Environment Artist (VFX)

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What does an environment artist do?

Environment artists create the computer-generated places in which actors move. They make galaxies, lunar landscapes and desecrated cities – any environment that it’s too difficult to film in real life.

They create the 3D environments using modelling and sculpting software. They often work from a brief delivered to them in the form of 2D, or, sometimes, 3D digital art, produced by a concept artist. Or they might work from reference materials, such as photographs or line drawing sketches, which can be scanned into 3D software.

They first create a ‘wireframe’, commonly referred to as a ‘mesh’, of the environment. This looks like a series of overlapping lines (or interconnected polygon shapes) in the shape of the intended 3D environment. Usually, the more detailed the environment is (the more polygons it is made up of), the more photorealistic it looks.

From the mesh, they are able to further sculpt the environment to more closely resemble what’s intended. They use digital tools, such as sculpting brushes, and a physical graphics pen and tablet in order to do this.

Environment artists work at an early stage of the CGI and 3D part of their VFX pipeline. The 3D environments that they produce can then move on to be given texture and be lit.

Environment artists work for VFX companies or studios or as freelancers. Smaller VFX companies or studios may not distinguish between environment, modelling, and texturing artist roles, and instead advertise for one modelling artist position, involving all roles.

What's an environment artist good at?

  • Art: be good at drawing, have a strong understanding of form, colour, texture, and light, know how these elements work together
  • Knowledge of environments: understand architecture, have good awareness of city spaces and landscapes
  • Knowledge of 3D modelling programs: be adept at using relevant programs such as Blender, Maya and ZBrush, continuously learn new ways to fix problems in your environments
  • Collaboration: be able to work with other VFX artists in the pipeline, use each other’s resources and work effectively
  • Organisation: work within the production schedule, manage files and meet deadlines

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