Ganon is THE bad guy of the Legend of Zelda game series.
Ganon, along with his humanoid form Ganondorf, is the embodiment of the hate and malice of the ancient Demon King Demise, enhanced by the might of the stolen triforce of power.
While Ganondorf represents a more regal manifestation of this power, Ganon is savage, primal, and bestial.
Throughout the franchise, Ganon is reincarnated in a lot of forms, always in opposition to the triforce of courage (Link) and of wisdom (Zelda).
No matter the incarnation, Ganon is always has the basic appearance of a boar.
The iconic nature and the epic backstory of this arch-villain has made him the subject of a lot of excellent fan art, which I will feature throughout this post.
I hope that my rendition of Ganon will be a worthy counterpart to the many other artists’ images that inspired it.
Before starting to build my monster, I had to determine which iteration I was trying to represent.
Despite the many available choices, the decision was surprisingly simple.
To keep the scale of the Zelda Cosplay Project realistic, Aden (Link in the pictures) and I determined early on that the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project would stick to representing scenes from only three games: Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, and the adult Link parts of Ocarina of Time.
We chose these games because they represented Link as a mature-looking adult without cartoon dimensions, which matched the aesthetic of Aden’s cosplay costume. And, we didn’t include Breath of the Wild because…well…it wasn’t out yet when we started.
Skyward Sword doesn’t feature Ganon at all, except to introduce Demise as evil’s first incarnation.
Twilight Princess has an impressive form of Ganon, but it is not his final form.
After transforming into the dark beast, Ganon resumes his humanoid shape. The armor he wears in this form and his ultimate showdown with Link that ensues are both so epic that Ganondorf was the obvious choice for a Twilight Princess final boss picture.
That left the Ocarina of Time version of Ganon.
I didn’t just choose Ocarina of Time by default though. This is one of Ganon’s most memorable appearances of all, as he arises from the ruins of Hyrule castle long after Ganondorf appeared to be defeated, and the day won. Casting up a wall of flame between the Hero of Time and the Master Sword, Link is left to begin the battle without any hope of vanquishing his foe.
Although I decided my picture would represent this scene, I felt free to draw inspiration from the gamut of Ganon incarnations as I constructed my final design.
Building the Beast
The main thing I took from other Legend of Zelda games was Ganon’s porcine face.
In the Ocarina of Time, the beast is mostly concealed in shadow, making his face obscure The little bit you can see shows a shorter muzzle than in most of the games.
A face like this—short, toothy, but pig-like—might have been the ideal to build Ganon around, but it proved very difficult to find. My next thought was to modify the head of an actual boar. But (wouldn’t you know it?), boars are real animals, and even when they’re angry they don’t really look like evil incarnate.
I needed something with a little more human emotion.
Almost by accident I stumbled on a brilliant zbrush sculpt of an evil pig by Fausto de Martini. This was an anthropomorphic porker, and it looked very very wild and very very angry–just what Ganon needed to be.
I added color to the face, gave the eyes the characteristic glow seen in the game, and painted on a red mane reminiscent of that seen in a lot of other Legend of Zelda games, and the character of Ganon started to emerge.
Horns, Tusks…or Both?
It wouldn’t truly be Ganon, though, without a few more horns and teeth.
Most iterations of Ganon have long tusks. The Ocarina of Time version, however, has long horns that curve menacingly around his face.
Rams’ horns are probably the closest match in nature to the horn shape seen in the game, but they are pretty recognizable. After a couple of tries I decided they just made him look like a giant sheep. Not a good look for an ultimate bad guy.
I eventually switched out the rams’ horns for mammoth tusks. This allowed a less familiar and more primal look for my beast.
Even with these horns in place, though, something seemed missing, and I decided to pay tribute to some other Ganon incarnations by adding large warthog tusks to his maw.
Body of the Beast
For Ganon’s body I used another Z-brush sculpt—this one of a Minotaur. Minotaurs have cloven hooves and are generally represented with a hunched posture, features shared with Ganon.
I put just as much work into coloring, texturing, and adding hair to Ganon’s body as I had put into his head, but in the end I wound up mostly obscuring the body in shadow and smoke.
In the game the final boss fight takes place at night with only firelight to see by. Part of Ganon’s menace comes from the fact that you can’t see him clearly. By throwing shadow over most of Ganon’s features I was able to capture some of this mystique—it is as if you are experiencing the first moment when Link sees the beast and thinks “oh…drat.”
As impressive as Ganon’s head and body are, you spend most of the Ocarina of Time’s final battle focused on one thing: Ganon’s two enormous swords.
The swords have a distinctive shape, but it’s kind of an impractical one, so I couldn’t find any real-life swords that approximated it (I’d already used Darksiders’ Chaoseater sword for Demise).
Ganon remained swordless for a long time, while I worked on other parts of the picture and hoped some good blade would turn up. As everything else started to fall into place, I was getting desperate and even considering taking modifying the swords from a screenshot of the game (not a good idea since Ocarina of Time was so low res), when one day I was adding flames to the picture’s background and I happened across this free photoshop file:
I’d seen this flame outline before and thought “That’s cool, but what could I ever use it for?” This time, however, the shape struck me as distinctly blade-like.
I kept coming back to the picture and eventually I decided it would make a pretty good weapon. After all, it’s more important that Ganon have two swords than that they look perfectly game-accurate, and why spend hours trying to make a game still in 320 x 240 resolution look less embarassing when I already had something way more awesome?
Thus, with a little tweaking, the void swords were born.
I started calling them “void swords” because they appear to be magically conjured black holes ready to consume anything they touch.
Setting the Scene
The background of the picture was pieced together from just as crazy a smorgasbord as Ganon was.
The battle takes place in the ruins of Hyrule castle, which Ganondorf in his death throes attempted to bring down on Link and Zelda.
In the game the castle collapses extremely efficiently, leaving a flat surface with next to no rubble behind. For this picture, though, I wanted a little more dramatic, so I put in real-life castle ruins, tilted at odd angles as though their foundations had shifted and sunk in an earthquake.
Or maybe it was a volcano. To get an authentic burned-out appearance on the ground, I pulled together several pictures of Hawaiian a’a lava flows.
The final touch was to add fires burning all around the scene. This was a reference, of course, to the ring of fire that surrounds the final boss battle, but it also served an important artistic function.
Since Link is so much smaller than many of the bosses he fights, I often needed to compose the picture so that he would look more imposing—like he could actually take the bad guy on.
I did this in a lot of ways. For example, in my Demise picture I surrounded him with lightning to make him more visually impressive. In the Stallord scene I had him kick up a huge cloud of dust. In this Ganon image, I added a massive fiery explosion behind Link that adds energy to his corner of the frame and makes him seem a lot tougher despite his small stature.
In addition to the flames in the background you may not have noticed, but there are sparks flying all around the picture’s foreground. This is a subtle effect, but was absolutely essential. Without it the flames are simply not believable, but with it, the background and foreground are drawn together, and the entire scene seems to shimmer with heat.
To anyone who has played Ocarina of Time, Ganondorf’s transformation into the beast Ganon, and the ensuing battle are among the most memorable moments of the game.
I hope that I have been able to capture some of the high-blood-pressure feeling of this final battle. I would like to thank all the amazing artists who have taken on this subject before me, those who I featured, and the many more I ran out of room for.
I appreciate anyone who is willing to take their dreams and turn them into reality. I hope my artistic contribution may inspire somebody out there too.
So, if you’ve got a great artistic idea, don’t just sit on it. Go make it real!