How to Become an Environment Artist – Advice from the Pros (Q&A Session)

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Environment Artists Gaspard Delforge & Kemal Yaralioglu answer questions from the community about Environment Art, Portfolios tips for beginners and more!

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All questions were sourced from the community via our Instagram Community page @Stylizedstation. You can check out the original post here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B0Q7mB2D9LI/

Geoshimi

Q: What is the most important skill of an environment artist?

K: This comes down to what the environment artist is doing. For example, a lot of my daily tasks are very different to Gaspard, but we share common tasks such as material and asset creation. 

If I had to select one skill I would say world building. 

Yes, it’s important to know how to build assets and materials, but without knowing what to do with them you’re more of a prop artist in that regard. 

Environment Artists should be able to build worlds, tell stories and immerse players in the environments that they’ve built. It’s expected you know the tools to build what is needed, but the skills people really look for, at least for me, is how you craft worlds.

Working on Project C is an absolute pleasure because I get to build worlds that you can only dream of. It’s really important to build a world or scene that is cohesive in it’s style, scale and setting. I want the player to be immersed in this world and forget that they are in a video game. 

Project C is full of different biomes, ecosystems and wildlife that together, inspire my imagination to create a world that simply doesn’t exist, and tying it all together is the challenging part!  

 

G: This may sound obvious, but the more I work in this industry, the more I realize that at the end of the day it always comes down to making good art. 

Video games are a very tech-centric industry. The look of the games we make and play is conditioned by their underlying technology and it’s easy to lose track of what matters. Understanding color, constrat, composition, frequency of details, in other words, knowing how to make good looking images often matters so much more than the tools you use.

This doesn’t mean you don’t have to master the tools to create great art, you definitely do, but mastering the tools in itself will never create good looking images. It’s a fine balance, and finding it is one of the keys to becoming a good environment artist in my opinion.

K: As a follow up to Gaspard, a great example of tools not being what makes great art is the tablet you use. It doesn’t matter if you use a cintiq or a wacom bamboo, at the end of the day it’s how you apply the knowledge of art and design.

Thomas Smiith

Q: How did you get into the industry? What advice would you have for people looking to pursue a career in environment art?

K: Hard work! No seriously, during university I used to stay at the computer labs until 9pm everyday. It’s nice to play games etc but playing PS4 for 10 hours a day isn’t going to get you a job or advance your skills. I spent a lot of time on my portfolio, building new pieces and trying to improve my understanding of the tools. You can always improve so there’s no excuse to stop.

For the past 2-3 months I’ve pretty much worked solid every day. I’ve been enjoying my personal projects and my most recent piece was the artstation challenge.

I think those of you trying to get into the industry, it’s important to challenge yourself and get into a routine of working a set amount of hours per day. When you have all day, it’s really easy to just do nothing or tell yourself `I’ll work later’. I love what I do, and I want the person that I’m interviewing to show me that through their work. 

 

G: Kem is right. This may sound obvious, but if you want to get a job as an environment artist, you have to get good at … well making environments and it doesn’t just happen on its own.

That being said, one thing I want to add is that this will take time and there’s things that you can’t really rush.

If you decide to pursue a career in the video game industry, your skills will most likely grow and evolve for decades to come.

Sure you can learn about basic modeling and texturing techniques in a few weeks, but maturing those skills to a professional level will take years. My point here is that more than anything, consistency is key and working too much can sometimes be worse than not working enough.

Work hard, but make sure that it’s in a healthy way. Don’t work yourself to death, don’t burn yourself out and take time away from work when you have to. 

Find what you enjoy and as long as you keep doing it consistently you’ll get there. Otherwise you risk losing your passion and it will become harder and harder for you to enjoy what you’re doing.

Saman_Salim__

Q: Where can we see more of your work? What projects are you currently working on that you can talk about?

K: You can see more of my work at https://www.artstation.com/kem1995. The most recent project that I completed was for the Artstation Challenge. You can find that here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/L2bdOr As for projects at Darewise, we’re currently developing Project C; a persistent open world MMO which is currently in pre-Alpha, feel free to sign up and join our Discord server to talk with the devs! https://discord.gg/Anc35wA

What I can tell you about Project C is that we are looking to build something never achieved before. We want to build a product that provides players with endless hours of entertainment in a world that isn’t dystopian but instead inviting and rewards players for time invested and exploration. Project C is home to Corvus, a planet that you the player are free to colonize. Team up with other players to build your clan and head out into the wilderness to explore different ecosystems home to a variety of different fauna and wildlife. 

G: You can find me on artstation as well : https://www.artstation.com/gdelforge or I will occasionally share work in progress images on my twitter : https://twitter.com/FarghaS_ I have been very busy with Project C lately and most of that is still under NDA sadly. If you want to test our project feel free to apply to our pre-alpha and you might get an invite !

Raa_Jul

Q: What was the post u started off in a studio? Was it as a junior environment artist or as a modeler/texture artist? How many environments did u make when started off…. We’re they small or really big environments?

K: I started off as a Level Artist at Sperasoft working on Rainbow Six Siege.

I was still a Junior at the time but they don’t specify junior in their job titles and to be honest the titles are irrelevant, it’s the knowledge you know.

For R6 I started working on the Coastline map and then moved on to develop Theme Park, these both had extremely short deadlines of 3 months from concept to launch. Multiplayer maps tend to be a smaller size whereas Open World games such as Project C are extremely large providing a multitude of different activities for players. 

If you’re looking to get into Environment Art, you should focus on building a small scene to demonstrate the skills you possess and that you are able to take a piece of concept art or references and build an environment that is well framed and looks appealing. 

 

G: My first post at a studio was Environment Artist intern at Cyanide where I worked on Call of Cthulhu.

I learned a lot there. I got to work on some modular kits and a lot of small assets but more importantly, I learned how to work in a professional environment which comes with a lot more constraints than working on personal projects.

If you’re starting off I don’t think the amount of environments or their size is that important to be honest.

There’s definitely skills that you need to be able to showcase, but there isn’t a fixed checklist either. Some people will focus on hard-surface modeling, others on lighting or set dressing.

When starting it’s definitely better to remain flexible and explore a lot of things, but don’t be afraid to focus more on what you’re enjoying.

It’s a fine balance, and like Kem said, building a small scene to demonstrate your skills is a good place to start and is something most companies will expect to see in the portfolio of any environment artist.

Cris.Ramp

Q:How did you start? How detailed were your first serious works compared to now?

K: I’ll assume you mean how did I start working on 3D projects.

I knew really early on what I wanted to do, and I started specializing at university.

My first serious environments (at least what I used to land a job in the games industry) weren’t that great to be honest. Looking back, there’s a lot I would change or do differently if I were to remake the scenes.

It mainly falls down to lack of experience, the way shots are composed, framed and built. Lighting is generally very flat in junior artists work, and lack any depth. 

The more recent work such as Project C are lush, vibrant and have a sense of life.

I owe a lot of credit to Viktor Antonov and Bradley Jeansonne for helping me develop my skills on lighting, color and composition.

Art direction is so important, especially when working in a team because you all need to create assets that are visually share the same language in terms of shape and color.

G: Like pretty much everyone nowadays, I started by following tutorials online.

I decided to start actively learning art and 3D when I was around 16 or 17. The first thing I did was to download Blender and a series of tutorials about how to use it.

From there I started accumulating knowledge and experience until today. Most of my early work were random projects, whatever felt interesting at the time : mostly assets, but also animation, FXs, etc.

I’ve also learned a lot through modding, which is a great way to learn because you’re working with a set of assets made by professionals in a production environment, so you have to deal with some of the tools and constraints they were facing and you can get a better grasp of what Environment Art actually is.

Like for everything, there isn’t one way to learn. It’s about finding what you enjoy and doing it consistently until you’re good at it.

I’ve definitely come a long way since my first assets, and I still have a long way to go. It can be hard sometimes to see your own progress when you’re focused on a project but when I look back at some of my early projects I realize how much I’ve evolved.

I can’t really pinpoint what changed, there would be too much to say, but I realize that at the end of the day what changed the most is … me. I approach every project or task with a lot more maturity than I did and I get better at anticipating issues before they arise.

andreplrm

Q: How is it when you approach a new project, i mean where & how does come the idea? (I talk about your personal works, not commissioned ones of course) 🔝

K: Inspiration for new projects can come from anywhere.

I could be watching a movie or series and really like a specific scene, so much so that I want to start creating it. For example, the kitchen area on the spaceship from The Expanse is so appealing to me that I plan to recreate it one day.

Concept art is also a great way for an Environment Artist to fuel his or her mind.

Simply scrolling Artstation you can quickly find a handful of concepts that really speak to you and start imagining it in 3D.

I find challenges perfect for this. I actually wasn’t planning on joining the King Arthur Artstation challenge because I did the previous one and it really is difficult to do that and a full-time job.

But, I saw Jeremy’s concept and was instantly hooked, I loved the piece he drew and ended up joining the challenge! 

Personal work is always about self improvement. There are a lot of tools and workflows that I use at my job but when it comes to personal work, there aren’t as many constraints and I can start experimenting with new workflows and using the knowledge I’ve learned at work to improve upon my own personal pieces.

The most important thing to remember is scope and enjoyment. You don’t want to work on a personal project that you hate or one that will take 6 months to complete. 

G: I didn’t do much personal work lately as I was focused on Project C, but in general it’s a mix of what I want to learn and what I want to make.

I try to find projects that will teach me new techniques or allow me to work on my weaknesses. I’ve put a lot of effort into my technical skills because it’s something I really enjoy.

Guillelt3d

Q: I’ve been thinking about giving a try to environment art and I’ve been doing props and characters so I don’t really know how to create environments. What to make modular and what not? When things should share the same uv sheet and when not… etc

K: Not an easy question to answer.

There are a lot of techniques that environment artists use to create their scenes efficiently, especially for large open world games.

Usually you want to reuse an asset as much as possible without it looking obvious, so, take a door for example, you might have colour options, with or without a handle, with or without glass, different surface types such as a metal or wood.

Instantly we have lots of variations but still using the same asset, all we do is change a few material parameters. 

As for sharing the same UV sheets, packing textures etc, these are workflows you can find loads of tutorials online that will explain them far better than I can in this article.

Tim Simpson has some fantastic short tutorials that hit the nail on the head on some very essential environment artist techniques. Check out his channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGXr6E_g91ue1rfhA9j4TLA/videos

G: This … is a complex question, and it’s impossible to give a definite answer, because it’s so case dependent.

When building environments and not just individual props, there are a lot of small tricks and techniques environment artists use, too many to list here, but the bottom line is generally to reuse textures and models in an efficient way while avoiding noticeable repetition.

There’s a lot of resources out there that explains all of these techniques better than I would here, but honestly don’t worry too much about understanding the details of each workflow if you’re just starting.

When working on a game you have to know these because they quickly become needed, but if you’re building a single environment for a portfolio piece it’s okay to take some shortcuts, and gradually make your workflow more optimized while making sure the stuff you’re creating still looks good.

All of these techniques can be a bit overwhelming at first, so don’t be afraid if you don’t find the optimal solution right away, it will come with experience!

Cbdstudios

Q: Thank you for doing this interview. What’s the biggest challenge when trying to create something unique? How do you stay sharp? Do you still practice the basics?

K: Creating something that is unique or doesn’t already exist is a challenge, but an exciting one!

As an artist I can build things that another artist has imagined in concept art or something from my imagination.

The issue is not many people focus or understand design in the real world and for me that’s the biggest challenge.

When we create something unique, something that doesn’t exist, it still has to make sense. Even if it’s a futuristic civilization, simply answering questions of why something is made that way with ‘it’s the future’ doesn’t work and falls flat on its face, everything has rules and sometimes you need to create those rules. 

I keep my skills sharp by practicing and working on my own projects, and even though it’s usually focused on game art, I can pull inspiration from lots of different resources that aren’t games.

It can be anything from random videos on youtube of how vegetation grows and trying to understand why and how.

I think it’s important to look at other mediums, especially ones not related to games or even entertainment.

But overall, it comes down to practice.

I actually had a very solid routine for awhile where I would spend 30 minutes before and after work, as well as my lunch breaks working on some Substance designer materials.

This was great because after some time, my coworkers would just start throwing ideas at me and really kept me motivated. I still work on my own stuff but at a different pace, one that allows me to try new things yet still produce work to a quality I am somewhat satisfied with.

G: Creating something truly unique is definitely a challenge.

We are constantly exposed to so much content, it can seem difficult to really find your thing and make it unique. There’s probably different ways to approach this, but for me it’s about being curious and learning new things outside of your field.

I create video games for a living, but when looking for inspiration and references I generally try to forget video games exist and instead look at photography, drawings, architecture, etc.

Even beyond art in general, I’m always keen to learn new things, about biology, history, social studies, psychology, or anything that seems interesting.

I love understanding how things work, how different elements interact together, be it in nature or in society.

It can be hard to see the direct impact spending time on learning outside of your field can have, but for me at least it’s my way of keeping my work fresh and trying to be unique.

StylizedStation

Q: Could you give some insight into the inspiration for some of the environments in Project C?

K: The inspiration for the images of Project C are really aimed at capturing a moment, showing the viewer that the world is alive and vast.

For these images each one had a purpose. The overall feeling came from the world we had crafted, but we wanted each picture to tell a different story and for me that’s where great art is born.

Some shots have the characters analyzing fauna, some are in their base where they are relaxing and others are of the player looking in the distance to plan his or her journey. 

For screenshots, sometimes you have to fake it and do a little bit of set dressing to take your shot from an 8 to a 9/10. It’s not cheating, the content is there, you’re just arranging the pieces to really showcase the piece.

This screenshot for example, we really wanted to capture the idea of two characters that had explored and found some resources that were new to them. They are both analyzing what it is and you can see the importance of the resource immediately.

Without the characters or resource, it would still be a pretty shot but there would be no story. 

G: When it comes to assets, there is never just one source of inspiration. Instead it’s a generally mix of what we need to provide for gameplay, what we want to express from an artistic standpoint, and what we can afford to do technically.

I believe being able to balance all of these is a very important part of the job of an environment artist

For the trees above for example, we wanted to have leaves that the player will want to walk on so me and our concept artists decided to create huge leaves with a coral like shape.

Accommodating for the needs of gameplay can at times feel frustrating but in reality constraints can often be a good source of inspiration and can lead to unexpected ideas.

Two pools of references we use a lot for assets are undersea life and microscopic photography. They provide a lot of alien looking references that still feel like they belong.

Epifocol

Q: What are some of the most unexpected tasks you’ve had to complete or skills you’ve been expected to cultivate as an environment artist?

K: Terrain work.

Honestly, before Darewise I had never created a landscape in my life. I was thrown in the deep end and just had to learn how landscapes worked in UE4 and ultimately fell in love with it.

This kinda ended up with me having to learn a bit of technical art, not as much as Gaspard, but enough to work and build more advanced shaders inside UE4 and approach open world landscapes with a procedural mindset. 

Having to work in a procedural manner and constrain yourself from manually placing assets is difficult, but at the same time I know that I could construct a forest or a meadow on a reasonable sides landscape if it was a personal project.

But when building an open world MMO with rules etc that aren’t as simple as a basic forest, it takes a bit more time. 

G: Making junk.

Whenever I work on some kind of industrial set of assets, someone in the team will always ask me to create junk out of it at some point.

I’ve made piles junk for all the professional projects I have worked on so far and I intend to keep that streak going.

On a less funny note, one skill I had to cultivate and didn’t expect to is basic math knowledge.

It is mostly because even though I’m a 3D artist I tend to approach things with the mindset of a technical artist.

I love creating shaders and using procedural generation in my work, and basic math knowledge definitely helps a lot for these.

Any computer programs including games consist mostly of math operations under the hood and it feels great to be able to understand how these computations have an impact on the art you make.

Stylized Station

Q:How do you determine which is the best way to light the scene?

G: Lighting isn’t something I work on a lot so I’ll let Kem answer this one !

K: Why thank you Gaspard <3 I love this question because as I spend more and more time in the industry and working on environments, I slowly began to realize that lighting is the most important ingredient of any art.

I detail a lot of this in an article I wrote for 80lvl which you can find here: https://80.lv/articles/001agt-006sdf-approaching-worlds-materials-procedurally/

What makes lighting so important is that it’s what ultimately makes a good scene look great.

I always tell people, you can make a good scene look incredible if you light it correctly, and you can make a great scene look mediocre if lit pooly.

Lighting creates depth, mood and atmosphere in your art. You need to ask yourself what it is you want to tell through your scene and from there you establish your main shot and a color palette.

For example if we’re building a forest, is it a tropical green forest full of life or is it a spooky forest? If it’s the latter then we need to focus more on grey and dark blues.

Triangle08t

Q: For gaming environment is it important to have an understanding of the engine for placement or is that on a level artist?

K: Level Artists and Environment Artists are really the same thing, it’s just some companies call the roles differently.

Ubisoft uses Level Artist. Overall, the work is very similar, Level Artists are who I worked with on R6 and primarily they take blockout models/scenes to shippable quality.

They’ll replace all of the blockouts with either existing assets or create new ones. 

It’s important to know how the engine works because you’re going to spend 90% of your time in the engine.

If you’re set dressing, blocking out, world building, lighting or any other form of environment art skill, you need to know how the tools work.

G: Like Kem said, level artists and environment artists are often the same person, and even if they’re not they’ll work so closely together it’s very important that they understand both parts of the job.

Whatever you’re doing you definitely need to have a good understanding of the engine your team is using.

Like I said earlier, it always comes down to making good art but you still need to be able to understand the limits and constraints you’re working with.

Want to learn from the pros?

Come join our community! The World of Artcraft has tons of amazing artists who would love to critique and mentor you to become the best artist you can be, all totally free.
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