Beneath the Waves Challenge: Environment Design Winners Interview

For the Environment Design portion of the Beneath the Waves Challenge, challengers had to create two environments that fit within the theme of a world beneath the waves. For each environment design,  a callout sheet containing elements that make up the final rendered environment was also required. As these are mainly inspirational pieces, entries were judged based on the creative and narrative aspects and design.

See all entries from the Environment Design Challenge. 

While there were several strong submissions for the challenge, the winners for this challenge went the extra mile in their work to get recognition from the judges. In this interview, Grace LiuHector Mateo Pino and Fernanders Sam share what they found were the most important aspects to consider, their strategy, creation process and advice for future challengers.

What is the most important factor to consider in creating a environment?

Grace: There are a lot of important things, but I would say scale and mood should both be established clearly. Scale helps viewers understand how they would physically fit into an environment and reduce unintentional wonkiness. Mood gives a purpose and a story to the environment, a reason for the environment to be shown.

Hector:  Understanding the target media for the environment is crucial. If you’re going to design an environment for video games, you’re going to have a series of constraints or guidelines which you won’t have in another media field like film. On top of that, understanding what kind of game/film you are designing will help when it comes to making certain decisions about the environment design (is it a first-person game? An isometric game? A third person action game?)
After this, a thorough understanding of where in the timeline of events this environment sits and what its purpose is within the story will help you make decisions in the design.

Fernanders:  Having keywords in your mind to describe your scene is essential in creating a convincing environment for the audience to relate to. Usually, I will ask myself questions such as what, why, when, where and how. What is my inspiration based off for my world building? What is the time of the day that I would like to portray? Morning or evening scene? Or perhaps an overcast scene? Why do I have 2 different factions in my world? The rich and the poor, the strong and the weak?

What was your main motivation for participating in the challenge?

Grace: When I joined the industry, I vowed to never lose my hunger for growth and always think of myself as a learner. Participating in community events like this help me keep the drive going, and it’s incredibly motivating to see other artists working on their visions and the works evolve.

Hector: I’m always looking to improve and learn, so when I saw the challenge theme I knew that it would be a good opportunity to learn and try some underwater themed imagery. Essentially, it’s getting out of your comfort zone and try something which you may have not done before.

FernandersHaving the exposure to showcase my work to the public and also having an actual deadline for this challenge.

Tell us a little bit about your strategy and process for creating your piece.

Grace: I’ve participated in several ArtStation challenges and every time, I tell myself I’d get things done well before the deadline but end up finishing with barely hours to spare. So I’d say I don’t have a good overall strategy other than having fun and trying to learn something new. I do find the thumbnail stage to be really important, because it’s a lot more motivating to work from a thumbnail that excites me.

Hector: Before I start creating images or visually developing my environments, I grab a pen and paper and start brainstorming ideas. I write down ideas I may have for the environment, the mood and feel I intend for them, the lore/backstory to this area, it’s reason to be etc. I essentially create my bounding box within which I will be designing as I find this simplifies the task ahead and reduces the (infinite) possibilities of what the environment could be to a few different ones. It also takes away the ‘blank-canvas’ fear, or whatever it’s called, because you’re not starting on the canvas itself but rather on writing out ideas, which is a big part of the design process.

I then spend some time gathering references, in this case of the architecture I was going to base my designs of and different environment elements I was going to use in the design process. Then it’s a case of visually fleshing it all out and refining. The initial brainstorm process and paper comes in very handy during the process as it allows me to ask myself:  “Am I hitting all the points I intended to? Am I fulfilling the design requirements I set out?’ Eventually the images are done and then the callouts are detailed versions of elements of the scene. This was not my first challenge and based on my previous experience I knew that I should allocate enough time to do proper callouts, as I completely underestimated them in my previous challenge.

Fernanders: This would be my 5th time participating in the ArtStation Challenge. I guess my strategy is to be more proactive to gathering feedback from different sources. Sometimes they might not respond back immediately, in this case, I will seek advice from my fellow peers outside of ArtStation. Basically, the more critics I received, the better it is for my world building. It is always good to see things from other people perspective, and not get caught up with my own world.

Were there any other submissions you were following?

Grace: There was a lot of amazing work. Environment-wise I especially enjoyed the painting techniques and otherworldly mood by Aleksei Liakh. I am also completely floored by the creativity coming out of the character side. There are so many fresh ideas and so much personality, and I feel excited and speechless every time I see them.

Hector: When I had some spare time I would scroll through the Environment Design page and have a look at what the other people were doing. It was really fun to see how everyone was taking on the challenge and what work was being created. I’m pretty sure I viewed all the entries by the end of it! I liked Fernanders Sam’s submission. his ideas and how he executed them were pretty solid. I also liked Andreas Husballe’s submission as it combined some interesting design language within the structures with the overall story for his word.

Fernanders: There were a couple of submissions that I have followed who are also one of the winners and honourable mentions for this challenge. One of them is Grace, I am a huge fan of her works since the early ArtStation Challenge days. I love her approach to painting as well as the use of lighting to portray the overall mood.

What’s your advice for future challengers?

Grace: I believe everybody who learned anything new when doing these challenges have won, and my advice is pretty much just have fun with learning and personal growth in mind. Another advice, which also applies to my future self, is to plan better up front and manage the pacing properly before the deadline.

Hector: First and foremost, have fun with the challenge. Whatever the theme, turn it into something that you know you can enjoy working on for the month. Having a plan also helps, although sometimes these are hard to stick to I find that having one always end up benefiting me and allows me to see the bigger picture of what’s left to do and what I have achieved to that point.

Fernanders:  I would encourage anyone to participate in these challenges. It is a great place for self-growth and becoming better with your art skill. I have seen people who think they are not ready for such challenges, but my advice is to keep on participating, and try to finish the race. It’s all about getting the mileage and pushing yourself to the limit of creating something within a given deadline. Finally, you have to be able to enjoy the process. 


Be sure to stay tuned – the next challenge will be announced on April 3, 2018. 


About the author

Sierra is the Editor of ArtStation Magazine.