These 3D portraits are unbelievably realistic

3D portraits
(Image credit: Charly Amani)

3D portraits take a lot of skill to create but are astonishing when done well. Trying to mimic objects from the real world is the hardest part of designing in 3D – and recreating a human is the trickiest of all. Mistakes will be picked up on quickly as your audience knows the human form so well. 

Here, we've collated some of the most jaw-dropping 3D portraits to showcase the level of creative skill out there. Plus, the artists who created these amazingly realistic 3D portraits describe the techniques they used over the months it took to complete their work.

Keep reading to marvel at these intricate works of art. If this isn't enough, explore more amazing pieces on our 3D art roundup and hone your own 3D skills by exploring 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. Salt Bae

Salt Bae took the artist around three weeks to create (Image credit: Eugene Tertychnyi)

Character artist Eugene Tertychnyi worked on this recreation of chef and restaurateur Salt Bae in his spare time, working four to six hours a day for around three weeks. "I try not to repeat a character that has been made by other artists," Tertychnyi says. "For example, Batman or Spider-Man, who overflow the internet. I try to make something that I've never seen before in 3D."

Tertychnyi needed to find a way of creating photorealistic salt without hand-sculpting it. For this he turned to Cinema 4D and its powerful rigid body dynamics. "I created four or five salt particle meshes out of spheres with the displacement modifier applied and set them as a particle emitter," Tertychnyi explains. "Then I set the pose of the model, cut the hand from the main mesh, imported it into C4D and placed the emitter nearly between the fingers. I defined the particle samples as rigid bodies and the hand mesh as a collider body, tweaked some parameters then set play." After some time Tertychnyi stopped the simulation, baked the dynamic, and made a single mesh from it by clicking 'Current State to Object'. Tertychnyi made two more simulations until he was happy with the amount of salt, and exported it back to Maya.

02. Moon

The title of Moon was a suggestion from the artist's little sister (Image credit: Charly Amani)

This expressive piece took character artist Charly Amani around a week and a half to complete. The title Moon was a suggestion from his little sister. "What I enjoyed most about this work was sculpting its expression," he explains to 3D World. To create the impressive micro details of the character’s skin, Amani used maps from Texturing XYZ. He also utilised ZBrush's cloth simulation tools for the very first time on this piece.

"I first look for references in relation to the work I'm going to do," Amani continues, "it's a step that I particularly appreciate, it's quite fun." Once he has all his references Amani begins carving the character in ZBrush, working until he is happy with the result. "I then switch to Maya to do retopology if necessary and create the UVs to reproject details and create maps. I then project the details onto the low-poly model. Afterwards, I test the results on Arnold to check that it works." Textures are worked on in Mari or Substance Painter before Amani works on the hair with XGen. Once the details and final render are perfected, Amani's work is done.

Recently Amani worked as a shot sculptor on the upcoming Tom & Jerry film, his first industry role. "I really enjoyed being able to meet such talented people," he adds. "I had the honour of working with artists whose work I greatly admire. I hope to get more opportunities as extraordinary as this one."

03. Christopher Lloyd

The artist wanted to include all the skin details (Image credit: David Sasselli)

Artist David Sasselli created this 3D portrait using ZBrush, Arnold 5, Maya and Photoshop. Sasselli has always been passionate about characters and how to create them, trying to push myself in every project he takes on, learning from the best, and finding new ways to improve his technique.

"When I decided to create this 3D portrait, my intention was to achieve all the details of the skin of my character," he explains. "I created these details by hand, but the most challenging part was capturing the soul of the character. In this project I learned so much about skin shaders, sculpting details in ZBrush, and sculpting likeness."

04. Abdelrahman Kubsi

Kubsi is inspired by the challenge of mimicking nature [Image: Abdelrahman Kubsi]

This awesome 3D portrait of Walter White took character and creature artist Abdelrahman Kubisi six weeks to complete, working in his spare time around his full time job at MPC. Discussing his technical approach Kubsi says: "I used the new Arnold 5 shader for the skin, and used maps for displacement detailing and colour textures." 

He continues: "I always start by collecting reference, it's the most important part in the job for me, then I start the digital sculpting inside ZBrush. I texture inside Mari, building layer upon layer to make the skin look real."

When asked what inspires him to create, Kubsi says: "Mimicking nature, which in my opinion is very difficult, and trying to make things that look hyper-realistic. If I'm able to make people think my work is a photo, then I feel like I’ve done a good job."

05. Tsubasa Nakai

Nakai's female face is made great by its celebration of fine details [Image: Tsubasa Nakai]

Director and CG supervisor Tsubasa Nakai created this stunning female face using  Maya, ZBrush, Photoshop, Mari and Substance Painter. The detail of the smudges of make-up, porous skin and freckles are astonishing. It's the imperfections that make this face so stunningly realistic, and the light in her eyes is breathtaking. 

"In order to create this beautiful CG woman, I tried using Multi-channel Faces texture from The technical goal of this project was to express the fine details. and XGen really helped me to achieve this. I projected a Multi-channel Faces texture to the model, with a Photoshop UV workflow." You can see how to do this here. 

06. István Vastag

Vastag created hairs that grow from below the skin's surface [Image: István Vastag]

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.”

07. Jacques Defontaine

Defontaine uses basic tools to capture the emotion on an individual face [Image: Jaques Defontaine]

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.”

08. Artur Tarnowski

Tarnowski likes to have a lot of control over the skin, using masks for detail [Image: Artur Tarnowski]

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.”

09. Emerson Silva

Silva enjoys creating texture and rendering [Image: Emerson Silva]

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.”

10. Saurabh Jethani

Jethani creates characters for video games [Image: Saurabh Jethani]

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.”

08. Ian Spriggs

Spriggs pays attention to personality when representing people [Image: Ian Spriggs]

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.

09. João Victor Ferreira

Ferreira uses light source to keep his art realistic [Image: João Victor Ferreira]

“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

Content has also been included from 3D Artist. 

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Brad Thorne

Brad Thorne was Creative Bloq's Ecommerce Writer, and now works for a PR company specialising in 3D and VFX, Liaison. He previously worked as Features Writer for 3D World and 3D Artist magazines, and has written about everything from 3D modelling to concept art, archviz to engineering, and VR to VFX. For Creative Bloq, his role involved being responsible for creating content around the most cutting-edge technology (think the metaverse and the world of VR) and keeping a keen eye on prices and stock of all the best creative kit.