Paradise Lost: Creating 2 Types of Environments

3D Environment Artist Justyna Wachowska talked about designing two different types of game environments and shared some thoughts about working as a part of a team.

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Introduction

Hi! My name is Justyna and I’m a 3D Environment artist. I studied Game Art & Design at De Montfort University. In 2017 I joined the production of the recently released game Paradise Lost. Last year I worked as a Level Artist on the upcoming Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 and currently, I work as an Environment Artist on Unholy at Duality Games. I’m also a part of Dekogon Studios, an outsource studio which work can be found in many AAA and indie titles. 

Joining Paradise Lost Team

Towards the end of my 2nd year at DMU, I started applying for jobs. During that time, Paradise Lost was entering its preproduction, and the team was searching for a full-time 3D artist. I fell in love with the game's story and its setting, so once I found out that I passed the art test, I decided to move to Warsaw where the studio was located, and do my last year of studies remotely. 

Back in 2017, the company was very small, the art team was just four people including me. I was extremely lucky to start my game dev journey among industry veterans who shared their experiences with me on a daily basis. 

Responsibilities

During the first two years of production, I was responsible for creating 3D models for the environments. Most of the assets were based on concept arts, but as we got further into the development, I was often allowed to create my own mood boards and encouraged to come up with ideas for props that I would make.

All the tasks I was given were created and assigned to me by our Concept Artist/Art Director Riana Møller who would also feedback on my work and guide me every step of the way.

Towards the end of the project, I started to gradually switch from working on 3D assets to creating small environments. Due to the time budget, I was asked to utilize the existing asset library as much as possible and add new models only if it was absolutely necessary or if the time I would spend on them was relatively short (meaning retexturing, altering, and optimizing free meshes, etc.) I had no prior experience with building scenes, but thanks to our two amazing level artists I was able to learn a lot on the go.

Working With Teammates

There were two types of areas I worked on: generic environments, that served no other purpose than exploration, and gameplay rooms, that needed to have certain rules applied to them. For the latter, I had to make sure that the player path was making sense and that all the passages were wide enough for the player to walk easily. I also used lighting in order to guide the player.

Gifs of my texturing process:

When working on more complex environments, for example, the ones that included verticality or inner walls dividing the space, I would create these first and then consult them with our Writer and Game Director. 

Painter's room was the idea I had in mind for months. I tried to put in it as much storytelling as possible – there's an unfinished horse in the field painting, equine anatomy drawing taped to the canvas, and a book on the same subject laying by the easel. Walls are covered in paintings and drawings of the idyllic polish countryside while the windows overlooking the bunker are tightly shut. The room is full of empty wine and whisky bottles and all the mirrors are covered with cloth. On the mattress, there's a sketchbook filled with fragile dried flowers and flora sketches. The room is visibly darker than the rest of the mansion with the only light source being directed on the easel. Next to it, there's an old wedding photograph...

Other than that there's this jazzman room with heroin kit neatly stashed in the open trumpet case. On the desk, you can find a pan flute made out of bullet shells wired together and a notebook filled with music notes and lyrics. Each line seems more rushed and scribbled. The tuxedo hangs on the wall, probably never to be worn again.

There was also a stolen art gallery – as with the generic rooms, I was given empty space and freedom to create and tell the story. I decided to go with the stolen art gallery as it seemed very unique while relatively not too time-consuming. I researched paintings created by European painters that existed before WW2 and were in the public domain. Creating a set of frames was super fast and easy. Other than that, I made several paper sheets that had paintings along with some german text on them. On the desk, there is one of them being signed by two people along with the price and a stamp. I believe these small storytelling bits are what make the world come alive. 

Challenges

I’d say the most challenging part was finding the balance between what I imagined I could make and what was possible with the time, resources, and skills I had. It’s easy to get lost in the details and be precious about work. With time, I learned to adjust my plan accordingly. 

Working on both 3D modeling and level art has taught me a lot about utilizing each of these skills in the best way possible. Thinking about the environment as a whole allows me to create asset lists ahead. With the list, I can break the assets into sets, which helps me to save both time and texture space. It’s also easier to plan work when I know beforehand which props will be in the spotlight and which will serve only as background and won’t need as much attention and detail. 

I also learned the value of feedback. During the production of Paradise Lost, the art team pretty much never skipped a daily stand-up. Every day we would walk around the room and share feedback on everyone's work. When I joined the team, my skill set wasn’t much beyond 3D modeling. Thanks to looking at and discussing everything from the blockouts, through concept and level art, to lighting and post-processing, I was able to learn a lot and prepare for the environments I ended up creating. And even before that, getting input from my awesome teammates allowed me to push my modeling and texturing so much further! 

It’s hard to say what part was my favorite as there were so many amazing aspects! Seeing the project grow and change from the first build and vertical slices all the way to its final version was definitely magical. Due to the nature of small teams, I was able to join many story meetings and playthrough sessions that I wouldn’t normally be a part of if working in a large studio. Seeing the game evolve over time was a great experience that has taught me a lot. On the fun side, going to game expos and conferences was awesome too. I always loved these, but going there as a developer showing off our game was a whole new experience. 

Justyna Wachowska, 3D Environment Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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