Making the Hellboy test

The Hellboy animation test is ony of the most popular pages on this site. It got a lot of attention when it was done, and I still get emails about it. I thought I'd share some details on how it was done.

I had been a fan of Hellboy for many years, drawn to it because of Mike Mignolas amazing artwork. I loved the play of shadows and his economy in terms of detail, and kept asking myself: could this be done in 3D animation?

Head and proportions

Initially, I just wanted to see if I could do Hellboys head in 3D, using line rendering in Brazil r/s. Brazil was a rendering software I was beta testing at the time, and it had just got some very cool line rendering features added.

Above you can see the very first image, done after a some hours of playing around in 3ds max and Brazil r/s. It was very basic, but it had some of the feel of the drawings, and I thought it could end up nice when detailed up.


I wanted to get the proportions as exact as I could. So I scanned in a bunch of Mignolas Hellboy drawings from a specific time period (as he has changed the drawing style a lot over the years). I then very closely matched my 3D Hellboy to those drawings, angle by angle, detailing him up at the same time.

Above you can see how he looked after a couple of evenings work. I was surprised to see how easy it was to match him up, and make Hellboy look good from every angle. A lot of artists cheat their characters when drawing them, but there is definitely a sculptural quality to Mignolas work. I believe he must have an excellent dimensional image of Hellboy in his head.

Coat and gun

Things were looking so good, I wanted to do a small animation as well. So I made the upper torso, with coat and gun. The emblem on his arm was tough to do, as it had to be modeled and not textured. That little patch is almost as detailed as the entire head. Getting the arm with the gun to line up was also strangely hard, and it still feels like its in the wrong position. Well well...

There were some shading problems that I had to solve before animating him. Getting the shadows nice and clean was the biggest challenge, as you get zig-zagging when a sharp edge shadows another sharp edge (see the shadow from his head onto his neck).This becomes even more distracting in motion. But by turning off subdivision, I could control the lines more accurately and help reduce the effect.

Pretty much my state of mind while working on this :)

The animation

I based the animation on a video I shot of myself grabbing a cardboard gun and breathing heavily. The rig was very basic, just what was needed to turn his head and lift his arm. I really like simple realistic animation, so there was no need for squash and bendiness anyway. I imagine a more anime style would suit Hellboy perfectly.

I also did tests with and without handheld camera, just to see how something 'real' would look combined together with something this stylized. I went with the handheld camera, since it brought a much more dynamic feeling to the animation.

The final look

For the background, I decided to go for a blazing inferno and nazi zombie experiments. Both are frequent in the Hellboy comics. I should have done something more complex, I guess. But at least it was fast to do, if I had more time I would definately have done something more moody and expansive.

Above you can see some colour tests I did to try and find a palette for the animation. The test was rendered in many passes. I had separate line passes for Hellboy and the background, and also multiple masks for all the elements to be coloured. I made the entire look in comp, controlling the colours and gradients in a non-3D fashion, which was important to get the proper look.

Its amazing how much this test has meant for my career, in terms of my contacts and the projects it has lead to. I'll try to do more Hellboy some in the future.

Click here to see the final animation