Saturday, May 21, 2016

An Updated Review of the Amazing Armature Nine Artists' Models

 

Nearly three months ago I had the opportunity to check out the Armature Nine artist's model and I posted a comprehensive review of it here.

In the time since, Armature Nine's ambitious creator, Paul Siegel, has been busy with all sorts of updates, upgrades, new offerings, and even an entirely new eagle anatomy model he's currently working on that is up on Kickstarter.


The changes to these handmade models have been so numerous and exciting that I wanted to update my blog with all of them, but I also thought that it would be sort of neat to keep the original blog intact as a sort of time capsule to show just how quickly the designer has iterated and improved his many creations.

This specific blog will cover the following products from Armature Nine:
- The 1:6 Scale Biped: A9 Ranger (with modifications)
- The 1:6 Scale Biped: A9 Digiti (with modifications)
- The 1:12 Scale Biped: A9 Rider


The Value of a Good Anatomy 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 and My Modified 1:6 Scale A9 Ranger


  

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 Newest of Armature Nine (A9 Rig: Ranger) on the Right

What Armature Nine originally looked like back in 2012

Even in the time since I received my own model about three months 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 did!).

In addition, the manufacturer offers many instructional photos and videos on their site which share a wealth of information and tips surrounding these wonderful and highly customizable 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 questions like how a tail add-on attaches to a bipedal model, I received detailed information as well as links to videos that showed me step-by-step how it attaches and left no guesswork to the process. I've placed multiple orders since my first Armature Nine model arrived, and I have been continually impressed each step of the way, especially when it comes to how-to videos on how to customize these armatures. I can't emphasize enough how important good customer service means to me, especially right out of the gate.


A Closer Look at My Modified 1:6 Scale Biped: A9 Ranger


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. My initial model 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 original version I own and the newest versions both appear to have 48 points of articulation. In the time since, I updated bits and pieces along the way so that my current model is basically the 1:6 Scale Biped: A9 Ranger with two main modifications: I swapped out the head on my model and replaced it with the 1/6 Human Head and also upgraded the shoulders to 1/6 Clips/Flexible Clavicles for a wider range of motion (which I suppose would mean my armature has something like 50 points of articulation).


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. You are likewise able to tighten or loosen the joints by hand.

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 A9 Ranger to SFBT-3, they each have different pluses and minuses depending on how you are planning to use them. 

In terms of purely anatomical accuracy, SFBT-3 excels as it has the correct number of joints per finger (three) as opposed to the two joints on each finger of the A9 Ranger. 
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 A9 Ranger cannot fold inwards and upwards to form a cupped, flat hand. 

But the delicate nature of the SFBT-3 also has some drawbacks. Because they are so slender, they are not able to support much weight and have difficulty holding some poses. In contrast, the fingers on the A9 Ranger are quite secure, so you could dangle the whole weight of the figure from a finger or two or balance it upside down and it will hold firm, which is incredibly impressive, and something I haven't encountered with other anatomy models. 


Feet:



 



At first glance, the feet on the A9 Ranger were also a touch visually 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 A9 Ranger, the toes are all one group and rest slightly higher than the rest of the foot.

But as an important perk of A9 Ranger: each foot comes with three magnets that can help with holding poses when attached to a metal base. This feature is incredibly useful, and it means that the A9 Ranger is able to achieve a lot more ambitious poses than the SFBT-3 because the feet can not only stay planted, but they are able to more easily support the weight of the armature than the 
SFBT-3, which requires a stand for most poses. These magnets make all the difference in the world, and after using the A9 Ranger with them, it's really difficult to go back and use my other models, because their feel now feel like they slip all over the place and won't stay planted. Don't be fooled: the A9 Ranger is the clear winner here in terms of usability.

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.

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.


Strength in Poses:



 
A9 Ranger is able to form a tight pose, while SFBT-3 is unable to mirror it.

I don't feel that the lack of fine detail detracts from the many strengths and possibilities of the A9 Ranger. 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.

   

  

This is the area the A9 Ranger absolutely shines in. Compared to the other anatomy models I own, A9 Ranger is simply heads and tails beyond them. While I certainly appreciate the muscle-inspired anatomy of parts of the SFBT-3 and her (somewhat) 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, A9 Ranger is able to hold its poses the easiest. Where as SFBT-3 slips out of pose somewhat easily, especially non-standing poses, A9 Ranger 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.

  

   
A9 Ranger is again able to form a tighter pose and lift its leg much higher than SFBT-3. A9 Ranger 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  A9 Ranger, 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 the 1:6 Scale Biped: A9 Digiti (with modifications)


In addition to testing out the base Armature Nine a few months ago, 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 (4 tail segments, two versions)
  • A9 1:6 Legs & Feet (Digitigrade) - Color: Wood Composite (two versions)
  • A9 1:6 head 09 (human) - Color: Wood Composite
  • A9 1/6 Clips - Flexible - 2x Flexible Clips / Wood Composite (two sets)
  • A9 Spinning Stand - Brushed Steel Stand
  • A9 Limb Segment - 2x Small Leg Segments / Wood Composite / Brown Plastic
  • A9 Ranger Tibia - 2x Default Tibias / Wood Composite 
  • A9 Ranger Knees - 2x Knee Pairs / Wood Composite & Metal Screws 
  • A9 Ranger Femur - 2x Default Femurs / Wood Composite with Brown Plastic Trim 
  • A9 Peanut - Wood Composite & hex key 
  • A9 Pelvis - Wood Composite
  • A9 Ranger Torso - Torso / 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 my own take on fantasy anatomy didn't match up precisely with my original 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." Soon after, I purchased some shorter tibias to help me more closely match my particular mental image of "proper" digitrade proportions. Soon after that, the manufacturer released his own take on an A9 Digitrade Model, complete with new and improved legs as well as feet that included magnets, so I upgraded bits and pieces of mine once again.

The biggest differences between my current "modified" Digitrade model and the one that is available on the site is that mine has less tail joints, has a dog head instead of a cat head, has flexible clavicles, and has poseable hands. But keep in mind, that everything and the kitchen sink is completely customizable, so if you have a certain "ideal" of a digitrade character, you can start out from their pre-built 1:6 Scale Biped: A9 Digiti Model or you could start out with an A9 Ranger, A9 Teen, or you could literally build it from the ground up using an assortment of pieces from the 1:6 Scale Page and the Kits & Bits Page. The sky and your imagination are really the limit here!

  

 

 

 

Though the sculpture and the modified Armature Nine are quite similar in height, 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, whether I'm looking to sketch her in 2D, or try my hand at sculpting other digitrade characters.

If you're interested in finding out more about this particular sculpture, which is still very much a work in progress, make sure to check out my blog all about "Sashah's Song."


A Closer Look at the 1:12 Scale Biped: A9 Rider


 

Over the last few months, Armature Nine has introduced quite a range of new and upgraded products, and one of them is the 1:12 Scale A9 Rider and Stand. The Rider comes pre-assembled and has 29 parts and stands around six inches tall.

 

In essence, it is a more compact, lower-cost version of the A9 Ranger, with nearly the same range of motion. About the only difference in function is that it does not have articulated hands, and instead has magnets on each hand (as well as on the feet), allowing you to create poses like handstands and cartwheels at will aided by the included metal stand that comes with it.


It's also a nicely portable size, so it's a great sized figure if you want to take it out in the field for sketching or reference. It's made with ABS plastic, and is quite durable! The joints feel nice and solid and easily hold their poses. It would also nicely suit the A9 Stallion if you so desired.


In Conclusion
 

While no anatomy model is flawless, the A9 Ranger and the Armature Nine range of products are easily the best artists' mannequins 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 that will hold firm and support their own weight. 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 my A9s will be to me when doing anything from sketching through to planning out my next big sculpture, and I'm thrilled to have such great tools, and 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, my A9 Ranger 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 review copies of the A9 Rider and my original Armature Nine Armature, as well as a few bits and pieces, and in fact I was so impressed that I've also purchased a sizable number of add-ons for them, and see more in my future! I give them 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 these anatomy models 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

Armature Nine's Kickstarter for the Bird Lovers has a little over a week remaining as well, and you can check it out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/451963128/for-the-bird-lovers


1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic review! Thank you so much Kimberly! Your artwork is phenomenal. We feel proud and honored to have you as our customer :)

    ReplyDelete