Useful Suggestions for Video Game Environment Designer Novices
A gaming industry vet shares some tips on getting started. Notice any parallels to getting started in software development?
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Many talented graphic design artists with a master's degree actually never had a chance to work with relevant tools throughout the course of their studies. In Eastern Europe, college education lacks the relevant courses to prepare students for working in the gaming industry, so they are usually left to figure out, on their own, how to achieve the desired level of proficiency in that field. Luckily, artists are resourceful and creative, and can definitely step up and bridge those gaps.
Here I will go over some suggestions that have to do with environment design, but also with digital art in general. So, if you are struggling with where to start looking and how to optimize your efforts, you might find the following advice useful.
First and foremost, in order to get your career going, you will need a strong passion for design and gaming in general. Not only that, but it is also rudimentary to have inquisitive nature, and be cognizant of what is going on under the HUD. It would be wise to get acquainted with different software tools as you will use them to generate assets and textures for your environment, and at the same time go over game engines such as Unity, Unreal Engine, Godot, and CryEngine, since these are free to download and widely utilized by developers.
Do not shy away from watching tons of online tutorials or even applying for any cost-friendly online course. One of the advantages you have today is that aspiring artists are readily sharing their knowledge and techniques, so you will improve at a faster pace. Unfortunately, it also means that others will have access to the same courses, so when you apply for a job at a gaming company, the competition might be more fierce nowadays.
Learn to navigate and use different modeling packages such as Maya, Modo or 3D Max, and it also goes without saying that you will be using a lot of Photoshop. As you become adept in using these tools you can gradually start mastering work in 3D sculpting programs such as ZBrush. It is important to remember that all of the assets you generate are not a waste of time, as these can be used in your portfolio afterward. You can also find some easy-to-do designer gigs on freelancer platforms, and get paid while you hone your skills.
As your virtual art gallery grows, you should consider making your work more available to the public. You can do this by opening Instagram and Facebook pages where you will showcase your designs, and even upload them to different online image platforms under a specific CC license. This way you ensure you are credited if someone uses your work, and in case you feel you’ve done an exceptional job with some of your pieces you can even sell them online.
Work on Your Sketches
To create a unique environment concept, you should fire up your imagination. It would be good to start with some epic fantasy landscapes or even sci-fi scenery. You can also try to draw a picture on paper before you begin working in a digital environment, just to create an overall composition. It can also help watching other artists at work, just to see how they approach their work. Last year I got a free Virtual Blizzcon Ticket and had access to an online design workshop, so I got the chance to see how their ideas come to life. As they were working, they were also answering questions from the audience. The questions had to do mostly with how they got the job at Blizzard, what tools they use, where do they get their inspiration, etc.
Watching other artists at work can turn out to be a useful input, as you can learn how to create content with more efficiency, especially when you turn to digital tools. I also stumbled upon great advice on how to use Photoshop to develop atmospheric depth and mood. Namely, you should use a brush set to 0 percent along with whites, grays, and black, Also, opacity can help push contrast and composition and help you focus on negative and positive spaces in your sketch. However, it would be ideal to have a real life reference and model your image after it, as your final product will have high graphics fidelity in that case. You can go through a full guide here, and I am sure you will find it useful.
Find Quality Source Material
Generally, the inspiration mostly comes from the quality source material, and not just for design but other art forms as well. There is a plethora of amazing material to draw inspiration from, and with the tech available today you can easily create a good source material on your own. When it comes to environment design source material, social networks are a pretty decent go-to place — so long as you know who to search and follow. Instagram, Facebook, Deviantart, and Pinterest are flooded with relevant content, it’s just a matter of digging it up.
You should also look at AAA games with stellar environment design, RPGs like Final Fantasy from Square Enix, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, FromSoftware’s Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3 would be some of my top picks for inspiration.
Alternatively, you can rely on drone photography nowadays as it will allow you to produce detail-rich settings, or simply generate images from unique angles. In case you cannot find a suitable inspiration from online material, you can create your own, considering how high-quality camera drones are not as expensive as they used to be.
Finally, you need to realize that external input and criticism are the best tools to help you grow. As I already mentioned, you should definitely showcase your work on social networks or on some image-centric platform, just like many other artists out there. Bear in mind that the use of corresponding hashtags and meta description has a strong impact on their visibility. Feel free to ask your audience, from time to time, what they would like you to draw, and you can also use your art as a gift in order to drive community engagement.
Again this is a great way to get noticed, fill up your portfolio, and pop up on the radar of recruiters who are scouring the web for the new staff.
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