Environment Production for Film

3d artist and educator Olivier Dubard talked a little about his environment production process.

3d artist and educator Olivier Dubard talked a little about his environment production process.


Hi my name is Olivier Dubard, I am an environment artist mainly for film but also game cinematics. I come from Reunion Island (french island) and I am responsible for creating and finishing environment shots. I have worked on projects such as Star Trek Beyond, Beauty and the Beast and the latest Fast and furious and I am now working on a game cinematic. I studied comic book and illustration in France for the first part of my training for about 4 years, after that I moved to Los Angeles and studied VFX as 3D generalist at Gnomon.

Environment Production

For production it would all depends how far we are in the project, but the very first thing I do despite the advancement of the project, whether it has been initiated or ongoing, is to look for the right references. I will gather as much as I can and study my material, getting to know my subject and getting my mind deep into every aspect of what needs to be done and how it could be done. At this stage it is a lot of brainstorming, and only once I grasped the project and what I want start sketching for composition. If I need to design elements I like to do them separately, then incorporate them into the sketches.

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When I block out my scene I always start with a dummy scaled to human size. That’s the first thing I want to get right, the relationship that my objects has with humans around it. This also allows me to get the lighting right, cause I use Vray and I want to make sure the lighting will react realistically since it is based on real physics. I do model simple cubes first, this allow me to place elements at certain spots so I know how much space they will occupy.


3D wise, I start with several levels of details, a block out of the mesh that I also tend to reuse for projections later on in nuke, a secondary detailed model where all my main shapes are established and a third one with the last level with the surface details. In Maya I model hard surface objects so it goes from simple geometry to more complex models depending on how close is my object. Regarding Zbrush I use it for organic only and also when I need to destroy or damage a hard surface asset, I will sculpt accordingly. I would also use Zbrush if I need to details that would need to be sculpted on the surface


I usually work in a linear fashion, where my geometry is incorporated since the beginning of the process to ensure a smoother workflow. So the models are always present from concept to final, there are guesses and everything is accurate.

Using SketchBook and Photoshop

I only use SketchBook pro for sketching ideas and doing composition work, I just like their tools for drawing they are really excellent I think, they allow me to be accurate. But SketchBook is only for concept, and it is for pre-production, once I move onto the production work I am not going back to Skecthbook.

I use Photoshop for both concept and production, I do paint concept work with it but also when the matte painting comes in. These software do not make me necessarily faster I would say but I am accurate and that is also important for me to hit the spot when something is asked, I prefer quality over quantity, doing something fast will need to be compromised and it happens sometimes you can’t escape production needs but I always ask for more time to make a better shot.


This step is pretty simple, if I know I will paint mostly over an asset than I will not even go into Mari, I would just create a procedural shader and texture as a base. If my asset needs more work or is something I can’t find photos to paint on, I will paint all of my maps in Mari and do a LookDev so I won’t have to paint over much. I am not using Photoshop for texturing actually, but the combination of procedural and custom maps gives me more flexibility and get the work done faster without compromising the quality


For this project I first designed the lighting in the concept phase where I decided what would the mood and light direction would be. Once the modeling and texturing is done, I replicate the lighting on a grey scale scene, and that is just for me to know where the light hits without worrying of how the textures and color of lights are behaving. Once I happy with the light direction, I apply the LookDev and make adjustments if needed. I breakdown my passes in  Nuke and prepare a plate with the tuning of the image to be ready for paint overs.

I render the plate from Nuke and I will cheat the lighting in the final stage where I paint over my lighting again and make it match my initial concept.

Dressing Up 

After the paint over for the matte painting, my job is done and this will be handed over to a compositor to finish the image, but since it was my own project I decided to keep on painting. I added smoke and some effects in 2D, this could be a proof of concept for the production and presenting this to the client for a sign off. This techniques allows me to rework the shot if the client wants changes befroe moving into the final step and finalizing the shot.

Olivier Dubard, Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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