One of the biggest worries I've had from the start has been about how to make leaves for the tree, initially I thought we would be using a solid block shape which would be sculpted and molded to look like it has definition and leaves on it, but I recently purchased a Maya book called 'Maya Studio Projects: Game Environments and Props' which has some excellent tutorials on how to create Maya assets for the game industry; this book has a tutorial about how to create leaves for game environments which I think will be good to apply to the tree.
The tutorial explains about the use of a tool called the 'Sculpt Polygon Tool' which allows you to place vertices and draw whatever shape you need, and once you join the final vertices the shape will be created as a flat plane. This method should work well for creating the leaves as they only need to be flat shapes with a texture map applied to them.
In the shot above I have already made a leaf and duplicated it, I was mainly trying to get the shape and size right for it so I could start duplicating it more and making the bushiness of the clumps of leaves.
This image was a test to show Karen and Karl, I made a simple curved plane shape by arranging the leaves and then duplicated it multiple times, I then arranged the duplicated shapes so that I could make a rough mock-up of how the the tree could look in terms of how far the leaves come out and how tall they go. Feedback from my team mates was good and I was given the go-ahead from Karen to start arranging the leaves properly.
By looking at the shapes of the leaves on trees and seeing how they are bushy and made up, I thought it would be good to make separate bundles of leaves so that I could place them all together like a big puzzle and build up the shape of the tree that way. The image above shows the main shapes I made which would make up the core of the trees leaves.
I started to place the leaves shapes around the tree to build out the shape of it, however I made sure not to do it around the back because it would increase the scenes poly count dramatically and it would not be seen in the shot.
The difficult thing is to make it look believable and to not put too many similar shapes next to each other, keeping it random and offset helps make the leaves look more organic and natural.
This is the almost finished scene, the main shape of the leaves is there but it needs to be pushed out wider on all sides to give it more mass and volume, at it's current stage it looks a little odd as it should be a lot more bushier.