A lot of the final pictures in the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project involved a lot of complex Photoshopping. There are pictures with sparking flying robot arms, swirling magical beams, ethereal flaming demons, and monsters assembled from a veritable smorgasbord of pieces.
These pictures aren't always my favorites though. In fact, the more you edit a picture, the more likely it is that it will start to look...well...edited. Conversely, pictures with less editing tend to have a simple realism to them.
The whole point of the project is to reimagine the Legend of Zelda universe as if it were part of the real world, so these simpler pictures often turn out to be some of my favorites.
Since these pictures are so straightforward, rather than give each its own explanatory article, I will present them here as a collection of simply perfect cosplay images.
This was one of the very first images that I made for the whole project, when I had next to no Photoshop skills at all. It took me very little time, and yet to this day it remains my favorite image of the entire collection.
Why? Because it looks so real!
There's nothing fake about this picture. The wolves are real, and they are actually fighting. I just changed their focus from fighting each other for dominance to fighting Link.
The left two wolves were part of one image,drawn from a National Geographic video:
I just split the two apart and put the Hero of Time between them.
The right three wolves were part of another image, I just flipped the direction the one third from the left was facing so that he would be snarling at Link instead.
The snowy birch forest is also almost completely unedited. I just added extra rough patches in the snow so that it would look more trodden on.
The only thing that I forced in this page is the scale. Link is a little smaller compared to the trees so that the forest will look older, and the wolves are scaled up a bit to seem more frightening.
The black and white color was actually an accident, but it turned out to be a happy one. I put the background in Photoshop first, and the program automatically detected that it was a gray-scale image and applied that effect to all the other layers I added. I didn't have the skills yet to figure out what was going on and change it, so I just went with the black and white look.
This not only turned out looking good artistically, but it actually also created one of the coolest effects of the picture. See the spray of snow by Link's boot as he lunges forward?
It's not snow.
It's actually a clump of plants that his foot happened to land behind during an action shoot. Given the wintry scene the golden summer stalks would have looked really out of place...
...but make the whole scene black and white and it suddenly looks like clumps of snow are flying into the air as Link drives his leg forward.
All in all, the picture turned out with just the kind of realism I devoted this cosplay project to.
Song of the Sun
Normally I try to avoid shooting cosplay pictures in the early morning or in the evening, because the angular light produces strong shadows that can make a cosplayer difficult to edit into other surroundings realistically.
The following picture was an exception:
We knew we wanted to do a Song of the Sun shot, so we got up early to catch Link playing his Ocarina just as the sun peeked over the mountains...
Only one problem. The sun didn't peek where I wanted it to peek.
If Link was standing then he looked great, but the sun was too low. If he was sitting then the sun looked nice over his shoulder, but Link himself didn't quite look right.
The simple solution: Move the sun.
I already had the back lighting that I wanted, so all I had to do was use free Photoshop brushes of lens flares to create a new (and more dramatic) sunrise. I had to layer several of these flares on top of each other because real lens flares have a rainbow effect to them. Still, after only a little fooling around with different colored layers, I landed on an effect I was really happy with.
Take out the telephone lines from the background and voila! I had captured the iconic Song of the Sun just the way I imagined it.
The next picture was a delight to make. Amidst the many intense battles and serene moments I'd brought to life, I was really happy to enjoy a cosplay picture that was just genuinely funny!
Chickens (or "Cuckoos" in the games) are one of the biggest running gags of the Legend of Zelda franchise In many video games you can slash your sword in frustration at non player characters as much as you want and get no reaction.
In the Zelda games, however, if you mess with a chicken, you mess with all his friends.
Beat up on a chicken too much, and you will find yourself attacked by a massive swarm of them. They are indefatigable, indestructible, and they will never stop pecking you until you leave the area...or you die.
Well, I already had an action shot of Link looking pretty freaked out as he faced a double-wielding swordsman:
All I had to do was take the real enemy out and insert a bunch of chickens!
Making chickens look realistic was easy...you know, because they're real to begin with.
The bigger problem was finding pictures of chickens that looked like they were flying...you know, because they don't really do that.
I also had to get the correct lighting on all the chickens. The above picture was taken in the early morning (shortly before the above Song of the Sun photo, in fact), and had pretty strong directional lighting. I had to make sure all the chicks were lit from the right or they would have looked out of place.
Most of my angry birds were drawn from pictures of cock fights. I picked hens and roosters of all shapes, sizes and breeds. In the first place, it would have been nearly impossible to find enough white leghorn (the breed in the games) images to fill the screen, and in the second place, the many colors of feathers added to the visual cacophony and made things look even more out of control!
The Master Sword
Whether found all at once or emerging through stages, Link's discovery of the Master Sword is an iconic moment in almost every game.
My favorite setting for this discovery is the Temple of Time, from the Ocarina of Time.
This venerable structure has the feel of an old Catholic edifice enhanced by a gregorian-esque soundtrack, so as I started trying to bring it to life, Gothic cathedrals were the natural starting point.
I looked at a lot of candidates, but in the end one place stood out from the crowd: Wells Cathedral.
Image from: Wikimedia Commons.
I wanted the Temple of Time to have the feel of a Gothic cathedral, but since it's not actually a church I couldn't make it too recognizable. The distinctive scissor arches in Wells cathedral break from the traditional design, giving a look unique unique enough that it could easily be part of a fantasy universe.
I also toned down the cathedral look by choosing a background picture taken from the cathedral's transept (short wings in a cross-shaped church) rather than looking straight down the nave as in the above photo.
Image from: Wikimedia Commons.
Another advantage to using a picture taken from the transept is that Wells Cathedral's south transept has a pillar-like font in it which made for the perfect pedestal for the sword while still staying congruent with the church's aesthetic.
I'll admit, the font is quite a bit taller than the pedestal in the game, but the positioning was just so perfect that I couldn't pass up the chance to use it.
Once I had the background picked out all I needed to do was make some quick edits to remove signs of modernity, add some light and steam to the pedestal, paste in a cosplay shot and...presto change-o! The scene was transformed!
One of the most memorable conflicts Link has throughout the Legend of Zelda franchise is that which he has with himself...well...against a shadowy reflection of himself, anyway.
Shadow Link is a recurring mini-boss in the game series. He mirrors Link's movements and can be very frustrating to land a hit on, much less defeat.
For this image I selected the Shadow Link version from the Ocarina of Time, which takes place in a curious foggy lake located deep inside the water temple.
Once I found a similar lake to use as a background image, building Shadow Link was easy. All I had to do was take two different action shots from a photo shoot, turn one of them black and white, and darken it.
I enhanced the action of the shot with water splashes and ripples in the two Links' reflections.
All in all a very simple picture. Simple...but effective.
Lastly, the desert-dwelling all-female band of rogues known as Gerudos are an Ocarina of Time opponent almost as challenging as Shadow Link himself.
In the game, Link is captured by the Gerudos and imprisoned. He must escape and find his way out of their fortress, stopping to free other prisoners along the way. The only trouble is, these prisoners are not unguarded, and if a guard lands so much as a single hit, then he is returned to his cell and must start the whole process over again.
In this picture, I chose to represent two parts of this stressful battle: The spinning Gerudo jump attack (against which your shield offers no protection), and Link's very own spin attack--a Legend of Zelda staple which turns out to be a great way to keep Gerudos at bay.
I didn't have to think very long to come up with the perfect athletic, double-wielding woman to build my Gerudo warrior around.
Michelle Yeoh, playing Yu Shu Lien from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the obvious choice.
I took a film still from this epic fight scene, where you can clearly see both of Yeoh's swords, and replaced her opponent with Link.
For Link's pose I chose an action shot taken of a real spinning attack so that his clothing would be moving realistically.
Simply switching out swordsmen like this made for a pretty cool shot in and of itself. I really liked the setting from the film, and it even has a "pudao" weapon standing by the wall--the preferred weapon of the more rank-and-file Gerudo guards.
In the end, though, it made more sense to swap out the background for a prison cell, and to add some flying red hair to Yeoh's head to make the scene more recognizable from the game.
None of these changes were huge though, and a lot of the authentic action of the film is preserved right through to the final version of the picture.
If you've seen great cosplay pictures before and thought "That's so cool, but I could never do that," don't despair! Often the simplest scenes turn out to be the best.
You don't need mad photo editing skills to make your pictures look awesome. All you need is a vision and the guts to try to make it a reality, learning all along the way.