Simply Incredible
February 4, 2011 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Stephen Biesty is an award-winning British illustrator famous for his bestselling "Incredible" series of engineering art books: Incredible Cross-Sections, Incredible Explosions, Incredible Body, and many more. A master draftsman, Biesty does not use computers or even rulers in composing his intricate and imaginative drawings, relying on nothing more than pen and ink, watercolor, and a steady hand. Over the years, he's adapted his work to many other mediums, including pop-up books, educational games (video), interactive history sites, and animation. You can view much of his work in the zoomable galleries on his professional page, or click inside for a full listing of direct links to high-resolution, desktop-quality copies from his and other sites, including several with written commentary from collaborator Richard Platt [site, .mp3 chat].

From the official site:
Rescue Helicopter - Ocean Liner - Space Shuttle - Subway Station - Steam Train - Gatehouse - Spanish Galleon

Exploded Views
Athenian Trireme - Colosseum - Temple of Amun-Ra - Tomb Worker's Village - Acropolis - Roman Forum - Sandstone Quarry - Merchant's House

Inside-out Views
Notre Dame Cathedral - Hagia Sophia - Sydney Opera House - Temple of Amun-Ra - St. Paul's Cathedral - Globe Theater - Empire State Building - Ancient Parthenon

Historical Panoramas
London Bridge, 1559 - Versailles, 1785 - Nonsuch Palace, 1559 - Bruges, 1480 - Empire State Bldg., 2000 - Valley of the Kings, 1425 BC - Euston Station, 1851 - German Castle, 1465

Vehicle and Expedition Cutaways
Magellan's Carrack - Airship Italia - Balloon Gondola - Irish Currach - Viking Ship construction - Chinese Treasure Ship - Caravanserai Inn - Columbus's Caravel

Castle Cutaways
Bodiam Castle, 1392 - Tower of London, 1533 - Krak des Chevalier, 1271 - Castel Sant'Angelo, 1527 - Osaka Castle, 1614 - Caernarfon Castle, 1320 - Chateau of Chambord, 1539

Commissioned work
Royal Opera House - Millennium Dome - Tower Bridge - Tower Bridge construction (animated)

Other: Vignettes and Portraits
From elsewhere (some with commentary):

Saturn V - Human Body (Italian) - Chocolatemaking - U-Boat (annotated version)- Man-O-War (2, 3, 4) - Bathroom montage

See also: A downloadable .zip file with dozens of cross-section illustrations (via)

And if you like Biesty's style but want a more science-fictional bent, don't miss Incredible Cross-Sections of Star Wars (gallery) -- same publisher, same style, different illustrators, all with commentary.
Examples: Millennium Falcon - Imperial Star Destroyer - Jabba's Sail Barge - Sandcrawler - 40 more
posted by Rhaomi (24 comments total) 109 users marked this as a favorite
don't know how i can express how much i love this post
posted by wayofthedodo at 4:44 PM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Great post!
posted by danl at 4:52 PM on February 4, 2011

Holy awesome Rhaomi! I still have my incredible cross-sections book from when I was like 10 years old. You truly made my day.

My favorite part of all of his cross-sections was that in all of them that could have bathrooms, there always seemed to be someone on the toilet. I think I have Freudian issues.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:57 PM on February 4, 2011

Mister Fabulous: "My favorite part of all of his cross-sections was that in all of them that could have bathrooms, there always seemed to be someone on the toilet."


My favorite thing of his was how the Incredible Explosions book had a tiny green alien hidden, Where's Waldo?-style, somewhere inside the complicated scene. Rowing a boat across a locomotive's water hold, digging past unexploded Nazi bombs underneath a Tube station, crawling through a man's intestines. Sadly, none of the images in the post seem to be from that book.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:03 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is giving me such a flashback to mid/late 80s junior high era. My friends and I were obsessed with him, I especially with his castle drawings. Many a painstaking hour was spent doing pen and ink drawings of my dream castle, a la Biesty.
posted by medeine at 5:16 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Christmas wish list - sorted. Forever!
posted by fix at 5:22 PM on February 4, 2011

show off...
posted by Joe Beese at 5:23 PM on February 4, 2011

These books were the BEST growing up. I loved the little hi-jinks like people falling or breaking something.
posted by xtine at 5:23 PM on February 4, 2011

WHAT? No computers I totally see, but no RULERS? Come on. Not even to draw guidelines?

Man, how I hated drafting class.
posted by GuyZero at 5:33 PM on February 4, 2011

Oops -- I left this out, but it's still really interesting: Biesty was inspired to do cutaway drawings by the illustrations of Eagle comics veteran Leslie Ashwell Wood; you can see examples of his work in this extensive blog entry, which could make a great post in its own right.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:53 PM on February 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

These books played such a big part in my childhood.

The Castles one had a pair of lovers sneaking away in every image to make out. I loved spotting them and making up stories about their forbidden love. There was also a black-hooded enemy spy in that book that you could spot on every page-- he'd make more progress in each page-- eavesdropping, finding important scrolls, or whatever, then making a narrow escape at the very end when the castle is under siege. The amount of rich, detailed storytelling in those books is astounding.

Also, there was a computer game/interactive book based on the Man of War ship. You had to find the stowaway in each section of the ship. The sound effects, little animations, and links to follow added even another layer of richness to the work.

Thanks for this great post!
posted by jschu at 6:27 PM on February 4, 2011

Here, I was happy with graph paper and a 10' by 10' room. *unrest ensues*
posted by SPrintF at 7:29 PM on February 4, 2011

Everything I love about a great metafilter post. Thanks!
posted by churl at 7:45 PM on February 4, 2011

(404 on the Millenium Falcon link, though)
posted by churl at 7:46 PM on February 4, 2011

(My bad, the Notepad file I saved this in inserted a space into the URL. I'll light the mod signal; in the meantime, here's the correct link.)
posted by Rhaomi at 7:56 PM on February 4, 2011

Simply. Incredible!
posted by woodblock100 at 9:09 PM on February 4, 2011

I'm also sceptical of the "no rulers" claim. I suspect he means something like "no rulers for finishing lines". A steady hand doesn't matter when you're lining things up complex shapes across the entire page.
posted by fatbird at 11:22 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nonetheless, these are incredible.
posted by fatbird at 11:22 PM on February 4, 2011

Coincidentally, this topic was discussed on Reddit three days ago.
posted by fairmettle at 3:14 AM on February 5, 2011

I loved these when I was a kid, still love them now. Incredible is definitely the right word.
posted by Acey at 7:01 AM on February 5, 2011

Also: hadn't seen those inside-out views before. Distinctly Escher-esque. Fantastic post.
posted by Acey at 7:03 AM on February 5, 2011

Good eye, fairmettle -- that thread was what reminded me of the books and inspired me to post. I did find the links myself, though (well, everything except the downloadable .zip file, which was via the comments from that discussion).
posted by Rhaomi at 7:41 AM on February 5, 2011

This is giving me such a flashback to mid/late 80s junior high era.

Link says Biesty's first book was published in 1992, Wikipedia says 1991.

I really wish there was a behind the scenes video or something for these because I'd love to see how he works. Also, his page says he has a degree in historical and architectural cutaways. Does anyone know what that field might be called? Oh, nm, Wikipedia to the rescue again: "Graphic Design".
posted by DU at 6:13 AM on February 8, 2011

Beloved books, all of them. Every page on the Castles one has someone on a primitive toilet somewhere in it!
posted by mdoar at 1:43 PM on February 11, 2011

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