Marius Kalytis August 14th, 2012

Incredibly Photorealistic 3D Characters

Making a realistic and lifelike human character is one of the hardest tasks in 3D graphics. For a long time it was known as the “Holy Grail” among 3D artists in the community. The reason why this skill is so desired, is the possibilities it gives you in the movie or advertising industries. Imagine you could create fully artificial digital actors and make the audience believe they are real. So real that there would be no questioning it. We are all familiar with the best examples out there – Gollum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean or the alien species in Avatar.

There are a vast amount of techniques and tools developed to aid this process. Geometry composed of millions of polygons can be easily molded like clay to form the shape of a character. The 3D model then is linked to skeletal systems that enable artists to animate the body. Complex rendering algorithms calculate how light spreads in the scene to simulate physically accurate shadows and illumination. Shading procedures are then used to compute how textures react when light hits the surface. Rendering engines imitate details of human skin to such an extent that even the scattering of the light under the skin is taken into account.

Above all that, the artist has to convey the personality and make the audience believe that it is a real person. That’s why some 3D characters look so strange – technically all the skin and shading details are correct, but something is lacking in the character. Sometimes the expression is unnatural, or the traits of the face are too perfect. When 3D characters look “almost ” like actual human beings, it can cause repulsive thoughts, the experience often colloquially said as the uncanny valley.

Anyway, new software and ever growing computing power enables artists to create computer generated characters you would never guess it is not a real photo. Here are 40 of the most interesting and photorealistic 3D characters in the community to date.

Gallery of Characters

Captain Jack Sparrow / Johnny Depp made by ZhiHeng Tang

Portrait of President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev made by Oleg Koreyba

,,The Revolutionary” made by  Kris Kelly

,,Ayco” made by Chris Nichols

,,Bernadette”  by Stephen Molyneaux

,,The Portrait”  made by Luc Bégin

,,Body builder” made by Jian Xu (Tutorial)

Although he looks a bit exaggerated, it was made from a reference of a real bodybuilder Markus Ruhl.

,,Jonas” by Zbynek Kysela

,,Old man” created by  Jin Hee Lee (Tutorial)

,,Portrait attempt” made by Alex Huguet

Korean actress Song Hye Kyo by Max Wahyudi

,,Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Highway” made by Stanislav Klabik (Tutorial)

,,Far and Away” by  Stanislav Klabik

,,Painter ” by RenPeng Dong

,,The Joker ” made by  Max Wahyudi (Making of)

A fan art of a character Joker (actor – Heath Ledger) from the movie Dark Knight.

,,Muriel 2” made by  Mauro Corveloni

,,Young Girl”  made by Viki Yeo (Tutorial)

,,Mursi Tribesman” made by Adam Skutt (Tutorial)

,,Apocalypto’s Middle Eye” made by Peter Zoppi

Close up portrait made by David Moratlla (Tutorial)

,,The Blue Project” self-portrait made by Dan Roarty (Tutorial)

,,An elderly curmudgeon” made by Rokly Wang

,,Hold Hakka Woman” made by Salvatore Ferracane

Portrait of an Old Man made by Tony Reynolds

Varvara made by Denis Tolkishevsky

Sad woman made by Kleber Darcio

Slayer made by Guang Yang

Actor Tommy Lee Jones made by SiYoung Lee

Old woman made by Ivan Ozyumov

Girl elbow stand made by Alexander Tomchuk

Portrait  made by U Ri So

Last Elf made by Piotr Fox Wysock (Making of)

Kid made by Rakesh Sandhu (Tutorial)

Mage made by Joel Mongeon

Chris made by Redragon

Artist Addy Rose made a portrait of her boyfriend in 3D. Here is the tutorial of how she created this image.

“Old Detective” by James Busby

Old man made by Anto Juricic

Pink Amazon Portrait made by Rebeca Puebla

Evil Witch made by  Sven Geruschkat 

Inspired by Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

Young Chimp made by Hyejin Moon

Not entirely a human but nonetheless one of the best CG characters of our ancestors.

All For Now

3D technology is evolving so fast that soon digital actors maybe replacing the real ones before too long. When it will be? Only time will tell. Tell us, how many of the images above could you not tell apart from a photo?


Marius Kalytis

Marius Kalytis is a 3D artist, web developer and entrepreneur. He is the founder of an online platform for 3D artists CGTrader where they can buy, sell and share free 3D models with each other.


  1. Very impressive, although in some cases the skin texture still has a slightly waxy or airbrushed quality.

  2. I so love this collection. Truly inspiring. I hope there will be a series of post regarding to this topic and I am sure it will get the attention of the readers like me.

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