How to get your proportions right in Blender


You want to make a something in Blender that lives. Maybe a human, maybe an alien from the planet Zorg. For this particular subject, it doesn’t really matter. Everything you make you want to look real. There are tons of ways you can get this done, but for now we’ll be talking about one of the most fundamental skills in Blender design, proportions. Not just any proportions, proportions for Blenderers.

Proportions are one of the most important factors in making your art look good. If you do your proportions right, your art will look right. Making your models with proportions in mind gets you a step closer to creating photorealism, which is crucial if you want to create the best art you can.

Proportional sketches

A big part of getting the anatomy right is making sure your proportions look believable. Even if you’re making a humanoid with different proportions on purpose, it’s still important to keep proportions in mind. The best way to get this right is to start with the basics and work from there.

Talking about the basics, this is one you might’ve heard before. When making a humanoid, it should be about eight heads tall. While this is true for making real humans, it doesn’t really work when you make something with a bigger head than normal. You should still try to divide your figure into some number of parts, just to get some perspective on how big one part is relative to another. The easiest way to do this is by making a proportional sketch.

Proportional sketches are something different than concept art. In a proportional sketch, you only draw the absolutely necessary things. Since you’re probably new to proportional sketches you should just do this exercise first to make sure you can make a nice proportional sketch. This way you’ll be sure to make an awesome proportional sketch when you get to your own work.

Something like this can be your proportional sketch (sorry for the hands):

As you can see the proportions for average human being are as follows:

  1. Chin
  2. Nipples
  3. Belly button + elbows
  4. Hip joints + wrists
  5. Fingertips (when the hand is stretched)
  6. Bottom of the kneecap + middle of the thigh
  7. No joints, but here you would make the bottom of the calf muscles
  8. Soles of the feet

Now, this is just an average human. You, as a Blenderer, shouldn’t be making average humans. They don’t stand out and will look a bit generic. If you want to make a human you should vary the proportions a bit. You could, for example, decrease someone’s height by keeping the legs the same length but compressing everything above it. Keep in mind though that you should keep the hands mid-thigh, or else your human won’t look nice.

Since you’re making your character in Blender you should also make a proportional sketch from the side. It should look something like this:

  • Head aligns with the feet
  • Spine’s got an S-curve
  • Legs aren’t perfectly straight

The whole body moves slightly around an imaginary line you can draw from the middle of the head all the way to the feet. Don’t worry if yours isn’t perfect (mine isn’t either). You don’t need a perfect sketch. If you want to change something you can do it later when making the actual model in Blender. Don’t stress on you proportional sketch. After all, proportional sketches are just that. Sketches.



Some other useful constants for when you play with your proportions:

  • Your feet are roughly the length of your forearm (really, try it)
  • A hand (when spread) is more or less the size of your face
  • Your shoulders are three heads wide

If you keep this in mind the body of your model should be fine. Try to play with proportions as much as possible, as practice makes perfect. Even better, try it out right now. Grab a piece of paper, divide it into eight parts and start drawing. If you really want to learn you should try to make a human slightly shorter than the one up there, about 7,5 heads is fine, to make sure you aren’t just copying.

Last but not least, take a look around. While taking a look in the mirror might help you get your proportions right, looking at others is even more helpful. Everybody has different proportions, from longer legs to shorter necks. Try to take short glances at people you pass in public an try to estimate their proportions. That way you’ll be learning even when you’re not behind your computer!


Facial proportions

I’ll be honest with you. While bodily proportions can be hard, facial proportions can be nearly impossible if you don’t know what to do. How does everything fit together? How long do you have to make something? Truth be told, there isn’t really an answer to all of this. Just as with bodies, every face is different. While you can get away with a quick sketch when making the body, you’ll have to take more time with your face. It may sound dramatic, but the face can make or break the character. In short, be sure to spend enough time on this.

There’s no default drawing of a face you can use when making your own character. Any face made using a default drawing will inevitably end up looking too much like that face, making your character look too generic. If you want an original character you’ll have to draw the face from scratch. Just as with the body, there are some general rules that go for almost all faces though, so you’ll have something to go on.

  • Don't copy signThe eyes are about one eye apart and are the middle of the face
  • The pupils align with the corners of the mouth
  • The nose is one eye wide
  • The ears align with the eyebrows and the bottom of the nose
  • The hairline is at 1/3 of the face

Keeping those rules in mind you should be able to craft a nice face. Again, take a look around. Nowadays there are even apps that’ll help you with this. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Take out your phone and select your favorite social media app. Yep, it’s all there. Millions of people post their face online every day, so you might as well take advantage of it. For a real authentic look, you should avoid copying one face. Rather you should take three or four and blend them together.


Other proportions

Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s talk about the proportions of everything else. To keep it simple, we’ll split this up into two groups:

  1. Real stuff
  2. Fantasy stuff

If you want to know the proportions of something that’s real you don’t have to worry. Go to Google and find yourself a nice reference image. Now you can either paste this into the background of your workspace or do what I recommend and do a little extra work. With this I mean you take the photo and draw some lines on it with MS Paint. Only draw lines where it makes sense, like when two bodyparts align or when you can sensibly fit a set of joints in a box. It’s also smart to look up an image of the animal’s skeleton, as this gives you a clearer view of where the animal can realistically turn its various parts.

Making something that’s never been seen before can be a bit tricky. While it’s awesome to make something completely new, you shouldn’t go too far. Your audience needs something they can place. This doesn’t mean you’re condemned to a life of making snake-panda hybrids (although those would be cool), but it does mean you have to take parts that are already here and mix these up to create your fantasy beast. Take dragons for example. They’re from the realm of fantasy (I hope), but also relatable. You can see this in the following:

  • The legs are positioned like most four-legged mammals
  • The wings are like those of a bat
  • Scales are something we see in lizards and snakes
  • Plenty of animals have horns
  • Sharp teeth aren’t uncommon in the animal kingdom

I could go on, but I think you get the point. Take a couple of animals, take a well-known trait from each of them and combine these in the fantasy-creature you want to make.

There are a couple of risks when doing this, so be on the lookout for mistakes. These include using too many animals together, which causes you to create something that’s still so alien it doesn’t give off a sense of familiarity anymore. Using too little animals can be just as bad though, as you run the risk of making something that’s already been made. This doesn’t have to be a problem if you’re sure you can do it better, but always check if this is what you want.

So, in short, anatomy can be really hard to do. It is, however, something you’ll have to deal with if you really want your work to shine. Just remember to start with a sketch, look at lots of references, and let your creativity loose.

See you next time,

Jesse Davis


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