Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Environment art in games is a relatively new profession, however it doesn’t mean that there are a whole bunch of people, who haven’t been doing the same thing for quite some time. We’re talking about set decorators and production designers, who are working with television shows and movies. The recent interview with set decorator Ellen Brill, who’s been working on sets for the next season of American Horror Story, just goes to show that Hollywood and game industry have a lot in common.
Ellen does her production the same way as many game artists. She does research, looks for images online, searches Pinterest and other stuff. Once the team has all the images, they start making collages, combining different images. Instead of just copying existing locations decorators try to create something completely unique. It’s the same way matte painters work nowadays.
Working on American Horror Story’s latest season, which is set in a haunted hotel, Ellen helped the producers to make the setting which would be a character of its own. Level designers and environment artists have the same goals. Although sometimes, just like in games, the decorators want to create a certain level of minimalism to give the director a certain feeling of a “blank sheet”. This will help to concentrate the attention on the action and the story.
A lot of efforts is devoted to lighting as well. To build the necessary atmosphere and to achieve an impressive visual presence of the building Ellen had to use some special chandeliers and other interesting props. With games it would be assets.
Hollywood artists have an amazing experience building great looking environments and we believe they can really help game industry with their expertise. The same way game development technologies can become invaluable for the producers of great shows. Unreal Engine 4, Cryengine or Unity could be great for visualizing environments. These tools are fast, real-time and they are relatively easy to use.
If you are interested in the environment design, we encourage you to read the interview with Ellen Brill, check out the portfolio of Dave Blass and some other production designers from television and movie industry. They have a lot to tell the environment artists in game industry.