Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Review of the Amazing Armature Nine Artists' Model

 

When aspiring artists have asked me for tips and tricks on how to improve in their art, one of the things I've repeated many times is the importance of having good reference. This applies to not only creatures, people, objects, and materials, but also to their poses.

While it would be convenient to have a model standing by every time we wanted to explore different poses, that's not always possible, and so early on in most of our artistic careers, we behold the glory of the all-too-familiar wooden human mannequin:


I feel like nearly all of my artist friends have owned one of these at some point, but while they make fair still-life studies, unfortunately they lack actually being suitable reference to the human form. These wooden mannequins have extremely limited ranges of movement, and while you can swing the arms and bit, you can't even come close to putting them in more complex poses.


Art S. Buck 1/6 Scale Model


   

Sometime after High School I realized I was interested in owning a better anatomy reference, so I purchased both the male and female versions of the Art S. Buck 12" 1/6th scale figures. These figures have over 30 points of articulation with detailed facial and hand features. They're made out of plastic, and were certainly a step up from the previous one I owned. They offered a much greater range of movement than the wooden mannequin, but were still a far cry from being able to cover the full range of human motion.


SFBT-3  1/6 Scale Model


  

The first high-end artists' anatomy model I got a hold of was the dynamic SFBT-3 (Special Full-Action Body Type) from Japan, which had been previously owned by my good friend, the late Kevin Kanai Griffith. He'd always had nothing but good things to say about this impressively designed anatomy model, which is made up of dozen upon dozens of individual parts and has an impressive 80 joints. The model is really hard to find these days, and retails for over $300, and I'm thankful for the year plus of fine reference it's offered me.

This artists' model was a big upgrade to the Art S. Buck anatomy model I already owned, and offered an impressive range of movement. I really appreciated that aspects of the model offered a creative way at looking at musculature beneath the skin. I loved that the fingers of the hand were flexible and that so many new and wonderful poses were open to me, but the figure also had some drawbacks. For one: it's quite stylized, with a face, bosom, ribcage, and waistline that are far closer to what I'd consider "anime" proportions. This isn't necessarily a terrible thing depending on how you intend to use the reference, but if you're interested in a more unisex or proportional reference, this probably isn't your best option.

For all the model's detailed parts and impressive number of joints, however, the model still has some additional drawbacks in terms of its range of motion. For instance: the waist cannot rotate left or right or tilt much at all. Likewise, the torso can't twist. The neck also has very little side-to-side movement in terms of tilting, twisting, or turning. Additionally, the feet and heels cannot properly point.

On the whole, SFBT-3 is definitely an exceptional anatomy reference model, but because of its various drawbacks, it led me to go searching for a better anatomy tool, which is what led me to discover the amazing Armature Nine.


Armature Nine


  


I discovered Armature Nine or (A9-RIG) through Facebook and in short order I was off exploring their offerings on their expansive website. What impressed me the most was that this wasn't a simple one-off product, but rather the manufacturer was an individual that was not only constantly iterating on his models, but listening directly from the community that had sprung up around his product to offer a wide range of add-ons, from wings to horns, tails, weapons, detailed fingers, and more. And looking back through weeks and months and even years of Facebook updates, it was apparent how dedicated and passionate the creator was to their growing range of products.

The products were first designed and released in 2012, when the A9 made history by becoming the first ever mass produced 3D printed product with now thousands of units circulating internationally to over fifty countries around the world.

While I don't own a 3D printer of my own, I am endlessly fascinated by what entrepreneurs and innovators have done with this technology, and in the case of Armature Nine in particular, it's meant that the creator can be constantly iterating on his creations and improving them as he goes. It also means that he's able to continually offer customers the opportunity to upgrade their models if they so desire. This is from their Armature Nine Product Page:

"Manufacturing our products with 3D printers gives us the unique advantage of being able to respond monthly, weekly or even daily to feedback from customers by making changes to the product immediately. So if we learn something new about how to make our product better, we try to implement the change as quickly as possible and queue new and improved models into the 3D printers.
We're sensitive of course to compatibility problems that could arise and so we try to keep all our updates backward compatible. This allows customers to purchase a new and improved arm pair (for instance) and attach them to their older armature without trouble. We offer all these upgrades through our Kits & Bits page. And in the unlikely event fitting problems do arise, we're very committed to addressing all such problems through our expedient customer service."

The Upcoming Version of Armature Nine on the Right

What Armature Nine originally looked like back in 2012

Even in the time since I received my own model less than a month ago, the creator has already revealed a new version of Armature Nine! It's exciting to see all the improvements and also know that since parts are backwards compatible, I can easily place an order to piece together the newest version if I so desire (and oh, I will!).

In addition, the manufacturer offers many instructional photos and videos on their site which share a wealth of information and tips surrounding these wonderful armatures.

When I had questions about the model or compatibility between parts, I received customer service responses in less than 24 hours, which I found very impressive and timely. Not only that, but when I asked about questiond like how a tail add-on attaches to a bipedal model, I received detailed information as well as a link to a video that showed me step-by-step how it attaches and left no guesswork to the process. I can't emphasize enough how important good customer service means to me, especially right out of the gate.


A Closer Look at Armature Nine


When you place an order for an Armature Nine, you can choose what material you want your model to be made out of. I'm a fan of natural materials, so I chose the one that was 3D printed ABS plastic & wood-composite. It came fully-assembled by-hand with a "birth date" laser engraved on one arm. It's a great, personalizing touch to their 1/6th scale, 12 inch model. The version I own appears to have 48 points of articulation and is V.2016.3.


First off, Armature Nine's claim of being able to mimic any pose humanly possible appears spot-on from my experiences. It is easily more malleable than any of the other anatomy figures I own, and is able to hold poses without issue. The addition of an optional clip stand makes action poses even easier to achieve, and you can even use the magnets built into the bottom of the feet for added stability.

One thing to keep in mind is that as the product is 3D printed, that comes with the many pluses I mentioned earlier, as well as some drawbacks. The figure itself doesn't feel particularly fragile to me (and comes with a 12 month warranty), but because the pieces are printed rather than molded and casted, they are not as smooth as their plastic counterparts. In practice, this means there is reduced detail across the model overall, and that particularly impacts the more delicate parts of the model, such as the hands and feet.


Hands:


  

 

Now through the Kits & Bits page you're able to purchase static-pose hands in a variety of poses, but in comparing the articulated hands and feet of Armature Nine to SFBT-3, SFBT-3 is the clear winner in my book because it has the correct number of joints per finger (three) as opposed to the two joints on each finger of the Armature Nine. SFBT-3 also has two ranges of motion on the joint where the base of the fingers meets the hand, allowing the fingers to be spread apart as well as pulled back tightly against each other. This also means that the thumb on the Armature Nine cannot fold inwards and upwards to form a flat hand. Unfortunately, some of the fingers on Armature Nine are also a bit loose.


Feet:



 


The feet on the Armature Nine were also a bit underwhelming compared to the SFBT-3 for two notable reasons. First: the attachment point for the ankle felt too high in terms of it's pivot point, and secondly, the SFBT-3 offered the toes to lay flat and even with the rest of the foot, which was sculpted more realistically, as well as the option of individually bending the large toe and group of four toes. For the Armature Nine, the toes are all one group and rest slightly higher than the rest of the foot. But as a perk of Armature Nine: each foot comes with three magnets that can help with holding poses when attached to a metal base.

Heads:


 

The standard Armature Nine Head (left) next two two add-on options for a human face and skull.


This note with fine detail is also shared with some of the add-ons I purchased, including the lifelike head and skeletal heads. They both have greatly less detail than my skull from Anatomy Tools and my Art S. Buck models respectively. So if you are looking for a rough approximation of a human face or skull, the Armature Nine options may do just fine, but if you need something with a lot of refined detail, you may need other reference materials to supplement it.

At the very least, I'd recommend the human head add-on from Armature Nine because it offers a least a rough approximation of some notable facial features, like eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. As time goes on, it's completely possible that I might try modifying these bits in order to enhance their details with a Dremel and epoxy clay.


Strength in Poses:


On the whole, I don't view this as a "problem" with the Armature Nine in the least. More specifically: I feel it's simply a logical result of the ongoing 3D printing manufacturing process. My hope would be that in years to come and additional 3D printing technologies become available, that more realistic hands, feet, and heads might become available for Armature Nine, or that perhaps they might be created with traditional molding and casting methods that retain a finer level of detail for production.

 
Armature Nine is able to form a tight pose, while SFBT-3 is unable to mirror it.

In this particular case, I don't feel that this detracts from the many strengths and possibilities of Armature Nine. At this point in time, it's not trying to perform as a substitute for the finer details of a model, such as their musculature. Rather: its structure is modeled off familiar bones and masses that make up the human body, and it is trying (and succeeding) at offering a compelling substitute to the poses a live model is capable of, and then some, and

  

 

This is the area it absolutely shines in, and compared to the other anatomy models I own, Armature Nine is simply heads and tails beyond them. While I certainly appreciate the muscle-inspired anatomy of parts of the SFBT-3 and her (somewht) natural curves, she isn't nearly as useful to me when she is limited to certain poses because of how she is built. Additionally, of all of the figures I own, Armature Nine is able to hold its poses the easiest. Where as SFBT-3 slips out of pose somewhat easily, especially non-standing poses, Armature Nine holds firm.

The hip and shoulder attachment and rotation points are particularly impressive!


 
Armature Nine is able to support itself, while SFBT-3's arms and shoulders give out and slump.

 

 
Armature Nine is again able to form a tighter pose and lift its leg much higher than SFBT-3. Armature Nine is also able to twist its torso, neck, and head much more than SFBT-3.

Thankfully we living in an age of options, so if I want to nail-down a pose for my art or sculptures, I can turn directly to the many strengths of  Armature Nine, and then if I need to study musculature further, I might turn to my SFBT-3 or Art S. Buck figures, and if I need a detailed look at how light and shadows fall across the human head, I can reference my Art S. Buck figures or a photo reference. 


Add-Ons (Bits and Pieces) and Armature Nine


In addition to testing out the base Armature Nine, I also purchased the following add-ons:

  • A9 1:6 Sculptural Hands Set #1 - Gripping / Pearl-White Plastic
  • A9 Props: Bow & Arrow - Color: Wood Composite
  • A9 Props: Double handed Sword - Color: Wood Composite
  • A9 1:6 Clip Stand - Clip Stand Only
  • A9 1:6 head 11 (human skull) - Color: Pearl White Plastic
  • A9 1:6 head 06 (dog) - Color: Wood Composite
  • A9 1:6 Tail - Color: Wood Composite (1 tail segment)
  • A9 1:6 Legs & Feet (Digitigrade) - Color: Wood Composite
  • A9 1:6 head 09 (human) - Color: Wood Composite

 

One of the things I was interested exploring was the possibility of creating a digitrade model in order to closely mirror one of my characters that I've been recently sculpting in the piece "Sashah's Song." While the piece is now baked and in the process of being painted, and though the fantasy anatomy doesn't match up precisely with Armature Nine, I was very curious how possible it might be to create a poseable digitrade character using Armature Nine as the base.


 


The results were nothing short of stellar. After attaching the clip stand, I went to work replacing the lower portions of the legs with their digitrade counterparts, attached the tail, and replaced the neck and head with a "dog head."

  

 

Though the sculpture and the modified Armature Nine are nearly identical in height (the modified Armature Nine is simply much closer to the camera in the photo above), it was fascinating seeing how well I was able to mimic my character's pose, and I'm certainly eager to new this new tech and tool in the future when I render her and any of my other characters or figures.

If you're interested in finding out more about this particular WIP sculpture, make sure to check out my blog all about "Sashah's Song."


In Conclusion
 

While no anatomy model is flawless, Armature Nine is easily the best artists' mannequin currently on the market if you're looking for a dynamic unisex figure that allows you the widest range of motion and most lifelike poses. It also easily allows for the most customization options out there, with more always on the way, as well as separate models for a stallion, rider, quadrupeds, digitrade creatures, interchangeable parts, and more.


 


It's abundantly clear to me how useful Armature Nine with be to me when doing anything from sketching through to planning out my next big sculpture, and I'm thrilled to have such a great tool, and such a wealth of accessories and customization options at my fingertips. If I was forced to keep only one of my art models and had to get rid of the others, Armature Nine would be the one I would choose keep, because while I can certainly glean small details and musculature from photographs, there is simply no replacement for being able to learn from an excellent artist's model that not only has good proportions, but also holds its own dynamic poses so smoothly and reliably.

I was appreciative to be given an opportunity to receive a review copy of the Armature Nine Armature, and in fact I was so excited by the prospect, that I also purchased a sizable number of add-ons for it, and certainly see more in my future! I give it only my highest level of recommendation and strongly encourage you to consider one for yourself if you're interested in one for anything from proper proportional reference in perspective, through to light and shadow reference, stop-motion studies, and more.

If you have any questions or comments about my experiences with this anatomy model or my review, feel free to message me and I'll be glad to help!


For more information on Armature Nine, please visit their website at: http://www.armaturenine.com/ You can also follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/armaturenine/ and Twitter: https://twitter.com/armaturenine

2 comments:

  1. What was the "basic" figure that you were reviewing? Was it the A9-RIG Ranger? Here's the list so far for an anthropomorphic figure:

    A9 1:6 Sculptural Hands Set #1 - Gripping / Pearl-White Plastic
    A9 1:6 Clip Stand - Clip Stand Only
    A9 1:6 head 06 (dog) - Color: Wood Composite
    A9 1:6 Tail - Color: Wood Composite (1 tail segment)
    A9 1:6 Legs & Feet (Digitigrade) - Color: Wood Composite

    I just need the name of the figure and I'll be set to make my own. Will you help?

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    Replies
    1. Happy to help!

      When I reviewed this armature, the "Ranger" hadn't yet been released, so what you see here is basically the version previous to the Ranger, but yes, that is what you will want as your base model. :)


      For the tail segments, what you see here is 5 tail segments, so you can get more or less depending on how long you want your tail to be. Just keep in mind it attaches under the leg area, so you will need a few extra segments to get it going.

      You won't need the sculptural hands for an anthropomorphic figure. I got those simply to hold the weapons, but they're a nice add-on if you want preset hands in a certain pose.

      If you have any other questions, don't hesitate to let me know! I'm actually planning on updating this review with some more items I've gotten within the next month or so. :)

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