Environment Artist

Learn about the role, salary, software and skills to become a 3D Environment Artist

Student work by Alexander Murdoch

Environment Artist Job Description

3D Environment Artists are 3D Modelers who specialize in creating indoor and outdoor settings for films or video games.

They are responsible for background visuals with which characters and objects will interact, such as buildings, roads, flora, furniture, drapes, etc.

For films or TV shows, environments are often built digitally when it is not possible or practical to film in real life (e.g. outer space, historical recreations, fantasy lands). Actors may be recorded against a green screen and their surroundings replaced by computer-generated environments built by 3D Environment Artists. 

In video games, these virtual environments have an additional layer of complexity. They must function and react according to the laws of physics and within the rules of the game universe. So characters must not be able to walk through walls, objects must react to gravity, etc (unless these are unique features of the game universe).

Role and Responsibilities

The role of the Environment Artist is to create the backgrounds, layouts and environments within a film or game. They use computer software to design and sculpt the 3D backdrop in which characters, vehicles, weapons, objects, etc operate and interact. 

A Video Game Environment Artist works closely with Level Designers and Animators to design within the framework of the action of each sequence or level, and ensure all the assets required for gameplay are present. They must also consider the technical aspects of animation lag, glitches and incomplete objects when working on the resolution and complexity of the environment.

The responsibilities of the Environment Artist may include:

  • Modeling and texturing elements
  • Liaising with the Art Director and Lead Artist regarding the layout and style of environments within the film or game
  • Working from storyboards and concept art to develop environments
  • Researching references and resources for creation of backdrops
  • Creating prototypes and mock-ups in the early stages of production

Additional responsibilities specific to video game environments:

  • Working with the enhancement of the player experience in mind
  • Collaborating with designers and programmers to implement the features of a game
  • Mapping out scenery elements and props that help drive the story of the game
  • Understanding and working within the limits of the game engine so that it doesn’t impede the game experience
  • Advising on design of landscapes in relation to game levels

Software and Other Tools Used

Environmental Artists work exclusively with computer programs. They work with various reference materials such as photography, geographical and political maps, architectural drawings, botanical elements, road structure, city planning layouts, etc. 

Some of the 3D modeling software use in the industry:

  • Maya
  • Zbrush
  • 3D Studio Max
  • Mudbox
  • Unity 
  • Unreal Engine

Skills Required

An Environment Artist must have a keen eye for landscape, cityscapes, town planning and geography as these skills will be used to create virtual worlds within a film or game.

Game artists must also have the technical skills to understand whether a game engine can support low resolution images in distant backgrounds and the limits of high resolution images in the foreground. 

Employers may look for the following skills in an Environment Artist:

  • Familiarity with the VFX pipeline or the game development pipeline (depending on chosen field)
  • Strong knowledge of geography, architecture and the laws of physics
  • Training and hands-on experience in 3D modeling and sculpting
  • High-level drawing skills
  • Familiarity with 3D animation
  • Skilled in recreating photorealistic landscapes
  • Solid understanding of visual language - texture, color, dimension, scale, perspective, lighting, shade, composition depth of field, proportion, etc
  • Good communication skills, ability to work with creative and technical departments
  • Self-motivated, able to work under pressure and meet deadlines
  • Excellent technical know-how
  • Receptive to constructive criticism, and delivering changes as directed

Specific to video games:

  • Ability to imagine expansive worlds that characters and objects can interact and move around in
  • Passion for playing video games, knowledge of various game genres, up to date with trends in gaming

Average Salary

The average Salary of an Environmental Artist ranges from USD $49,00 to USD $96,000. (Source: Glassdoor)

The role of Environmental Artist is not generally an entry-level job, often requiring artists a minimum of 2 years of industry experience before securing this role. While there are some junior positions available in the industry, most Environment Artists have years of 3D modeling, sculpture and design behind them. A good way to break into this field is to study 3D modeling and build up a portfolio of original 3D environment models. 

To learn more about this field, visit: What is 3D Modeling?



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