Lead Environment Artist

  • Lead Environment Artist

The lead environment artist works under the management of the art director, and is responsible for supervising the staff of environment artists, tasked with supervising the creation of in-game scenery and assets like props, vehicles, buildings, and other architecture.


Duties

This person works closely with level designers to ensure that the worlds the artists build not only look good, but also are functional game play spaces. From concept art the team creates two-dimensional illustrations, revises and tunes those drafts, then designs 3-D models. It is the lead artist’s job to maintain the overall aesthetic of the environments and objects as per the design from the art director. This includes following blueprints of each room or landscape—if the character needs a staircase to the basement or narrow opening through the cave, the lead must act as a foreman to make sure the artists do not paint themselves into a corner.

Another chief concern of the lead environment artist is the poly count of the elements his or her team creates. Game development works on a budget of virtual memory as well as cash—high-resolution, high-poly art sucks up memory and forces a scene to load slowly. The lead has to keep on eye on that budget, allocating more polys to high-value scenery, and saving space where they can get away with lower poly counts. This person also monitors the workflow and art pipeline for efficiency, implementing new processes where necessary to speed the department’s output. Acting as a liaison between the environment department and animators, texture artists, shaders, and programmers, the lead participates in regular meetings to ensure all assets function in the game engine and meet the needs of the entire development team. 

Skills & Education

This role requires someone who is first a fine artist and second an architect, graphic designer, or computer scientist. A college degree is not uniformly required across the industry, but it is preferred. Majors in fine art, game art, and graphic design are useful. As a senior-level developer, you should have an expert knowledge of 3-D software like 3D Studio Max and Maya, as well as Photoshop and ZBrush. Some scripting knowledge is helpful, and skills in drawing, painting, and sculpting are all valuable to this artist. 

What to Expect

In game development no department operates in a vacuum. Everything the environment artists do impacts another team. As a lead, you are concerned with communicating across the office to ensure your artist’s right hand knows what the designer’s left hand is doing. Many of your days will be consumed by meetings; your ability to clearly present information and turn abstract notions into tangible examples will be crucial. In a small studio, you may be doing most of the heavy lifting, modeling the majority of the scenes and objects. Large studios working on massive environments typically employ a small army of artists—you will perform more managerial duties than actual drawing. Be aware that every company has different expectations of what a lead environment artist does and how he or she works. In one studio you may use an art-centric platform to sculpt every terrain, while another developer may employ level editors that can quickly replicate environments. You should be flexible, able to learn quickly and adapt your process to the software.  

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