Studio Mysteries

April 29, 2009

3D Anatomy With Rey Bustos: Ecorche, Wireframe Stage

Filed under: 3D Anatomy Course, Anatomy, Ecorche, LAAFA, Rey Bustos — Anya Galkina - Studio Mysteries @ 3:37 pm

One of the reasons I came to California and to LAAFA is the chance to study with Rey Bustos, a legendary anatomist and as I am discovering, an equally legendary and brilliant teacher. One of his teaching inventions is having the students construct their own sculptural ecorché (skinless human form). The sheer effectiveness of this as a teaching tool is incredible – you learn through all your senses, not just the ones involved in listening, reading and taking notes. You also learn to think in space and 3-dimensionally, which is crucial for people who work in 2D as well.

One of my favourite Rey sayings so far is that when you look at powerful figurative artworks, you believe that there is a back to the front. That’s what makes them so effective – they are about the entirety of the form, whether parts of it are visible or not. They are driven by internalized knowledge of that form, so that the artist is free to add or edit, and is not a slave to what’s lit up vs. obscured, for example.

The ecorche-buiding process is great in that it dictates an inside-to-outside learning sequence: first we learn about a structure and then cement the learned material by making that structure.

This is the first stage, in which we build a wire support:


Different thickness of wire is used for different parts of the support. We built the rib cage with individual wire ribs, after learning a bit about the rib cage. Here are some rib cage facts:

  • Humans come equipped with a default installation of 24 ribs, 12 on each side.
  • Ribs 1-7 are attached to the vertebral column in the back, and to the sternum in the front.
  • Ribs 8-10 are hangers on: the sternum runs out of room for attachments at Rib 7, so Ribs 8-10 have to form a daisy chain. Rib 8 attaches to Rib 7, Rib 9 attaches to Rib 8 and so on.
  • Rib 8 is the widest point of the rib cage. The ribs that follow begin to decrease in size.
  • Rib 10 is the last fully attached rib. It is also a major anatomical landmark that is visible on non-plus-size models. One of the things you need to do when constructing a drawing of a human figure is to look at the position of the 10th ribs, the tilt of the imaginary line connecting both of them, and how that tilt relates to the tilt of the shoulders and the pelvis.
  • Ribs 11 and 12 are much shorter and do not attach at the front. Their main function is to protect the kidneys, and I personally find them a little creepy.
  • The fully attached ribs, 1-10, have bone-to-bone joints at the back, but at the front, they are attached with cartilage. This cartilage expands and contracts as we breathe. How nifty is that?

Note that we are only constructing the wire support for the ribs on one side. That’s because this side will have exposed bone at the end. The other side will be built out of muscle, and the ribs will be covered anyway. Luckily, it’s not a big deal because human beings are conventiently symmetrical and if you understand half the rib cage, you are beginning to understand the whole.

Incidentally, my ecorché is named Norbert. Eventually, Norbert will look like this other dude in the background:


Naming the ecorche is a popular student sport. My classmate Amanda named hers Sven, and let me tell you: Sven works out.


  1. The guy on the last picture bears strange resemblance to Terry Fox monuments.

    Comment by Siberian Cat — May 2, 2009 @ 9:17 am

    • Must be the hair.

      Comment by studiomysteries — May 2, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

  2. Well you’re obviously getting your money’s worth with such master classes.

    *Wanders off to get some carbs*.

    Comment by Splodge! — May 3, 2009 @ 10:54 am

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    Comment by my site — December 26, 2012 @ 8:04 pm

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