Introduction to all things pretaining to becoming a 3d Environment Artist in the games industry.
What have I come across just now you might be asking? This document has to goal of being the end all be all guide from start to finish on being a environment artist within the games industry. You should be able to use this document to start your journey not knowing much about 3d and be able to in the end build a portfolio that can bring you to your first internship or junior position in the games industry.
What do you want to be?
A broader question I think is never fully answered. No matter what you end up doing your tastes and interests will change. What's important though is to know what's there so you can start heading in a direction. Here's a simple list of roles that someone looking to do Environment Art could get into:
Environment Artist -
Level Artist -
The line between level artist and environment artist isn't always that clear and some studios don't even have level artist as a seperate role. But as a level artist you are responsible for dressing the game world with assets.You work closely with level design to make sure that the gameplay of the level isnt hindered by the art while at the same time telling stories and making the world come alive through the placement of the assets. Sometimes this role could also include lighting the world, depending on the size of the team.
Props Artist -
As a Prop Artist you are an expert on how to build and setup props, having good communication between Level Artists and Tech Artists to produce versitile assets with performance in mind. Working together with Outsourcing studios to produce assets that are in line with the productions' vision.
Material/ Texture Artist -
Responsible for analysis of imagery related to the scenes that need to be done, and translating the materials from the reference or concept art into the most accurate digital representation, using a wide variety of methods ranging from photogrammetry, procedural texture creation, hand painting, and shader related work (the technical side). Also may handle the blending of textures, producing decals, and working with tech artists to ensure maximum efficiency performance wise.
Tech Artist -
Tech artist cover a large range of tasks that can differ between each studio. Their jobs might include but are not limited to things such as: Programming shaders and tools, guiding the studio pipeline, optimizing assets in/out of engine, researching new art tools, creating advanced rigs and implementing assets.
What is the best 3d software?
There are quite a few software packages out there these days. Do you need to learn all of them? What are the standard tools used in the industry? Realistically what is needed from me to be considered acceptable by entry level standards? First off lets list the software and what there current state is.
This one of the biggest hurdles to get over. Where do I start? What do I want to make? How do I make these complex environments I see in games? Whats the first step? Below we have curated what we think is the best step by step process to becoming a 3d Environment Artist. These will be setup through phases. The phases should not be hold you back but guide you in your ways of thinking in a more focused manner while learning.
Phase One - In it's likeness
Building things you see in the real world can and will constantly be your guide. Even deciding that you want to do stylized environments, its important to first recreate from what you know and see around you. If you ground things in reality it will be easier for users to feel grounded in the game world. During this phase the only things you should be thinking about are:
How large is a door in real life
What shapes form a door, i.e. rectangles, cylinders, how do these intersect etc.
How many shapes are on the door, are they weird shapes?
How is this door used? Where is it situated, a ship, a barn or a house? How is it opened, keypads, a door knob or a lever?
Is the door old and weathered, is it painted, steel or wood?
Phase Two - Lets get technical
Probably one of the bigger parts of the process that can see daunting or overly complicated. For that reason we will break this down into parts that can be worked on seperately,
Phase Three - Going real time
Combining all that you have learned can now be brought to a game engine of your choice. Unity and Unreal are the current primary realtime engines. Other engines like Godot, CryEnigne and Amazon Lumberyard are also viable, but will often have a smaller library of learning resources. When selecting an engine there are several things to keep in mind, perhaps you know a programming language that you might one to use, or want to mess around with shaders. Try and see what the engine can do for you!
Check stuff inside of your preferred engine as soon as possible, this will allow you to see if things work technically, but also how players will perceive things inside the world.
Phase Four - Material Definition
Intro - What is a material in the context of 3D?
When we talk about materials in games, archviz, CGI movies etc, we refer to the combination of textures applied to object's meshes, along with a series of properties, all put together in a "shader", in order for the GPU to know how to draw the surfaces of objects depending on the lighting conditions the assets are subjected to.
Anatomy of a shader:
Textures (most common maps used, couple of examples and things to keep in mind when creating them. How different art styles affect texture creation. Mentions to color spaces, common resolutions used depending on what object and game, what is Mipmapping,etc] ( some words on photogrammetry-based texture extraction?)
GPU instructions: examples of what common instructions are used to fake certain effects like SSS, important of efficiency for performance, examples of what makes a shader expensive, and how far can you push it depending on the type of game.
Materials today have become much easier to make.
Thanks to texture authoring software nowadays, we have very efficient ways of creating these in a streamlined manner, and allow us for quick iteration (this is very important since the input of peers, leads and art directors will be constant)
HOW TO Analysing reference and reading features, breakdown and planning techniques.Color Theory, frequency of detail. Separate sections for creating tileables in SD and unique 0-1 prop textures, then how to combine them. More advanced techniques using other software (Zbrush,B2M etc)
PBR understanding, correct replication of material response to light
Making a scene (include composition, frequency of detail, areas of rest, consider level flow/design?)
Lighting and post-processing (More composition and color theory)
How to apply (CV, Cover Letter)
Job finding for scrubs (link some sites, i.e. orca.hq).
Doing an internship, how/what/why
Working/communicating in studios, meetings(?)
How to plan and asses time to tasks (the hell of Jira and Scrum)
You've got a job, what now? Switching studios, taking of freelance work, starting an Empire XD, getting to senior positions
How to handle overtime, stress, manage your personal time, aka lets not burn-out.
Networking, events, websites, discords, how to present yourself online, how to stand out
Giving and receiving critique, the way to go about it, good practices (check link below)
During a conversation on 7-4-2018 some interesting non-art topics came up that could be included here, namely.
Intercultural relations, perhaps this would be best adressed as in, how does one work together in a good atmosphere with co-workers from all walks of life and corners of the world.
Estimating time for assets. Everyone mentioned they would often be overconfident and use more time than planned on assets, or the opposite. Additionally calculating risks into these estimations was mentioned.
As response, managing and planning time in things such as JIRA or similar solutions came up.
Perhaps not the most prevelant topic, but some people adressed internships and what people expect from interns, and how they can/can't grow in companies. Adressing progression in "levels" (senior/junior etc.), could be interesting.
Planning meetings, and how to hold one etc. was also mentioned.