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Portraits Of The 21st Century: The Most Photorealistic 3D Renderings Of Human Beings

December 9th, 2013

Portraits Of The 21st Century: The Most Photorealistic 3D Renderings Of Human Beings

As I was a little boy, I liked to watch old pictures of my relatives at my grandparents' house. Scrolling all that dusty photo paper - there was something mystical and spiritual in that. Looking into the eyes of my ancestors was so surreal. I knew that they have lived decades ago, but I was still hard to perceive the archived depiction of a moment. A moment which had happened long time ago, but that seemed to happen right now. Just frozen. Frozen emotions and depicted souls.

Photography was invented in the 19th century and it became a very popular way to immortalize the image of a person or a family. Later, the art of the portrait photography was refined throughout the 20th century. Remember those famous photos of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King and so on, and so on, and so on... There are so many magnificent pictures which gained popularity and now are worldwide-known.

Nowadays photography is a very popular hobby and an affordable activity for a lot of us. So making a portrait needed to reach higher heights to keep that miraculous effect of capturing a soul. 3D modeling is the new form of photography. That is why we decided to review the best of new 3D renderings of human beings.


Adam Skutt

Mursi people live in southwestern Ethiopia. There are only 7,500 of them in the world. Mursi is one of the two last groups in Africa where women still wear large wooden discs or 'plates' in their lower lips. Women of Mursi wear plates made of clay. It is an old tradition. As well as piercing for the tribe's men. They perform body piercing and stretch their earlobes to reflect their personality and spirituality.

Adam Skutt made this amazingly photorealistic portrait of Mursi Tribesman two years ago. The designer found this project as a way to test out different techniques which he had learned during four years at school. He said that realism was not his focus, as he wanted to test his modeling, texturing, lighting and shading skills all in one project while still working towards his degree.

"I decided I wanted to make a tribal elder or leader. His frail elderly body contrasts with his position of power within the tribe as well as his calm but controlling gaze", - said Adam in the "Making of".

Software used: Maya, Mental Ray, ZBrush.


GV Prashanth

Smoking kills. But it is madly popular in southeastern Asia. Smoking, not killing. For example, did you know, that smoking-related diseases kill over 40,000 people in Vietnam each year. It is predicted that nearly 10 percent of Vietnam population will have died from smoking-related diseases by 2030.

Prashanth, the author of this render, tells about the making process: "Inspired by a lot of artists I started off this model of an old man in ZBrush and sculpted all the way, then I used ZBrush polypaint to paint textures on to the model. Once done the textures were exported and rendered inside V-Ray for Maya. The rendered images were composited and processed using Photoshop and Lightroom".

Software used: Maya, V-Ray, Zbrush, Photoshop.


Alex Huguet

Hospital is not the best place to be. Or at last, not the place where any of us dream to spend our time. However, life is a tricky thing and sometimes you cannot choose. For example, Paul Henrique Machado from Brazil has spent almost all of his life in hospital. 45 years in a bed because of the paralysis brought on by polio. He is hooked on artificial respiration 24/7, but he trained to become one of you - a computer animator. Now that's a strong will!

This is not a portrait or Mr. Machado. Yet, Alex Huguet has made this astonishing "attempt on realistic portrait", as he called it. "It was the first time trying it, I'm not too happy with it but I don't think I will keep tweaking it anymore", - said Alex. Not so bad for the first time, huh? Not so bad at all!

Software used: Maya, Zbrush, Mudbox, rendered V-Ray, Fusion for color correct.


Visual Forensic

Did you know that Hugo Chavez, late President of Venezuela was a huge fan of 3D modeling?! Well, actually, he is a big fan of Simón Bolívar, so he ordered to make a photorealistic portrait of this historic military and political leader during the Latin America's successful struggle for independence.

French company Visual Forensic began facial reconstruction of Simón Bolívar in May of 2011. This political leader lived in the 18-19th century. Therefore - there were no photographs of him made. Specialists had a special permission from the government of Venezuela to work with Ctscan database. The pictures were presented in Caracas, Venezuela by Hugo Chavez himself, of course.


Amr Helmy

Did you know that the first portrait photograph was made in 1839. It was a self portrait of Robert Cornelius. He made an approximate quarter plate daguerreotype and wrote "The first light picture ever taken" on the back of it. It was a picture of a 30-year-old man with messy hair and a jacket.

Amr Helmy is a professional 3D designer from Cairo, Egypt. He made a picture which could be a portrait of a younger Robert Cornelius easily. This rendering which Amr Helmy called "White Male Portrait" is his seventh try to make a photorealistic portrait. "I wanted to try a white skin", - said Amr Helmy. We think that it was well done!

Software used: HDRI for lighting, Yeti for hair.


Stephen David Molyneaux

Beautiful women had eventually become one of the most popular object to photograph. A term "pin-up girl" was first attested in English in 1941, but its background dates back to the 1890s when burlesque dancers used photographs as their business cards. The term itself means that the picture is intended to be pinned-up on the wall.

Well, actually, this is not a picture of a pin-up girl at all. However, it is still a picture of a very beautiful woman. And it is not a photograph. "I've been working on this image on and off for quite some time. I'm really happy to finally get it finished and posted. Thank you to Bernadette Vong for the supplied reference help me produce the image", - said the author.


Jian Xu

Markus Rühl claims to be one of the strongest bodybuilders alive. He possesses some of the biggest shoulders in the bodybuilding history. Rühl began training after he suffered a knee injury and could not play soccer anymore.

A 3D designer Jian Xu decided to make a photorealistic rendering of this amazing sportsman. Here is what he has to say about his work: "He is a famous body builder. I fancy the feeling of his smile and muscles he representing. I create the image by one of his real photos".

Software used: 3ds Max, Zbrush, Photoshop, Mental Ray.


Bruno Jiménez

To be honest, Johnny Cash is one of my favorite singers and songwriters. He died 10 years ago, but he lived in a shine of his strong personality. It could be easily seen in the photographs of him.

"The one and only Johnny Cash. I've first started this piece as a speed-sculpt but I thought that this could be the opportunity to spend some time to test some lighting, shading and hair creation", - said Bruno Jiménez.

Software used: 3ds Max, Photoshop, V-Ray, ZBrush.


Chris Nichols

Album artwork is one of the fields where 3D designers can demonstrate their skills and imagination. A possibility to create additional details expands photorealism to almost dimensionless space. Well, as far, as it is three dimensions, of course.

Chris Nichols made this rendering for (Ayco) Eiko Ishiwatas album cover artwork. Here is the "making of" of this breathtaking masterpiece.

Software used: Maya, Zbrush, MARI, V-Ray.


Dan Roarty

It is always tough when one of our beloved people passes away. I guess that just a few of us could take a picture of that person instantly after the funeral. It took a few years for this 3D designer to do it. And he had to do more than just look at the photo.

Dan Roarty titles himself as a character artist. And he had a very special occasion to make this photorealistic picture. "This image was inspired by my Nana who passed away a few years ago. It is not a likeness though, just inspired by. It is an attempt at a realistic portrait", - said Dan earlier this year.

Software used: Maya, Mudbox, Shave, Haircut, V-Ray, Knald.


Wei Long Zhong

Beijing opera is a form of Chinese theatre. It arose in the 18th century and was very popular 100 years later. It is regarded as one of the cultural treasures of China. There are four main types of performers who wear colorful costumes and had their faces painted. It takes quite a long time for them to get ready for each show.

Wei Long Zhong must be a fan of Beijing opera, or of all the visual content presented there. "It shows a normal performing artist of Beijing opera who is painting face before his performance in the backstage. The last step is tracing over the golden eyes", - said he.

Software used: 3ds Max, ZBrush, Mudbox, Photoshop.


Max Edwin Wahyudi

I have a DVD of "The Dark Knight" at home myself. Heath Ledger stars Joker in that film. And his acting in that film is no less than perfect - he won an Oscar for that. Posthumously. There were rumors that creators of the "Dark Knight" series could use CGI to bring Heath Ledger back to the screen. However, that never happened.

This one is made by VFX student Max Wahyudi. He took a job to create a CG look of this well-known actor.


Hossein Diba

It is a scene from "The Shining" (1980) directed by Stanley Kubrick, of course. Jack Nicholson had the main role of Johnny in this film. Did you know that during the filming Kubrick forced the whole crew to make 60 takes of one scene where the camera simply slowly zooms in on Scatman Crothers? He just broke down in tears. It takes so much to make a perfect scene.

Hossein Diba must be a perfectionist himself. Otherwise, how did he manage to make such a realistic picture of Johnny (Jack Nicholson). "I chose a sequence from "The Shining" and tried to both get the likeness and more important than that, to capture the insanity in Jack's face. I applied hair and fur to imported fibermesh curves in 3ds Max and the render engine is Mental Ray", - said Hossein.

Software used: 3ds Max, Photoshop, ZBrush, Mental Ray.


Riccardo Minervino

Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant which is made of various chemicals. It is a highly addictive drug and it is being made ("cooked") in secret labs, supported by drug kingpins. It is called "ice" because of the similarities to it. It was depicted in very popular TV series "Breaking Bad". A chemistry teacher, who started to "cook" "ice" to raise money for his family.

Riccardo Minervino called this picture "You're Goddamn Right!" as it is the catch phrase of Walt "Heisenberg" White - the main character of "Breaking Bad". Here is the " making of" of this rendering. "I decided to make this fan art after I finished watching all the seasons of Breaking Bad, because I really liked the show and I think the main actor, Bryan Cranston, has an interesting face, so I thought it would have fun to model him.", - said Rikk The Gaijin about the rendering he made.

Software used: 3ds Max, Photoshop, Octane.


Zbynek Kysela

Passport photographs should reflect the persons look perfectly. That is why there are so many requirements for it. By the way, did you know, that passports have been in use, but were not commonly required until 1918 in the US? They became mandatory for international travel then.

This picture looks like a standard photograph took from an elderly man's passport. As Zbynek said, his goal was to do a realistic portrait in 3D and trying to make him look alive. Basically, that is how it should be. We think that Zbynek Kysela has done a great job.

Software used: Maya, Mental Ray, Zbrush, Shave, Haircut.


Mathieu Aerni

Satyr is a character from Greek mythology. He is the companion of Pan and Dionysus. He is a human but has some features of goat: horns, ears and beard. It is a half-human, half-goat. In myths there are often mentions of them playing the pipe.

Here is what Mathieu has to say about his work: “My take on a mythical creature: the Satyr. I tried to give him an interesting personality, and to give a natural feel to an imaginary creature”.

Software used: Zbrush, MARI, V-Ray.



Javert is a fictional character of Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables (1862). He is the main antagonist in that series of the great French novelist. Australian actor Russell Crowe has portrayed him in the film of the same title which had hit cinemas in the 2012.

Luces made this incredible portrait of him standing there with dignity in his face.

Software used: Maya, MARI, Zbrush, Photoshop, Mental Ray.


Marco di Lucca

There is one thing that could kill me softly. Well, “kill” me. And women use that. It is an eye liner. If a girl uses it to define her eyes, I just physically cannot watch anywhere else and could hit a street post, a sharp corner in the bar or anything similar and get hurt, or eventually – die. Women, you are so deadly. And you have weapons for a legal soft killing.

Marco di Lucca, who made it, told that he tried to develop his skills of depicting the skin: “Another close up render with micro breakup in the skin”.

Software used: KeyShot, Mudbox.


Marco di Lucca

Are you aware of a selfie? It is a photo taken by yourself. In the age of Facebook, it is a common habit to make such pictures and upload them online. However, the beginning of self portrait photography dates way back. As I told you earlier – the first photograph, actually was a self portrait. It was made in 1839.

Software used: Mudbox, KeyShot.


Marco di Lucca

Darth Maul from the “Star Wars” is a Sith Lord and is an evil character whose job is to capture the escaped queen Padmé Amidala.

Marco di Lucca calls himself Evilmaul in the forums of CG enthusiasts. No wonder, that he decided to make a photorealistic self portrait, colliding his own face with the face of Darth Maul. Looks real enough to make me scared that “Star Wars” was not a fictional story…

Software used: Mudbox, KeyShot.


Marco di Lucca

The mug shot, or a police photograph, was invented in the 19th century by Allan Pinkerton, an US detective, who was the first to use them on Wanted posters. "Mug" is an English slang word for "face".

Here we have the third self portrait of Marco di Lucca. This guy must be amazed by his own face, if he decided to do so many versions of himself. However, he is doing that just fine. And he might think about that is a bad guy (or maybe he is one?) if he wanted to make such a picture of himself.

Software used: Mudbox, KeyShot.


Anders Ehrenborg

There are no photographs of the people from the Medieval Ages, of course. However, there are a lot of paintings, because noblemen, dukes and kings liked to have their portraits as well.

Anders Ehrenborg decided to bring some modernity to the history as he created this photorealistic portrait of a man which he called "Bear King".

Software used: 3ds Max, V-Ray, Hairfarm, Zbrush, Lightwave, MARI, Photoshop.


Jin Hee Lee

Albert Camus last novel "The First Man" ("Le Premier Homme") actually was an unfinished one. The incomplete manuscript of it was found in the mud at the incident site. It was an autobiographical novel, so the plot was set in Algiers, where Camus was born and lived.

Jin Hee Lee made this amazingly photorealistic portrait of a North African man. You can find a "making of" here.

Software used: Maya, Mental Ray, Zbrush, Photoshop.


Oleg Koreyba

Heydar Aliyev was a President of Azerbaijan from 1993 till 2003 and was succeeded by his son Ilham who is still in the office right now. Heydar Aliyev died a month after his second tenure in the office. His personality was very controversial - there are a lot of discussions going on what kind of leader he was.

This is what Oleg Koreyba said about this work: "I tried to make Him look like the original, alive and in good spirits. Hope it turned out, and you enjoy it".

Software used: Maya, Mental Ray, Zbrush, Deep Paint, Photoshop, Hair-Shave.


Visual Forensic

Henry IV of France lived in the 15-16th centuries. He was the first monarch of the House of Bourbon. He was born Catholic, but raised as a Protestant. Later he was involved in the French Wars of Religion and led Protestant forces against the royal army.

Here we have another great reconstruction made by Visual Forensic company from France. This time it is their own historical leader - king Henry IV. Here is the " making of".

Visual Forensic: "Facial reconstruction of Henri IV began in September 2012 when we got access to the mummified head CTscan database done by Dr Philippe Charlier team in Paris. The reconstructed head was presented on February 12th 2013 in the National Archives building. The quality of the reconstructed face is Full HD even for little details of the skin. Volume of the nose was calculated using six regressive equations written by the FBI counter terrorism Dept and based on cranial measurements of the bones."



To find THE ONE. Sometimes it feels like the main and only mission in the life of a man. To find the one girl/lady/woman, to find the queen in this crazy world. It is a long journey where luck means a lot. Happy are those men who have found their love while in high school. Confused are those who search for her for years. There is always a dilemma - to lower your requirements or to keep searching without any guarantees.

"Doing a realistic female portrait is always something that is on the top of my to-do list", - said Khitan. Here is the " making-of".

Software used: Maya, Zbrush, Arnold.


Rakesh Sandhu

Kids are the most natural poseurs. Usually, it is not natural for them to lie. So, this portrait is special. The kid in it is very pure, however, you can see a lot of what he has experienced in his eyes.

Rakesh Sandhu about this project: "For this stage I tried to make a basic kid's face for him. And I tried to establish his silhouette as well." Here is the " making-of"

Software used: 3ds Max, Photoshop, Painter.


Blur Studio

Imagine that - you go on a skydiving trip and unexpectedly land on the pirate-infested exotic island. Of course, they take you and your friends as prisoners. You need to break out, get your friends out of the imprisonment and get out of this crazy island. Basically, that is the plot of Ubisoft's game "Far Cry 3". It is a first-person shooter, so the details are expected to be very realistic. And they are.
Designers of Blur Studio have made a great job while they have been creating cinematics or this game. They had a great workshop with guys from Pixologic before they created this. They told Blur Studio's guys how to use Zbrush even more efficiently. Amazing work. Actually, I might go for a play-break right now...


Yi Xu

What could be worse than a war? It is hard to even imagine. Fighting for your country is a courageous and heroic act. However, a possibility to die for someone's interests does not sound that good. There were two World Wars already and, I think, nobody wants another one to happen. Nevertheless, sometimes there are some factors which you cannot impact.

Yi Xu made a photorealistic portrait of an unknown old soldier. And here is what he wanted to achieve: "In this piece I tried to archive photograph effect and to learn some lighting and hair techniques. The reference is some image from the net".

Software used: 3ds Max, Zbrush, Photoshop, V-Ray.


Stanislav Klabik

A face of an old man - there is so much of the experience in it. Every year leaves its' mark. When a person reaches his sunset, it gets harder and harder to read that face. Emotions blend and cover each other. It is hard to say what does this old man thinks. However, his face is very expressive.

Probably, that is why Stanislav Klabik decided to make a portrait of him. "Maybe you will know this old man, this work was conceived as a photorealistic character based on the real photography, the main goal was to made accurate character, nothing less and nothing more. I added only different haircut. I have chosen this character because this guy has really unique face, not like the usual faces seen around us. Maybe I was a little bit bored by the nice and clean characters and mainly the women, so hope this unusual man will be a bit different from what you saw until now", - said Stanislav.

Software used: 3ds Max, Mental Ray, Photoshop.


Sven Geruschkat

Would you like to have an apple? From the hands of a witch? Snow White took it. Nothing good happened, believe me. Apple is a deadly weapon, you know. Well, if you did not know that yet, then you better read the tale, called "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".

Sven Geruschkat had definitely read that and he liked it! Otherwise, why had he done this photorealistic 3D rendering. Spectacular portrait. "I got inspired by a little sketch done for Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”. The scene depicts the evil queen disguised as a witch. Ready to give the poisoned apple. With this model, I will test different lights/environments, materials, camera- and compositing effects. Funny thing though: I decided to show this picture in a less moody light-setup, otherwise nobody could see the effort that went into it", - Sven said.

Software used: 3ds Max, Mudbox, Mental Ray, Photoshop.


Shang-Peng Leng

Young ladies. Little princesses of their dads or lolitas from Vladimir Nabokov's novel? A little bit of both, I think. Well, they are more interesting this way. Of course, life could be cruel to them if they would rely on one of these characters too much. Dad will not be near all the time and some guy might break their heart if one of them would tease him too much. The cat might become a mouse.

"The intention is to capture the touching expression of the young girl in soft breeze. I hope to share the beautiful moment with everyone. It's rendered with Vray, Maya hair and vray hairshader were used for her hairs and furs", - said the author. Well, he wanted to show her in soft breeze? He did it just fine!

Software used: Maya, Silo, Zbursh, Photoshop, MARI, V-Ray, Nuke.


Kris Kelly

"The revolution will not be televised" is a poem by the great Gil Scott-Heron. He was right - the revolution is live. It was live in Egypt in 2011 when protesters made meetings with a demand for then-President Bosni Mubarak to leave the office. Eventually, they succeeded - Mubarak resigned. Nevertheless, it has not been so calm out there for those two years now. Egypt had another President - Mohamed Morsi. And he was succeeded by Adly Mansour this July.

Kris Kelly is the author of this photorealistic portrait of an anti-Mubarak protester. Here is what Kris has to say about his work: "Based off images from the anti-Mubarack protest that happened in Egypt in spring of 2011, this image was a labor of love to make. I was so inspired by the people, young and old who stood their ground and revolted in the face of oppression. The point of the personal project was to create portrait that could pass as a photograph. Attention to detail was important, the full project entailed using the latest techniques I have learned while working in the VFX industry to push my skills to a higher level".

Software used: Maya, Mental Ray, ZBrush.


U-Ri So

Here is another self portrait. This time it is a 3D designer - U-Ri So from South Korea. Who could make better photorealistic portrait of a 3D designer than herself? However, people see themselves differently than others, don't they?

Software used: 3ds Max, Photoshop, ZBrush.


ZhiHeng Tang

Story of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" was created way back in 1967. It is based on pirate legends and folklore. Johnny Depp starred captain Jack Sparrow in the series of films made by Walt Disney Pictures. Johnny Depp is known for his mysterious look and the eyes are play the main role in it.
ZhiHeng Tang must be a big fan of Johnny Depp, as he have chosen to make a portrait of him. You can find some more project pictures here.

Software used: Lightwave 3D, Maya, Photoshop, ZBrush.


Tell us what you think!

Pac0arq wrote

It's unbelievable, i cant even think that those are digital models, really amazyng job


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