Thursday, October 18, 2012

Learning from the experts

My next step in learning what an Environment Artists job is all about was to look at industry professionals and learn from them. I think you have to take the opportunity and learn from people who are better than you. It can speed up your development process and they inspire you along the way as well.

There are a lot of amazing artists out there. I have chosen a couple to mention in this post.

- David Lesperance

David Lesperance has worked for companies like Midway Games, Robomodo, Blizzard Entertainment and is currently working for Microsoft as the Lead Environment Artist for their upcoming Halo game.

David Lesperance work.
I have been researching David's portfolio website, examining his work. What makes him unique I feel and inspiring for me is his constant eagerness to learn and improve. Even though his work looks amazing, he does not allow himself to spend an eternity on one project. One should always decide on a time limit by which the work has to be done. You can work on a piece of work forever, there is always something to refine or tweak, but that's really pointless. What makes you valuable and good in this industry is being able to produce quality work in a certain time frame.

David's main focus is not on technique, but on pure art itself. His aim is to better utilize his art skills in the work he produces. One of the important methods he always utilizes is the "rule of thirds". This rule is about creating a layout for your images that is pleasant and natural for the human eye. The technique is to divide your illustration in 3 parts horizontally and vertically as well. You will get two horizontal and vertical lines separating your image. The key is to put crucial elements of the picture in the intersection of these lines. A general approach from artists is to focus the viewers' gaze towards the center of their images because they've placed their model there. Although this might be a good approach in some cases, when it comes to pure art, it is not the best way to illustrate things. The human eye and the perception of an image feels much more natural, appealing and interesting if you obey the rule of thirds. David's work heavily relies on this technique., a revered Computer Graphics website, interviewed David not long ago, where he mentioned some interesting things about how an aspiring Environment Artist can develop. One of the key points I take away from this interview is his advice to focus on growing as an artist. My aim is to look into fields that will support my CG work, fields like fine art, colour theories, photography etc. I've been intimidated by these areas in the past due to lack of self-confidence. As you mature a bit and gain experience and confidence, you realize that all it takes is hard work and experimenting. If you have the will, you will find the way to do anything. Period.

David Lesperance rock study.
David does a lot of studies in his spare time. He has a significant amount of work that concentrates on building rocks, soil, hard surfaces etc. He just builds and builds more of these. These individual studies slowly build up your arsenal of skills which then later on can be used for professional projects.
He does not neglect the technical side of the arts either. With each new software releases he immediately starts to experiment and learn the new tools. It's crucial to always look at the new possibilities and try to implement them into your workflow. This way, you allow yourself to better express your art through the new tools that are available. Advancing your techniques enables you to concentrate less on the technical side and more on the art.

The main software he uses are: 3DSMax, Maya, Softimage, ZBrush, Photoshop etc. anything that helps him to get the job done as quickly as possible.

- Hogarth “Hogie” de la Plante

Hogarth is the Lead Environment Artist on the Bioshock games. He is responsible for all the art assets of the game, excluding the characters. His success is based on the detailed research regarding his projects. It is important to understand that even as an Environment Artist, you have to have a thorough understanding and FEEL of the atmosphere the game is trying to establish. The key to produce good environmental work is to understand and know the game inside and out. What characters are going to take place in the environment? What are their personalities like? How will they interact with the assets? etc. 

Studying the story of the game is important. Also, you must have a good collaboration with the design department and the concept artists. Communication has to happen back and forth, throughout the entire work process to make sure that the work you, as an Env. Artist are creating, matches the expectations. 
Concept art is not just about shapes and forms, but mood and feel. I have to recreate the feel of the scenes these artists draw up. This involves paying huge attention to textures, lighting, silhouettes etc. This is clearly pointing me in the direction I need to head in: studying textures, lighting etc.
Hogarth loves creating 3D space in which people can interact with objects, characters etc. He enjoys creating things that exist in the mind and bringing them to life.
The main goal is to tell a story through your work and the environment is a fundamental building block of that. My environmental art has to fit into this big picture the companies I work for are trying to "paint".

- Gary Platner

Gary is the Lead Environment Artist at Blizzard Entertainment for their World of Warcraft (refered to as WoW from now on) franchise.
Gary is probably the number one candidate I should study. He is working on a game that inspires me to a length I could not describe. What they have achieved with this game is absolutely breathtaking. What needs to be noted here is that, even though technically WoW is not up to par with the latest releases in the games industry, it still manages to be the number one game today on the PC. I will not go into the records it holds as that is a long list, but I will talk about some key points I take away by studying the work of Gary.
Even though he is not directly modeling and creating the assets himself for the game, he is responsible for the final look of it. The points I take away from him are more of theoretical nature, not technical.
Due to the fact that WoW is an MMORPG, meaning it's environment is going to be inhabited by thousands of players, they had to create the areas to suit that purpose. The game has no end, it is a cycled/loop style game, so one of the challenges was to somehow keep the environment interesting even if the players had seen it a zillion times before. The key for this was not realism, but style. The Warcraft universe was already a set one, meaning they had built up a style beforehand on which they wanted WoW to rely on. It was of course polished and developed even further by creating a huge amount of concept art.

To create that unique Warcraft atmosphere, they had to achieve the style visually inside the game. Every model, texture, light etc. was created to match this. The shapes found in the environment are sometimes a bit different compared to the real world, but these differences are achieved in such manner that they still remain believable. To achieve the mood they wanted, they had to pay huge attention to colour and tone. The scale of some assets and some funny bending here and there created that undeniable Warcraft experience.
I, as an artist have to thoroughly research the art of a game before going ahead and creating it inside the software.
In games, but also in films (Pixar, Dreamworks etc.), believability is preferred over photo-realism. You often times hear feedback, like: "Wow, that place looks so REAL man!", whereas actually there was not much detail built into that environment. Actually, the key to its success was the focus to make it believable. For a gamer/viewer "real", or "realistic" means believable. And that is the key. Make you audience believe the story you are trying to convey. The environment is a huge factor in this.
There are a lot of "goofy" , and far-fetched designs in World of Warcraft, but people still love them and say they are real, because of the appeal they generate through their style.

Another challenge they have faced was having to introduce new play areas into the game. This was hard to do with an already well established world. How do you add to something that has been very carefully thought out and planned before? The new assets have to add to the game, not stand out and become obvious "add-ons".
The key to this was matching the environmental work to the lore. The new areas they had to introduce was the homeland of the new characters Blizzard was introducing into their game. The artists used the characteristics of these new races and built the environment based on these. 
The environment has to reflect the life that inhabits it. For example: a new race called the goblins entered the game. The goblins were business and money orientated creatures with complete neglect towards the environment. Their main city was a very industrial one, full of factories and casinos. A ghetto type of place, polluting the land. These characteristics had to be reflected in the environmental work, so one of the things the artists have done was created a grey sky, because of the smoke in the area. They've created pipes that dumped waste into the nearby lake, which in the end had this greyish coloured water in it because of the pollution. Lack of surrounding wildlife also was a sign that this is not a very nature friendly place.
These kind of environmental details helped create the believability and unique style of WoW.

There are several other artists that I learn from and who inspire me. I've realized that constantly researching their work and trying to learn from them not only widens my perspective, but also motivates me.

Reference:  -  David Lesperance Portfolio website

                     -  David Lesperance interview at CGArena

                     -  Hogarth “Hogie” de la Plante interview on Bioshock 2

                     -  World of Warcraft Art Gallery

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