Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Four-Legged Animal Anatomy (part one)

I've never really talked much about animals so maybe I ought to start.

The first thing to think about when drawing animals is to think about why they're built the way they're built. This informs everything about how to draw them. It influences how they're put together and how much flexibility they have, all of which affects the drawing of them very much.

Animators at Disney frequently talk about the lectures of Dr. Stuart Sumida, who is an expert on animal anatomy. Unfortunately I've never heard Dr. Sumida speak, for the simple reason that story people are never invited to these type of lectures! Only animators (and riggers, who build the characters) seem to be invited to them.

But that's okay, there are a number of tremendous books about animal anatomy that contain the same type of information*.

Anyway, the reason we ended up riding around on horses for transportation is because of how they evolved. They are plant eaters and eating plants requires a lot of intestines to digest. Eating meat takes a lot less in the way of intestines so that's why cows and horses have those big giant bellies and cats and dogs don't. Horses and cows have to carry around all those guts. So in order to carry around all that weight, horses and cows have thick solid spines. That's why we can sit on their backs without snapping their spines!

Also, it's easier on us to ride them because of this reason. Those big heavy thick spines that horses (and similar animals) have don't have a lot of flexibility. When you look at a horse running, the spines stays relatively level and straight. That makes for a much smoother and comfier ride for the passenger.


Whereas animals like cats and dogs don't need to carry around those big piles of guts because it's a lot more efficient to digest meat. Also they have to hunt prey in order to eat. So they developed springier, lighter spines that help them crouch and pounce (in cats) and run fast to take down their prey (both cats and dogs).


If you compare the two running sequences you'll see how much up-and-down movement there is in the cat spine as opposed to the horse spine. Also the cat spine changes shape a lot more dramatically than the horse spine. Cats and dogs have spines that curl and uncurl (or squash and stretch if you prefer) as they run.

So whenever I see a fantasy painting or something like that were someone's riding a jaguar or a lion or something I wonder what that must be like...it must be a bumpy ride!

If you don't have a collection of Muybridge's photos of animal locomotion (both series above are from his work) you ought to get one. Much of what there is to know about animals can be gleaned from looking at how animals move and asking yourself why they move the way they do. This is far more valuable than any book about drawing animals can ever be. That's pretty much how I learned all that I know about animals and I'd say it's served me okay. Looking at an animal and figuring out why they evolved the way they did based on their behavior is a great exercise and there are very few books that bother to do this (if you know of one, let me know).

* Speaking of which, some of my favorite animal books are:

"Animal Anatomy for Artists" by Eliot Goldfinger

"The Artist's Guide to Animal Anatomy" by Gottfried Bammes


"Draw Horses with Sam Savitt" by Sam Savitt

14 comments:

Aaron Ludwig said...

Wow! Fascinating stuff. Thanks for the insight!

Anonymous said...

aw you're wrecking my illusions. I had the fantasy that all studio guest lecture type things are recorded and pulled from a library by new recruits so they can catch up

Cacodaemonia said...

This is a fantastic post! I hadn't realized exactly why people ride horses and not other animals, but that makes perfect sense.

Anatomy is one of my favorite subjects. I've recently been studying the anatomy of a lot of different animals, so I'm very much looking forward to future posts on this topic. :)

Paco said...

Another inspiring post! Saw a Muybridge book in the window of an old bookshop yesterday; should've picked it up right away of course, but will buy it tomorrow, a must have indeed!

Kyrstin said...

This is fascinating. Thanks for putting this post together!

Rodney Baker said...

Great post Mark.
You had me convinced in the 'gut/spine thing'... until I looked at the Muybridge photos you posted. There I don't see a larger gut in the horse... it appears larger in the cat proportionally. So for now I'm a bit skeptical on that aspect but regardless, you've raised a whole lot of excellent points. As always, Thanks!

Darnell said...

Very interesting! I have been interesting about animal anatomy and searching about this topic. So, thanks for the post.

Robert said...

Another reason to ride a horse instead of a lion: the horse doesn't regard you as dinner.

Chicago cleaning service said...

I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Andy Holden said...

interesting stuff. thanks for posting! :D

India Barnardo said...

Great article!

Stuart Sumida's lecture's are fantastic!

If you live in England, he comes to this festival every year I have been...

http://animex.tees.ac.uk/default.cfm

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the comments!

Aaron - No problem, glad you enjoyed the post.

Anon - funnily enough, many guest lecturers don't want Disney recording their lectures and replaying them, because their material is copyrighted or other reasons...sorry to shatter your illusions.

Caco- good, more to come!

Paco - yes, it's a good resource!

Kyrstin - sure, more to come!

Rodney - you don't have to believe me, but if I were you I wouldn't base your assumptions on just those two images. Go look up images of hairless cats and look at several images of horses and I think you'll see what I mean.

Darnell - sure, glad you enjoyed it!

Robert - good point.

Chicago - great, thanks for letting me know, more to come!

Andy - no problem!

India - wow, you're lucky, I hear he's very good.

apnasindh said...

nice and informative article i like camel in picture thanks for sharing this topic

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