Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dino Art Tips 3: Maquettes

The current issue of ImagineFX Magazine features a special issue on how to create dinosaur art.

Each Thursday, I've been sharing a few tips from my how-to article, but to get them all, pick up a copy at the newsstand while it's still available.

Pose dinosaur models
To get a sense how a real dinosaur would look in the pose you want, pick up some dinosaur maquettes or models. The cheap hard plastic models that you can get in museum stores aren’t bad, but if you can afford to pay a bit more, get some better vinyl kits from the top sculptors. You can also find scale model skulls or skeletons that are really helpful in visualizing the anatomy.

Make your own
You can also sculpt your own reference models out of Sculpey or Fimo polymer clay. Start with aluminum armature wire. The maquettes don’t have to be very detailed. But they should be accurate in the basic forms and proportions. You can make them more useful as mannikins if you connect the head with a universal joint or if you leave an adjustable wire for the neck. Then you can pose them just the way you want them.

Get taxidermy castings
You can also buy resin molds of turkey feet and chicken heads from taxidermy suppliers. These show marvelous detail of the hard and soft forms, which is really more convincing than most dinosaur sculptures. The turkey foot looks like a slender version of T.rex. You can hold up any model in the position you want on a C-stand, a standard piece of movie grip equipment. (Thanks, Mick Ellison)

Tips for photographic maquettes
Spray-paint your maquettes a middle grey. White burns out in photos. You probably don’t want the surface to be too shiny, so use a matte finish. Set up maquettes outdoors in natural light against a simple backdrop. Shoot them with a digital SLR on a tripod with a slow shutter speed and small aperture to get maximum depth of field. If you have several models of each general type, like sauropods, shoot them all in the same pose and lighting and use features from each of the models.

Tweak your photos.
You can light the models with a spotlight with a colored gel for “golden hour” lighting. Use Photoshop to make different versions of the reference shots. By sliding the midtone control in “levels,” you can print versions that emphasize detail in the lights or in the shadows. You can get a whole set of fresh poses by shooting a model backwards and then flopping it horizontally.


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Erik Bongers said...

I mostly draw humans, but of course, the principles are the same.
Now, let me think...where can I get those taxidermy castings of humans?...

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Shane White said...

Sculpting your own...great idea.

Here's where I get all my sculpture supplies.

If you want to make molds of your stuff:

Hopefully it'll demystify the process a little.:)


The New Gray Mare said...

"You can make them more useful as mannikins if you connect the head with a universal joint or if you leave an adjustable wire for the neck."

For those of us who don't know much about the process, how do you connect the head with a universal joint? Would the wire you leave just be uncoated with clay, like the head on Bix you have photographed.

Thank you for publishing such an awesome Blog. I read it every day and have honestly learned more from you than I have in any art class I took in college. You just explain things in such a way that it makes perfect sense and is memorable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling me about ImagineFX. I read about the magazine on your blog and found a copy, and it's full of great advice.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Pall Mall and Erik. Shane, those leads for supplies are really helpful. Speaking of supplies, sculptors from the American Museum of N.H. told me last week that they use "Magic Sculpt," a 2-part epoxy putty, which you can get from

Azonthus, thanks for checking out the blog. The universal joint I used on Bix was from a soldering jig, also called a "triple grip third hand" which I took apart. When I sculpted the model, I just incorporated it into the armature.

Anonymous said...

>omg< I read that article, but I subscribe -- but this one was special, because I was in it, too :)

I was in the Art Class feature with Nick Harris as my teacher :)

How honored I am to share the same magazine volume as you! hehe :D