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Becoming a Level Designer and Env. Artist Part 1

Category: Level Design, Game Environment Design
May 15, 2009

Become a Level Designer Part 1

Become a Level Designer Part 2

How do you become an environment artist and level designer? Where do you start? What do you learn first? Should you purchase a 3d package? What about Photoshop? Drawing? Painting?

There are a lot of decisions to make and too many choices. As a matter of fact, there are so many choices that we don't make any decision at all.

It is paralysis by analysis.

Before I begin, there is a difference between an environment artist and level designer.

Environment artist is someone who builds the assets that go into the environment. They model, often texture and sometimes light their environments.

Level designers are responsible for taking the assets that environment artist have created and assemble them into an environment that we can all play in. They design gameplay elements, create scripted events and test gameplay.

Depending which studio you work for or what mod team you are apart of, you may do one or both of the title descriptions.

But,

I personally use them interchangeably. I believe that environment artist should be able to take his/her own creations and assemble them into a gameplay environment. I also believe that a level designer should be able to model, texture and light.

Either way, both of these disciples should come from a strong artistic foundation.

When I started out learning level design I would purchase numerous games that came with a level editor. I bought No One Lives Forever 2, return to castle Wolfenstein, Call of Duty, Soldier of Fortune and Both Serious Sams. I wanted to master them all. But in the end I actually didn't start up an editor in any of them. I collected a ton of tutorials on each game but never producing anything.

I bough books on Lightwave, 3ds max and Bryce, trying to decide which was the perfect software to invest my money in and what was the ideal software to learn. God forbid I made wrong choice. What I didn't know that choosing one would have been better then choosing none.

So, I am going to help you make the right choices of what to learn. Where to invest your money in and which game to design for. My advice is to choose something, even if it ends up being the wrong decision. What you will learn from it is far more valuable then making a perfect decision.

I actually don't believe that we can make wrong decisions. It is all part of a learning process. If you learn something from it, it was not a mistake. You became wiser in the process.

This article is split into 2 parts.

First one will cover the fundamental artistic skills. In my opinion if you are really serious in becoming a top level designer and environment artist, you must acquire the fundamental artistic skills such as drawing, human anatomy, color, design and composition. These will make you stand apart from others. You will not be just another guy who knows a 3d/level-editing package. You will be able to bring your own creative vision to the table.

Technology will always change but the art fundamentals will stay the same.

So lets begin.

One of the most valuable skills you can have as an artist is the traditional background. Understanding color, values, composition, design, architecture and drawing skill.

DRAWING:

You don't have to be great at drawing figure or painting but having the fundamentals are very important. When I began my artistic journey I had no drawing skills. None.

This is what I drew in Summer of 2003.

This is what I drew in Summer of 2003.

This is what I drew in Summer of 2003.

Great work heh?

Fall of 2003 I enrolled into community college drawing class. I was so dedicated in making sure I learn how to draw. For a year straight I took nothing but figure drawing classes.

I took 6 in a row. Every single semester I would take the same drawing figure class, with same instructor and often the same model. I also drew every single day for one hour, one year straight from life and anatomy books.

Every single day, for one whole year. After about 2-3 years with no drawing skills, I began to discover the talent of an artist.

Everyone told me that I had to have talent to draw; I had to be born with it. I am here to say that is bullshit. If you want it bad enough, you can have it. No one can stop you. Only yourself.

After a couple of years I began to look at life around me differently. I began to see buildings and people in terms of form, mass, color and light. I began to study composition and design.

After a year and two I began to acquire talent through a ton of hard work.

So if you have never drawn before in your life, it doesn't matter. Just start today.

My work after couple of years of daily drawing and reading.

2006-present:

2006-present:

2006-present:2006-present:

2006-present:

Anything is possible. Just stick long enough with it to find out.

Pure passion wins every time

Here are some books that helped me in drawing linked to Amazon:

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

The book that changed how I use saw drawing in my head. This was the first book to challenge me and to change my perception of drawing.

Bridgman's Life Drawing

Bridgman's Life Drawing

One of my favorite books on anatomy of all time. To this day I continue to draw and sketch from it.

Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters

Drawing Lessons from the Great Masters

Amazing book on drawing, I read this a dozen times and drew every image on each page in my own sketchbook when I studied it.

Perspective for Interior Designers: Great book for learning design perspective but if you can get your hands on Loomis's perspective book, that one is the best.

All books by Loomis if you can find them. Hard to come by, very hard to come by. I was lucky enough to find them all years ago. They have been circulating around the web as free pdfs. SaveLoomis.org has been taken off line, so I don't know where else to get them at this point. They are one of the best books out there.

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way: The best book on teaching you how to break down anatomy and draw inginto simple forms. Great section on perspective.

Anything by Hogarth: Many people don't like his style of exaggerated anatomy drawing, but I love it. Dynamic Figure Drawing. He really explains anatomy well in his own unique way. Drawing Dynamic Hands by Hogarth is fantastic.

Here is a pic of my bookshelf:

Blocking In Terrain and Geometry in Unreal 3Blocking In Terrain and Geometry in Unreal 3

Blocking In Terrain and Geometry in Unreal 3

Binders with printed materials from the web. Collection I've been keeping since 2002:

Blocking In Terrain and Geometry in Unreal 3Blocking In Terrain and Geometry in Unreal 3

DESIGN, COLOR, COMPOSITION:

As I was learning to draw things like design, color, values and composition were terms that always kept coming up. They are the core, the base at which all artwork is either good or not.

Design and color, composition began to be complimentary to my drawings. I couldn't draw without deciding if my composition is pleasing. If the negative space created an interesting design shape.

I often had to modify what I saw in order to make the drawing more appealing.

The word that can describe all of these principles is appeal. Does your artwork have appeal? And appeal comes from design and composition.

All of these are applicable to any art form. You can learn any software at any time. 20 years from now we'll all be on Maya 2029 but the traditional foundation will not change. Color theory and composition, understanding light and mass will still be the keys to producing appealing artwork.

So I highly recommend taking an hour each day and beginning to learn drawing, anatomy, color, design, composition etc.

No judging, no criticizing, just pure drawing and after one hour move on. Know that for at least a year you may or may not produce anything worth looking at. It may come earlier, great.

I remember an instructor at Ringling during my freshman class told everyone, "Why are you not drawing and sketching? You have about 10,000 bad drawings in you. What the hell are you waiting for? Get to work."

Here are a list of books on color, design and composition:

Harley Brown's Eternal Truths for Every Artist

Harley Brown's Eternal Truths for Every Artist

One of my favorite books when it comes to color and composition. I love H. Brown's style of telling you how it is. No bullshit and straight to the point. His pastel drawings are beautiful and very expressive.

Keys to Painting: Color & Value

Keys to Painting: Color & Value

Good book on breaking down the value and color in painting.

Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting

Alla Prima: Everything I Know About Painting

The bible and one of the best books on painting. Also this book is not just on how to paint in a specific medium, but a bible of how to create artwork. Great book and highly recommended.

Figure Drawing by Goldstein: Good book on showing you how to break the body into basic shapes. Many examples by artists.

Pictoral Composition: Excellent book on composition.

Design & Composition Secrets of Professional Artists: Great book on design and composition, profiling many different paintings, approaches form different artist. A lot of insight into work from many artists.

ARCHITECTURE:

As environment artist it is very important that we understand architecture. You don't have to have a degree in architecture nor do you have to know everything about all architectural styles. You want to become proficient in looking at a building and being able to know what architectural style it is from, where that style may have originated from and the when.

Here are few tips on becoming a digital architecture guru:

Become a student of life, understand how the buildings are built and designed. Ask questions as you travel around your home town or on vacation. Begin to be curious at the buildings around you. Always carry a digital camera with you or a sketch pad. Ask, what makes each building unique? What architecture style is it?

Always use reference. Knowing what to look for in a reference is the key. If you don't know what style of architecture the Notre Dame in Paris is, it becomes hard to properly research for it.

When researching or browsing the web and you see an interesting building. Right-Click and save as into your reference folder. Build that folder into a monster of inspirational images.

Sketch and design environments in a particular architectural style and setting.

I often watch movies and take notes what I see. I sketch architecture, shapes and designs.

Become the student of life.

Apply knowledge as soon as you learn it.

Selected architecture books in my library:

The Annotated Arch: A Crash Course in the History Of Architecture

The Annotated Arch: A Crash Course in the History Of Architecture

Great crash course on history of architecture. Good photos too, and no illustrations which is good to see in a book like this.

Architectural Graphics

Architectural Graphics

Great book on design drawing. Perspective, techniques from every possible angle. After going through this book, there is no perspective dilemma you won't be able to solve.

Architecture: Form, Space, & Order

Architecture: Form, Space, & Order

Great book for reference on form, space, top down views.

So if you are really serious about this then I really urge you to begin your artistic fundamentals training. Start with drawing and figure drawing. Then move on to values and color. Things like line quality, mass, design and composition will all be apart of the process. They all tie into each other.

I hope you take the time and dedicate yourself to learning the fundamentals of artistic skills. These can be applied to any art discipline, be it either animation, graphic design, architecture, they are all similar at their base.

Become a Level Designer Part 1

Become a Level Designer Part 2

Updated & Revised - Preproduction Blueprint: How to Plan Your Game Environments and Level Designs

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