If you have ever attended a figure drawing class you will have probably come across the timeless, wooden artists mannequin, a rather crude contraption that basically resembled the human figure and with its articulated joints allowed the artist to manipulate the model into a variety of poses, which would then act as the basis of an initial sketch or painting.
Drawing the human form in different poses is a hard skill to master and any tool that can help the artist achieve this goal is very welcome indeed, even something as unsophisticated as the humble wooden mannequin.
Many artists use live models, photographs or the aforementioned wooden doll to perfect poses and get an idea of perspective and accurate anatomy. However, thanks to advances in computer technology it is now possible to have a whole host of realistic-looking models posing in your very own virtual studio, in any position you require.
In years gone by this type of 3D software was expensive and very difficult to master for those of us who aren’t computer scientists or who are just technologically challenged, thankfully 3D pose software has evolved and is available to artists of any skill level, simple to use and in some cases free for personal use.
The Graphic Assembly has sourced some of the best pose reference software available today, some paid and some free depending on how far you want to take your anatomy drawing skills.
So in no particular order, we present our guide to the best 3D pose reference software available for artists today.
3D photographic pose reference for artists
One of the newest and slickest looking pose tools on our list is the impressive-looking Anatomy 360. Brought to you by technical scanning company Ten24 Media, who are based in Sheffield and have over twenty years experience in the Games and VFX industry, so you can be sure that the quality of these virtual models is second to none.
Anatomy 3D has stripped away all of the complicated three-dimensional modelling stuff, leaving the artist with a simple, uncluttered interface which does one thing really well, allows you to pose models as reference for your next artistic creation.
The software allows you to select from a ton of pre-defined poses, then allows you to rotate and pan virtual cameras and adjust lighting easily and quickly using simple sliders. Once you are happy with your posed model you can then export it as a high-quality photographic image or even as an accurate pencil-type sketch.
Anatomy 360 Demo Video
Anatomy 360 Photographic Light Matching
The actual software is obtained by buying a pose pack from the Anatomy 360 shop. At the time of writing, there were nineteen packs available, ranging from male and female packs to hero, bodybuilding and soldier packs, with prices ranging from £9.99 up to £29.99.
All in all the quality and professionalism of the Anatomy 360 software is superb and with more features promised in the near future such as facial expressions and Écorché figures, Anatomy 360 is shaping up to be a must-have figure drawing reference for professional and amateur artists alike.
realistic human figures to pose
Daz Studio came into being in the year 2000, as a direct competitor to Smithmicro’s Poser software but with one very important difference, Daz Studio is available as a totally FREE download. Yes, you read that correctly this premium quality 3D software that rivals programs used at Pixar and Disney is available to you at no cost whatsoever.
Daz 3D has evolved into a complete 3d animation, modelling and rendering tool over the years but at its core is the ability to pose human and animal figures as a reference for traditional and digital 2D artists.
The software comes with a male and female model, a few basic clothing items and a pose pack to get you started. The figures can also be posed into any position required by manually moving, rotating and twisting limbs and joints.
The learning curve for Daz Studio is a little steeper than for most posing software due to the fact that it has a ridiculous amount of options, that can seem bewildering to a 3D virgin. My advice would be to master the very basics of loading a figure and posing it, then and only if you get bitten by the 3D bug, delve deeper into what this amazing program can offer.
If you are wondering how Daz Studio can make any money by giving away their software for free, take a look at the Daz 3D Shop, a veritable nirvana of three-dimensional models, clothing, accessories, animals and practically anything and everything you could possibly need to render sophisticated images and animations, at a price, of course.
Poser by SmithMicro
the original 3D posing software
Poser by Smith Micro is the granddaddy of 3D pose reference software, dating all the way back to 1995, when Poser 1.0 hit the shelves, creating a whole new breed of digital artists.
Now at version 11, Poser has evolved into one of the most complete posing solutions for artists everywhere. Boasting a relatively simple interface for posing figures and a unique rendering engine, capable of outputting your models photo-realistically, or as a sketch, cartoon or silhouette, or even as a comic book character.
Poser is available in two unique flavours Poser and Poser Pro, with the more expensive Poser Pro coming with over 5GB of pre-installed figures, animals, scenes, vehicles and props, so you can start populating your 3D world almost immediately.
Design Doll by Terawell
Create a personalised sketch doll and make it pose
Probably the most bizarre thing I have ever seen is the curious looking Design Doll by Terawell. Looking like something that would feel more at home in a Japanese horror movie, rather than being the main protagonist of this peculiar 3D posing software.
Download the demo version to get an idea of how freaky this doll really is. Actually, the demo version is quite useful, the only limitations being the inability to save or load figures or to download and import figures from the Design Doll shop, so you can get a real feel of how the software works and if it would suit your needs before shelling out any of your hard-earned filthy lucre.
Posing figures is relatively simple after you figure out where the controls are and what they do, just play around in the demo version and you will soon get the hang of things, as unlike more complicated software such as Daz 3d, Design Doll is very simplistic in its approach to figure posing if a little weird.
Pose Tool 3D
mobile app by AlienThink
Created by experienced artist and teacher Riven Phoenix, author of the Complete Figure Drawing Course available on Udemy, the Pose Tool 3D is an app for tablets and smart phones, available for Apple and Android devices, so you can pose on the move.
Obviously not as fully featured as some of the desktop applications and a little bit fiddly if you have large fingers but this amazing little app is incredibly useful, if you have time to kill on the train, or you want to create at your computer but prefer to pose on a separate screen.
What is amazing for a cheap mobile app like this, is the inclusion of muscle maps which equip the artist with an onscreen representation of how muscle groups work when moved and how they appear on the figure itself.
Imagine FX Magazine described this wonderful little app as one of the ‘Ten Must Have Apps’ and with good reason.
Also available from AlienThink is a separate Comic Pose Reference Tool, for aspiring comic book artists and a number of animal pose tools such as dogs, horses and elephants, well worth checking out.
3D figure posing online app
Figurosity is a quick and easy to use online pose generator that comes with a ton of pre-defined poses and a multitude of 3D characters available, to pose with or without clothes and even with or without skin, so you can actually view the muscle structure underneath.
Based on the Genesis figures from the Daz 3D software mentioned above, Figurosity takes all the hard work out of painstakingly posing figures by hand and provides thousands of standing, sitting, flying, crouching, walking, dancing, running and just about any other poses you can imagine.
Freely rotate figures in 3D space until you get the exact angle you are looking for and adjust the lighting to create subtle or dynamic shading effects.
An indispensable pose tool for artists, available on both free and paid plans or try a full free trial to see if it meets your character creation and posing needs.
Magic Poser WebApp
easily pose 3D characters online or on your smartphone
Magic Poser, is a fun and easy to use posing application available for iOS, Android and interestingly as an online web app, which needs no download and is available to use for free, straight in the browser.
Choose from a variety of pre-designed models from realistic males and females to exaggerated anime styles with various head to body ratios, add in hair and props such as furniture, weapons, musical instruments etc … to create a fully-featured scene, ready for overpainting, tracing or just as a visual reference for your next masterpiece.
Posing is as simple as it possibly gets, with intuitive control points that you can just drag into position using inverse kinematics.
A superb little posing app, definitely worth a try.
create 3D print ready characters
Hero Forge is a little different to the 3D pose software that we have discussed elsewhere on this page, in that it wasn’t designed to be used as 3D pose reference for artists but rather as a tool that could be used to design game characters that could then be 3D printed and used by tabletop game enthusiasts as pawns in their fantasy gaming pursuits.
Fortunately, Hero Forge has designed this wonderful online app to make character creation a breeze, which is ideal for digital and traditional artists alike to use as a reference for future artwork.
With a whole host of three-dimensional base characters to choose from, such as Orcs, Elves, Demons, Zombies and even humans in both male and female form, plus a variety of props, clothing and weapons to fully flesh out your character design prior to being used as a reference, Hero Forge is ideal for artists.
Although the characters do look a little on the cartoony side Hero Forge is one of the easiest to use pieces of 3D pose software available and is also great fun to play around with.
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