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Suggestions for an aspiring video game environment artist?


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#1 rkell48   Members   -  Reputation: 102

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 07:52 AM

Hey!! 
I'm currently studying video game animation at college (in my first year)
I am incredibly interested in the area of video game environments (2D and 3D aspect), I was just wondering if you guys have any hints or tips
to build up my portfolio, what i can do etc etc?

Thank you



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#2 Ashaman73   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6943

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Posted 21 March 2013 - 08:04 AM

Start small, with some properties first(famous barrel, box  etc.), then try to make larger scenes. Try to utilize different techniques and document your steps. Some directions:

1. Toolchain: Single property made in zbrush, modelled in 3ds/maya, backed in xnormal, painted in PS, rendered/presented in game engine (UDK).

2. Modular scenes (UDK).

3. Handpainted environment.

 

As environment artist you should get familiar with an game engine, UDK is very popular under environment artists..

 

Once you have some pieces together, go to a game artists forum like polycount (lot of professional artists around) and get some C&C to get better and rate your portfolio.



#3 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4697

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Posted 22 March 2013 - 02:05 AM

If your college offers a Survey of Architecture course, that's very relevant to environments.  Also you could collect gardening catalogs and go visit a conservatory or greenhouse convenient to you and take pictures.  Aquarium pet shops also have a lot of newt stuff for creating mini-environments in fish tanks.


Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#4 TheSasquatch   Members   -  Reputation: 452

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Posted 22 March 2013 - 09:04 PM

If your college offers a Survey of Architecture course, that's very relevant to environments.

 
A course or two may be helpful, but the best advice I can give from experience is this: don't get a degree in architecture. It's a hell of a lot of work, and in return, you get nearly guaranteed unemployment.

 

I doubt what I learned about portfolio design in architecture school translates 100% into game design, but maybe some of it does, so here goes. What you want is a few showcase pieces--your absolute best work--and a list of the tools you used (go out of your way to make sure these are widely used tools). Make sure they're not too similar; a portfolio of three wildly different projects is better than one filled with a dozen projects that all look alike. I was always told that the production value of the portfolio itself was almost as important as the content--one professor advocated having dozens of them professionally printed, potentially even hardcover, the idea being that the employer is more likely to look at it if they can't just hit "delete."



#5 rkell48   Members   -  Reputation: 102

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Posted 22 March 2013 - 11:48 PM

Thanks for the helpful suggestions, guys!



#6 FLeBlanc   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3085

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Posted 23 March 2013 - 08:50 AM

Take lots and lots of pictures. Pretty much, you should carry a camera with you everywhere you go. 80% of being an environment artist (or any kind of game artist) is having plenty of good reference to work from, so the larger you can build your reference library the better off you are. It's not generally regarded as a good idea to rely on Google image search for reference, since the realm of copyright law and derivative works can be murky; I know a number of people who say that their studios forbid image search altogether, and all reference must be studio-owned original works. This is probably a good idea, in general. Still, there are places online where you can get free reference; so as long as you can be sure of the copyright niceties, you should be okay.

After you think you have a good enough collection of reference, the next thing is to acquire even more reference. Seriously, I just can't overstate the importance of reference. Not a single artist out there (barring some freaky geniuses, perhaps) works completely without reference (even if they now, after years of practice, carry much of that reference around in their head), and when you are just starting out it is vital that you be able to see how things look in reality. You just can not know how to create compelling art without real-world example. I know that some people think that a good artist just pulls great art directly from his head, but it just doesn't work that way. Use reference.

Take pictures of buildings, benches, tile patterns, arches, sky, mountains, grass, trees, cliffs, rocks, waterfalls, streams, oceans, lakes, flowers, bushes, dirt, ivy, lichen, moss, airplanes, cars, junkyards, ruins, parks, prisons, aircraft hangars, columns, carvings, graffiti, forklifts, boxes, barrels, shelves.... the list goes on. Just take a picture of everything. And during those odd moments of down-time, you can categorize things. Try to organize so that you can quickly find what you need in your collection.

When you start out to do an environment, the first thing you do is go trolling through your reference library looking for inspiration. Find things that fit the "theme" you intend to create. Pull them out into another collection, pin them together so that you can see them as a whole. Study them, let them percolate in your head, and start doing some sketches. Make liberal use of the forms and shapes and textures in your reference, and let inspiration guide you to fill in the gaps and make the connections. Do plenty of sketches. Lots and lots of sketches. If pencil and paper is your thing, use up some dead trees. If tablet is your thing, wear out a nib. The key to any good game art is to iterate and let things evolve, and the medium of evolution is the sketch.

With a good collection of sketches in hand, along with a solid understanding of the pieces that will comprise your environment, you can start doing some preliminary block-out modeling and, along the way, start doing some preliminary texture work. Your exact workflow is something that you will need to work out based upon your own skills and the needs of the project. Some projects make heavy use of seamless textures and repeating patterns to make very modular "kits" that can be used to assemble a level. Other projects might make more heavy use of unique textures and geometry. (Pre-rendered games especially, since they can afford to do so.)

Always be reading about advanced graphical techniques, shader techniques, modeling techniques, texture construction, etc... The best thing you can do for yourself is to always be learning. ZBrushCentral, polycount, CGCookie, etc... can all be enormously beneficial. Visit them, look at the workflows and WIPs and show-pieces of the very talented and skilled artists that frequent those places. Let yourself be completely floored by the work that the really good ones show off; let yourself despair and weep to see stuff that you think you'll never be able to do. Then work harder and try to achieve similar results. You can't blow people away with the beauty and strength of your creations unless you have similarly been blown away by other work.

Experiment with a variety of styles, especially those that feel like they are outside of your skillset. If you are good at constructing environments using photographically sourced textures, then put down the digital photos, pick up a stylus and hand-paint some textures. Find those places where you suck, and work at them to become strong. Even though environment art might be where you want to specialize, spend at least a little time doing other types of work such as character modeling. Even if you don't specialize in that, it can still be extremely helpful. Figure out what makes a good character artist, and apply that to your work. After all, a well-designed level or area is very much like a character. It should have a definite "personality", it should evoke emotion similarly to a character. The player needs to love the environment she is in every bit as much as the characters that populate it, and the environment and characters need to complement one another.

Learn about color, light and shadow. These are vital. I've seen clay-rendered environments, completely absent texturing, that have completely knocked me down and blown me away for their sheer beauty and power; similarly, I've seen richly detailed and textured pieces that fell flat, that felt like cardboard cutouts due to bland or poorly-considered lighting. Understand how light and texture work together. Understand how texture and form work together. A lot of people use terms like "slap a texture on this thing" and that mentality shows in their work. If you find yourself merely "slapping a texture" on something, you are doing it wrong. Thoroughly consider the implications and the overall character of every surface, every negative space, every form and every texture.

Practice, practice, practice. All of the above amounts to just a metric shit-ton of practice. You are going to suck in the beginning. You are going to suck for quite a long time. As you practice, as you refuse to give up no matter the level of suckitude, you are going to get better. If you ever feel like you have gotten awesome at it, practice some more because you're likely not as good as you think you are. At some point, you'll cross the arbitrary threshold implied by the Dunning-Kruger effect at which point you might be starting to be pretty good at this. Keep practicing. You can finally stop practicing on the day you die, or the day you decide that this isn't what you want to do anymore; if you stop practicing before then, you've screwed up.

Most of all, don't give up. It's relatively easy to become mediocre at this, but it's hard to achieve excellence. Just keep working.




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