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3D environment Artist Valerie Di Matteo

Moving on with our games blog, we have another interview. This time I had the pleasure of interviewing Valerie Di Matteo from Appeal Studios.

Who or what inspired you to get into 3D art?

It was definitely the games I played back then as a child. I remember exploring all those immersive story-driven environments over and over and enjoying it so much I just couldn’t think of doing anything else.

Surprisingly, I stayed on the regular player’s POV for a very long time. After a while, I felt it was just no longer enough. I wanted to see how I could possibly contribute to their creation.

And so, the inspiration I got from these games is what eventually convinced me to start my own creative journey.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently part of the incredible team who works on Outcast 2 at Appeal Studios. The personal project that keeps me busy after work is a tribute to my favorite game and an attempt to reimagine what it would look like with modern visuals. It is also a good way to use techniques I learned and improved over the past few months, like creating procedural materials and organic assets.

What are the best and worst parts of your job?

As an Environment Artist, one of the most important aspects you have to keep in mind is the timing. I really struggle with this one. Timing is known to usually conflict with artists’ sense of perfectionism and over the years, I’ve come to make no exception.

At some point, there will always be games to ship, deadlines to meet, contests to wrap and whatnot. Being able to call the work done is inevitable. It’s important to accept what you came up with, even though you know it’s not perfect.

Aside from that, there is absolutely nothing I dislike in the job. The creative freedom, the wide variety of knowledge and skills I can develop, the opportunity to work with talented inspiring people are what pushes me to become a better artist every day.

What does your typical workflow look like and what tools and software do you prefer?

I always try to keep a decent knowledge of the latest tools being frequently used in the industry, but the ones I feel more comfortable using are the following:

  • Autodesk Maya as a 3D modeling tool
  • Zbrush for organic sculpting, sometimes combined with Substance Designer for polishing
  • The Baker tool available in Marmoset Toolbag, while I keep Substance Painter for Texturing.
  • UE5 has come to be my favorite engine to use, as it’s a huge game changer with its new features.

Depending on the project I work on or team assignments, there might be more specific aspects I will be taking care of, like props modeling, world building…
Otherwise, Full workflow will usually remain the same:

  • First, I try to plan as much as possible by assembling a huge PureRef board filled with well sorted references. Sometimes I like to add a Trello board with all the assets I will need to create.
  • Then, I start blocking out the scene in the engine while testing it multiple times, to have a good idea of how it feels to explore it.
  • The next stage is basically rinse, repeat. It’s about creating all the modular and/or specific assets I will use to replace my blocking and finish assembling the scene. I usually work on Lighting and Post-Processing after I’m done tackling everything else.

What key piece of advice would you offer to a 3D artist aspiring to work in the games industry?

I probably would have way too many to share, but here’s a short list to help you guys start your creative journey:

  • Attention to details: Make sure to develop a keen eye for it. It will help you increase the believability of your environments, and so make them more immersive and eye pleasing for viewers.
  • Feedbacks can be very decisive: You should always be looking for them. Everyone has something to say and interesting ideas to share, let alone all the amazing artist communities you can find online. It’s also part of the process to become more receptive: learn how to use all the critics you get to your own advantage, and so push the quality of your projects to the next level!
  • Learning is something you will never stop doing: Environment Artist is a role that constantly evolves and requires a wide skill set. Depending on how versatile or specialized you wish to become, practicing is the ultimate key. I’ve been constantly on the lookout for new tutorials ever since I left school, only to apply the freshly acquired knowledge to brand-new projects immediately after. Whatever you learn won’t be useful unless you put it into actual practice.

What’s your favourite game and why?

I’ve played many games over the years, but the one that remains unbeatable and still holds up well after all this time is Metroid Prime. Originally released on Nintendo GameCube back in 2002, the game is a top tier experience in terms of exploring incredibly believable environments. From HUD elements to various gameplay features, everything was meant to enhance the players immersive feeling beyond compare.

Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time (if you have any)?

Video Games have helped me grow other interests over time like Movies, Music and Photography. I always look for new ways to implement those interests into personal and professional work. Whatever helps me stay creative will always be on my to-do list when I am not busy playing games or working on projects. It can be traveling, reading, family time, and… Collecting Metroid merch!

As usual, a huge thanks to Valerie for the talk as well Appeal Studios.

More about Valerie work:

https://www.artstation.com/vdimatteo

More about Appeal Studios:

https://www.appeal-studios.com/

Unreal Authorized Instructor, Program Leader for MA Games Art at Escape Studios & Tutor for Games Art Short / Part Time Courses I have been teaching new creative talent for the past 15+ years, working worldwide at places including Alpha Channel and the University of Hertfordshire. I've also wrote numerous published books about Unreal Engine including; UDK Basics, Level Design and Documentation and UDK Games scenarios integration as well creating game assets for the next generation consoles such as the racing game ‘Pacer’. Currently working on my own game!

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