For those who played the Legend of Zelda games as kids, the name Ganondorf Dragmire is synonymous with all things evil.
While the bestial “Ganon” is a wild, raging incarnation of hate, Ganondorf is a much cooler customer. He is a clever schemer who adopts many roles while subtly advancing his own nefarious designs. He is able to ingratiate himself to the royal family, steal into the sacred realm as a thief, play god to a disgruntled Twili and even trick Link into obtaining the mystical Triforce for him.
Ganondorf as seen in The Ocarina of Time. Image from: Zeldapedia.
Ganondorf is the reincarnation of the ancient Demon King Demise and throughout his many lifetimes he is often able to rise to incredible power and dominion over the kingdom of Hyrule. In these moments of power, only two individuals have a prayer of stopping him: the princess Zelda and the hero Link.
Given the emotional impact that this villain has had on a generation of fans, I was truly challenged to represent him in a way that would not feel like a betrayal to those whose imagination he excited.
Picking a Scene
Because Ganondorf appears in so many games, I first had to decide which version I wanted to represent.
Personally, I have the strongest attachment to the Ocarina of Time incarnation. Even so, the actual boss battle is a little unsatisfying. You mostly play dead man’s volley (basically just tennis) with him in his humanoid form.
After that, Ganondorf transforms into the beast Ganon, which is his final form and I already had a picture of that.
In Twilight Princess, however, you get the chance to do what everybody wants to do: go toe to toe with the evil king in epic close-range combat where eventually you get the chance to stick a sword in him.
This game also gives Ganondorf the coolest armor of his many incarnations.
Ganondorf as seen in Twilight Princess. Image from: Zeldapedia.
This was the face I wanted Link to battle.
The Perfect Combination
Normally, I don’t get too hung up on game accuracy, since the objective of the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project was to bring Link into the real world, rather than to turn the real world into a game.
Even so, because of the especially strong image Ganondorf evokes, getting him “right” was extra important for this picture.
I thought at first of editing another cosplayer’s picture, since many cosplayers have gone to great lengths to copy every detail of Ganondorf’s costume.
Image from: Fanboyfashion.
Even the best cosplays, however, have some weaknesses. First of all, I have yet to see an armorer create his armor from actual plate maille. Second, hair and beard prosthetics can only go so far in their realism. Third (and most importantly), no cosplayer I’ve seen truly looks evil, no matter how they sneer.
So I turned my search from cosplay “reality” to other artistic interpretations of the villain done in 3D mediums. Like cosplayers, quite a number of skilled 3D modelers have been inspired by the Ganondorf theme, but I was really drawn to this particular rendition by Carlos Cruz.
This take made Ganondorf look like he could be a real person, but if he were real then he would obviously be very very evil. In Cruz’s representation, Ganondorf looks haughty, smug, and regal, but also intimidating and full of malice.
The disadvantage to this sculpt (aside from being a 3D model, which can be tough to make realistic), was that it was only a bust. I wanted a Ganondof with a suit of armor that created a full and frightening physical presence.
The best version of Ganondorf’s armor that I’ve ever seen was this sculpture by Ragaru on DeviantArt:
This 1/8 scale statue was inspired by costume themes from both Twilight Princess and Wind Waker. Sword in hand, Ganondorf looks proud and royal, but also like someone you really don’t want to mess with. The armor especially looked thick and substantial, which of course it is (being made out of polymer clay).
Even so, this take also had its drawbacks. The face was good, but as a physical sculpt it lacked some of the detail I would have liked. Also without seeing a full turnaround it was a little hard to tell what the cape was doing hanging from his forearm.
I wanted more of a tattered cape blowing in the wind. Something like seen on this Darth Vader Variant Action figure:
Image from: Toyhaven.
So, if I really liked Cruz’ face, Ragaru’s armor and Vader’s cape, then why couldn’t I have my cake and eat it too?
All three of these artworks were wonderful alone, but I was able to stitch them together seamlessly into an arch-nemesis that was the best of all worlds.
The Power of Suggestion
Even after creating Ganondorf from the best of the best artistic interpretations, I decided I still didn’t want to shine a close-up spotlight on him in my final picture.
I created a sunset scene reminiscent of the lighting from Twilight Princess’ final battle.
More than just suggesting the game, however, the sunset backlit Ganondorf and obscured a lot of his details.
Why would I do this after putting so much effort into perfecting him? Because, as I’ve said before, a good villain is always at his scariest when he is an unknown quantity.
When some things about Ganondorf are left to the imagination, we imagine awesomeness without end. As soon as he steps into the light, however, he becomes concrete and—no matter how cool he is—something about him won’t be quite what we imagined.
In my picture, I make Ganondorf’s sillhouette so recognizeable that anyone who sees him will instantly recognize the face-off between the Hero of Twilight and the Dark Lord, but I hide enough of the detail in darkness that you are invited to turn him into the King of Evil that you imagine.
From the very beginning of the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project, we knew that Link would need to face Ganondorf eventually. Even so, his was one of the very last pictures I created.
Like Link in the games, I experienced boss after boss and creative adventure after adventure before finally coming face to face with the ultimate villain.
This is the Ganondorf of my imagination and I hope he captures some of the spirit and imagination of the games for you too.