Games

Environment artist

Also known as: 3D environment artist, Environment modeller

Entry level

Environment artist

What does an environment artist do?

Environment artists make awesome places in which games can be played. They create fantasy landscapes – spooky dungeons and moody wastelands – and real-world places like offices and playgrounds too.

They often start with 2D art created by a concept artist and turn it into a believable environment in 3D. Sometimes they use photographs, sometimes their own imagination. Environment artists carefully consider the level designers’ gameplay requirements. They find out what’s mission-critical and ensure those elements are included.

At entry level, environment artists learn about the technical constraints of the game engine. something more experienced artists are expected to consider all the time. If they create an environment that’s too detailed, it could cause the game to lag. Consideration of technical aspects such as polygon count within the environment can prevent that from happening.

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What’s an environment artist good at?

  • Art: be good at drawing, have strong understanding of form, colour, texture, and light, know how these elements work together
  • Knowledge of environments: understand architecture, have good awareness of city spaces and landscapes
  • Using game engines: know how to work with art within game engines, understand their technical limitations, keep up-to-date with their possibilities
  • Collaboration: communicate, work well with the other artists, designers and programmers
  • Organisation: work within the production schedule, manage files and meet deadlines

Tools of the trade

These are the some of the tools used by professional environment artists but you can develop your skills using free software.  Go to build your games portfolio for a list.

  • Image editing software (Adobe Photoshop)
  • 3D modelling, sculpting and painting software (Blender, 3D SMax, Maya, Mudbox, ZBrush, Substance Painter, Substance Designer, Quixel)
  • Games engines (Unity, Unreal)

Who does an environment artist work with?

Environment artists work with all the other members of the art department as well the designers and programmers working on the same game. 

How do I become an environment artist?

This is often a role that requires several years’ experience working within games art, but some employers will take on a junior environment artist who supports a senior environment artist or art director initially. 

At school or college:
Learning traditional drawing, painting and sculpting is useful as a way to demonstrate artistic flair outside software.

If you want to go to university, it would be useful to take A-levels or highers in:

  • Art and design
  • Graphic design
  • Graphic communication

Or you might want to take any of the following vocational Level 3 qualifications:

  • BTEC Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • UAL Diploma/ Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • BTEC Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Graphic Design)
  • BTEC Diploma in Graphics

If you can add some physics or computer science into the mix, that will give you a rounded set of skills that are ideal for a career in games.

If you want to straight into a job or apprenticeship, these Level 3 qualifications will equip you with relevant skills:

  • Aim Awards Diploma/Extended Diploma in Games Animation and VFX
  • AQA Technical Level Entertainment Technology: Video Games Art and Design/Design Production
  • OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Digital Content for Interactive Media)
  • AQA Technical Level IT: Programming
  • OCR Technical Diploma in IT (Digital Software Practitioner)
  • BTEC Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries

Build a portfolio:
Learn the software, experiment with games engines and start creating work that you can show to admissions tutors or employers. This is essential. Go to build your games portfolio to learn how.

Start modding:
Create a level of a game using software provided by the publishers and set it in a great environment.

Look for an apprenticeship:
At the moment, there aren’t any apprenticeships for 3D modelling artists specifically. However, it might be possible to find an apprenticeship as a 2D artist and move into concept art from there. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region or approach companies directly.

Get a degree:
Most people in the games industry have a degree. Get one in games art, graphic design or any 3D digital art. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in games. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the games industry.

Search for jobs:
Use the UK Games Map to find out if there are games companies near you, then go to their websites directly and check out their open roles. Even if they are not advertising the right role, if you like a specific company it’s worth emailing them to let them know you are looking in case something suitable comes up in future. Some employers will take on a junior environment artist if they have a strong portfolio, showing creativity, flair and software skills.

Look outside games:
It’s also worth considering computer artist roles in any other industry as using similar software will build up your skills. You can use this and any professional artwork you produce to continually improve your games art portfolio, putting you in a stronger position for an entry-level role in games.

You might also be interested in…

It’s not just games that use the skills of environment artists. They are also needed in architecture, animation, VFX, advertising and virtual reality (VR) so it is possible to move between industries.

Further resources