Getting to grips with designing in 3D is far from easy, and even more so when you’re trying to mimic objects from the real world. One of the hardest things to recreate in 3D is a human. Your audience spends so much time looking at people that any errors will stand out a mile away. This is what makes the following artworks so impressive.

Scroll down to take a look at some of the most amazingly realistic 3D portraits we’ve ever seen. We’ll hear from the artists that created them as they describe the techniques they used in their projects that took months to complete.

If you’re impressed with this amazing 3D art, and want to hone your own 3D skills,  explore these tutorials for KeyShot ZBrush and Blender. Or, take a look at what can be achieved without a computer in our roundup of incredibly realistic pencil drawings.

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01. István Vastag

Vastag created hairs that grow from below the skin’s surface

This incredibly lifelike image took Digic Pictures environment supervisor István Vastag nine months of evenings and weekends to complete, using 3ds Max, ZBrush, Mari, V-Ray and Nuke.

“There were several interesting issues that I had to face,” Vastag explains. “I paid great attention to where the face geometry meets the eyeball geometry. All the hairs are growing from below the skin surface so they are all correctly affecting the subsurface scattering. Textures were painted in Mari using simple brushes and adjustment layers.”

02. Jacques Defontaine

Defontaine uses basic tools to capture the emotion on an individual face

Freelance artist Jacques Defontaine is a master of hyper-realistic 3D portraits (take a look at his portfolio if you don’t believe us). Before starting each new character, he likes to experiment and try out new skills.

He insists that his approach to creating such lifelike images is actually fairly straightforward: “I have a little collection of stamps and stencils that I use for sculpting and painting textures, but apart from that it’s all basic tools. In ZBrush I always use the Geometry HD and Layers features, as I find those very powerful.”

Having worked in the CG industry since 1996, Defontaine has years’ worth of experience to draw from. “Many things inspire me but the human face is my favourite, they can look so different and convey so many emotions. Being able, or at least to try, to capture that look and emotion is a real challenge, and that’s what drives me.”

03. Artur Tarnowski

Tarnowski likes to have a lot of control over the skin, using masks for detail

Artur Tarnowski is a character artist for Warsaw-based studio Layopi Games, with a wealth of experience in modelling. This image took him just a month and a half to complete. “I had almost everything done in two weeks,” he says. “The rest of the time was spent adjusting the model, hair shape, shader parameters, and lighting setup. All those little – some would say unnoticeable – details that make the final image look realistic.”

During the process Tarnowski used a displacement shading network in Arnold to blend three types of maps. “The first is my secondary detail from ZBrush,” he explains. “The second is Texturing XYZ micro detail and the third is a tileable micro detail with pores, etc. The skin shader is also quite complex as I like to have a lot of control over the skin in Hypershade. That means a lot of masks for makeup or freckles as well as many remap nodes for adjusting roughness, specular and skin tones.”

04. Emerson Silva

Silva enjoys creating texture and rendering

3D artist Emerson Silva began his career by creating low-poly models for mobile games back in 2004. “It was a very small area in Brazil, and few companies survived for more than two years,” he explains of his decision to advance in his artistry.

His approach towards ‘Sadhu’ began by gathering references to build a mental image, right down to details like lighting and rendering. He continues: “My next step is to make a simple base mesh, I love working with low polygon because it’s easier to make changes. I always do this in 3ds Max before sending it to ZBrush.”

It’s then that Silva creates the final look of his piece, setting the pose and getting the model ready for work in Substance Painter. “I currently use Substance Painter for the entire texturing process, I find it very enjoyable to create textures in. I usually do texturing and rendering at the same time, and always in sections. I start with the head and only go to the other part when I’m satisfied.”

05. Saurabh Jethani

Jethani creates characters for video games

When Saurabh Jethani‘s not living his dream of creating characters for video games, he lends his talents to making hair, clothes, hard-surface characters and creatures.

With technical elements like the low-poly and UVs already in place, the artistic process for this particular portrait took Jethani just a week to complete. “I used TexturingXYZ displacement for pores and albedo for skin colour,” he explains. “Their separate displacements (secondary, tertiary and micros) can be combined in the RGB channel of an image to be projected together simultaneously. This allows me to separately control the value of each channel. I would recommend anyone going for realistic face information to try those maps out.”

06. Ian Spriggs

Spriggs pays attention to personality when representing people

Ian Spriggs is a 3D portrait and character artist working in Maya, Mudbox, V-Ray
and Photoshop. “I love trying to figure people out and work out what makes them who they are,” he explains. “Portraits are like a window into the subject’s life; you really have to know someone to be able to represent them well – it’s not only facial features you are representing, but also their personality.”

For this reason, he likes to create portraits of friends and family members. “Digital humans need a personality to make them believable; characters in a T-pose might look real, but we won’t connect with them,” he adds. Find out how Spriggs created this portrait and have a go for yourself in this step by step guide.

07. João Victor Ferreira

Ferreira uses light source to keep his art realistic

“First, I took dozens of photos for reference in many different lightings, including daylight and interior light,” explains character modeller João Victor Ferreira. Using these photos for comparison, he then began to sculpt the head from a base mesh. He continues: “Importantly I created my 3D scene in an ambient with the light source being as close as possible to one of my reference photos. This gave me a sense of how close the model was to reality.”

In fact, Ferreira believes that taking the time to gather reference is amongst the most important elements in creating great art, and he is motivated by the desire to better himself with every new piece.

This article was originally published in 3D World, the world’s best-selling magazine for CG artists. Subscribe to 3D World .