With all the combat pictures in the Legend of Zelda Cosplay Project, the more peaceful scenes were a welcome change of pace, and often turned out to be some of my favorites.
Few pictures were more tranquil than this one—an adult Link pausing for a moment of reverie at the foot of the tree that set him on on his quest when he was a child.
It was one of the first pictures we planned and one of the last we created.
What is a Deku Tree?
The Great Deku Tree is a recurring character in the Legend of Zelda franchise. He is an ancient guardian of the forest—protecting it and its inhabitants from evil.
The Tree first appears in The Ocarina of Time. Infected by foul parasites at the hands of Ganondorf, the Deku tree sends the fairy Navi to summon Link—the sleepy would-be hero.
Link summons his courage, enters the heart of the Tree, and drives out the evil infestation, but it is too late to save the aged forest guardian. Before he dies, however, the Deku Tree tells Link of his true Hylian origins and his destiny as the Hero of Time.
All humor aside, though, the Deku Tree is an incredibly important and memorable player in the Ocarina of Time’s story.
A Tree Like No Other
When I started creating the Deku tree, I knew it couldn’t be just any old tree. It needed to be unique.
…and not just because it had a face on it.
A “Big Tree”
First and foremost, it had to be really big.
Aden (Link) and I planned for this from the beginning. Our very first photo shoot involved hiking miles into the mountains and meadows of Utah…and also stopping by the largest tree in the state!
Locals call it “the big tree” (inventive, right?), and although it might not be quite the scale of the trunk in the game, it was my first candidate to build the Deku Tree around.
There’s more to the Deku Tree than size, though. It needed to have the right shape, and “the big tree” didn’t quite fit that bill.
A Tree with Character
First off, with its mushroom-shaped dome, the Great Deku Tree is clearly deciduous, whereas “the big tree” is a pine.
More importantly, the Deku’s primary feature is its large burls which form a face resembling an old moustached man. To keep this from looking cheesy, my base tree needed knobbly bark that could believably grow into a nose and eyes.
I started searching the world for an enormous deciduous tree covered in burls. I looked at South Carolina’s “Angel Oak”…
…and Mexico’s enormous Arbol del Tule…
…but no tree combined character, scale, and beauty like Japan’s largest Camphor Tree, the “Kamou no Ohsugi.”
This tree truly has it all, right down to a little grated hole at the bottom.
Once I’d found my tree, I followed Blue Lightning TV’s YouTube instructions to layer an old man’s face onto Kamou no Ohsugi’s bark.
Since I was creating a scene meant to occur years after The Deku Tree’s death, I darkened the shadows around the eyes to to take the light and life out of them.
Even with the right face, the tree was still missing a thing or two. So, I inserted a “mouth” opening taken from the base of a conifer tree. I then flanked this hollow with great twisting roots from rainforest fycus trees.
Finally, I enhanced the feeling of age and decay by brushing on Central American “Spanish Moss” hanging from some of the larger branches.
All together, the Great Deku Tree became a tree like no other: not one single species, but a unique composite of parts from around the world.
And what about “the big tree?” We hiked out in the woods to find it, thinking it would become the Deku itself. Did any part of the picture’s original inspiration make it into the final design?
You bet! See the dirt that Link is kneeling on? That is 100% bona fide, certified, actual, real live dirt from around the big tree.
It’s a small part, but it counts.
At this point, you might be wondering, “Wait…you said the Deku Tree was dead. Why are there leaves on it?”
Good point. The truth is that I actually didn’t realize that point until the picture was finished either, but rather than go back and start it all over, I checked with the video game first. Turns out that if you visit the Deku Tree as an adult, somehow it still has leaves!”
So…we’ll chalk up my oversight to brilliant game accuracy. Case closed.