Student work by Alexander Murdoch
Working from concept art, real-world reference, and scans, environment artists create and lay out digital 3D environments — from compiling an entire set to scattering tiny rocks — that form the world of a film or video game. It includes populating an environment with assets, commonly known as set dressing. This role is commonly a specialization of an 3D modeler.
For films or TV shows, environments are often built, or extended, 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, world building has an additional layer of complexity. The environments created 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).
The stoic mountains framing the background of a game’s scene, the abandoned building you explore in search of supplies, even the ground your avatar walks on — all the modular pieces that make up the world of a film or game are the responsibility of an environment artist.
They are also commonly responsible for texturing and shading the environment assets they create, and when completed, are laying them out in the scene. Before building anything, environment artists must research and collate real-world references to map out the different aspects of a game’s geography.
CG Spectrum mentor of Virtual Production, Carl Shedd, defines world building and its importance in video games,
“World building can be as simple as subtle environmental storytelling, for example, a messy desk in an otherwise sterile bedroom, children's artwork on a refrigerator in a kitchen with a work coat draped over a dining chair, and a briefcase on the table. World building can be as significant as defining global traits for your fictional universe, elements of huge consequence!”
Role & responsibilities of an environment artist in the film and games:
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.
While some junior positions are available in the industry, most environment artists have at least several years of 3D modeling, sculpture, and design. A good way to break into this field is to study 3D modeling and build up a portfolio of original 3D environment assets and set dressing pieces.
Film and game studios may look for the following skills in a 3D environment artist:
Environmental artists work with various reference materials such as photography, geographical and political maps, architectural drawings, botanical elements, road structures, city planning layouts, etc.
3D environment artists may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:
The average Salary of a 3D environmental artist ranges from USD $49,00 to USD $96,000. (Source: Glassdoor)
3 months - 20hrs weekly
3D modeling for beginners starts with the essentials: navigating Maya, setting up workflows and building 3D assets from scratch. See the differences between film and game models and find out how to work with your models in Unreal Engine and texture in Substance Painter.
9 months - 20hrs weekly
Learn 3D character modeling and create a game ready character complete with hair, clothing and accessories. Then build a 3D environment which you'll texture, light, import into Unreal Engine. Note: Term 1 of this course is the same as the Introduction course. So if you've already completed it, you’ll skip to term 2.
9 months - 20hrs weekly
Speed up your workflow and further your environment and character design skills by creating more detailed fully rendered models, including a creature with skin, scales and fur. This course focuses on portfolio prep and career development so you graduate studio-ready.