This week we have Sebastian Schulz, a Senior Environment Artist from Remedy Entertainment, who was kind enough to talk to us about his work, tools of trade, favourite games as well some good advice on how to land your first job in the industry!
Who or what inspired you to get into 3D art?
Well, somewhat true to the cliché, it was modding that originally got me started in game dev and 3D art. Back in the day I spent a significant amount of time building environments in the editors for The Elder Scrolls Morrowind and later on Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Crysis.
For a long time, I’ve worked with what was already there, in the editor. Over time however I kept running into more and more scenarios where I wished I had the option to create this one specific thing I needed. So at some point, I started research on how to create 3D art for games, I downloaded Blender and off I went.
About one year later when I had already a decent handle on the basic concepts, I started to consider 3D art as something that I would want to do professionally as it had become a big passion of mine over those previous 12 months. Once I had made that decision, I began to research how one would go about breaking into the industry and getting a job as a game artist which led to me starting off in the industry as a intern environment artist at Crytek in Germany about 4 years, and a lot of hours spent on art, later.
What are you working on at the moment?
Professionally, I’m currently working on an unannounced project so I can’t really say anything about it. Except that it’s gonna be pretty awesome! 😀
On the personal project side of things, I’m in the process of re-learning Blender (as I have used Autodesk 3DS Max for pretty much all of my professional career, except my first year with 3D in which I did use Blender) while at the same time trying to increase my understanding of design and architecture in general. Also how to effectively use my 3D skills in concept art, illustration and digital film-making. Apart from that, I’m working on a game environment project in Unreal Engine 4 that is not yet in any showable state.
What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best part, as in the part I personally enjoy the most, is when things start to come together and you start seeing your work pay off. When you get the first few modules into the level and it starts to look like something. When you get that nice, crisp bake back and put on the first basic materials and you can see where it goes. And also of course I really enjoy the process that leads there with some small exceptions.
In terms of the job as a job, apart from the art itself, I really do enjoy the teamwork. When you work with a great concept artist on a design and it works, you do the white box while making sure with gameplay that it’s what they need, then you give it to an animator for a quick placeholder animation to see how it works in game. You get it back, the art direction asks for some changes which improve the design. Then you get the green-light and work with narrative along the way to add in details that ground what your making more in the world of the game. It’s amazing. This cooperation is a lot of fun and things get better and better because every part of the way other people bring super valuable ideas that improve what’s already there.
As for the stuff I don’t enjoy so much, like many 3D artists, I’m not a big fan of creating UV’s. I’m generally not a very technical person so I don’t necessarily enjoy all the setup that needs to be done before stuff can be used in a game production. Collision, optimization, rigs, etc, are not really my cup of tea. Fortunately, I don’t have to do those all the time 😀
What does your typical workflow look like and what tools and software do you prefer?
That depends heavily on what my task is. Generally when I built, for example, a prop I start by gathering all the reference I need. After that I jump into the 3D software (in my case 3DS Max or Blender) and start by modelling a mid-poly mesh that will serve as my base. Once my mid poly is done, I clone it and make this clone my high poly (aka adding smoothing and small scale details I want to bake). After that I make another clone of the mid-poly from which I create my low poly. UV’s, baking as well as texturing is pretty standard most of the time. Usually I bake in Substance Painter, which I also use for texturing but recently I learned to love Marmoset Toolbag’s baking tools. After the bake, I create my textures in Substance Painter and then bring it all together in either Unreal 4, Blender or Marmoset, depending on the project.
If I want to create an environment however, I usually start off by gathering reference and creating a mood board. Then I break down my idea into modular parts and create rough white box meshes for those and start arranging them in my level in Unreal. Already at this stage I try to start and tweak the atmosphere (fog, light, even a tiny bit of post processing sometimes) to get a basic idea what I’m going for. After that it’s mostly just rinse and repeat with different props/modular kit pieces. Some of them have unique textures while others use weighted normals and trimsheets/tileable textures.
Tileables and trims I usually create in Substance Designer and/or bake from a highpoly.
For things like terrain creation I prefer to use WorldMachine or Gaea, but sometimes I use Zbrush as well as some alphas, that I got from those two
programs, to create terrains.
What key piece of advice would you offer to a 3D artist aspiring to work in the games industry?
Learn to accept criticism and to embrace the concept of iteration.
Accepting criticism from your peers is a vital part of the job. All your work will be heavily scrutinized by your Art Director/Lead and your team. And they will criticize your work. Often. But they mean well!
Learning to accept this constructive criticism early on can save you a lot of unpleasantness down the line. It’s inevitable that your work sometimes needs to change or even gets discarded entirely. This isn’t a comment on your artistic ability but simply part of the process. Even though it can feel devastating when something you’ve spend a lot of time on is just discarded but ultimately, most of the time, it’s for the betterment of the final product. Iteration does make things better. This was one of the aspects I struggled with most in the beginning of my career and while it never stops feeling bad when something you made gets thrown in the bin, learning to accept it without taking it personally can save you from a lot of negative emotions.
What’s your favourite game and why?
Wow, that’s a pretty difficult one. I don’t think I can narrow it down to only one game but rather a top 5. I think the game that had the most impact
on me in my youth was Final Fantasy 8. The story just resonated with me (and honestly does to this day) like no other. The next in line would be Divinity Original Sin 2 which was just an absolutely incredible game start to finish and probably one of my favourite CRPG’s of all time. Next I’d have to say Bloodborne given how much it impacted all the art I created after having experienced it. The same can be said for both (yes, both ;D) Mirror’s Edge games. Their amazing art direction will always have a very special place in my heart. And, last but not least, the Mass Effect Trilogy. I love the universe, the characters, the art, everything. Honourable mentions would include TES: Oblivion, Dark Souls, Portal 2 and DOOM Eternal.
Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time (if you have any)?
Depends on the day but usually, apart from the typical things like working out and the like, I enjoy a good game (duh) once in a while, a good movie or show, go outside and practice my photography or work on my music. Overall I’m pretty bad at doing stuff that isn’t connected to creativity in any way which is both a blessing and a curse.
Sometimes however, I also just relax and do nothing in particular, even though that happens rather rarely. I also, once in while, enjoy a good book if I can find one that keeps me hooked.
Thank you so much much for this in depth interview, Sebastian Schulz as well Remedy Entertainment.
Don’t forget to check out Sebastian’s amazing portfolio:
More about Remedy: