The first time I saw Wil Hughes' work, I could not look away. He is a digital sculptor who has a keen eye for taking works of popular cartoon characters and making them look realistic to the point of making them creepy and nightmarish.
The 3D digital sculptures take on everything from Rick and Morty through the Simpsons, and even company mascots such as Ronald McDonald and children's book characters like Waldo from the "Where's Waldo?" series have been given the treatment of his unique perspective.
Born in Wales, he found digital sculpture in high school, and everything has progressed from there. Much to my surprise, I found out that Wil only just earned his Bachelor's in Animation last year. He is an obvious talent with youth and a snowballing following on his side. His work speaks for itself, and whether it gives you a laugh or ruins your childhood, you have to admit that it's phenomenal.
Wil was kind enough to answer a few questions and share some of his work with me. I hope you enjoy the following interview with a rapidly emerging artist.
How did you get the idea to make these realistic versions of cartoon characters and pop icons? Was there a single one to start it all off?
In the industry as a modeler, it is important to be able to bring 2D concept to 3D. Instead of including 2D reference in my portfolio I decided to recreate well known 2D cartoons. I was bored one day and asked on facebook who I should model. Someone recommended Rick from Rick and Morty. This gathered attention quickly so I went on to do more and further exaggerate and push a style.
Who or what are some of your influences?
Watching cartoons growing up, some would show ugly and detailed illustrations which I found interesting to look at. These illustrations have influenced my creepy style. I am also influenced by all kinds of different artists including Dennis Carlsson, Tim Burton, Dominic Qwek and many more.
What software and hardware do you use to create?
All my artwork is made using a computer. I use various softwares depending on the look I'm going for but mostly just include Zbrush and Photoshop.
Do you have any personal favorites of your creations?
One of my favorites is Ronald McDonald. It's creepy and popular and I think just works well in terms of form and colour. My favourites swap and change all the time though as I continue to learn and apply new techniques to my sculptures.
Are there any other arts or passions you pursue?
Before visual art, I wanted to pursue music. I play a few instruments and was known for being able to play "everything" in high school. I felt music wouldn't be a very stable career path so I decided to pursue 3D modeling. Not sure how well I thought that one through... I still play music just for myself.
Any other projects or plans we should know about?
I'd like to study caricature more and be able to do commission portraits of a good standard. Also 3D printing is something I would like to pursue further into the future.
Have you heard from any of the original creators of the characters?
I have heard from a few of the original creators. I got an email from an assistant of Doug Lawrence (voice of Plankton) who told me Doug liked my Plankton sculpture. David Firth has seen my Salad fingers, Adult Swim shared my Pickle Rick. There's a lot of fan art of these kinds of things though so I don't expect any response from original creators.
What is the trick to making a cartoon appear realistic? Is there an area of the animation that requires extra focus?
There are many things that make something look realistic. These might include overall form, fine details, colour and material. To make something completely photorealistic is extremely difficult and I personally don't see much point when it comes to characters. In CGI making something look realistic can accidentally make it look creepy or ugly which is also known as the 'uncanny valley'. The uncanny valley is something I embrace in my art. Although my artwork might be realistic you can still tell they're not an actual real life thing. I like to have my characters cartoony and exaggerated but also cross the line with some realism which ultimately makes them look creepy to many people.
You've amassed a decent-sized following. Has this been from the work speaking for itself, or do you have a marketing strategy that works for you?
I think this has come from the work itself and people's willingness to share it because they find it interesting. I don't think I try as hard as I should when it comes to selling or promoting my artwork. I can never predict the response to the art I upload so my strategy is if I like it I'll probably share it.
Ever hear from your fans/critics? Any favorite fan mail? Has anyone accused you of ruining their childhood?
I get people comment and message me on their opinions of my artwork all the time which I think is engaging and I greatly appreciate. I don't think I have a favourite fan mail but I have had people ask questions for school projects, I have seen people make artwork of my artwork and people who have had my artwork tattooed. I have been accused many times of ruining childhoods and I think that's great. Any response is better than no response when it comes to art.
What advice do you have for 3D modelers, digital sculptors, or graphic artists?
I think it's important to stay critical of your work, keep your standards high and try to stay away from what everyone else is doing.
I would like to thank Wil for his time and willingness to share his talent. Please take the time to peruse his website, store, and Facebook and Instagram pages below, as his work goes far beyond the few images we've shared here in this interview.