Career Advice - Working as a 3D Environment Artist at Gameloft
Want a successful career working as an Environment Artist in Games? Alessandro Bonfanti Llambrich is a Junior Environment Artist at Gameloft headquarters in Barcelona, and he sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
I am a Junior 3D Environment Artist. This position consists of creating objects, level shapes and all kinds of tileable textures, trims and decals that may appear in a video game level. You have to be an all-rounder, since you also need to understand the technical part of a graphics engine, from the creation of entities, instances and materials, to how the types of shaders that are used within the level work. You need to group this set of skills together and build a level based on the concepts provided by the Concept Art team in a uniform way.
Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?
I am currently working at Gameloft, the number one company in mobile game development. The headquarters where I work is located in Barcelona and is known as the pioneer of the Asphalt video game saga.
For those who don't know, Asphalt, as the name suggests, is a fast-paced arcade racing game set in various exotic locations around the world, tasking players to complete races while evading police forces in police chases.
Right now we are working on a new project that is being kept confidential, but it's going to be a lot of fun for our audience, I'm sure.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
When I was a child, I was always excited about video games, it was my favourite pastime. The nights with my older brother and my cousins were what I liked the most when the weekend came. I always thought that someday the time would come when I would create a video game and we would play together again remembering the old times. Right now I am very grateful to be able to work on what I like the most and to grow as a 3D artist, alongside very talented people.
How did you get your first big break?
I started my studies with a three-year degree in video game development. Last year, the school allowed each student to create anything related to the world of video games as a final project. I had the idea of creating a boxing robot, which was animated from a real time motion capture suit.
With Unreal Engine 4 I adapted a scene, where the robot boxed to the rhythm of the cameras and I could create a cinematic that still surprises many people today. Alwyn Hunt, co-founder of The Rookies, contacted me to make a breakdown of my project in the blog and this opened many doors to a promising future as a 3D artist. From here, I started to develop a portfolio good enough to be able to apply to the companies I was most interested in at the time.
Describe the journey you took into your current role?
When Gameloft published the offer to work as a Junior Environment Artist, I did not hesitate to send my resume and portfolio. After a week I received a call from human resources to start with the selection process and they sent me the art test to assess what level I had as an artist and if I really deserved the position in the company.
I remember being a little nervous because it was the first time I was able to have a foot in the door of the video game industry. Luckily, everything went very well, I passed the art test and got to the final interview which involved a chat with the Art Director and the Lead Artist.
Within a week they called me back to give me the good news that I was part of the Gameloft team! We started to process the contracts as soon as possible, and I fondly look back on this day as the best day of my professional life.
Day in the life
Describe a typical day for you and your team?
Because of the pandemic the work is telematic, so I try to pretend we are in the office saying good morning at the beginning of the day and saluting eachother at the end of it.
If we need something from each other or have doubts about a process we are working on, we can rely on video conference to communicate with teammates. We always try to make the day as pleasant as possible by focusing on the work and accompanying it with small moments of laughter and fun.
If we were in the office it would be very different since there is a room where a good breakfast awaits you, another room where you can play video games and take a short break, and a terrace with wonderful views of the Sagrada Familia (a famous monument that represents the city of Barcelona). Surely, the day will come when we will meet together without a screen separating us.
What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?
The tools I use the most are those necessary to make a 3D model from the object to texture creation, and their application within the engine. Among the programs we use are 3dsMax, Zbrush, Substance Painter, Substance Designer. We also use communication tools such as Zoom and Mattermost.
In order to organise our work in a linear way, we have a platform called Confluence and JIRA where we update the work we have done through images and text. Organisation is very important, so we use nomenclatures and codes that are understood by the company's employees.
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
Three times a week we try to gather the entire Environment department with the Art Director in a Zoom meet. In this meeting we show progress of the levels we have been working on. We also use the time to work out issues with any of the features being presented.
Within the team each Junior is assigned to a team member with more experience so that they can learn workflows and pick up tricks to solve problems easily. They are also given manuals with text and visuals, explaining how the engine works and what should be taken into account so that the game is well optimised and runs smoothly on any device.
Working on a video game is a team effort. We are bound together like a chain and we work together every day to not break it!
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
Nowadays there is a lot of software that automates the production with high quality results. We can say that photogrammetry, RTX and the devices themselves are advancing at an impressive speed. There are already hyper-realistic libraries such as Quixel Megascans that are currently used for next gen AAA games and improvements in engines that allow implementing objects with great geometries as in the case of Unreal Engine 5.
One thing you’d never change about your job?
The satisfaction in creating an important part of the video game and seeing the results of our colleagues - it is very motivating. When you see someone with more experience and they show you what they have done, it is very rewarding. There is always something new to learn and this is what I don't want to change about my job.
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?
I wouldn't mind getting back to the office! I think it would be better for those of us who like to socialise and not stay home.
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
I know a lot of employees who have been with the company for years who have not studied anything related to video game creation. I think that if you can afford to study something related to the field of video games, do it.
It never hurts to be able to train with professional people, as they can also serve as a support to boost your artistic career and help you forge your career in the industry.
There are also companies that ask for previous training and experience, which you can prove with studies and degrees.
Times have changed and nowadays if you have a degree you have more opportunities to work in what you like the most.
What tasks would you typically ask a junior artist to handle?
As a Junior Environment Artist, I was primarily given introductory tasks to the production of a video game at the beginning. Over time, the tasks began to be a little more complicated and the responsibilities, bigger.
Where I work, we are given a lot of freedom of decision. This is positive because you learn to produce with more responsibility and to do things with more caution.
The negative part is that if you are a Junior, you may make several mistakes with having so much freedom, without the wisdom of someone who has been there longer and knows the workflow of the company intimately.
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
What Gameloft and other studios are looking for in an artist, are individuals who are decisive, with a good attitude and aptitude to do what is asked at the time it is needed. Working in a team and socialising as much as possible are also part of the discipline of a good artist.
Employers are looking out for how you showcase your skills within your portfolio, as well as how you express yourself and speak in interviews - all of them above puts you in good standing to get the position you want.
What skills seem to be missing all too often?
Being updated on new techniques and knowing about the advancements that are happening in the video game industry. Many times there are cases of people who maintain very old techniques that delay the production process when there are new tools and more advanced techniques that speed up the production and deliver an unmatched quality.
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?
I think the best way to show what you are capable of is through your portfolio.This tool is essential to be able to impress those who are looking for people like you.
A piece of advice, before handing out your portfolio and resume like there was no tomorrow to all the companies you like the most, be clear about what position you want to hold within the industry. Once you have in mind what position you want to hold, show in your portfolio what kind of artist you are and what skills you have developed over the years to compliment that role.
I would also say to be neat, polished and clear. The portfolio will also define what kind of person you are and this will determine if you will be a candidate for the first interview. The project can be of any subject as long as it respects all the guidelines explained above.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
Being nervous is logical and normal for most artists starting out in the industry, but a very common failure is our own mind. We think too much about how the whole selection process is going to be that we forget the most important thing, focusing on how you want to sell yourself as an artist to the company. Blank minds, meaningless answers ... These are all common failures because of focusing our minds on what we are going to be asked instead of focusing all of our potential on proving that you are the best candidate for the company.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Be yourself. In the end, personality is what most influences your artistic career and will define your path. Challenge yourself and do things you would never do, whether it's a big project that will cost you a lot of time and dedication or traveling to another country to work in another language and culture.
Even if things change and are not as you expected, keep your mind positive, your time will come.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
Never stop learning and always update your skills by adapting your artistic self to the latest industry.
Take a break and disconnect when necessary (without overdoing it).
Enjoy the journey to the highest goal you have in mind!