Unreal Journey: Environment Art
Technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, especially in gaming. Advancements in game engines like Unreal Engine have not only completely revolutionized the game play experience, but also created thousands of new jobs and specializations that did not exist 15 years ago.
To help navigate through all the emerging opportunities in 3D, ArtStation and Unreal Engine have put together the Unreal Journey series in collaboration with real artists working in their field to educate aspiring artists with everything they need to know to succeed.
In this Unreal Journey, explore the role of an environment artist, creating the world of the game.
As a game environment artist, your role is to help in world-building with aspects like buildings, terrains, scenery, and props.
You’ll work closely with the art director to translate their vision and create 3D work based on the 2D concepts provided. Generally, environment artists should also have a working knowledge of the technical game play and be able to visualize how the game character will interact within a scene.
Game environment artists might be graduates of a 3D design, game art or modeling program, and will have strong modeling, texturing, and lighting skills. To excel, they must master both creative and technical skills and be able to create high quality 3D environments from concept art and photo reference.
- Elements and principles of design
- Real-world lighting
- 3D Modeling
Unreal Success Story: Fanny Vergne
Fanny Vergne is a Senior 3D environment artist who has over 12 years of experience in the games industry for companies like Ubisoft, Blizzard Entertainment, Airship Syndicate and more. Originally born in France, she began her career at Ubisoft Montpellier in 2008 before moving to California in 2011 and most recently, starting a new adventure in New Zealand.
“I’ve always been passionate by creating stylized environments and some of my biggest inspirations came from US comics artists (Joe Mad, Michael Turner, etc) or companies like Blizzard Entertainment, Riot and others and I have been fortunate enough to be able to work with some of them in my career.
I’ve always been curious about learning new tools or engines and learned a lot along the way in the different companies by working with plenty of great artists and mentors. I came across Unreal Engine probably around 2009 and decided with a group of friends to learn more about it and share tips and advice to create environment art with it.
We were blown away by the potential of the engine and nowadays it is still considered one of the best and most used engines in the industry. At the time, there were not a lot of resources available online but I feel today it’s relatively easy to find answers or help in various websites, tutorials or forums and to be self taught.
I do feel that everybody who wants to work as an environment artist in the video game industry needs to know a little bit about Unreal Engine as it has become commonplace in the field. I feel it is particularly powerful as it is not geared necessarily toward one genre. Plenty of games are created nowadays in Unreal Engine with very different art styles, from extreme realism to stylized or even cartoony art directions. So, learning how to use it won’t necessarily force you to work in a specific art style.”
A Day in the Life – Fanny Vergne
“As a senior environment artist my role is to create assets for various video games and help the players feel immersed by creating compelling environments that would support the storytelling that the designers are trying to convey. It is important to always remember that you are part of a team working towards the same goal.
My role usually consists of doing some modeling and sculpting for my assets and creating the textures for them, no matter if the desired end result is to have hand painted texturing, PBR or both combined. Despite being specialized in stylized art, I like to be able to stay versatile and to know various modeling, sculpting and texturing software to streamline my process and this is for me a constant learning as new software gets developed regularly.
Usually, after creating my assets, I import them in a game engine (like Unreal Engine) to see what they look like in context and to make some modifications if needed. In some games, I’ve been fortunate enough to create large scale environments and lighting and have full control on how my assets can interact between them to produce an immersive ambience.
It is also very important to understand and follow the art direction provided to you by the art director or the lead artist in order to create a cohesive art style for the game. In this regard, you will receive a lot of feedback and it is important to learn not to take it personally. Also, my role is to help more junior artists by providing guidance and mentorship if needed.”
What To Show in Your Portfolio
For those putting together a portfolio for the first time, Vergne advises that your portfolio reflects who you are and what you want to work on.
” Try to represent the genre or the art style that you are the most passionate about as you want to show to potential employers that you would be a great fit for their companies. The good thing is that nowadays your portfolio has the potential to be seen quickly by a lot of people and recruiters with social media and platforms like ArtStation, so you want them to have a full and clear understanding of your skill, art interests and what type of artist you are.”
Vergne points out that for most people, working at your dream company is one that may take some time and hard work. It’s best to manage expectations knowing that you might not land your dream job right away. She advises slowly building a portfolio as your skills improve towards the desired art quality those studios are working for and being open minded about other job offers in the meantime so that you can still gain experience and learn.
“I know that not everyone has a lot of available time but doing personal projects or participating in online 3D challenges can be a great way to improve a desired art style and build more pieces for your portfolio. Importantly, it can also show recruiters what you personally can do as opposed to professional work where usually several people are contributing for every environment.
Another important thing to demonstrate in your portfolio as an environment artist is at least one full environment piece and not just cut-away dioramas or isolated assets. It is important that people can see that you have a sensibility for how the different assets can interact or how to create an immersive ambience that would make players feel an emotion.”
“Start creating! I know it can feel overwhelming at first but nowadays there are so many available resources online that you can definitely be self taught and be successful in this field. You can start by following some tutorials, get familiar with a few key software products and evolve from there. As you get more confident you can start to create more freely and more personal pieces. This also helps you define who you are as an artist.
Understand that it takes time and practice to become good at something. Don’t expect to have a lot of opportunities at the beginning. Be patient and dedicated! Expect a lot of rejections but don’t be discouraged. Use this to motivate you to keep leveling up because this will keep happening during your entire career. There are a lot of things at play when you apply for a position and sometimes just luck or timing may not line up.
Most of the time, and especially applying for an associate artist position, motivation can be more desired than pure skill. Recruiters would usually prefer to hire someone that has good entry level skills and is showing motivation to grow and a passion for art rather than someone that has no desire to learn new things or be invested in their work despite knowing how to do something slightly better.”
“One thing that seems to be a struggle for a lot of people, especially people just starting out in the industry, is the correlation between art and social media. In my experience, the number of followers, likes or such in different social media platforms has little impact on the potential to be hired by various companies.”
“The only thing that matters is that your work reaches the “right “people (aka recruiters, leads, art directors etc). So don’t be discouraged if your work doesn’t receive lots of attention. Although that can be one indicator for success, it doesn’t necessarily represent what’s happening in the industry, especially by the people making hiring decisions.
Social media is a great platform to get exposure in the industry as an artist but like all things, it should be used in moderation/sensibly in my opinion. If you are updating the world every 5 minutes with a “work in progress” of your project you can reach a point of diminishing returns and it can actually have a negative impact on potential employers and on their perception of what’s important to you as an artist. Try to be concise and clear with the work that you are sharing so employers can have a clear understanding of your capabilities and motivations as an artist.”
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