Alex Iveroth introduced his winning project Midsummer Flower Festival made for the Blizzard Student Art contest and talked about his workflow and experience.
Hi, my name is Alex Iveroth and I am a student in the Arts and Entertainment Program at UT Austin. I started pursuing 3D art a little over a year ago as a contract voxel artist for a startup called MIXER. It was an extremely fun process and felt like the natural next step in my artistic career. From there, I decided to enroll in an introduction to Maya course at my school and I’ve been loving 3D Art ever since!
Joining the Blizzard Art Contest
I’ve been playing World of Warcraft since I was 9, so I’ve always been obsessed with the art behind it. The contest was especially intriguing since most of the work was submitted by artists of my age. It’s always inspiring to see the past winners’ success stories of “making” into the industry after they win, so I was excited to see where my project could take me!
This was the first time I was confident enough to try to create something of this scope, since up until I started on my submission I had mainly made props or small dioramas to practice my 3D skills.
World of Warcraft is very stylized in shape language which is always a fun challenge when trying to emulate! Generally, you’d want to stay around ~1500 polys for a full-sized model, like the wooden gazebo in my scene. Because of this restriction, you can’t go crazy with modeling every detail you think of. Instead, you should start simple. Push your primitive shape as far as you can, then add more divisions as you go. When working in lowpoly, your texture does most of the work anyway.
If it looks too “plain”, start to add some edge loops for shape variation. A good rule of thumb is to avoid perfectly straight lines or 90-degree angles in your silhouette. Adding some sort of break in your shapes is what brings character into your objects.
3D-Coat is an AMAZING program for any artist who wants to work in the hand-painted style. It allows you to paint directly onto your model while giving you the fidelity and control of a huge range of brush tools. Their UV toolset is fantastic as well, I use it to optimize my UV layout.
My texturing pipeline is mainly divided between 3D-Coat and Photoshop. I start with painting a flat local color on each major area of my object to establish a base that I can later detail.
I always start painting with big strokes, then slowly work my details in with each pass. Generally, you’d want to limit your palette to the saturation range of your chosen color. This way you can get lots of beautiful hues that really stand out when painted beside each other. When working with stylized textures, I find it to be incredibly effective to paint in some vibrant splotch of color (like a hint of green in the brown wood) to really bring out the surrounding values. Then, you can start color picking the areas where these colors have blended and adding these new subtle hues throughout your texture.
I always use reference when doing my texture work, especially when trying to imitate a style like the WoW one. A thing I like to do is log into World of Warcraft and do a sort of virtual plein air. I really get close to the textures in game and study what makes them so vibrant, trying to notice every detail and brush stroke the artist has put behind it. This way I can really understand the ways textures are affected by in-engine conditions like lighting or the surrounding environment.
Vegetation is by far my favorite thing to create as an Environment Artist because it’s a super simple process but can be so rewarding for the final product!
When creating the bushes in my scene, I start by painting a 512×512 texture with three variations of leaf clusters. Then in Maya, I make super basic planes that I think are roughly the size of each cluster. These should only have enough triangles to allow for minor deformation, because the bush will be made up of several of these planes, so you don’t want too high of a poly count. The next step is to align the UVs of each plane to the clusters on your texture. Now you should have three 3D clusters that you can start to mix and match into a bush!
I use this same basic concept for most of the foliage in my scene.
I had to convince my audience that my scene could belong in World of Warcraft, and to visually communicate this I chose to represent my variation of the game’s midsummer fire festival. A lot went into really studying what motifs made this festival recognizable to a player. I found that there was a common color scheme of blue, orange, and yellow in game, which I realized would be an easy motif to sell. So that’s why pretty much every banner, flag, bunting, or anything resembling cloth has some combination of these colors. Then, to make it even more obvious, I chose to stamp the midsummer fire festival’s emblem, a small flame, onto nearly every prop I had. Finally, the most important aspect of the festival is the actual fire, which I purposely downplayed to show that my festival was a little different. I kept hints of fire (like the brazier, fire pit, and torches), but added a ton of flowers and flower emblems to show the significance of them for my specific festival.
Noting this type of details can go a long way when trying to emulate some pre-established art style. Whatever IP you try to emulate, there’s always going to be some subtle design the artists have left behind. Recognizing what makes that world unique allows you to expand it and really take ownership.
Trip to Blizzard
I think every 3D artist should work on at least one project of this scope. Once you begin to think on a grander scale, you start to consider how props and textures look in an environment. The focal point is a huge factor in environment art, so learning how to balance detail and hierarchy between props is a very valuable skill.
In my case, working on a large project like this won me a trip to the Blizzard Entertainment headquarters, where I met the amazing art team behind World of Warcraft! It was an incredible experience for me as an art student because everyone was equally as passionate about art as I was.
I also got a chance to sit down with the incredible, awesome, and fantastic Jessica Dinh who acted as my mentor for that day and shared her own art pipeline. I felt especially lucky as Jessica was the environment art winner for the first Blizzard Student Art Contest back in 2011.
Then, once I was back from California, I got a call: I have been offered a Summer internship with the WoW Dungeon Art team for this coming summer!
So I encourage every game art student to participate in next year’s contest. It is an amazing learning experience and there’s nothing quite like a deadline to force you into making quality work!