How to Make Realistic Trees in Blender

This Christmas….

This Christmas, I got a 3D graphics assignment. Sorry, I can’t say ‘This Christmas’ without singing it.

Assignment received

For this assignment, I was asked to create a look-and-feel animation that conveyed the spirit of Christmas in a general sense. The ending needed to focus on gift giving. First, I developed a concept that involved a gift box opening on it’s own with shafts of light bursting through it. Upon opening, the bow would untie itself and explode into a shower of fabric. The fabric would be so abundant we’d lose sight of everything else for a moment. Finally, the box would fall open to reveal the title inside.

Obviously, this is a wildly ambitious sequence to create. It would require a ton of time to develop just the cloth sequence, let alone the rest of the animation. To date this project a little, this came at a time when Eevee was still in alpha. Cycles was my only realistic option coming from Blender. However, I ended up running a few test renders before moving in a different direction.

Running out of time

By the time I landed on the final Christmas tree concept, the deadline for this project was fast approaching. I needed a way to create a realistic Christmas tree and quick. Enter The Grove. This plugin fit a perfect gap in my production pipeline. The controls were very intuitive. After a few minutes of learning the basics of the parameters, I was able to generate branches, attach leaves, and animate a gentle breeze that rendered fast, even in Cycles.

Here’s the final shot created specifically to be seamless 10 second loop:

Of course, you can custom model a tree based on tons of references, but the ROI on the time and energy investment didn’t make sense in this instance. Plus, The Grove’s controls make it easy to create virtually any design for a tree that you like! The plugin The Grove version 6, and was purchased for Blender 2.79. Just a few days after the project was completed, Blender 2.80 went into beta and I was automatically upgraded to The Grove version 7. Naturally, the plugin is thoroughly worth it, and if that doesn’t convince you, The Grove was used to create trees in Next Gen.

So not only did The Grove save the day and help me create a great final product, it also gave me the speed and flexibility that this particular project required. The beauty of this plugin is that it’s not something I feel like I’ll use just once and never touch again. Trees and nature are so commonly needed in production I’m sure I’ll need them again. And what’s more, The Grove creates branches using a particle system. That means you can create one custom branch (e.g. one with a Christmas ornament hanging from it) and populate an entire tree instantly.