The Journey: Rookie Awards Winner to 3D Environment Artist in Games

The Journey: Rookie Awards Winner to 3D Environment Artist in Games

Discover Ilenia Di Maria's captivating journey from Architecture to Environment Artist as she merges imagination with the real world through 3D art. Join us as we explore her inspiring career transition, current role, and valuable industry insights.

Meet Ilenia Di Maria, an Italian national residing in Switzerland who embarked on a captivating career transition from Architecture to becoming an Environment Artist. Her passion for 3D art fuels her desire to merge imagination with the real world through virtual creations. Join us as we explore her inspiring journey, current role, and valuable insights into the industry.

The Journey

What's your current role and what does it involve?

My current position is 3D Production Artist at Blindflug Studios, and my role primarily involves creating assets through modeling and texturing, as well as building scenes.  

I am currently involved in an exciting project to create a documentary film. Although the majority of the film is live-action, there is a small portion that requires 3D elements. I am responsible for creating and integrating those 3D assets into the film. This project is scheduled to be released in one of the next film festivals in Switzerland, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

A frame from the documentary film project.

This particular project is being directed by the Swiss filmmaker Samir. In this documentary film he utilises short animated sequences to portray his memories of his upbringing in a working-class setting in Switzerland. These sequences are being created using Unreal Engine.  To do so, a collection of assets for each scene was collected, such as motion capturing of the characters, buildings, furniture, and various other objects, based on Samir's storyboards.

Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?

Currently, I’m working at Blindflug Studios in Zurich, a Swiss video games company. Recently, they have expanded their interests and become more involved in film production as well. They have always had a strong interest in creating a fusion of cinema and games, and the project we are currently working on, is their first step toward achieving this goal.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?

Approximately a year ago when I was finishing a course on architectural visualisation that also had a strong connection with 3D. During the course, I discovered my passion for creating environments and props. The combination of artistic expression and technical skills in the 3D realm fascinated me, and I knew that pursuing a career in this industry would be a perfect fit for my interests and abilities. Since then, I have been actively pursuing opportunities to further develop my skills and contribute to exciting projects in this industry.

3D Environment by Ilenia Di Maria

How did you get your first big break?

Last year when I won a career opportunity in The Rookies contest in the Archviz category. Through that experience, I had the opportunity to connect with an American 3D company (Kilograph) with an office in Spain. After that, I got the opportunity to join Blindflug Studios, an experience I am really excited about.

Describe the journey you took into your current role.

I initially worked as an architect in Spain. However, due to personal reasons, I moved to Switzerland, where I shifted my focus toward developing new skills in the field of 3D visualisation.

To enhance my expertise, I pursued a couple of master's programs. One was at butic The New School, specializing in 3D Architectural Visualization. The other was at Vertex school, where I enrolled in the Game Artist program. In particular, the latter program played a significant role in shaping my current position and career path.

Why did you choose to study at butic the New School and then in Vertex school?

As an architect, I felt the need to specialise in a particular area. This led me to pursue a course in BIM at butic The New School.

During my studies at butic, I discovered the fascinating world of 3D in architectural applications. This discovery piqued my curiosity and motivated me to further explore the field of 3D.
Archiz Scene created by Ilenia Di Maria

After that, I felt I needed something more specific and wanted to learn 3D techniques in more depth, so I decided to enrol in a course at Vertex School to become an Environmental Artist. The program offered a good set of skills and knowledge that allowed me to combine my architectural background with my newfound passion for 3D.

How does your education complement your work?

My education plays a crucial role in complementing my work as a 3D Production Artist. The skills and knowledge I acquired through my studies provide a strong foundation for understanding and applying various techniques and principles in the field of 3D.

My architectural background gives me a solid understanding of spatial composition and design principles. My additional educations have provided me with technical proficiency in industry-standard software tools and workflows. This enables me to create and manipulate 3D assets, implement textures and materials, and bring virtual scenes to life.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team.

A typical day for me and my team starts with a brief team meeting to discuss the progress and goals for the day. We review the tasks assigned, upcoming deadlines, and any specific requirements from the client.

Once we have a clear plan, I usually dive into my assigned tasks, which may involve creating 3D assets, texturing, or working on scene layouts. In the project we are currently working on, we are a small group and I’m in charge of developing the environment.

Throughout the day, we maintain open communication, discussing any challenges or roadblocks we encounter. This allows us to brainstorm solutions, provide feedback to one another, and ensure the project progresses smoothly.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?

On a daily basis, I mainly use Autodesk Maya for 3D modeling and UV unwrapping, as it has powerful features for creating complex 3D assets. I also use Unreal Engine for texturing, scene composition, and lighting. Photoshop is also a good tool to have at hand.

Career Advice

Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?

While formal education can provide a solid foundation and valuable knowledge in the field of 3D production, I believe it is not necessarily essential for someone aspiring to be a 3D artist. The game and entertainment industry values practical skills, creativity, and a strong portfolio of work just as much (and probably more) as formal qualifications.

Many successful professionals in the industry have gained expertise through self-study, online tutorials, workshops, and hands-on experience. With access to various online resources, tutorials, and communities, individuals can acquire a good set of technical skills to stay updated with the latest industry trends.

However, formal education offers several advantages as well. It provides structured learning, access to industry professionals, networking opportunities, and exposure to a wide range of techniques and tools.

In any case, building a diverse portfolio that showcases proficiency in 3D modeling, texturing, lighting, and scene composition is crucial for aspiring 3D production artists, regardless of whether they acquired their skills through formal education or self-study.

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

I would say: never stop learning and experimenting. The world of art and 3D production is constantly evolving, with new techniques, tools, and trends emerging regularly. Maintaining a mindset of continuous learning and experimentation is key to expanding your skills and staying up to date.

3D Environment by Ilenia Di Maria
Don't be discouraged by setbacks or initial struggles. Building a strong foundation and mastering your skills takes time and practice. Stay persistent, be patient, and never lose sight of your passion and drive for artistic expression.

The journey of an artist is an ongoing process of growth and self-discovery (I am also still here!). Enjoy the process, stay curious, and embrace the joy of creating.

If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?

If I had discovered my passion for 3D at an earlier stage, I would have pursued studies in this field from the beginning.

Additionally, and this is more on a personal note, reflecting on my journey, I would prioritise both the mental and physical well-being. Working on 3D visualisation can be really exhausting and demanding; hence, taking the time to take care of yourself, maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and effectively managing stress are crucial aspects.

You can reach out to Ilenia via LinkedIn and Instagram, and check out her winning Rookie Awards 2022 entry here.