When I draw a muscle-bound character, I lay down some guide lines to make sure various parts of the body line up together. Here, it's the shoulders, crotch, knees and ankles. Notice how the wrists match up with the crotch level. With this measurement, you'll always know how long to draw the arms. A standard comic book or video game character is around 8 heads tall, but you can play around with the proportions a bit. Faster characters may have longer legs. Stockier character may have longer arms and broader shoulders. Play around with it.
I usually start off by drawing an ovular shape for the ribcage. From there you can lay in the spine and attach the head and pelvis. The collar bones rest just below the top of the ribcage and connect to the arms. Remember, the collar bones are essentially part of the arm itself, so you don't want them floating around, dislocated. Position the arms and legs how you want them. Try to give a bit of an S-shape to the legs so they don't look too stiff.
Now I lay down some muscle forms. It's ok to keep it kind of loose. You don't need to outline every single muscle. Nobody has every muscle flexed all the time. Try to keep everything looking a bit rounded, to give a sense of three dimensions. Remember that all muscles attach to bone, so the skeleton figure you drew in the previous step will be useful here. If you have trouble with the hands and feet, take a look at your own or a friend's.
Next you're going to define the shape on the inner part of the body. Still keeping things round, here. We're working at a 3/4 angle, so drawing with straight lines would really flatten out the image.
One important thing to note here is the center line of the torso. It begins where the collar bones meet, and works its way right down to the crotch. Follow the guide lines with your eye and try to see how each shape flows into the next. There are no floating muscles on the body. Everything's interconnected.
Although this character is going to have some boots and armor, it's important to block in areas that are going to get covered up. Just take your time and put in the work to make sure your base figure is correct before you start adding on clothing and whatnot.
I'm still keeping things loose at this stage of the game. It's time to dress up the character in an outfit and give him the features that indicate his personality, profession, etc.. This guy's going to be a gladiator-type character, so I want him to have armor -- but not TOO much armor. Remember, an outfit has to be functional. In combat, the character needs the freedom to move his body. This design is based loosely on a Roman gladiator armor, with heavy plating on one side of the body and lighter armor on the other. It's always a good idea to get reference material when designing a character. For a warrior like this, look into history and experiment with different garb from different cultures and time periods. Doing the reference work will help add a level of realism to your character.
Make sure your armor shapes rest above the muscle layer. For this example, I gave him a bit of an organic armor, fashioned from animal shell or hide. The belt and boots are metallic, so I want those pieces to be a bit more angular and have straighter lines than the gauntlets and battle apron. Toss a weapon on the guy's back, but make sure it's not just floating there. That's what the strap is for.
I'm just roughly indicating a hairstyle and facial hair for this guy. He's going to be around 40 years old -- a battle-hardened warrior. The beard and moustache will give him somewhat of an Oriental, Ghengis Khan feel.
This is where you get to go crazy with all your detail. Attack the outfit and larger facial features first. The important thing is to keep layers in mind. What overlaps what? Draw the gauntlet before the hand. Draw the hand before the apron. Draw the apron before the boots. You don't want to get stuck having to erase something, especially if you're working with pen and paper. Make sure the straps wrap around the shape of the muscle. You want to give the illusion of three dimensions.
For the soft tissue of the body, find the connection lines between the rough shapes you've drawn. The pectoral (chest muscle) is connected to the deltoid (shoulder muscle), so that line continues into the arm and down, along the bicep. Don't connect every single muscle with lines, or the drawing will end up looking flat. Remember to keep things looking round. The surface anatomy of the human body is soft tissue -- there are very few straight lines, except for where bone appears.
Adding scars, tattoos and other markings give us an idea of who the character is, what he's lived through, etc.. These are the details that make a character really come alive. Be sure to get reference material for anything you have trouble drawing. From here you can go on to color your character and really make it pop.
The fully-inked image.
With a drawing this detailed, it's easy to get carried away with the colors. While you do want to show dimensionality, you don't want to hide all the lines you spent so much time drawing. With this level of complexity, keep the colors simple and your lines will do the rest of the work for you.
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