I’ve drawn monsters ever since I was a kid. Creating scary and impressive creatures has always been sort of a talent—over the years I’ve brought to life dragons, balrogs, a handful of critters that the Dungeons and Dragons “Monster Manual” flopped on illustrating, plus a whole menagerie from my own imagination.
That being said, for a monster connoisseur, I’m really not a horror person.
My threshold for scary movies is pretty low and my tolerance for the occult is even lower.
Even so, as I approached the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project, I thought I’d go ahead and try my hand at bringing a few of its creepier characters to life.
Let me walk you through how I brought these frightening scenes to life. They may not seem all that eldritch to you…but they were a stretch for me.
The giant spider boss from Twilight Princess was fairly easy to create, since it deviates very little from the arachnid anatomy seen in nature.
The picture did have a bit of a false start, though.
I initially thought I’d pit Link against a blown up version of a Sydney funnel-web spider. These spiders are extremely dangerous, not only because of their huge fangs and deadly venom, but because they are notoriously aggressive.
An angry funnel-web will rear up into a nasty threat posture, and from its over-large fangs it will dangle drops of venom containing more than a lethal dose, as if to say “mess with me and I’ll kill you ten times over!”
The big fangs and bad attitude of this spider made it my first candidate for Armogohma, and I whipped together this picture:
It wasn’t a bad start, but I could tell pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to love the finished product.
There were a few problems with the funnel-web. First of all, the species is small enough that all the photos of it seem to have a tilt-shift effect that make it look tiny no matter how I forced the perspective around it. The picture didn’t look like a normal man fighting a giant spider, it looked like a normal size spider fighting an itty bitty man.
The second problem was that the funnel-web’s threat posture, although great for creating a gritty live-action combat feel, was arched up so that you couldn’t see the top of its head. And, unfortunately, the top of the head is where Armogohma’s one lonely eye is, which is almost the only thing that distinguishes Armogohma from any other giant spider.
I didn’t want people to just think, “Oh look, it’s Link vs. a big spider,” I wanted them to recognize a scene from a beloved game.
The third problem was along the same lines. Sydney funnel-web spiders just weren’t beefy enough to look like Armogohma. Really big spiders (including Armogohma) tend to have thicker legs to support their bulk, and the funnel-web’s spindly anatomy didn’t carry that kind of visual weight.
I started my picture over and looked through dozens of spider species.
No matter how many arachnids I looked through, though, I kept coming back to one: Liphistius malayanus.
Commonly known as the segmented trapdoor spider or armored trapdoor spider, this subterranean hunter is Armogohma incarnate. Clad in a robust exoskeleton with metallic hinges, it has striped segments across its large abdomen, and even a pit in its cephalothorax where the Twilit Arachnid’s eye ought to be!
Even though the body of this spider had the right look, I wanted to make sure that it registered as Armogohma, so I placed it on the ceiling of its lair, where its one great eye would be clearly visible.
This was not only artistically effective, but it was game accurate. In Twilight Princess, the giant arachnid crawls around the ceiling of a colossal room illuminated by beams from circular skylights.
For a more natural imitation of this I placed my monster in Oregon’s skylight cave. This is a lava tube with an eroded top and—at the right time of day—the sun pierces the darkness of the tube with dramatic rays.
Unfortunately, in the game, Armogohma spends most of her time on the ceiling and so you never get to stick your sword in her bulging abdomen. Instead, she lets her eight-legged spawn do her dirty work for her.
Creating this army of smaller arachnids was simple. I had already gone through loads of different spider images—I just had to pick a few to insert into my picture.
There are 15 “small” spiders in the final version. Can you find them all?
To increase the intensity of the scene (and its creepiness), I let Link get trapped in a knot of webs as the venomous horde overwhelms him.
I chose a cosplay action shot where (quite by accident) Link looks completely disgusted. Can you blame him?
The Shadow Beasts are another frightening monster from the game Twilight Princess. At the most unexpected moments in the game, black spots will start to appear in the air around Link and an unbreakable wall of magic will grow around him…
…and then come the beasts.
The origin of the shadow beasts is as disturbing as their appearance These were once the Twili—peaceful inhabitants of the Twilight Realm that dwells between light and darkness.
But, when the Userper King Zant sealed away the realm’s source of light, the light inside the Twili was also choked out, and they transformed into a dark, twisted form.
The shadow beasts are relentless hunters. They appear in groups, and if Link is unable to vanquish every last one then the beaten beasts will draw on the life of those that remain and quickly revive.
This is particularly frightening when battling Twilight Beasts in the fog. If you can’t see where they are, it’s almost impossible to defeat them all before they start reviving. What’s worse, in the fog you can’t see them coming.
That feeling of impending doom is the emotion I wanted to capture in this picture.
In my picture, Link is walking through an unnatural thick, black fog. Sword in hand, he feels something is amiss and is on his guard, but he does not hear the shadowy figure crawling down the cliffside after him…
I took the body of my shadow beast straight from the game. For greater realism, the mask was from a picture of a cosplayer’s creation. The thin, groping hands were actually drawn from film stills of wraiths from the ABC TV series “Once Upon a Time.”
The Shadow Beasts are covered in tattoos, but only their chests and backs have red markings. But, I liked the look so much that I decided to spread the color all over my creature. Plus, this also helped to make the Shadow Beast stand out against the dark background.
To really capture the feel of the game, though, there needed to be scattered points of darkness in the air around the beast. I created this effect by making additional inky black smoke pour out of the space around the creature, and then augmenting this with the Sandstorm Photoshop action which I had previously purchased for my Stallord picture.
It may not have the graphics of Twilight Princess, but the game Ocarina of Time has got some of the creepiest bad guys in the franchise. I didn’t even want to attempt a picture of a “redead” or a “dead hand” (they’re scary enough without extra realism, thank you very much), but I thought I could handle a Poe.
Poes (presumably named after the American horror author) are recurring bad guys in the Zelda franchise. They are essentially restless ghosts. They harbor ill will toward the living and fill a variety of roles from simple mischief makers to dungeon mini-bosses.
Poes tend to congregate around cemeteries, so that seemed like the best setting for this cosplay picture.
In order to bring Link into the sphere of reality, I usually try to use real-world creatures and places as much as possible in building my scenes. As I’ve done this, I’ve discovered that some things in the natural world are actually cooler than their fantasy counterparts.
Others, however, are more mundane. Cemeteries tend to fall under this second category.
Despite their spooky reputation, most cemeteries are lovely, peaceful parks with well-trimmed grass and well-ordered rows of headstones. Even on a foggy day in an older graveyard where the stones are a little uneven, things still don’t look “haunted” no matter how much you process a picture.
After searching through cemeteries from all over the world, I found just one exception to this rule.
The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague dates back to the 15th century, and since Jewish custom forbids removing the remains of the deceased from old graves, additional bodies and headstones were simply added on top of each other. There are 12,000 headstones and as many as 100,000 deceased persons in the graveyard, buried up to 12 persons deep.
All this creates a visual chaos and a surreal feeling which made it the only real candidate for my cosplay picture.
Even with the right base cemetery, I still had to do a lot of editing to make the place look haunted. Aside from the Prague headstones, 100% of the background of my picture (the bushes, the trees, the fog, the moon, etc.) was artificially created with Photoshop brushes.
The Poe didn’t take nearly as much creativity. After extensive searching I happened upon a perfect lantern-carrying ghostly halloween decoration to do the job.
This creation was already the perfect Poe. I only needed to add the distinctive slanted eye slits from the game and the picture was finished!
The last of my spooky collection is the boss of the Ocarina of Time Forest Temple: Phantom Ganon.
This spectral horseman was conjured by Ganondorf to imprison the sage Saria. Physically, he resembles the actual Ganondorf in almost every way except for the horned, skull-like mask he wears (or maybe it’s his face…hard to tell).
Phantom Ganon is an other-dimensional foe and he has the ability to ride his horse in and out of paintings that surround Link. Tension is high as Link frantically searches all around him for signs of an approaching horseman in any painting. He sees one…prepares to strike…but no! This was only a fake! The real phantom is emerging right behind him!
This “oh shoot” moment is what I wanted to capture in this image, as Link whirls around to face the apparition now barreling down on him.
To reflect the fact that Phantom Ganon is only a thin-shelled replica of Ganondorf himself, I decided to set the battle in the spooky, dilapidated Hightower church ruins.
The wraith itself was created from three parts:
1) The armored horse and the rider’s legs were drawn from Sideshow Collectibles‘ excellent statuette of a mounted Nazgul.
2) The body of the phantom was created from another of the same company’s high quality statues: The Grim Reaper.
3) Finally, the distinctive horned mask was an edited version of a Phantom Ganon 3D sculpt by SuspectLogic.
As a tribute to the paintings in the games, I placed my bad guy in front of a stained glass window and partly erased his bottom half so he would look as though he were appearing out of thin air.
Even when the baddie was finished, the picture just didn’t feel complete until there was a healthy dose of smoke thrown around the room to obscure everything just a little bit more.
As “horror” pictures go, these may be pretty tame, but through creating them I learned quite a bit more about the genre.
Something all of the pictures have in common is darkness and shrouding. Whether it was smoke, fog, or spider webs, seeing less of the enemy makes it scarier than seeing more. This is probably because once we see and understand something it can only be as frightening as it actually is, but when we don’t know what it is, our imagination can make it infinitely terrifying.
It might be fun to be scared sometimes, but in my art I enjoy making lovely things just as much. Years ago I became dissatisfied with only drawing monsters and decided I wanted to learn to create something beautiful as well.
Learning a new skill takes time, though, so what beautiful thing would I attempt? Flowers? Landscapes? Animals?
In the end, I decided the most beautiful things in the world to me are smiles, and I’ve devoted years to creating them both on and off the canvas.