Exercise: Creating a Topiary

Let’s trim the hedges!

Topiary is the art of grooming bushes and plants to develop and maintain specific shapes. These “living sculptures” have been a staple in elaborate gardens for centuries with shapes ranging from simple geometric designs to complex animal figures.

Geometric TopiaryCyclists TopiaryTopiary Couple

I thought this would be a fun exercise to recreate with Blender! The challenge here is figuring out how to “model” a specific shape without vertices, edges, or faces. In order to generate the appropriate structure of a topiary, meaning the anatomy of a plant (branches and leaves), the shape must be “grown” into the proper form. To simply apply a tileable bush texture to a polygon model would be to miss the point of the exercise. Your result should inform us primarily that it’s a bush and secondarily of its shape.

The Ball is in your court.

Now let’s see what you can come up with! Here’s a to-do list:

  • Decide on a cool shape you’d like to see topiary-fied.
  • Work out a way to generate the underlying plant.
  • Mold and/or trim the plant into the desired shape.
  • Share your results.
  • Give and receive feedback.

I encourage you to use any and all Blender tools at your disposal to create an appealing topiary. As you can see in the featured image I went with a high-resolution visual style but I would also love to see some game-resolution interpretations from you guys. You can submit your results to the “User Submitted Images” gallery below. Please post comments to elaborate on your workflow as well as any tips and tricks you might have discovered for the community to glean from.

The follow-up tutorial is available here!

CC Attribution:

  1. “Topiary” by Ewan Traveler –
  2. “Topiary Cyclists” by Karen Blaha –
  3. “Topiary” by Peter Corbett –


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21 Responses to “Exercise: Creating a Topiary”
  1. Posts: 22

    Will it be Free or Citizen ? I guess that it can made using particles and assigning it to the object shape, but i guess i’ll wait for the tut. . .

    • Posts: 2022

      Oh come on! 😉 Waiting for the tutorial kinda defeats the purpose. The Exercise is our way of putting the ball in your court to draw on what you’ve learned, proactively accomplish a task, and share your results/discoveries.

      The subsequent tutorial is more or less my way of participating and sharing my discoveries. It’s secondary though. Your participation is primary!

    • Posts: 53
      chris says:

      the point is to play around and see what you come up with. your idea may work better than the tut

  2. Posts: 69

    I just love Blendercookie. I love how its both a community, and a school at the same time. I am pretty new, I have only been “Blendering” for about 3 months, so Extent of my knowledge is pretty limited. Still This seems like a fun challange.

  3. Posts: 7
    niitty says:

    I uploaded my picture yesterday but it didnt appear in gallery? Well anyway, as I made the look in my topiary with hairs it was quite fast to render – 10 minutes or so for 200 passes. Then I did test with particles (to emulate more precisely leaves) and the rendertimes went up like rocket. Tomorrow I might have something show, but after now 14 passes it has taken over 2 hours to render 1080×1080 picture – and due DoF it still needs quite alot pf passes. But yeah, it looks more real but I really am intrested how Kent will solve out rendertime issue if he uses particle leaves. :)

    • Posts: 2022

      Indeed I’ll be using instanced leaf geometry instead of hairs in the geometry. The key is to keep your leaf very low-poly. I’ll talk more about optimizing render times in the upcoming tutorial, but with something as complex as a topiary longer render times just come with the territory.

      Thanks for participating! :)

  4. Posts: 4
    dunno says:

    Great tutorial! I cannot wait to start it.

    However, I am having problems downloading the exercise files; when I attempt to download I get a 404 (File not found). Can anybody help?

  5. Posts: 75

    The Topiary tutorial has a problem. The “Source Files” download is not workiing : “The page isn’t redirecting properly”

  6. Posts: 7
    Ellis gio says:

    when you create a model like that or a human in blender render, how can put everything together from blender render and cycles without losing textures light, shadowing etc ?

    • Posts: 2022

      Mixing rendered elements from Cycles and BI with compositing can be tricky. As Cycles progresses the need to combine the two is diminishing. But if you need to mix them, just be careful and organize your render elements according to each render engine. It’s too much to explain in a comment – It’s best if you watch the realistic head course where I mixed the two engines in compositing:

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