3d artist David Lesperance from Valve talked about the main tasks of the environment artist.
David Lesperance had an amazing experience in the game industry. He worked for several big studios, including Midway Games, Blizzard, Microsoft. He’s currently staying with Valve, working on VR and CSGO. In this post David was kind enough to talk about his production pipeline, the tools he uses and the main tasks of the environment artist in game development.
Well it started back at the end of high school. Btw I’m Dave, I like coffee, heavy metal and lifting weights. I was trying to join the marines but wasn’t able to because of my asthma. Oddly enough the asthma is what put me on the game/cgi path. I was always a huge fan of the Blizzard cinematics which was a huge inspiration. My parents wanted me to get a degree so I went to school in Chicago. While I was there I started doing some arch viz work. I had prior experience in 3d because my high school had a technical vocation path that I could take.
Growing up in Michigan you either end up as a doctor, in the army, or working in the automotive field. The vocation school gave me a chance to learn 3Ds Max.
Growing up in Michigan you either end up as a doctor, in the army, or working in the automotive field. The vocation school gave me a chance to learn 3Ds Max. I’ve always been trying to learn something new so that’s really whats helped me the a lot. When I was in school and still working I was posting everything I could online. Nowadays there are a lot of renders that help create nice images without too much work on the rendering back end (Keyshot, Marmoset, ect) back in school non of that existed. A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of Vray. I spent a ton of time learning that render and applying the same techniques to games.
At the end of my undergrad I had bee able to ship several titles thanks to working at Midway Games. My work online is what my friend and mentor Seth Thompson found online. Seth is the environment supervisor for cinematics at Blizzard. Working there was one of the best things I’ve done in my career. It was an amazing experience. About 3 or so years I got asked to work on Halo 4, I was looking to get back into games I thought I would give Seattle a shot. After finishing up on Halo I was planning on returning to Blizzard. The dev cycle on Halo was pretty rough and like most things in my life its a marathon not a race. Right before moving forward with Blizzard I met with some friends from Valve Software. I’ve been at Valve for several years now working on multiple different things including VR and CSGO.
My big passion is between working out, family, making art and teaching. I’m currently publishing a lot of my own content through Gumroad.
Main Tasks of the Environment Artist
Well it depends on the company. After college most of the rolls where Senior based or Higher so typically would be tasked with a shot or an environment and I would take that from start to finish. At Blizzard lighting was handled by a separate department. The process for games, film, or cgi is relatively similar, high to low, make it look nice and work with the team or director to get the best results for the product/consumer. One of the bigger tasks for environment/game artists isn’t on paper or in the office. Its about not getting burned out. Crunch can often ruin careers and relationships.
One of the bigger tasks for environment/game artists isn’t on paper or in the office. Its about not getting burned out. Crunch can often ruin careers and relationships. So knowing where you and your family are comfortable with your time is important.
So knowing where you and your family are comfortable with your time is important. Most people don’t get paid for overtime in games which is pretty bad so I always tell younger artist to know and respect their limits. Your career isn’t measure by one project, Its measured by years and success. And in my opinion to be successful you need to be sharp and make good choices. You can’t do that working 80 plus hours a week with worry of health and divorce. Its just as important as uving, lighting or texturing.
Composition of the Environments
Composition is really important thing. Its hard to nail it. I have a few rules, I try to loosely follow, rule of thirds being one of them, color and saturation is also something I play around with. In games its about leading the player to areas of interest. Color, shape, repetition are all tools that help with that.
Building Epic Structures
Well I start loose, block outs and rough sculpts. Games and pre rendering I always follow a pretty basic rule: Get it fast and early. Scope is a huge issue for artists. We love to work and noodle on stuff. When you do full sets or levels under tight deadlines you simply can’t do that. So for my personal and professional work I try to get it as fast as I can. We can always add to it but if you burn time you can’t get that back. Sometimes I think artists feel that if they don’t make something perfect then they failed. I feel that the artists that are able to know when to stop and step back, iterate tend to do the best. Knowing what the assets are used for is important. More over knowing where it fits into the project is vital. You can spend weeks on crate but you still need to build a city, so if you work iteratively you can judge the set as a whole not as a single asset or a corner.
Using Procedural Tools
I use everything and anything that make my life easier. With exception of using other peoples assets for my personal work. Its not a bad thing to use kit bash assets but for me when it comes to personal work its kind of like paying someone to go to the gym for you. Im not so strict when it comes to insert meshes and stuff but its just a thing for me, to each their own. I love to learn new software.
I try to not use the same techniques repeatedly. So learning new software is huge.
I try to not use the same techniques repeatedly. So learning new software is huge. Procedural rocks. It helps us do more quicker and it makes our lives easier. I tend to do a lot of sculpting and High poly modeling too. Artists fall into this area where they think using procedural means your not an artist. I would say that 99 percent of professionals in field are working for someone else and we all are working for the customers. How we make the bosses and customers happy is very important. If we can do faster, cheaper and not kill ourselves doing it that will allow us to get better so I always tell people to embrace it.
I use everything. Scans are great but they can be really limited. So I try to sculpt or model as much as I can. Quixel is amazing as is Substance. I like Quxiel because its easy to use. Substance is great but its a time investment. I tend to make tiling sculpts and use Quxel or Substance to aid in the texturing.
Japan Art Demo
Its all sculpted. I had about a week to do the demo. I tend to forget things so it dawned on me the week before the demo that I had to make something. Unreal is an amazing engine. Its my personal fav. Epic is a great company and it shows in the badass tool it created. The ripping process for the sculpts was a combo of decimation and manual retopo. I used Zbrush, 3dCoat, and Max for that. The texturing was done in Quixel and it was breeze. The rips where done through Knald and Xnormal
Lighting is pretty heavily baked so I needed to have solid uvs, I then light like I would for CGI for in interior I try to find illumination sources and build from there. I also tried to keep in mind where I wanted people to look. That combined with some Black Metal helped bring it together. Environment design for me comes down to helping with an experience. Games are an experience there are times when the environment needs to help lead and other times when it needs to fade from the focus of the player. If it doesn’t aid to the experience then it can hurt the user. So I try to avoid that the best I can.