Sci-Fi Environments with Romain Grolleau
3d artist Romain Grolleau talked about the way he usually approaches the creation of complex virtual spaces for video games.
Bonjour, 80.lv! I’m Romain Grolleau, I’m French and I currently live in Montreal, Canada. I entered the video game industry in 2000 by working on the PlayStation title Roland Garros French Open 2001 and later Backstage, a game reminiscent of Crazy Taxi. However, the video game industry was very fragile in France, leading my company to close its doors and pushing me to develop my 3D art skills elsewhere over the next eight years. During that period of time, I worked on large-scale simulation projects for OTAN, Airbus and companies within the nuclear industry. In 2015, the opportunity to work on Star Citizen seduced me and brought me back into the video game industry but this time in Montreal to work with Behaviour Interactive on this game. Several months ago, I switched my effort to another project but can’t talk about that quite yet.
Tasks of an Environment Artist
The main tasks of an environment artist are asset creation and level art. With time and experience, I’ve also had the opportunity to fashion the lighting for several projects as well.
And two core qualities that make an excellent environment artist include the artist’s consistency for assets creation (proportions, understanding artistic direction and modularity) and the artist’s acute sense of composition for level art.
Using Concept Art
In general, teams of concept artists don’t make concepts for each asset but attempt to establish an overall mood or setting with several paintings. However, assets that are epic in nature might have their own pieces of concept art. The most important aspect of level creation is the communication between artists and level designers. Finding a good connection between art and game design is always a huge challenge. For all the maps I’ve ever worked on, level design always evolved during production. Remaining modular and flexible are good practices for a high-quality production process!
Peculiarities of a Sci-Fi Environment
The sci-fi genre is so vast that this is a challenging question to answer! But, I’ll say that the main quality of a stellar sci-fi environment is the consistency between its elements. Artists should strive to remain credible and homogeneous in its design while supporting the entire environment through well-studied and -executed compositions.
Hard Surface Materials
Every method is good, but with PBR engines circumventing Substance Painter and Designer (or any equivalent combo) has become difficult to do. Personally, I use Painter and Designer for my materials. Moreover, I attempt to make a maximum amount of tileable and paneling textures to effectively manage video memory.
Lighting and Post Effects
With lighting, you’ve just gotta ask yourself the right questions before starting. What is the mood desired by the DA? Are there any gameplay requirements? What is the history of the place? Clearly identify the alpha path.
At the beginning, it’s always necessary to remain simple — add only key lights and find an interesting composition that emphasizes the level art. The choice of lights that cast shadow maps is also considered at this stage. Then artists add more punctual lights that add life to the map. After this first pass of lighting comes the placement of cubemaps, which is a judicious choice in size and positioning that is also crucial to maintaining consistency throughout the environment. In the last game I worked on, we also had an appreciable GI pass that added realism to the map. And of course, countless iterations are done over the production of any game. I don’t touch post effects, but I do run some tests yet nothing final for a game.
The choice of colors is almost always reflected in the mood boards created by the DA during the pre-production process. Also, colors created by the lighting must be considered as another important piece of the puzzle. If you’re able to avoid odd color selections by wisely using complementary colors and focusing on warm areas of any environment.
It’s quite difficult to give general advice, but I would say basic techniques need to be learned and practiced before moving toward the artistic side. I’d also suggest consuming (not literally!) more cultural texts, like video games, films and paintings. My best piece of advice, though? Infuse love into your work and persevere with passion during those really dark hours — all gamers and game makers will appreciate your commitment to our craft!
Romain Grolleau, Lead 3D Artist
Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev.