From the very beginning of the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project, we’d planned to have an equestrian photo shoot.
After all, so much of the Zelda games are spend on horseback that it would feel wrong not to have at least one riding picture.
Now, peaceful shots of Link and his steed are all well and good, but, to be frank, it’s been done before.
As with the rest of the project, I wanted to go a little further, and do some mounted combat pictures.
To me, none of Link’s horse battles is more memorable than those with King Bulblin and Lord Bullbo.
King Bulblin is a recurring mini-boss from the game Twilight Princess. He is the leader of the savage Bulblin people, and it is he who actually starts Link on the path of heroism when he invades Link’s home town of Ordon and kidnaps its children.
In Twilight Princess, Link squares off against King Bulblin several times. On one occasion, King Bulbin kidnaps a young boy named Colin as a taunt, ties him to his long spear, then rides off on his giant boar. In a battle which ranges across Hyrule field, Link fights through hordes of boar-riding bulblins and finally pins the king on bridge of Eldin. Link knocks him off the bridge and saves the child.
This was the battle I chose to bring to life.
The portion of the conflict that I wanted to capture was when Link is surrounded by all King Bulblin’s boar riders.
Since this occurs on a wide field, you would think that it would be easy to find an appropriate backdrop picture, but this actually turned out to be more challenging than you might suppose. Not just any old field would do.
In the first place, I didn’t want the terrain to be too flat and boring. I also didn’t want modern agriculture to be visible, since manicured rows of corn would spoil the fantasy illusion.
As I looked for the perfect backdrop for my battle, I kept coming back to the thought that I wanted it to look like Rohan from the Lord of the Rings films—broad and grassy, but textured with rocks and hills.
Eventually, rather than try to find another place that looked like Rohan, I realized I could just have Rohan itself. The Rohan shots in the movie were filmed in New Zealand’s Rangitata valley, so I spliced a couple of pictures of this location, edited out some buildings, painted in a new cloudscape, and voila! Hyrule field was born.
Up to this point, most of my Zelda pictures were of Link facing off with one bad guy at a time. The only exceptions to this rule were wolves, chickens, and bats, which were all real-world animals with lots of great pictures to choose from.
In this case, however, I needed to make a crowd of monster boars called bullbos for Link to fight.
Boars are real-life creatures though, so it should have been simple to find good pictures, right?
It turns out that despite their ferocious reputation, real-world boars don’t look evil, per se, in the way you’d expect the steed of a savage, murderous barbarian to look.
It seems that the wild, frothing, man-eating boar is less a product of reality than of imagination. As mythological beasts go, though, the idea of a savage, evil boar is nothing new. In fact, you can trace this idea back to the Erymanthian Boar from the Labors of Hercules attributed to Peisander in 600 BC.
Since the Erymanthean boar was the original wild boar, I decided to use various artists’ interpretations of this boar for my bullbos. The majority were drawn from screenshots of the boar from Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules.
I may not have used any real life boars as mounts for my bullbo riders, but I did include some in the picture. As I poured over pictures of boars I discovered that their little babies are incredibly cute, so I hid a few in the image as an Easter egg. See if you can find them!
Just as not any old boar would do for the bullbos, I also had to be very selective with my riders. The Bulbins in the game look a lot like orcs from Lord of the Rings, but you can’t just Photoshop an orc cosplayer on top of a horse and expect it to look realistic.
You see, Photoshop has its limits. The best way I have to explain this is to take a trip to the toy closet.
This is a Princess Leia action figure. She’s designed to stand up straight and she looks good doing it.
Standing is about the only posture that looks good on her, though. I can force her onto a noble steed if I want…
…but no matter how tightly I jam the velociraptor between her feet, she’ll never look like she’s really riding it.
On the other hand, take this Luke Skywalker figure, who was designed to ride his tauntaun:
Luke looks natural astride his steed in a way that Leia never could, but when he tries to stand up, his secret is revealed.
Compared to Leia, Luke’s posture is bowlegged, crouched, and duck-footed.
You see, there’s more to riding a horse or other steed than just spreading your feet, the hips also flex and rotate outward. Without this combination of motions it’s really hard to sell the idea that a person is really riding, and it’s awful hard to imitate the combination with photo editing alone.
In short, the best way for a character to look like it’s riding is for it to be riding when you take the picture.
For this reason, the orcs I chose for my bulblins were mostly drawn from Lord of the Rings screenshots of warg riders.
The leg in the above picture was actually used twice, because when I found a picture of a standing orc that I wanted to use for King Bulblin, I still knew I had to replace his entire lower half to get him onto Lord Bullbo convincingly.
What about Link?
Having tackled all the above challenges I was left with a scene where the Bulblin leader was sallying his hordes to charge against…an empty part of the canvas.
I figured that I’d just have the picture ready for when we did our equestrian photoshoot, and then I could take a picture of Aden (Link) in just the perfect pose to be squaring off with King Bullbo.
But schedules don’t always align the way we plan, and the horse shoot never actually ended up materializing.
This was a setback to be sure, but once I’d come so far with the picture, there was no way it was going to stop me!
So I scoured the internet for a picture of the perfect horse—one that was turning as though it had been racing across Hyrule field and now had finally caught up to its quarry. After exhaustive searching I found and purchased this stock image.
The horse was ideal—beautiful, glossy, muscular, and kicking up a cloud of dust that only added to the action of the scene. The racing saddle was minimalist (excellent, because too many modern harnesses and saddle blankets would spoil the fantasy illusion) and the jockey’s pants and boots matched the coloring of Link’s costume.
Only one problem…the jockey wasn’t Link. Didn’t I just say that to make a riding picture look realistic you need to start with an actual rider? And didn’t I just say that we had no riding cosplay pictures?
Well, yes, but I had a workaround. I didn’t have a picture of Link on a horse, but I did have a shot where his hips were flexed, abducted, and externally rotated…
Ahem, pardon my physical therapy speak…
Anyways, because Aden’s hips were already in a believable riding position, I was able to seamlessly connect them with the jockey’s legs so that he looked like he was really the one at the reins!
Not bad, eh?
Just like that, we had our hero ready to take on the baddies from the back of Epona.
Coloring the Scene
The last thing that I did to the whole picture was change it to a sepia color scheme.
I did this for a couple of reasons. First of all, the scene from the game already has sort of a golden overtone to it.
More pragmatically, however, by the time I was finished creating the picture I had borrowed elements from such a smorgasbord of film stills, LARP photos, horse pictures, etc. that it was a total nightmare to try and get all the colors to agree and look like one cohesive unit.
The simple solution? Do away with the color pallet and overlay it all with sepia.
With the problems of multiple baddies, creating realistic riders, and a photoshoot that never materialized, this picture was one of the more complicated ones to complete, but in the end I think I wound up with a better picture than I would’ve taken if things had turned out the way I originally intended.
This wasn’t the first time that a picture turned out very differently than I planned, but then, life doesn’t often turn out like we plan. The trick is to roll with the punches and make the most of every situation.