Sculpting – The digital present and the past

17 April 2017

Creativity is one of the best gifts of mankind. Creating something gets us closer to nature and that is one of the reasons why it is such a mind filling process. Sculpting is one of the ancient most methods of creativity and in many countries it is the most famous centre of tourist attraction. Especially in a country like India, ancient sculptures are well preserved and protected. It is actually astounding that sculpting has stood the test of time and is still relevant in the 21st century. Like everything else, sculpting has also gone through an evolution process and the digital era has had significant impact in today’s sculpting technique. So let us have a look at how Digital Sculpting fares with Traditional Sculpting.


Traditional sculpting, as we are familiar with, is the process of carving a material to create a three dimensional object. Digital sculpting on the other hand is the use of software to manipulate digital objects as if they were made of clay or any other real life substance. Traditional method makes use of wooden and metal tools to shape their material. Metal tools produce sharper edges whereas wooden tools are more gentle. These tools can vary in their forms from rounded, looped, flat, pointed or edgy. There are tools in digital sculpting too and they are called brushes. Various softwares provide different kinds of brushes and some of the most common ones are inflate, mask brush, bob, crease and clay. Each one of them can be regulated for radius and strength, imitating real life tools. After you find the right tools to shape your material, it is important to find the right medium to get your final sculpture. Ceramic clays, Wedging clays, Air drying clays, polymer clays, wood carving, stone carving etc can be used as traditional model mediums. Quite often, the selection is done after a lengthy trial and error approach. The main mediums in digital are multi resolution and dynamic topology. In multi resolution an existing tracery is subdivided to create more geometry and to add details. In dynamic topology, new geometry is generated as needed. This method is highly flexible as it allows great freedom to identify forms and shapes without really worrying the tracery limitations. Another important aspect of sculpting is the armature. An armature is nothing but a structure that holds the weight of your clay and helps it stand erect. It can be more or less compared to a human skeleton.

In the traditional method, the pose of the sculpture is permanent and hence even before one starts to apply the clay, he has to be absolutely sure about it’s position. In the digital method, one doesn’t have to make his model stand erect and instead a hierarchical system called the rig enables to animate the 3D model. Suppose if you want to make an exact replica of your beautiful model. How would you do that? Well.. in the digital system it as easy as a copy and paste and it hardly takes seconds. In the traditional system you need to have in depth knowledge about each material used and then engineer the right mold and cast your model in it. Perfect symmetry is another challenge with the traditional system. How do you ensure your model’s eyes, hands or legs are exactly the same length and size? In the traditional way, only your naked eyes can be your guide whereas in the digital scenario, you can easily assign a symmetry over the selected axis. Because there is only one permanent pose in the traditional method, what happens if you want to pose your model in a dynamic way. Say, an imaginary or out of the world kind of a scenario. There is only one way this can be achieved and that is to have a support structure in the base. There is no such limitations with the digital model. Your character can be a Spiderman or the Gollum.

Like everything connected with digital, there is an ongoing debate about its place with the traditional method. The sentiments connected with holding a sculpture in hand is really important and that is something the digital method cannot provide you with. Once a sculptor is not emotionally connected to his creation, the product in turn might not come out good too. So the preference of digital or the traditional method really comes down to the choice of the artist and a really good one will embrace both because a true artist at heart is open to any available method to express himself.

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