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Trent Kaniuga’s Legend of Zelda Dream Project: Link Redesigned

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“I was born to design characters and environments for a Legend of Zelda game,” says Trent Kaniuga at the outset of his latest video, Trent’s Zelda Dream Project. Through the magic of sponsorship, now he can. We’ve sponsored the latest video on his YouTube stream, which tackles a full-on reimagining of that most iconic of Zelda characters, Link.

Link is a great character to redesign because there have been so many iterations of the character created by Shigeru Miyamoto when Legend of Zelda first burst onto the scene over 30 years ago. What defines the character of Link? As Trent explains, the trick is to start by isolating one or two defining elements of the character.

Creating a More ‘Tribal’ Link

For any iteration of Link, the style of the hair is important, as are the over-the-top sideburns and pointy ears. Green colors are in theory important, although the game does provide different outfits or “skins” so you’re not completely restricted by color. The Master Sword is vitally important. Trent wanted to make his Link more of a tribal warrior, more of a monster hunter in the woods. He added some pronounced face painting and made sure that he detailed the leather, armor, and costume details with lots of tribal signs and runes.

I was born to design characters and environments for a Legend of Zelda game.

“If you’re going to do a Zelda redesign, draw a Zelda redesign with some freaking passion,” says Trent, and we wholeheartedly agree. If you’ve never tried a character redesign like this, you should do it first and foremost because it’s a lot of fun. It lets you funnel all of your love of a character into your own specific drawing style. Instead of copying Legend of Zelda characters from an official source, you can apply your own style to the character. Or, if you’re a contrarian at heart, try out a completely crazy style that is seemingly at odds with the character.

Aaron Diaz' Zelda redesign clockwork empire
Aaron Diaz, creator of the comic Dresden Codak, up-ended expectations with his Zelda Clockwork Empire redesign. In his reimagining, Zelda is the fighter and Link is a pampered royal.

Remix Culture Meets Fan Art

In essence, when you redesign a character you’re free to mix and match any details that speak to you. The Fairy Companion in Trent’s redesign actually grabs some inspiration from the Skull Kid character in the Majora’s Mask game. Trent uses the same combination of colors in Skull Kid and incorporates the same kind of “twisted” eyes into the wings of the fairy.

trent kaniuga legend of zelda redesign: Skull Kid's character design & Fairy
Trent used motifs from Skull Kid’s character design, and it works great.

This is the kind of thing fan artists do best. They dig in and expand upon the characters to create a completely new take using the language and styles that have organically grown up around a property. In a very good way, fan artists who redesign characters are participating in the myth-making of a game or a comic or a movie. Even though they’re not part of the team that created the original story, they’re telling new stories with the love of a superfan.

legend of zelda fan art of link
You can redesign Link any way you want — as cute Kawaii, as Art Nouveau, or as spunky manga.

Trent’s Easygoing Style

One thing we especially love about Trent’s videos (and why you should subscribe to his channel): He really knows how to share his thoughts and experiences, and he doesn’t stress about the details. He winds his way forward with a lot of raw creativity and the knowledge that if something isn’t working, you can just change it. As Trent notes, “Whatever color you put down, you can change later.” You can simply change the hue. “You don’t have to worry or stress out. You can fix it. Find joy in the failure…. You have to be in love with the process of it, not the results of it.”

trent kaniuga legend of zelda redesign Final Link and weapons

Trent’s final image is spectacular, but more than that, it’s unique. His Link is a bit of a rogue, wandering the forest, hacking and slashing with the best of them and claiming all kinds of loot. But our favorite detail about this Link? He’s left handed. Superfans probably have a strong opinion about whether Link is supposed to be left-handed or right-handed, and Trent is coming down on the left-handed side of the argument. Don’t like that detail? You can always draw your own.

We love to see character redesigns like this, so share yours on Instagram with the hashtag #autodesksketchbook. We’re on a mission to find the best art made with our app.