Every great villain needs a great backstory. For the Legend of Zelda series, Demise is that story.
Early in the mythology of Hyrule, the three Goddesses who had formed the land left their power in the hands of a fourth goddess—Hylia—in the form of the legendary Triforce.
But there was another who sought this power. A fissure in the earth split open, and out of it poured a demon horde led by the king of hate and malice: Demise.
By combining forces with the five tribes living on the surface and giving up her own immortality, Hylia succeeded in driving back Demise and sealing him back in the earth with a great magical spike through his forehead.
Over the years Demise grew in strength again, and could occasionally break back into the surface world, but Hylia’s great seal kept him in a weakened state known as the “Imprisoned” which could be beaten back by ordinary mortals.
But, as Sauron and Voldemort have taught us: when you defeat your all-powerful enemy, make sure you pick up all the pieces.
Demise’s most loyal lieutenant—his enchanted sword Ghirahim—remained in the surface world. This powerful entity took humanoid form and searched for the power to bring back his master, even the power that had sealed him away, the reincarnation of Hylia known as Zelda.
Zelda was kidnapped by Ghirahim and her life-force was drained to resurrect Demise, but she was not alone. The chosen hero Link challenged the Demon King to combat, beat him, and sealed him for eternity inside his own mystical blade—the Master Sword.
…but not before Demise pronounced a dire curse on Link and all his bloodline:
My hate…never perishes. It is born anew in a cycle with no end!
I will rise again!
Those like you…those who share the blood of the goddess and the spirit of the hero…they are eternally bound to this curse.
An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!
This curse is fulfilled across the franchise through the cyclical coming of the evil incarnation Ganon, always in tandem with a hero and a princess prepared to give him battle.
Well, now that I’ve completely spoiled the plot of the game Skyward Sword for you, allow me to be just as liberal in sharing how this picture was made!
The base body I used for Demise was actually discovered by accident.
In addition to photos from the natural world, I sometimes draw on the art of others as source material for my cosplay pictures. Zbrush is a powerful 3-D modeling software platform which many talented artists have used to create very high quality work. For this reason, I sometimes include the term Zbrush in my searches when I’m looking for inspiration online.
I was searching Zbrush images for a completely different picture, when I stumbled upon this lovely bit of fan art by Leo Haslam.
The picture was actually paying homage to another video game; the character is “Blanka” from the 1991 game “Street Fighter II.” Even so, when I saw that muscular build and demonic face, I thought he had what it took to be Demise.
Of course, with his green skin and blue jeans, Blanka looks a little too much like the red-headed step child of the Incredible Hulk, so I made quite a few modifications.
A Sturdy Build
To begin with, I plumped up the legs a good deal. Demise has a very thick build with massive legs that visually root him to the ground and make him seem immoveable.
One of the purposes of the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project was to bring the game into the real world, so I didn’t want my monster to have quite the tree tunks seen in Skyward Sword, but a little more thickness was necessary to keep him from looking top-heavy (especially if I was going to put a billowing mane of flame on his back).
Conveniently, the blue jeans could be easily covered because in the game Demise wears a long cape around his waist. I couldn’t find a picture of a similar gold-embroidered floor-length cape that I really liked, so I went with leather tassets (leg armor) instead to give him a militaristic look.
I considered coloring the borders of the tassets gold as a nod to Demise’s cape, but that ended up drawing too much attention away from his face and it just didn’t jive with the general color scheme of the photo (More about this later).
Scales and Skin
The biggest change, of course, was the skin. I took all the green color out, and then used free Photoshop brushes of dragon scales to paint over the body in a pattern similar to that seen in Skyward Sword.
Demise’s scales are a very important feature, as they visually link him to his scaly beast form of “The Imprisoned.”
I had to make one major change though. With a background in both physical therapy and paleontology, I’m a bit of a comparative anatomy buff, and I have never seen a real-life scaled creature where the scales point up the limbs and into the center of the animal, as they do on Demise.
I tried several times to put Demise’s scales on backward for the sake of game accuracy, but it just felt wrong every time. Eventually, I decided that, in this case, the realism that I was going for demanded that I stick with the natural order of things.
Also consistent with the usual pattern of nature, I put Demise’s largest scales closest to his center, and gradually decreased the size going out from there.
One feature of the original Blanka picture that I loved was his wild red hair. It was a cinch to blend this into pictures of actual flame so that it looked like Demise’s mane was burning violently…but was still his hair.
Unlike the legs that I kept smaller than the game design, I chose to make the fire mane even bigger than seen in Skyward Sword by running it clear down his back This made Demise more visually intimidating and creates a sense of upward motion in his person, as if he is arching his back like a cat or taking a deep breath before he strikes.
And speaking of striking, lets not forget Demise’s enormous sword! I mean, Ghirahim gave up his human form to be that sword, so it’d be a shame not to include it in the picture.
Demise’s blade has a distinctive spiked shape and a very thick blade. I wasn’t able to find any Demise cosplays or other fan art images of the sword with enough detail to match the rest of the picture, so I decided to go with another blade entirely.
The sword I picked was a real-life reproduction of the gigantic “Chaoseater” from the game “Darksiders.”
This sword also has a black, oversized blade. It also has the very scary decoration of faces reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” I thought this was perfect for my purposes since after all, Demise’s sword did have a personality and a face!
To make the sword look at home in the picture, I added reflections of yellow and red on its edges. If Demise were really holding it, his flame mane would be a pretty big light source, so it wouldn’t look right if none of that light were reflected.
Last, but certainly not least, I painted a white, glowing X on Demise’s forehead.
This feature marks the point where Hylia sealed the Demon King away with a great spike, and even when he revived the pulsing scar was not removed.
A Battle of Light and Dark
The setting for this boss fight is unique. Impressed by Link’s bravery, Demise uses his power to open a portal to an other-dimensional combat arena.
This area resembles an endless, quiet lake. Demise and Link walk on top of the water, or perhaps it is only inches deep.
In some ways the setting is reminiscent of the mysterious foggy lake where Link battles Shadow Link in Ocarina of Time. That place also seems extra-dimensional, almost as though it couldn’t possibly fit in the Forest Temple. Then again, since Demise’s remnants of consciousness are trapped in the Master Sword, maybe there is a connection…
As the battle intensifies, the sky around Link and Demise darkens and a thunderstorm begins.
To further amplify the drama of the scene, I added lightning strikes around the scene. The largest strike by far occupies the foreground of the picture as it strikes Link’s sword directly.
As you probably guess, this is a reference to the “Skyward strike”—Link charging his Master Sword with lightning and hurling the energy at Demise—which is the only way he can score a hit in the later stages of the battle.
In my picture, this lightning strike creates the strong shadows we see coming off the Demon King and also serves to flood the right half of the picture (Link’s half) with radiant blue light.
By contrast, Demise’s side of the picture is dark—choked with the smoke that billows off him as the rain pelts on his fiery mane.
This contrast between light on one side and dark on the other is intentional. It subtly emphasizes the overarching struggle between good and evil which the final boss fight symbolizes.
Just as this picture is a visual representation between the eternal conflict between good and evil, Skyward Sword sets the stage for this fight between heroes and demons to be carried out in all the forthcoming games.
Given that so many open world video games these days offer their players free reign to do choose an evil path or do cruel things in the digital world, I appreciate the fact that the Legend of Zelda always encourages us to be heroes.