Anatomical Dog Study

ZBrush, Maya, Marmoset Toolbag (2018-2019)

While working with Construct Studio, I had the opportunity to produce a realistic dog model with the intention of eventually giving it dynamic fur for an interactive experience. While the project itself never went through, stopping just before fur tests would have begun, I was still able to produce a valuable resource for myself in the form of an anatomical study.

A crucial part of any dynamic fur solution is to understand the competing demands placed on the mesh of the animal. Depending on the thickness of the fur, the mesh may represent something close to the underlying skin (as on the muzzle of the dog) or it may represent the outer surface of the fur (as on the deep mane of fur down many dogs’ chests). I found it very easy to become lost in this outer furry surface which in turn led to misleading forms and unrecoverable results. To get around this and keep my work accurate and potentially impressive enough for our potential client, I set out to make a strong reference to build my fur meshes and solutions out from. Once this was accomplished, I could try building a furry body as many times as I wanted without losing that attachment to reality.

Another advantage of this approach was that it provided as close to a perfect reference for the rigger/animator as possible when the pipeline was passed off to them. After looking through some examples of rigged animals, it became apparent that the above problem with the animal’s mesh might confuse and distort the rigging process as well. The front elbows are particularly vulnerable and will often push and pull the chest in awkward directions on simpler rigs. Having the exact location of the bones and a quick way to visualize how they should move would make those sorts of mistakes easier to catch and fix before the rig became too complex to adjust.

For the actual study, I realized pretty shortly into the process that I was about to volunteer quite a few of my evenings to filling in the study. The process drew me in and I knew I had to do the whole dog (within reason). I relied enormously on Eliot Goldfinger’s “Animal Anatomy for Artists” to guide my tracing of the muscles. My biggest focus was the face and I really wanted to capture the way a dog’s skin rests low over the teeth and jaw. I’ve struggled with some of the forms of animal faces before and found this brute force refresher to be a good way around it.

Sculpting in ZBrush presented a number of problems and solutions. I had to be really patient with the thicknesses of the various muscles to allow them to cross over and under one another without inflating into bloated forms. The hardest overlaps were on the chest near the inside of the legs. ZBrush has some great tools for creating tubes of geometry that I was able to use as the basis for almost every muscle I created. The result feels satisfyingly compact and solid with very few elements floating out in space.

Not having infinite time, I did choose to cut corners on bony sections like the lower legs, spine, and rib cage. It was important to capture some of the basic forms of the leg but, overall, they were unlikely to drift off course during the later sculpting. I paid special attention instead to the major bones like the skull, atlas and axis, the pelvis, and the scapula.

To sculpt some skin onto the face of the dog, I used naturally hairless dogs for reference. It was surprisingly difficult for me at times to deliberately sculpt the skin of the dog without building fur on top of it. The face was likely the hardest example of that.