generally held in a relaxed position; in a “power walk,” however, the arms are intentionally bent at the elbow and pump like pistons during the stride.
The next drawing is a simple study of a basic walking movement. I based this study on a video, pressing the pause button at sequential stages and drawing the figure from these key frames. I roughed in the figures using a basic manikin structure, then replayed the video, adding more visual information.
STUDY OF A WALKING GAIT CYCLE
Focusing on the right leg
The Running Gait Cycle
Like the walking gait cycle, the running gait cycle has two phases: stance phase and swing phase. One big difference from the walking cycle, however, occurs in the swing phase of the running cycle when at one point both feet are off the ground—the flight phase (a subphase within the swing phase).
To practice depicting running, you can study videos of people on treadmills or running along a track and freeze various frames to sketch the basic positions. As you study, you will see subtle differences between different runners. Some people run with their torsos upright, some lean slightly forward, and others—especially sprinters—have a strong diagonal tilt. Runners’ arms generally move like pumping pistons, with the elbows held close to the torso, though some people keep their arms more relaxed and loose. Joggers’ hands are usually relaxed and slightly cupped, but sprinters generally clench their hands into fists. Some runner-athletes are trained to flex the knee so far that the heel almost hits the glutes (“heel to butt”), while other runners do not lift the foot nearly so dramatically. A runner’s foot usually lands on the ball of the foot or the mid-foot, although some runners land on the heel. Strides also vary in length, depending on the individual and the speed of the run: Some runners have strides so long they look like leaps, while others have shorter, more compact strides.
I have purposely kept the running movements depicted here very simple. They’re just your first step toward understanding the principles of running—how the figure’s weight shifts during the running gait, how the legs and arms alternate, and so on. The following drawing shows a simple breakdown of a manikin figure running one complete gait cycle; the right leg is emphasized. The stance and swing phases are identified, as are the foot strike, foot flat, mid-stance, toe-off (acceleration), flight, mid-swing, and foot descent (deceleration) stages.
The following drawing is a more compact version of the previous study. The figures are overlapping to show the rhythmic aspect of running. Most noticeable is the rhythm of the head, which reveals that a runner’s head follows a subtly serpentine pathway, not a straight line. When the figure’s feet both leave the ground during the flight stage, the head is positioned higher than when either foot has full contact with the ground.
RUNNING GAIT CYCLE—RHYTHMIC ASPECT
The next drawing, Female Figure Jogging, is a sequential study showing the placement of the basic anatomical forms as the figure runs. As the right foot lands, the outer quadriceps muscle (vastus lateralis) becomes more tense. As the right lower leg stretches in the toe-off stage, the calf muscle (gastrocnemius) becomes more compact.
FEMALE FIGURE JOGGING
Sequential Movement Exercises
There are many ways to study sequential movement. Approaches to drawing a moving figure, summarized in the sidebar below, range from using very raw, gesture-like lines to constructing manikins with geometric shapes to following a more anatomical approach in which you observe and draw the muscular forms changing shape in each key position.
Traditional fine artists can benefit from studying the figure in movement, applying the lessons learned to their depictions of stationary poses. For example, if you study the sequential movement of an arm swinging up over the head from a back view, you will see how the bones of the shoulder girdle change their positions and how the muscles in that same region change shape. Then, when depicting a stationary pose in which a model’s arm is positioned over the head, you will have a better understanding of the placement of the shoulder blade (scapula) and of how the deltoid, trapezius, and scapula muscles are stretching in one area and bulging and compressing in another. In other words, you’ll see the stationary pose as a kind of suspended dynamic action, which will add life and accuracy to your drawing.
Approaches to Drawing Sequential Movement
The following approaches can be used by themselves or combined in any way. Other approaches examined earlier in this book (see especially Chapter 10) can be utilized as well.
The gesture approach is the freest and most fun. You can utilize any of the gesture techniques introduced earlier—searching lines, silhouette, organic lines, or contour lines with tones. By choosing the gesture approach, you can capture the dynamic essence of the movement without unnecessary detail. You’re free to exaggerate the shapes of the figure to emphasize the directional flow of action from one key position to the next.
The manikin approach involves using basic structural shapes to block in the figure in each key position. It’s best to draw these manikins very quickly to keep the figures from looking too stiff. Using manikin structures allows you to see when the figure is rotating or twisting or doing any other action that might take place within a sequential movement. This technique works well if you are drawing from photographs or a live model holding each pose in a sequential movement series for at least five minutes. This gives you enough time to capture essential elements, such as the central axis, the shoulder and hip axes, and any twisting or rotation occurring in a position.
For the anatomical approach, you’ll need more time. That’s easy if you’re working from photographs, but if you’re working from a live model, the model will have to hold each key position for at least ten minutes for you to be able to render the anatomical forms. Working on toned paper with shadows and lights is great for this type of anatomical study because it allows you to show the muscle dynamics in great detail.
Exercise #1: Working from Freeze-Framed Video
For this exercise, select a portion of a movement from a DVD or online video and freeze-frame consecutive positions of the figure executing the action, drawing each one. Sports videos showing soccer, basketball, ballet, racquetball, gymnastics, boxing, and tai chi and other martial arts are good sources. In doing the exercise, don’t aim for a complete breakdown, as an animator would do when mapping out a character’s movement. Instead, distill the movement into its key positions.
Once you’ve selected the movement you want to depict, turn off the sound so that you don’t get distracted. Then press or click pause to freeze-frame a key position near the start of the action, and do a quick sketch of it (a minute or less). Then move on to the next key position and quickly draw that one. When you have done several of these quick drawings depicting the basic movement, watch the sequence again to observe more closely how the structure of the torso may be twisting and how the limbs are positioned spatially. If you desire, add more information—anatomical forms, surface planes—to the original drawings. To indicate that a leg or arm is receding in space, drop in a quick shadow. The head can be a simple egg shape, with the eye line and central axis indicating any tilting that’s occurring within a position. In some drawings, you might want to include arrows or brief notes to document directional changes. You can anchor the figure to the ground by suggesting shadows cast by the figure’s feet. If the figure is leaping from the ground, you can indicate a shadow beneath the figure, but there must be a space to suggest that the figure is airborne. Try to create a flowing connection between one position and the next by applying tones behind the figures or connecting the shadows on the ground.
Sometimes, some parts of an action captured on video may be difficult to see, either because the video is not of a high enough resolution and therefore lacks clarity, or clothing is obscuring the figure’s structures, or other figures momentarily block the figure you are focused on. Try to ignore these limitations and simply focus on the action as best you can.
One thing that’s especially interesting about watching a video of a dynamic action is that you can see the figure momentarily lose balance and then immediately recover. In any dynamic action, there are moments when the figure is precariously off-balance because the figure’s center of gravity has moved outside the safety zone of equilibrium. But in a split second a leg will come forward to prevent the figure from falling or the action of an arm will correct the imbalance. This important aspect of movement is something you will never see in a stationary pose taken by a model, no matter how dynamic the pose is.
When drawing sequential movements from videos, you have the option of drawing the figure with or without clothes. Clothing can be interesting—twisting, turning, and flapping as it responds to the movement of the figure or to the force of gravity or wind. But clothing also obscures what is occurring in the structure, forcing you to try to “see through” the fabric to locate the shapes of the body. To do this, look for checkpoints: the general shape and placement of the rib cage and pelvis, the central axis of the torso, the shoulder and hip axes, the basic locations of the key joints (knee joints, elbow joints), and the various angles of the limbs.
The following studies were done from video sources. Some were executed in a quick, loose manner and others were approached more methodically. Quick Action Studies of a Soccer Player, is a series of gesture studies, using a loose manikin approach, of a soccer player running toward the ball to kick it across the field. I included the red arrows when drawing to indicate key directional movements.
QUICK ACTION STUDIES OF A SOCCER PLAYER
Graphite pencil (red marker for arrows) on white paper.
For the study Soccer Player Changing Directions Mid-Stride, below, I quickly drew a manikin of each position with graphite pencil and then later emphasized the anatomical contours with ballpoint pen for the lines and a warm gray marker for the tones. Since I wanted the drawing to be a simple study of the basic structure and anatomical forms, I drew the figure without clothes even though the player was wearing a typical soccer uniform.
SOCCER PLAYER CHANGING DIRECTIONS MID-STRIDE
Ballpoint pen, graphite pencil, and marker pen on white paper.
In Study of a Racquetball Player Doing a Forehand Stroke, I drew the figure using the manikin approach, which helped define how the figure moved structurally. Indicating the structure in this very simple manner made it easier to see how the figure was leaning and twisting and how the right arm created a dynamic arc.
STUDY OF A RACQUETBALL PLAYER DOING A FOREHAND STROKE
Graphite pencil and colored markers on white paper.
Study of Tai Chi Movement, bottom, has a controlled feeling because of the slow tempo of the action. I blocked in each position very lightly, then drew the contours of the body with a very methodical line to keep the forms simple. I overlapped the individual positions slightly to underscore the shifting of weight that occurs during this slow-moving sequential action.
STUDY OF TAI CHI MOVEMENT
Graphite pencil on white paper.
In Study of a Ballet Movement, opposite, I emphasized the rhythmic shapes of the forms to bring out their organic, fluid quality. The rhythm of forms method works well when there is an obvious flowing energy to the overall movement. (Using the manikin approach might have made the figure look stiff.)
STUDY OF A BALLET MOVEMENT
Graphite pencil, sepia pen, and watercolor pencil on toned paper.
Study of a Basketball Player Slam-Dunking a Ball Through a Hoop, opposite, combines actions: a horizontal running action and then a vertical jumping action. The figures were first drawn as basic manikins, and the last five drawings were fleshed out with anatomical forms.
STUDY OF A BASKETBALL PLAYER SLAM-DUNKING A BALL THROUGH A HOOP
Graphite pencil, ballpoint pen, and marker on white paper,
Exercise #2: Working from Sequential Still Photographs
Another method for studying sequential movement is to draw from sequential stills selected or created by someone else. In some cases, the action of a figure has been filmed and key frames have been selected to illustrate moments in the sequence. In others, the action has been photographed with a digital camera with a rapid-firing shutter, producing a series of sequential stills with razor-sharp clarity. But stop-frame photography recording motion long predates the digital age. The photographs of Eadweard Muybridge (1830–1904), created in the late 1800s, depict sequential movements of animals and of human figures performing various tasks and actions. To this day, Muybridge’s work fascinates artists who study figural movement, and you might also consider drawing from his photos, as I have done in the studies below.
A few Internet sites offer high-resolution photographs of sequential actions, and Muybridge’s photos can be found on several websites (www.muybridge.org has an especially good collection) as well as in published volumes of his work. Again, you may do this exercise as a rapid gesture study or a more analytical study.
STUDY OF A MALE FIGURE CATCHING AND THROWING A BASEBALL
After Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion (1901). Graphite pencil, ballpoint pen, and watercolor pencil on white paper.
STUDY OF A LEAPING FEMALE FIGURE
After Eadweard Muybridge, The Human Figure in Motion (1901). Graphite pencil and watercolor wash on toned paper.
Exercise #3: Superimposing Sequential Actions
In this exercise, you superimpose the key positions of the action over one another. You can work from a model, from a video that you freeze-frame, or from sequential photographs. When working from a live model, have the model perform a very simple movement with one or both feet anchored in place. For example, the model could stand with feet planted on the floor, then slowly bend from the waist. Ask the model to execute the pose in three or four stages and to hold each position for thirty seconds to a minute. Instead of doing separate studies of each movement, superimpose your drawing of each successive key position on top of the first drawing. This exercise works best if you limit the layers to three or four. The superimposed layers can be drawn very lightly so that the overall drawing does not get cluttered with too many dark lines and tones. If you would like to embellish the layers, you can ask the model to repeat the same action again.
If a live model is not available, choose a video of a figure that remains standing or sitting while part of the body is moving. Freeze-frame the action at intervals, as you did in exercise #1. First draw the original pose, then superimpose each key position of the movement on top of it. You may watch the sequence a few times for additional information, should you need it. Or you may enhance the drawings from memory.
In the study Superimposed Movement—Woman Bending at Waist, the model takes a standing pose with one leg on a supporting device, then bends at the waist in two positions. I’ve depicted the three positions in inks of different colors to distinguish them more clearly.
SUPERIMPOSED MOVEMENT—WOMAN BENDING AT WAIST
Graphite pencil and colored felt-tip pens on white paper.
Exercise #4: Capturing Continuous Movement
In this exercise, you draw from a live model who is executing a series of continuous movements on the model stand or on the floor, moving from one location to another. These movements should be performed in ultra-slow motion and in an improvisational, free-form fashion rather than according to a planned or choreographed sequence. Because the model does not pause, you should sketch each position for only a few seconds, continuously moving the drawing tool without lifting it from the surface of the page. You can connect the different stages of the movement with flowing lines or a series of rapid, angular strokes.
An alternative is to draw from a video of a dance sequence, yoga, or tai chi movement played in slow motion, as I did in the drawing on this page. Whether drawing from a live model or a slowed-down video sequence, draw continuously without any interruptions of the action.
Since the model is moving from one location to another, you should not try to superimpose the movements on top of one another as in the previous exercise. Instead, rapidly move your drawing hand from one position on the page to the next, building a cluster of images moving across the page. Since you only have a split second to see a particular position, you will be drawing from very short-term memory before looking up to visually grab the next position. This exercise is challenging precisely because you do not have the opportunity to stop the model so that you can finish the sketch. The model will always be slowly moving to the next position and will not be able to repeat anything.
Although the end result will look very primitive, the exercise is a great way to let yourself go, not trying to produce a realistic interpretation but simply going with the flow of the continuous movement. It will help you build the skill of seeing a pose instantaneously and rapidly jotting down the pose before it flees from the mind—a very helpful skill when you’re out sketching people in public.
STUDY OF A FIGURE PERFORMING A CONTINUOUS TAI CHI MOVEMENT
Felt-tip pen on white paper.
Exercise #5: Capturing Basic Positions of a Choreographed Movement
This exercise requires that you work from a live model. Ask the model to perform a continuous action (such as swinging a baseball bat) and then to break it down into three to five basic positions. Then the model should take those positions sequentially, holding each for two to five minutes while you draw. (Alternately, you can take photos of the key positions and practice drawing them after the session.) Since the action is planned, or choreographed, the positions may appear slightly stiff because they are all in the safety zone of equilibrium. To counter this stiffness, try slightly exaggerating the joint movements or applying a continuous tone in the background, connecting the figures together.
Study of a Figure Hitting a Baseball, opposite, is an example of a choreographed sequential movement drawn from a model who held each of the four positions for a short interval. Because of the short duration of each pose, I approached the drawing as a gesture study. I used a graphite pencil to sketch the initial shape of each pose, then embellished it using a ballpoint pen. The watercolor wash was added afterward.
STUDY OF A FIGURE HITTING A BASEBALL
Graphite pencil, ballpoint pen, and watercolor wash on toned paper.
In Study of a Figure Throwing a Punch—Posterior View, the model took three key positions in a punching action, and I took photographs of each. Since drawing from photos of a choreographed action tends to look a bit stiff or artificial, I decided to approach the drawing as an anatomical study rather than a gesture study and to focus on the dynamic muscles within each position. The large shadows in the background help connect the figures. I decided as an afterthought to add the multiple images of the middle figure’s forearm to foreshadow the upcoming punch, fully seen in the figure on the right.
STUDY OF A FIGURE THROWING A PUNCH—POSTERIOR VIEW
Graphite pencil, ballpoint pen, sepia ink wash, and white chalk on toned paper.
Exercise #6: Capturing Action/Reaction Poses
The action/reaction exercise requires two models. One strikes an action pose and the other reacts to it, both holding their poses for about five minutes. The time is purposely kept short so that the models can manage difficult poses. This exercise is challenging not just because it’s so brief—you’ll have only two and a half minutes to work on each figure—but because you’ll also want to consider the space the models are occupying and perhaps to give the drawing a narrative or emotional overtone.
The models can be nude or in limited costume (so as not to block too much of the structure), and you might even give them stage props (such as swords) to evoke a feeling of narrative or storytelling. The models can plan the poses or perform the actions spontaneously. In either case, ensure that there is a flow of dynamic energy between the figures by asking the models to take poses with lots of action (twists, arcs, dynamic angles) and to pose in different directions—for example, with one person standing as the other bends or with both arcing away from each other.
Although you are not capturing a sequential action in this exercise, it could certainly be extended to a series of related action/reaction poses. A single action/reaction configuration could also be extended for a longer time, though the models will not be able to hold such dynamic poses. Still, it’s always a challenge to convey a feeling of continuity between two figures, even when the action/reaction pose is comparatively passive.
If you cannot get access to two models at once, there are alternatives: One is to draw from a photo of two figures—boxers, dancers, fencers—interacting, whether subtly or in a dynamic way. Another is to use two figures from a video of a swordfight, martial arts sequence, dance performance, or wrestling or boxing match. Just freeze-frame an interesting angle of the two figures interacting and draw. Or you might select figures from two unrelated photos that you think might be convincingly placed together. Do thumbnails of different ways of arranging these figures on the page, and consider overlapping the forms, making them different sizes, or suggesting an environment or background in the drawing. Finally, you might go through your old gesture drawings and select two poses that you think would work together. Again, do thumbnails combining the figures in different arrangements; once you have a good pose, draw a slightly more detailed version of it on another sheet of paper.
In Study of Two Male Figures Acting and Reacting, shown next, I worked from two different gesture studies, placing the figures together on a light toned paper. I then decided to treat this as a longer study so that I could focus on the anatomical forms.
STUDY OF TWO MALE FIGURES ACTING AND REACTING
Graphite pencil, ballpoint pen, brown pen, and sepia ink wash on light toned paper.
In Study of Two Female Figures in Action and Reaction Poses, I drew from two models who were doing short poses together. I tried to capture the narrative aspect of their actions by emphasizing their body language (one figure dominating, one figure reacting in a frightened manner). Animators would naturally exaggerate this type of action into a much more obvious storytelling scenario.
STUDY OF TWO FEMALE FIGURES IN ACTION AND REACTION POSES
Graphite pencil and colored pencil on light toned paper.
In Five-Minute Study of Two Models in Costume Interacting, shown next, I wanted to convey the dynamic energy between the models via a very loose gestural approach. By putting models in costume and equipping them with props, you open endless possibilities for action/reaction poses.
FIVE-MINUTE STUDY OF TWO MODELS IN COSTUME INTERACTING
Black Conté crayon on newsprint.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR/ARTIST
Valerie L. Winslow is a professional fine artist who has exhibited her paintings, drawings, and low-relief sculptures in museums and galleries nationwide since 1977. Works by her are in many private collections, and she has won numerous museum awards.
Winslow’s first book, Classic Human Anatomy: The Artist’s Guide to Form, Function, and Movement (Watson-Guptill, 2009), containing hundreds of drawings, has received worldwide recognition. Library Journal hailed it as a significant contribution to the literature of art reference. The present book continues her exploration of anatomy in relation to the movement of the human figure.
Since 1979 Winslow has taught figurative art and artistic anatomy at well-known institutions including the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California; California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia, California; and San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, where she serves as anatomy coordinator for the AAU School of Fine Arts. She also taught artistic anatomy to animators at Pixar Animation Studios.
For more information on the artist and to view a portfolio of her work, visit valerielwinslow.com.