There was a moment in which Andre Lourenço thought it was over. He had given his soul to THU, erected it from nothing, invested three years of his life into creating something as unique as this gathering, but it hadn't been enough. As he took the stage on the last day of THU 2015, he broke into tears, and the Tribe broke down with him.

The toll the event took on Andre was too great, emotionally, mentally, and financially.

But then, after three years of war, arrived a time of peace. 2016 marked a new era for the tribe. The spirit of the artist rose from the darkness. It was time to build a new society grounded in art and passion: THU was REBORN.

Every year, ArtStation, the leading showcase platform for games, film, media and entertainment artists, holds a challenge that allows its users to win the last available ticket to THU – the golden ticket. Artists submit a digital image representing a given theme, which this year had to be THU REBORN.

The brief of the contest read, “THU REBORN is the place where we want to see the way you imagine this new World of infinite possibilities. A world based on the THU culture. A new world for our Tribe, where art is the universal language.”

The spirit of ArtStation and THU is to foster community-based learning and to celebrate every artist's achievements. That's why the participants were asked to upload their work in progress, comment on each other's work and encourage each other in the spirit of learning and improvement.

It was her technical know-how and artistic skills that, combined with the community's suggestions, got Grace Liu the first prize in this year's competition.

“I interpreted the setting as a land of discovery, history, and legends reborn,” says the young Texas-based artist.

“The painting is about a young explorer catching a surprising glimpse of a mythical creature, long thought extinct, in a ruined land...”

Her big green eyes are wide open as she stares at the mythical creature. Short golden locks frame her pretty face. All she's carrying with her is a small bag with what appears to be a notebook and a stick inside it. A pair of aviator glasses are hanging from her neck. Her expression is not that of someone who is frightened, but that of someone who is in awe.

“I have always been more interested in individuals and adventurous people, than large crowds and cityscapes. That's why I decided to focus on one character,” explains Grace. “If I have an idea, I look up references and draw to add details. If I don't know what I'm doing, I open photoshop and pick up a digital brush and just start drawing random things until something cool comes up. In this case, I just kind of drew her...”

Grace is an environment artist, a 3D modeler specializing in indoor and outdoor locations for games' settings.

She used to study graphic design until one day, during an internship, she was given the assignment of designing a mascot for benefit letters, something she defines as “super corporate”.

“I found myself thinking, this is fun! I should be doing this all the time!” she recalls. “I looked at workshops and saw that there were some video game art ones. Real life people work on video games, I'd never thought about that before!”

That was a turning point in her life. She joined an art school and began her career in video game art.

Grace decided to join ArtStation earlier this year and happened to read about the Golden Ticket Challenge.

“I hadn't heard of THU yet, but decided to join the competition for fun,” she says. “I'm always practicing and trying to draw better, so any excuse to doodle is good. I also liked the fact that it was an open format contest and you got to see the process of the artwork and thoughts behind it. It was great to receive ideas from other artists!”

When Grace spoke to her friends and colleagues about THU, many mentioned being regular goers. She explored the website to try and gather as much information as possible on what THU actually is.

“THU appears to be more than an event,” she continues. “Unlike other events, it seems less focused on art and speakers and more on making a culture statement. It's almost like an art movement, which is very cool.”

When asked if she's attended anything like THU ever before, she replies, “No, I haven't! In fact, I'm slightly nervous about it. I'm not sure if i'm prepared enough. I usually sit at home and draw stuff, like a super art nerd! Going to a large gathering of people who are probably very trendy, I feel like... I don't know. It will be a new experience for sure. A huge adventure.”

THU's familiar atmosphere and close-knit community will definitely help Grace overcome these insecurities once she arrives in Troia this September. Artists are often very introverted and individualistic people, but at THU they find a place where they can be themselves. They find a Tribe that shares their same passions, dreams, doubts, and insecurities.

Grace already knows some of the speakers and attendees.

“I have met some speakers, especially the ones from Riot Games because I used to work there too. It'll be cool and weird to catch up with old friends in a completely different country and context.”

In the future, Grace wants to keep improving her art and, being a game nerd, she would like to create a small game project on her own.

We are looking forward to having such a bright talent at THU2016 and we hope we can inspire her to keep doing more and better. Today she's coming as an attendee, tomorrow she might return as a speaker, who knows. Everything is possible at THU.