Career Advice: Working as a Senior Environment Artist at a Game Development Studio

Career Advice: Working as a Senior Environment Artist at a Game Development Studio

Raja Ghosh, a Senior Environment Artist at Remedy Entertainment and a VanArts graduate, offers invaluable insights and advice for aspiring game developers, drawing from his own journey in the industry.

Want a successful career working in Game Development? Raja Ghosh is a Senior Environment Artist at Remedy Entertainment in Finland and a graduate of Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts). Raja sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.

The Journey

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

My current position in the company is Senior Environment Artist. My job involves crafting the overall look and feel of the game environment by gathering references, bringing ideas and working with the Art team, Leads and the Art Director.

I collaborate with the level design team to construct the level layout, gameplay, player guidance, world metrics and art decisions. My role also extends to, mentoring and supporting internal artists as well as providing feedback to our external partners, and collaborating with the tool team in improving our proprietary technology. It also includes reviewing content submissions and cooperating with other disciplines like VFX, Lighting, Game Design and Concept Art to ensure the level's vision fits the art direction.

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

Since 2018, I have been working with Remedy Entertainment, creator of Award-winning blockbuster games such as Max Payne, Alan Wake, Quantum Break and Control. Remedy’s latest title, Alan Wake II, was released in October 2023. They are currently developing Control 2 and a remake of their original Max Payne titles.

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

It was no leap for me, most of my journey, from a fascination to a profession, is through baby steps, leading to my current position.

Much like any other kid, I was engaged and fascinated by Lego structures, weaving stories around them, playing various roles. I carried those emotions and feelings forwards and in my teens when the rest of my friends or other teenagers had turned away from cartoons, I could never get enough of them. My fascination only elevated every day.

The first time, I played "Prince of Persia (DOS)", I was in awe of how would have they created a story using mere pixels. I compared them with my Lego pieces, but still, I would fancy how pixels would render into realistic creatures, structures and people, which was my first instinct, I guess when I knew that "I want to do this!!!"

After school, I had no clue, no plan, and almost no clear path yet my instincts and intuitions only got stronger and I took up a foundation course on 2D and 3D application. This course proved fruitful in making up my mind that I want to have a career doing what I love. My parents were super supportive of me. From there I moved on to pursue a specialisation in 3D. Soon after my course completion, I was taken as an Executive Designer in the top automotive designing firm in India, DC Design.

Later, I also worked as a 3D artist in Accenture Services Pvt. Ltd. But deep down I knew I was miles away from realising my dream so I attempted for Ubisoft and Sumo Digital India for the Game Artist position. Surprise, surprise!! I was rejected!! I realised I may be efficient but I am not proficient. That's when my friend and colleague suggested that I go for full-time study and I came across the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts) syllabus.

Studying at VanArts

How did you get your first big break?

Soon after finishing my diploma in Game Arts, I was fortunate to work on a freelance project with one of my teachers. It’s called “Prime Orbial” and you can play the demo on Steam. You could say that it was my first step in becoming a professional Environment Artist for a Game project.

I didn’t stop looking for full-time positions in the industry to secure my future. But, I was still getting rejections!! Finding myself in the same spot after spending so much money and time was frustrating and scary. Then Remedy happened!! They had a few open positions for Environment Artists. After having some rounds of interviews and an Art test, they decided to fly me to Finland for the last round. I remember that day when I entered Remedy’s building, I told myself “If things go south and they reject me. I won’t mind because I made it this far”.

Spending a full day with so many talents around was something. Within a few days after my arrival back in India, I received an email from them and this time “I got hired”.

Describe the journey you took into your current role?

I intended to become a Character Artist when I moved to Canada to study at VanArts. The whole year I focused on Character Art only. I implemented my previous experiences in my studies, for example, Hard Surface, 2D graphics and discipline while delivering the assignments. I prioritised each task as a demo reel piece from day one in the school which led me to put some extra effort into it. At the end of every assignment, it was rewarding to see my progression, and the fruits of my labour.

Mind Place Environment. Courtesy of Remedy Entertainment.

I didn’t want to discard my past experiences. It was the reason why I ended up making multiple projects including Environment Art, Character and Hard Surface for my final demo reel, just to showcase my potential.

Now working on live game projects, moving around from one game to another and adapting the genre within made me think that all the effort I put in during my studies, finally paid off.

Control was the first project I worked on with Remedy and I was fortunate to join the production team straight away. After spending a full year till the release, I gained immense knowledge of game production and the effort required to ship a game.

Since then, I have worked in several environments where I had full ownership of it and that led me to become a Senior Artist within the organisation. I can’t thank enough the people whom I met and collaborated with in this journey because they are the ones who keep encouraging me to move forward and push boundaries.

Why did you choose to study at VanArts?

The curriculum for Game Art & Design at VanArts is very precise and challenging, which is why it caught my attention. They set very strong foundations while covering the latest technology and software in the industry. The instructors pay individual attention, understand their student’s strengths and hone them accordingly. I learned immensely from my classmates as well, and it’s great to have such talented and encouraging people around. I thank VanArts for providing me with a great year of learning.

Student Work created during Raja's time at VanArts

How does your education complement your work?

The course was quite challenging. The assignments were designed in a way to push our limits. Every assignment was unique and demanding. In the process, you learn time management, teamwork, production pipeline, presentation and most importantly, our potential.

Now working on live game projects, moving around from one game to another and adapting the genre within made me think that all the effort I put in during my studies at VanArts, finally paid off.

We don’t realise all these things until we start working on live projects.
During these 6 years, I was fortunate to work on several Remedy projects and tasted all the unique flavours. All these projects were different from each other and when you switch from one to another, that moment you realise that you were trained for it.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team?

My day usually starts with taking my bike out to the office and a cup of Coffee after. Usually, I check my schedule a day before so that I don’t need to look in my calendar the next day. It helps to set up priorities in advance. Following up on the day, we focus on our milestones deliveries, attend scheduled meetings if any, and tease teammates while working. I check with other department team members if I require any help and feedback from them. Then we get our lunch together in our cafeteria and feel sleepy afterwards! The company encourages and provides the facility to take small breaks between our schedules which helps bring down fatigue of any sort. My day ends with the gym which I prefer to go to alternate days.

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

The workflow for me starts with Maya for modelling and implementing the assets in our game engine, Northlight World Editor.  For texturing, I use Photoshop, Substance 3D Painter and Designer. Sometimes I also use ZBrush for sculpting.

What does your workflow look like?

As we all know, it usually starts with gathering references based on the game's vision and concepts. I give a good amount of time when I look for references because it’s important to collect the right ones.

After the approval, we move forward with building modular kit pieces to replace the game-level blockouts provided by Level Designers. All the game-ready assets we create with proper metrics following the art direction, quality target, gameplay and in-game player guidance. We constantly review our work and ensure that it meets the specifications provided by all relevant departments.

Bright Falls Pier Breakdown. Courtesy of Remedy Entertainment.

If external partners are involved, then it’s our responsibility to provide enough information and guide them throughout the process till they deliver the final assets. Our proprietary tool helps us to keep and maintain all the asset library and source files organised.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

The environment team closely work with the Art Director, Level Design, Concept artists, Lighting team and Producers. The initial work starts with a block out that we receive from the level designer and we replace the block out with the final assets maintaining the art style. The Producer manages our daily activities which require constant follow-ups. The other team we also work with are the Game Design and the Tool team.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

I like working on single-player or story-driven games because it’s engaging, thrilling and give something that the player can relate to. We get emotionally attached to these characters and their world. When we create this imaginary world, the level of research we do and the details we put in to make the world believable, it is just joy and I don’t want to change that. Remedy Entertainment is well known for storytelling and I am glad to be a part of it.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?

I would like to see more AAA studios in my home country, India, and top-quality schools/institutions for game development. So that students can gain enough confidence and avoid travelling outside the country for studies and exposure.

Career Advice

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

It completely depends on the individual. If you consider my experience then yes, it is essential. Game development is not easy and formal education teaches you the base, the art process, production and design development in an organised way. It provides you with several options to pick and get specialised on it. Working on assignments with your classmates gives you a glimpse of how a team perform in a tight production cycle.  Education also introduces the current trends in the industry to keep you updated. It’s a platform that gives you exposure, contacts and more opportunities to meet industry professionals to showcase your work. Sometimes, you get professional mentors to help you out with your demo reel and get feedback straight away from them. Who knows, you might end up working with your mentor someday. Overall, you will be fully dedicated and focused on something to achieve your dream.

On the other side, this education costs a lot and requires time, patience and effort. Some people prefer to go with online education courses. Online institutions provide training material from industry professionals in which you can pick courses for basic knowledge and specialisation. Plenty of training material you can find for free as well.

What tasks would you be typically asked to do as a junior artist?

It depends on the organisation you are working for. In my company, a junior artist gets trained in world-building by following up the art direction. It includes building modular kits, level layout refinement based on the level designer's feedback, iterations and having full freedom to share new ideas with the team.

What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?

I want to answer this in  few points:

  • A team player: This is the most important skill you need because, in the end, you will be a part of a team and collaborate with several other departments. Demonstrating a group project is highly recommended.
  • Flexibility and Potential: It’s an industry that challenges you to evolve into several projects and forces you to adapt various visual styles within the organization.
  • Communication skills: It is important how you communicate your ideas and provide regular project updates.
  • A good Eye: How well you are with your research and development with good attention to detail. It is to gain the confidence that you can deliver accurate and high-quality work.
  • Reliability and Professionalism: Easy to work with, dependable, respectful to others, open to feedback and direction.

Describe your attitude towards your job?

I am a professional artist. I am always learning whether working or not working which I also share and learn more in return. My experience of working at different companies, travelling and exploring working cultures has helped me with many perspectives. I take ownership of my task and do my deep research to bring the best believable result. I try to be organized, and I put a lot of effort into achieving my best possible results when I work. I keep a positive working environment around me. I like working in the studio because having all my friends and colleagues around keeps me inspired and motivated.

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?

My inspirations are my colleagues and their work. You don’t need to look for inspiration when surrounded by talented people. With that said, I must say that a healthy work environment matters a lot.

Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?

Looking for a subject for the portfolio is always tricky. It will get easier when you think of a story to tell through your art. You are making a game for a player unknown. Make something that you don’t need to explain, it will speak for itself.
There are many concept artists you can find on the art websites who work on storytelling concepts. Pick one you like and ask for permission to use it. This way you can also share your process with the concept artist and take feedback from them. Focus on the art decision and try to create the environment with the same vision. Make the environment playable in your preferred game engine.
One of my teachers used to tell me that when you hear someone saying by looking at your work “I wanna play this”, it means you have achieved something because you created an art that made people curious to explore.

Ranger Cabin. Courtesy of Remedy Entertainment.

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

Make contact with industry professionals and don’t hesitate to ask questions. You can connect them through websites like ArtStation or LinkedIn, or The Rookies discord server! Most of the artist love to talk about their work and process.

Keep your base strong and always challenge yourself when you start a new project.

Pick something that you have never done and learn through it.

Share your work with professionals and ask for feedback.

Learn how to manage the deadline and produce art within a fixed timeline. If you failed to finish on time then evaluate what went wrong and work on it.

Work on a group project as a team and showcase all the skills and knowledge you learned.

Always enjoy your work and have fun with it. After all, you are making a game. ☺

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

Well, I always feel that I switched my career very late and my approach was limited. Though I had full support and encouragement from my parents. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself not to hesitate to take bold steps. Consequences will always be there whether you like it or not. If you have passion for something, you will achieve it one way or another. Don’t look for a workaround. Just get on it right away and finish it.

Raja Ghosh is a Senior Environment Artist at Remedy Entertainment Plc. in Espoo, Finland. He is from Chhattisgarh, India and had his Diploma in “Game Arts and Design” from the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts), Canada in 2017. After joining Remedy, he has been specializing in game world-building and shipped several titles including Control, Control AWE, CrossfireX and recently released Alan Wake II. Currently, he is part of the Control 2 development team which is a sequel to Remedy’s award-winning game Control. Previously he worked as a Senior 3D Artist at Accenture Services Pvt. Ltd., Mumbai and as an Executive Designer at Dilip Chhabria Design, Pune (India).

Reach out to Raja via LinkedIn and check out his professional work via his website and ArtStation.