Environment Artist

  • Environment Artist

Games like the Final Fantasy series and Fable II are known for their exceptionally vivid environments. Video games present artists and designers with remarkable freedom to imagine expansive worlds that enhance the player’s experience and envelop the audience in a truly immersive universe. 


Duties

The environment artist (also known as an environment modeler) creates backgrounds and scenery for video games—anything from architectural elements like pyramids or arenas to chairs and plants. Game designers first hand an idea to the concept artist to sketch. After several drafts and revisions, the concept art is sent to the environment artists to create 3D models with texture, color, and lighting. During this time-consuming process, the senior environment artist will continually consult with the design team to ensure a consistent style. He or she will also communicate with level designers and animators to take into account gameplay considerations like mission-critical assets, inclusion of vehicles, and design of creatures and other non-player characters.

Thorough planning is required prior to modeling. The artists and designers collaborate to meticulously map out necessary props and scenery elements that drive the story, occur in the player’s interaction with the environment, and move forward the mission.  If the Resident Evil 5 level designers intend Sheva and Chris to beat a countdown to the rescue boat outside the oil refinery, the environment artists need to give the pair an escape route, and make sure the boat is waiting. There is nothing more frustrating than courageously fending off an army of zombies only to find the getaway vehicle didn’t get rendered in—what a bummer. Another concern is in-game rendering and poly count. The environment artists must consider the limitations of the game engine and storage medium to determine resolution quality. If a scene attempts to render with a poly count that is too great, the animation will lag; players get unsightly blimps and incomplete objects. Artists need to determine where they can afford low-resolution images (like distant backgrounds) and reserve high-res capacity for items in the foreground or close to the camera. 

Skills & Education

A bachelor’s degree (or equivalent professional experience) is required for this role. Majors in fine art, game art, and graphic design are ideal to pursue a career as an environment artist. Exemplary 2D drawing ability is necessary, and sculpting skills are a major plus. You must be proficient with 3D modeling software like 3ds Max, Maya, or Zbrush, and the use of Photoshop. Coursework in architecture will prove invaluable, as will studying the themes, motifs, and artistic style of world cultures. This job is a highly collaborative one; you should be a team player who is capable of taking criticism and positively contributing to the creative process. 

What to Expect

It may take at least two years of game industry art experience to qualify for a role as an environment artist. This varies depending on the size of the company and the quality of your portfolio. To get here, look for positions as a junior artist and art department internships. On the job, plan to work long hours during the run-up to a milestone or deadline. It is common to put in 10- or 12-hour days without weekends or vacations. Pressure to deliver at your best can be overwhelming to some; you’ve got to have passion for games to survive the stressful times. That being said, this job will provide you with the opportunity to grow and develop as an artist while paying the bills; you’ll work closely with designers who are dreaming up tomorrow’s best-selling titles, and your talents are on display to the world. After three years of experience in this role and at least two shipped titles, you can pursue advancement opportunities as a lead artist or transition to game design. 

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