Da Vinci the 3d artist, our Brother


I’ve been studying Leonardo off an on the past few months. The man was a 3d artist before his time. I invite you to consider just how much he was like one of us, so similar to Joel, Matthew, Luke or others here…as I’ll explore.

-Da Vinci spent countless hours through his life studying how light and color work in the 3 dimensional world, and how our eyes perceive the world. Consider his break-thru technique of sfumato in our 3d terms today and you can view it as a method to achieve both ambient occlusion and global illumination. Light bounce and color bleed.

-He used depth of field techniques before anyone, blurring and diffusing objects at distance.

-He was an ‘animator’. He would spend hours trying to observe–without benefit of a camera or video–the precise articulation of a bird’s wings in flight…horses in motion, water in flow…and other natural movement. More than anyone before him he was able to translate motion into his art. Put him in front of a timeline with keyframes and watch the man work!

-He was obsessed both by trying to capture reality in his paintings but also in exploring the worlds of fantasy with art. In today’s world you can see him as a Raphael Rau–a student of perfecting reality in an image-- but also as a penultimate game designer.

-He studied anatomy and performed dissections for decades. He calculated the exact proportion of body parts, knew musculature as no other peer. He would have been other-worldly in 3d rigging and shared the spirit of Aleksey and other fine riggers here. Most certainly Leonardo would have been drawn to biological visualization and animation (hello Joel)

-Leonardo would have loved CAD, engineering and military 3d. (hello Luke L) For much of his life Da Vinci viewed himself more as engineer and military inventor/strategist than as a painter.

-DaVinci was involved in performance art for much of his life, helping stage performance with gears, pulleys and more before the era of engines and electricity. I can see him as a Beeple or David Ariev, building stage designs and venue video for ColdPlay, Beyonce or U2.

-DaVinci had signature hair design that set him apart. Can you imagine him with c4d’s hair system?

-As one who designed canals and tried to re-route a large river… it’s easy to see him drawn to mastering RealFlow.

-Inventor. I can only imagine the c4d plugins DaVinci might create. He’d most certainly master xPresso, Python and one of the C programming languages.

One final thought: A modern day DaVinci would know more than NoseMan knows. And that my friends…is staggering to imagine! :wink:

DaVinci was known to be handsome, charming and articulate. Think for a moment what it would be like to witness Da Vinci as a presenter at NAB or SIGGRAPH?


Nah. da Vinci world was quite physical, even painting and drawings not like ours. He also had to build most of his tools.


I’ve always thought of him as an engineer (both mechanical and biological) who craved being out in the field or holed up in a library, avoiding computers like the plague and having an office that was littered with textbooks and notebooks - the eccentric university professor with spectacles, an eight inch beard, who’s always 15 minutes late to lectures.


He was ahead of his time in countless ways but can be viewed in some sense as a tinfoil nerd. 99.9% of his ideas never came to completion as there was no combustible engine and no electricity. (Clearly there were other issues at play I might explain later)

In addition to wanting to “render the world” in photo-realistic fashion, Da Vinci explicitly spoke about artists and the world of fantasy…visualizing non-corporeal, non real-world phenomena.

In his journal he discussed lots of far out stuff. Just one example: he had this recurring fantasy nightmare of the world being swallowed up in an epic flood. (Not in Noah fashion)

The guy would have purchased one of the first computers had he been able…and he would have been in 7th heaven to have the c4d toolset in front of him.


Your impression seems driven by that image of him as an old guy…and the notion that old guys are still attached to weathered manuscripts. Leonardo was more modern than modern…just trapped by his 16th century milieu. That image of him with all that white hair was at the end of life when his creative fires had mostly burned out…and he looked like shit.

Yes…he would have been late to lectures…whether to his own or someone else’s. Goes with his personality type. But Da Vinci was — more than anything else — a perpetually thirsty explorer of knowledge and ideas. He wanted to learn…and learn something NEW, ahead of the rest.

The guy most certainly had ADHD…including the under-appreciated aspect of ADHD: hyper-focus. He would completely lose himself for days exploring something…but then bounce off and get fixated onto something else.

If he lived today I think the greatest threat to his success might be internet addiction.


And damn…Mona Lisa is Virtual Reality.


Once again. Nah :slight_smile: He would have been put in a public or fake private school(fake because they can’t have autonomous teaching at least in my country) which the objective is to normalize, mediocritize, igualitarize every children and end an wanna be artist. Or instead would get out of school and enlisted himself in Foreign Legion, or be a mercenary.


R U Italian?


No, Portuguese.
Genius don’t tend to appear in societies that are build for equality . This don’t mean they can’t appear, but most genius are self thought and/ or have a great teacher that takes them under their wings. Difference is what make possible that genius flourish, it is difference makes possible to reach places that no one was before.

Also while i don’t share the maximalist opinion that art and creation needs suffering and upheaval the Orson Wells saying in Third Man might have some truth to it also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8RW3K3hhWU

Do you know about “Hungarian Aliens” ? somehow in Budapest in late XIX, begin of XX Century many genius appeared…or should i say flourished? one of them : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_von_Neumann


Every Century a handful of geniuses are born. Most are destroyed by society - even today. The ones who make it have a dogged determination to do great things even if nobody supports them.

This is why geniuses are often described as being highly idiosyncratic - your average person who doesn’t try nearly as hard to do great things sees them that way.

I highly recommend reading this book if you want to encounter a super-genius:

I read this book years ago. It is stunning how much Tesla achieved in one lifetime.


Very intriguing hypothesis. I agree there is some truth to it.

But I’d classify Jobs and Musk as genius and they didn’t live in times of great inequality. Consuming passion and ability can come from different stew pots.

It seems there have been ‘spasms’ of human greatness. Classical Greece, Elizabethan England, Italian Renaissance*…I’d add the period of the American founding fathers and our modern Silicon Valley. The nature versus nurture Is always interesting…and is still elusive. How much of the expressed individual genius derives from the ‘sitz em lieben’?

One could say that Da Vinci suffered as an illegitimate child, excluded from the education his siblings enjoyed. He also was gay when that wasn’t acceptable. Did that illegitimacy drive him and his pursuit of self-education? Perhaps. He also had two loving mothers and other societal advantages? Did that assist? Perhaps.

*The Arab and Asian worlds had such ‘spurts’ with disparate ‘geniuses’ spearheading the day. I’m grateful for you link to the Budapest period. I’ll check it out. :slight_smile:


What do you make of the Wardenclyffe Tower?


I have difficulty calling Musk or Jobs genius. They certainly achieved more than most and Musk is still an open case but nothing comparable da Vinci, Von Neumann and others. If Musk can open the space or make a big advance there i would call him a genius.

I think it is a compound of factors, and the weight of those factors vary from individual to individual. Some appear to have an inner force, others need more external incentive, stimule. There are also some links between mental/development/social problems and being a genius.
And why rarely the sons of genius are genius?

Without difference, different paths, different experience which implies inequality you don’t have new knowledge. A part of intelligence and new discovery is finding new patterns, new linkage that can only happens with different paths and experiences. If children have all same experience then only genetic factors remain to differentiate until they are build in the gene factory…
It was Max Plank that said “science advances one funeral at time” implying there is need of a new generation to have a new perspective.

Another thing i like to think about is how much of what we have today could have been much earlier. Certainly the steam engine could have been invented earlier. Electricity discovery another. Germ theory… computing? = https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

What was in Library of Alexandria?


I’d love to muse on the broader topic of genius… but back to my central notion:

-DaVinci was a voracious learner and as such it’s blatantly obvious (IMO) that he’d be a digital guy if he lived in our era. It’s where learners swim now.

-DaVinci was more a man of modernity than we are. He loved technology to an almost fetishistic degree

-DaVinci invested years not merely content to create pretty pictures but intent on translating real world properties into his art. Indeed he scalded Michaelangelo for a lack of realism. He spend thousands of hours to master Rendering. And he was a rendering king.

-Many of Leanardo’s other interests would have also motivated use of 3D. CAD for engineering, 3d for animation, 3D as motion art for event media, 3d visualization of the human body.


If I remember correctly, the U.S. Army blew it up before it was completed, out of fear that German U-boats could spot the huge tower from a distance and know where the U.S. coastline is.

Personally, I think that Tesla’s idea of sending electricity through the air from continent to continent - e.g. from New York to London - could have worked, and that the tower was demolished to prevent Tesla from demonstrating that his idea actually could work.

Other theories are that Wardenclyffe was actually linked to Tesla’s idea of an electric “Death Ray” that could destroy ships, planes and tanks 200 miles away, and that the tower was destroyed so Tesla couldn’t show off his Death Ray technology.

The big energy investors in Tesla’s time (oil, gas, coal) really, really hated his guts and thought he would ruin their profits - this possibly explains why Tesla’s main laboratory burned down not once but twice, ruining him as an inventor the 2nd stime.

My view is that a genius like Tesla would not have had Wardenclyffe Tower built at all if he didn’t think it would work.

Precisely what Wardenclyffe was supposed to accomplish remains a mystery - but most likely, it was simply supposed to send electricity through the ether across the ocean to Europe.


Agree and might I add:


More rumination on Da Vinci as 3d artist…

-Leonardo was a 3d Printer!

He injected hot wax into the brain of an ox, creating a cast of the animal’s ventricles. This is the first known use of a solidifying medium to define the shape and size of an internal body structure.


Da Vinci is famous for his to-do lists and fortunately for us they were recorded in his many journals.

Amongst the countless items:
-Make (capture) the motion of a humming bird’s tongue

  • Secure the head/jaws of a crocodile for study

Indeed, understanding, illustrating and explaining natural phenomena — especially nature’s movement — was far more interesting to Da Vinci than was his painting.

This is the heart and mind of a penultimate animator.


DaVinci would have been an advocate of interactive 3d and VR in education.

He argued that his anatomical visualizations were superior to anything preceding them because they allowed students to study from a variety of visual angles/perspectives. He knew — more than anyone — how vantage point and varying that view enhances understanding.

Da Vinci would often sketch or paint things repeatedly from different angles. The notion — and superiority — of 360 learning would have been something he’d be immediately appreciated.


One exciting opportunity for 3d artists is info-graphics.

Long before info-graphics were popularized, Da Vinci practiced and perfected the medium.

He would combine measurement, visualization, description, analysis and instruction with greater effect than any who preceded him.