Environment Designer

The role, salary, software, and skills of a film and game environment designer / artist

Student work by Diomel Chaves

What does an environment designer do?

Environment designers (or environment artists) are world builders working from a design brief or script to bring an imaginary or realistic universe to life. They create a mood, express style, and provide context. They are a type of concept artist and their work is often used as a base for building practical and 3D virtual sets.

A knowledge of topography, architecture, cityscapes, geography, and landscape is crucial to the craft of environmental design.

In the video games industry, Environment Designers often correlate with Level Designers, and increasingly specialize in the complex task of creating the backdrop to a story.

They create mood, express style, and give context to worlds that characters inhabit. They also function to facilitate the many moving parts of an animation or video game. 

The Environment Design element of 3D animation development is becoming ever more sophisticated as players demand more heightened experiences from gameplay, with some environments expressed as characters in themselves. The Environmental Designer imagines worlds that service the storyline and contribute to the immersive nature of the game.

Environment designer job description

The role of the Environmental Designer is to create the worlds of animated films, TV shows, and video games. They work from scripts, concept art, and design briefs to bring the backgrounds, layouts, and environments to life from abstract concepts and descriptions.

Their task is to build the interior logic of the world into their designs and visualize all the possibilities of those worlds for the characters to inhabit, presented in either 2D or 3D.

Expressing narrative through virtual landscapes and gamescapes is also an important part of the role. Environmental Designers are visual storytellers, infusing the backdrop with story or gameplay elements. 

Role & responsibilities of an environmental designer in film, TV, and video games:

  • Liaising with animators, directors, and developers regarding the stylistic and story elements of the game or animation
  • Researching resources and references for the project
  • Designing environmental concept art or illustrations
  • Producing a series of diverse interpretations of artwork for review
  • Revising artwork until signed off
  • Designing dramatic story moments from the script
  • Collaborating with animators and/or game artists to create a virtual 3D environment that works with characters and assets
  • Working within the constraints of budget and technologies
  • Adhering to the production schedule
  • Maintaining project documentation
  • Expressing mood and tone in concept art
  • Working with storyboard artists to incorporate layouts into scenes and sequences


Skills required to become an environment designer

Environment Designers need to have a strong sense of perspective because a virtual world that is not immersive and true to reality will not work, jolt the viewer’s eye, destroy the suspension of disbelief and remove them from the story.

Environment Designers need to work fast to meet the requirements of the production pipeline, yet their work early in the project is vital. 

Film and game studios may look for the following skills in environment designers:

  • Training in digital painting, computer graphics, computer animation, or art
  • Caricature and design skills
  • Mastery of architectural and organic forms
  • Strong knowledge of geography, architecture, and the laws of physics
  • Ability to imagine expansive worlds that characters and objects can interact and move around in
  • Stylistic versatility
  • Good communication skills
  • Ability to visualize natural terrains, cityscapes, sci-fi worlds, etc in intricate detail
  • Strong understanding of texturing
  • Experience in creating photorealistic environments
  • Solid understanding of visual language - texture, color, dimension, scale, perspective, shade, composition, depth of field, proportion, spatial awareness, etc
  • Technical drawing skills
  • Excellent time management skills, ability to consistently meet deadlines
  • Team player, skilled at working independently
  • Maintaining production documentation
  • Knowledge of the animation and/or game development processes

What software and tools do environment designers use?

Environment Designers may do their initial drawings using mixed media such as pen, paper, ink, paint, etc but all final artwork is delivered digitally.

They will also work with various reference materials such as photography, geographical and political maps, architectural drawings, botanical elements, road structures, city planning layouts, etc. Some textures may be scanned from real-world sources and others created from scratch. 

Environment designers may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Unreal Engine
  • Adobe Photoshop (industry standard), Illustrator
  • Maya
  • 3D Studio Max
  • Mudbox
  • Zbrush
  • Unity 3
  • Quixel
  • TVPaint
  • ToonBoom Harmony
  • CelAction

How much does an environment designer make? 

The average salary of an environment designer for film and games ranges from USD $55,000 to USD $92,000. (Source: Glassdoor)

To learn more about this field, visit: What is Digital Illustration? or What is Concept Art?



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