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Growing a digital bonsai garden with Thomas Proux

November 30, 2022 in Entertainment | 5 min. read
Growing a digital bonsai garden with Thomas Proux | Hero image
Growing a digital bonsai garden with Thomas Proux | Hero image

As autumn winds down and we retreat indoors from the cold, we’re already making plans for next year’s garden. That’s why we caught up with Thomas Proux, the LookDev artist and digital landscaper behind the highly stylized vegetation piece, Bonsai Garden.

In this blog, he shares some key insights on working in 3D and tips for growing into a seasoned artist.

Thomas’s compositing breakdown of Bonsai Garden

Let’s start with an introduction. Take it away, Thomas!

Hi there, I’m Thomas. I grew up in France surrounded by amazing art, comic books, and cartoons, which led me to love stylized work. After high school, I decided to pursue my education in the United States with the goal of eventually joining one of my dream studios: Disney, DreamWorks, or Pixar.

I first completed a 2D animation degree in 2018, and then went to Gnomon where I graduated with a 3D generalist bachelor’s degree. I am now starting my career working as a lighter/compositor at DreamWorks Animation – living the dream!

What drew you to 3D art?

I cannot recall a specific instance that drew me to work in 3D. With my passion for animated TV shows and movies, it just naturally became my career choice. The goal was always to tell stories, but there’s only so much you can put in a single frame; I felt the need to turn to motion pictures. Plus I can’t draw or paint to save my life, so I decided to base my work on other artists’ concept art, while always making sure to give them credit.

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Thomas Proux’s The Forest Legacy, based on concept art by Bryan van der Linden

How long have you been using SpeedTree?

I first used SpeedTree back while working on my first 3D project in fall 2019. It was for the “Intro to Maya” class at Gnomon where we had to recreate an indoor room from concept art. The piece I had picked contained a tree in the middle of a house, as part of the structure. With my very limited 3D skills at the time, I sought out the most effective way to create that trunk – and since sculpting was not an option, SpeedTree became the obvious choice.

How does it fit into your workflow?

SpeedTree made its way into my regular workflow about a year later for my first Demo Reel piece. Since then, it’s what I use whenever I have to approach some sort of foliage, bushes, or trees. Over time, I built a little SpeedTree library from which, more often than not, I can pick a base to work from. Lately, the Wind Wizard has been my favorite feature. It enables me to give more life to my pieces.

Tell us about your process when approaching a new project.

I always go through the same process: The first step is figuring out what I want to learn or the skills I want to expand on. Then I look for concept art that could challenge me to build a storytelling composition in a single still frame. That’s how my version of Bonsai Garden came to life.

At the time, I wanted to refine my sculpting skills and my ability to create vegetation. The concept art by Veikka Somerma, Tenkai-en Bonsai Gardens, immediately caught my attention with its beautiful colors, peaceful setting, and significant number of indoor plants.

Board of references used for Bonsai Garden
Board of references used for Bonsai Garden

Having the concept on hand leads to one of the most crucial parts of the process – gathering references. I usually start small with a couple of pictures per asset and grow my library as I go through modeling and texturing.

Once I’ve collected my references, I start blocking out my scene and the camera. This involves simple shapes for quick adjustments. However, you’ll notice that the hero assets are already a little more complex. I start with the most important assets early on, which lets me iterate more on those before the deadline. Blocking out the camera angle and the surrounding scene is a great help.

The development process of Bonsai Garden
The development process of Bonsai Garden
November 30, 2022 in Entertainment | 5 min. read
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