How to become a game environment artist: a career guide

Updated 4 June 2023

Game environment artists, also known as 3D environment artists, create exciting landscape backgrounds for video games. They can make a variety of environments, from fantasy settings to realistic ones. Learning how to become a game environment artist can help you decide if it's the best career path for you. In this article, we discuss how to become an environment artist and also responsibilities, tools to use and skills to possess to become successful in this role.

How to become a game environment artist

The following are steps to take to become a game environment artist:

1. Educational qualifications

Earning an associate or bachelor's degree in art and design, graphic communication, graphic design, physics, geography, architecture or computer science is a good first step to take. Most companies prefer candidates with skills and experience. One way you can gain this is experience is by taking classes in texture painting, perspective drawing, sculpting, level design and other forms of traditional art to develop your creative side before getting work experience.

2. Learn how to use gaming software

Learn how to use different software tools and game engines for creating the landscape and textures for your game environment. You can download the software and then watch online tutorials on how to use them. Start by working on props before moving to create whole environment scenes. Your first try might seem challenging, but with consistency, you can refine your technique.

3. Build a portfolio

Build a portfolio to upload what you create online. A portfolio showcases your practical skills. It helps your CV to stand out from other candidates during the recruitment process, as your potential employers can tell your expertise and experience through your portfolio. Don't wait until you've learned how to work on a whole environment before you start building your portfolio. You can work on smaller but high-quality props and textures and upload them. If you get a job as a junior artist, you may start on smaller props to build your skills before handling more significant projects.

Only add quality works to your portfolio. It's better to have five of your best works than twenty with low quality. Rather than using demo reels which take a lot of time to create, screenshot your props and environments from different angles and upload them on your portfolio. Ensure you get good angles using good lighting, so it comes out well. Include your contact details. Share your portfolio online so that people can see your best works and contact you if they need a game artist. Add the portfolio link to your CV and cover letter.

Related: 7 online jobs for artists (with salary info and duties)

4. Network

Attend game conferences and other related events to meet people in the game industry. Connect with people at the event, introduce yourself and start a conversation. Ask them open questions about what they do and why the game industry interests them. Demonstrate your interest in the industry and let them see your eagerness to learn more about it. Finally, try and stay connected with them after the event by exchanging contact details.

You can also network online. Try and get in touch with other artists online and follow their works. Consider contacting them and ask if they can forward your portfolio to companies or individuals that may need your services.

5. Search for jobs

Most employers want to employ a junior game environment artist to support a senior environment artist in carrying out their duties. So, after learning the basics and creating quality backgrounds, you can start applying for the junior position. First, check your location for game companies around you, then check out their websites to see if they have job openings. While you wait to get a job in the game industry, you can try applying for other computer artist roles. These roles can help build your technical skills and portfolio.

When you apply for a job, some companies may ask if you're available for an art test. This test often comes before the interview invite. For example, some companies might require you to create a small prop as a test. They may send a brief description of their expectations which they expect you to follow. If you perform well, they may set up an interview on the phone or through video calls.

Related: 11 art careers for you to explore (with salaries)

6. Prepare for the interview

If you've got an interview invite, prepare before the date. Practice your introduction, as this is likely the first question the interviewer may ask. They may also want to know why you're interested in the company and their style. In addition, prepare to answer questions on the test you completed. They may also ask the steps you take when creating a prop or environment scene.

After the first interview, if they see potential in you, you might get a second interview onsite where you might get to meet other team members and perhaps have a look at their current project. To prepare for the onsite interview, do some more research on the company and write down any questions you want to ask. Preparing questions beforehand is a good reflection of your interest in the company. If the interview goes well, you might receive an offer letter.

Related: How to become a VFX artist: a step-by-step guide

What does an environment game artist do?

An environment artist's responsibility is to create an indoor or outdoor setting background for video games. They turn 2D art created by a concept artist into a 3D environment. They work with photographs or use their imagination. Environment designers can create any background from real-life locations to fantasy lands such as dungeons or wastelands. Before proceeding on a project, they carefully look at the gameplay requirements and ensure they include them. Game artists are careful to follow the game's technical specifications because creating something different, might result in issues such as lagging.

Some of the responsibilities of a game environment artist include:

  • creating the background and environment scenes within a game

  • modelling and texture elements

  • designing and sculpting a 3D backdrop

  • researching resources for backdrop creation

  • creating mock-ups in the early production stage

  • working from concept art and storyboards to develop environments

  • liaising with lead artist and art director concerning the style of background to use

  • working with the enhancement of the player experience in mind

  • collaborating with programmers and designers to implement the games' features

  • advising on landscape design to use for game levels

Related: How to become a character designer

Tools environment artists use

Professional 3D environment artists use advanced tools, but you can use free software to develop your skills as an aspiring one. Some of the tools to use are:

  • Image editing software

  • 3D modelling and painting software

  • Games engines

  • 3D sculpting programs

Related: How to get a video game job

Game environment artist skills

The following are essential game environment artist skills:

  • Art skills: have high-level drawing skills, including a strong understanding of light, texture, form, colour, dimension, perspective, scale, shade and proportion and how these elements work together to create a perfect environment.

  • Strong knowledge: this includes knowledge of architecture, geography, worldbuilding and the laws of physics that are applied to game environment design.

  • Knowledge of environments: make sure you understand architecture, landscapes and city spaces.

  • Collaboration: communicate and work well with the other artists, including the designers and programmers.

  • Organisation: being able to stay focused on tasks, work within the production schedule and meet deadlines.

  • Self-motivated: the ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines, particularly when games are close to their release date.

  • Teamwork: work with other employees in the art department, from the concept artist to the level designer and animator. Every individual contributes to the success of creating video games.

  • Technical skills: strong technical skills to stay up-to-date with new tools. Practical experience in 3D modelling, animation and sculpting. Understand how to work within game engines.

  • Open-minded: accept opinions and feedback from other artists and designers and make changes when requested. Sometimes you need a different view of your work to spot where to improve.

  • Passion: for playing video games, knowledge of different game genres and staying up-to-date with gaming trends.

Related: What is an environment designer? (And how to become one)

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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