Many animated characters look so utterly ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine how they would ever function in the real world. Featuring everything from Marge Simpson’s impossible hair to Stewie Griffin’s football-shaped head, cartoons are full of physical attributes that look fine in their wacky homeworlds but would be bizarre and freakish in real life.
Thanks to 3D artist Wil Hughes, though, we don’t have to wonder anymore. A U.K. native living in Australia, Hughes is a self-taught sculptor who studied animation at Queensland College of Art. And in order to showcase these talents, he started rendering famous characters in 3D.
Most of the characters he gives this treatment to are pop-culture icons, and they are often pretty lovable ones at that. When they come out the other side, though, they’re anything but. The exaggerated facial features, odd bone structures and general weirdness all translate over, and the results are fairly terrifying.
On his website, Hughes says that he was inspired by the films of Tim Burton and the stop-motion animation work of Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. He also cites surreal, grotesque cartoons like Ren & Stimpy as a source of influence.
Hughes’ work certainly fulfills the “grotesque” part. Many of the characters he redesigns end up with bloodshot eyes, drooling mouths and worse. Hughes doesn’t necessarily do anything to reimagine their shape, but he adds another dimension as realistically as he can. Then the character design takes care of the rest.
Before he started putting well-known characters through this horror-generator, Hughes used his art skills to create a variety of alien creatures. And while they might not be as unsettling as his later designs, they certainly have the same otherworldly vibe.
To bring these creatures to life, the artist used a combination of two computer programs: Mudbox and Keyshot. Developed by Weta Workshop, Mudbox is a digital sculpting tool that was used to help create the creatures in the 2005 remake of King Kong.
Keyshot, meanwhile, is a rendering tool. Users can import 3D models into the program and then manipulate the lighting, texture and camera angle. And artists can make their models look impressively lifelike with the tool.
As well as busts of various Star Trek-style aliens, Hughes’ early work also includes some animation. In 2015 he produced a short film called Fly Trap. It’s only one minute long, but it gives you an idea of the artist’s sense of humor and approach to character design.
Hughes’ first reworking of a well-known character – a bust of Yoda from the Star Wars films – emerged on DeviantArt in December 2015. It’s a pretty accurate depiction and perhaps most reminiscent of how Yoda appears in Attack of the Clones, the second of the rather tragic prequels.
It was in July 2016 that things took a turn for the creepy. Hughes posted a bust of Breaking Bad anti-hero Walter White. And while Yoda was depicted more or less faithfully, White’s features were dramatically exaggerated. His eyes are wide-set, his nose is pointed, and his chin is, well, impossible.
Hughes used a slightly different toolkit to create the “Heisenberg” caricature. In place of Mudshot, he applied ZBrush, which employs “pixols” rather than pixels. Pixols contain information about depth, texture and orientation, allowing them to be edited in full 3D.
In August 2016 Hughes then created a rendition of Murdoc, the bass player from the band Gorillaz, whose members are all animated (and fictional). This was, moreover, the first time that Hughes had posted an image of a formerly 2D character reimagined in 3D.
But the first piece to really display the style that Hughes has become famous for emerged in January 2017. The subject was none other than Rick and Morty frontman Rick Sanchez, complete with a slick of drool and off-center pupils.
Since then, Hughes has been reimagining a plethora of different characters. These range from internet memes like the “No” face and Pepe the Frog to figures from adult-oriented cartoons like BoJack Horseman.
The meme faces were all redrawn while retaining their original shape, but when Hughes moved on to the cast of SpongeBob SquarePants, he tried a different tack. In particular, he gave SpongeBob a freakish, monstrous appearance – which certainly isn’t in the spirit of the original show.
Perhaps Hughes’ most haunting early piece, however, is his rendition of Mike Wazowski from Monsters, Inc. None of the monsters which feature in the film are overly scary, least of all Mike, but Hughes’ version lacks a bottom jaw and sports a mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth.
Hughes also started posting his work on Instagram in January 2017, drawing even more acclaim. While his posts on DeviantArt get a fair amount of attention, his Instagram posts are pretty much guaranteed to pull in thousands of likes. Thus far, he’s amassed some 33,000 followers.
Hughes’ creepiest works, though, are the ones that imagine what particularly oddly shaped characters would look like as humans. Figures such as Homer Simpson, Peter Griffin and even Morty Smith lose most of their charm when you see them as misshapen, deformed individuals with improbably sized features.
Hughes has such a huge following now that one person even got a tattoo of his version of Pickle Rick, and almost all of his pieces are available to buy as prints. He’s given his nightmarish treatment to dozens of characters already, then, but by the looks of things, he’s only just getting started.