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Very impressive article Jake! You are very talented.
nice article! i love seeing the breakdowns.
Environmental Artist Jonas Ronnegard is currently residing in Japan. He’s got amazing experience working with incredibly detailed materials and environments for games such as Battlefield 3, Halo 5, and Bioshock: Infinite. In our exclusive interview, Jonas talked about the production of games in Japan, his choice of tools, and more importantly, explained how he managed to create such amazing 3D stone materials.
I started working in the game industry back in 2008, but I first started studying 3D in high school then later went to study at a Vocational School called Playgroundsquad. I always loved games and movies, well, maybe movies more than games, but the creative process creating 3D for games was so much more fun for me so that’s what I went with.
I have worked on a lot of games that were at the end of their production so I have worked for a short time on a lot of games. So it was a mix of freelance and in-house production. I guess the most famous one’s would be: Battlefield 3, Halo 5, Bioshock infinite, The Secret World, Armored Warfare, and Deep Down.
Working in Japan
I first went to Japan as an exchange student for one year in high school. I loved it a lot and went back every year after that, and in the end I decided to just move and work here. However, after working at 3 companies over here and listening to other people’s experiences, I would never recommend someone to come here for a game industry job if it wasn’t for the love of the country, because the industry itself is very bad compared to most foreign countries. I can’t talk for all companies, but with a big average I can say that someone who is able to work for a AAA company in a western country will be blown away by the level of skill many artists have here, and that is usually because art skill isn’t prioritized and they would rather pick someone who doesn’t talk back and works long hours (that’s a great artist in their eyes). Also Japanese companies overall are very bad at taking care of their employees, or rather they don’t see the need to do so. So that’s what the Japanese workforce is used to so they don’t really expect much. In the end many people quit their jobs, and companies would rather put the blame on the employees causing problems and quitting and make other employees think that as well, instead of finding out the actual reason why. Other then that I love living in Japan.
I don’t really have a deep love for rocks, but it’s a big and important pillar in environment creation and it’s usually a very hard part to get right. I kind of got stuck in it for longer than I thought, although I hope to do something different in the future, but I don’t mind being the rock guy from time to time.
I usually don’t sketch or concept anything as I usually create modular rocks that I later use to create different groups of rocks when playing in Unreal Engine or Marmoset. But I do collect a lot of references, although it usually ends up looking totally different.
I usually create smaller rocks that I use as modular rocks to create a bigger group or one big rock, so when I start working on a modular rock mesh I can’t really tell what would work well just by looking at it. Usually after getting a rough shape in Zbrush I lower the polycount and take it into Unreal Engine to test it out.
By placing it out and creating bigger patterns you usually notice the weaknesses and strengths, like you end up just using one of the sides a lot because it’s easier to use then the others, or one side looks too special so it ends up looking very tiling.
The Tools of Trade
I usually use 3ds Max or Maya to create and place out the tiled base mesh. I then take it into Zbrush for sculpting. After that I use the Knald Bake Beta that I have used for a couple of months now. It speeds up my workflow a lot without much of a quality drop compared to Xnormal. So I bake the high poly to a plane or a low poly mesh of the high poly mesh, then I bring those maps into the Quixel Suite and DDO does some texturing magic for me. After that it’s all about lighting in Marmoset Toolbag 2.As for new middleware to bring into your workflow, I highly recommend Knald for baking. It really speeds up the workflow (as I mentioned previously), I sometimes gave up trying to bake my maps in 4k with Xnormal because of time restrictions, and now I don’t have to. Also I have been using the Quixel Suite 2.0 a lot during its closed beta process and it’s been awesome. Hope you try it when it comes out!
I haven’t had the pleasure of using photogrammetry enough to review it, but based on the work I have seen through personal projects and in-game productions, I’m sure it will be used a lot in the future depending on the art style. So keep an eye on this technology!
Building Things for 3D and Games
Compared to creating 3D for renders and movies, in games you have to think about the whole object you are creating. It depends on the game of course, but for me I have created models for a lot of free roaming games where you can see the whole object so you have to think about that while creating it. With movies on the other hand, you will usually know what will be shown and can focus on that part. I might be wrong though.
I have a big interest in VR and hope to be able to build something for it in the future. It does change the workflow a bit compared to normal games. Usually normalmaps don’t trick the eyes as well and it’s better to change the shape of the mesh rather than relying on the normal map, which will probably be a bit of challenge performance-wise.
The Future of Game Development Tools
During the 7 years I have been in the industry it hs already changed a lot and I don’t think that will change. Having talked to both the creators of Quixel and Substance tools and seeing the creative minds they have, I expect nothing else then a good future for artists. Many people in the industry are often afraid of these tools though, thinking that now everyone can create good looking stuff without hard work, but I still see the same guys doing the best stuff and the not so good one’s making decent stuff, I think these tools push us all and the industry as a whole forward because we can get better results faster and easier, and in the end it’s all about the finished product.
I think it’s very interesting how they use computer generated assets now. I think it will be used a lot for open world games. I do hope it doesn’t take over totally as I do hope to stay as an artist and not become a programmer, or at least a nice balance between the two.