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Environment Design for AAA Games with Laurie Durand

Environment Design for AAA Games with Laurie Durand

Laurie Durand kindly talked about her expertise of working in Ubisoft and collaborating within the manufacturing of For Honor and shared useful items of recommendation for those that need to study surroundings artwork for video games and be a part of the business.


I’m from Montreal, Canada and so long as I keep in mind I’ve all the time been excited about historical past and previous structure and beloved to play video video games. I did some personal sculpture class for a few years and after that, I went to school the place I specialised in visible artwork. After school, I constructed a portfolio and entered the college to review 3D artwork.

After making an attempt many various issues like animation, character modeling, and recreation design, I made a decision to concentrate on surroundings artwork. I ended my selection on it for good as a result of setting artwork has extra freedom for creativity and possession as we all the time have to vary drastically the essential idea concept to adapt it to the extent design. And naturally, you could be simply polyvalent in setting artwork (degree artwork, modeling, texturing, shaders, lighting, and so forth.)

Later for my synthesis undertaking, I teamed up with different four graduates and three programmers from different universities and we did a recreation prototype for the Ubisoft Recreation Lab Contest. The expertise was a blast. We had a lot enjoyable doing our recreation and occurred to win the worth of the most effective artwork path and 5  nominations in several classes.

After the competition, I graduated from faculty and was employed as a modeler at Ubisoft Montreal. I labored on the sport For Honor, its seasons and its Marching Hearth enlargement.

First Expertise with Ubisoft & Work on For Honor

I started to work at Ubisoft in spring 2016, so it’s been 2 years and a half since I joined the business. In time period of challenges, I used to be dashing so exhausting in the course of the three years of my bachelor that once I joined the For Honor staff, I anticipated to crunch once more as the sport was resulting from be shipped in lower than a few months. In truth, I had one of the best integration ever with none stress and with numerous time to complete my first process. The group was actually caring they usually needed me to adapt nicely as I transitioned from being a scholar to knowledgeable.

A factor I noticed shortly was that the varsity taught us plenty of methods and ideas however there is a variety of particular stuff that faculty won’t ever train. For instance, in For Honor, the digital camera can move via the partitions or buildings (digital camera occlusion) and when it does, you’ll be able to observe the inside of belongings rendered with a gray noise shader. For making this shader work correctly, you want to shut the sides of each single mesh in any other case it is going to present highlighted ugly holes when passing by way of them. The decals are the exception.

When it comes to work, considered one of my challenges was to adapt to the AAA workflow in a group of some hundred individuals. The communication shortly turned a precedence, particularly within the surroundings artwork division the place there have been many artists of totally different specialties all depending on one another. Then, a couple of months later after ending For Honor, a model new sort of manufacturing process appeared: hold supporting the sport that may go reside. Each three months by way of the yr after the launch we needed to ship 2 new maps with totally different degree design. That may imply means much less time than regular for producing these maps and we clearly needed to be extra proactive and partly readjust our manufacturing pipeline after the first supply. The primary season supply (Shadow and May – Season 2) was on the similar time my largest problem and one among my largest delight since I joined the business.

Perception into the Degree Manufacturing

At first, I labored on four areas of this map. I needed to put the correct textures and set the best proportions for the proxy meshes. Then, as soon as accredited, three of these sections have been despatched to the outsourcing staff whereas I stored the most important and probably the most gameplay delicate one: the inexperienced temple space. We needed to make one thing much less destroyed and extra luxurious, so for this space, I did a extra fanciful design than what we often see within the recreation. In fact, that implied performing some iterations, utilizing present textures in a brand new means and modeling new decorative elements.

Then, I acquired an inexisting map space that was actually late in manufacturing: the tomb. That was an uncommon and difficult process however I embraced it with pleasure.

It was the primary time when I didn’t solely polish modular belongings and props however ready all the essential degree artwork format that labored with gameplay from scratch. I additionally took a very huge half in mesh placement and fixing the lighting.

After the primary primary modular belongings that made the world practical have been prepared, I began doing a rock-sculpted inside check. Sadly, due to the shortage of excellent reference for Japanese rock crypts in addition to the shortage of time and assets for doing new textures or sculpts, the thought was aborted. Then we determined to go for plan B which was safer. I did an expensive wooden inside all carved with a couple of rock parts just like the grave. One other new factor was to do a low-resolution vista not accessible to the participant (a bit shrine behind this room).

As soon as every little thing was completed and the map was validated by the artwork course, I stayed on this map for fixing all of the LOD bugs collectively with the extent artist. We often don’t have any issues with LODs as we use Simplygon plugin however within the case of this map, it was a priority as a result of there have been many giant areas the place you’ll be able to see a lot of complicated and natural shapes of the buildings on the different aspect of the map. So I needed to rework topology of just about each asset so as to not lose essential particulars.

Environment Design from Scratch

Once I have to make one thing from scratch, normally, I start with a brainstorm and I decide many footage of visible references on Pinterest or Google. I often look for footage, historic references, movies, idea artwork for shapes,  references for temper. I additionally look for some stuff that doesn’t immediately relate to the essential topic, as a result of it helps me to develop the very unique concept.

After this step, I do sorting, select the referencesscreenshots, assemble them in a moodboard and do some fast sketches based mostly on the board. Relying on what I’ve to do, I do some sketch of composition or detailed props. It typically occurs that I draw simply to discover a answer for a component which already exists within the degree however isn’t artistically believable sufficient or has some technical constraints.

At work, more often than not I skip all this step and go on to sketching the surroundings design instantly within the engine with no references or 1/2 references pictures already chosen by the artwork course. Typically I draw simply to discover a answer for a component which already exists within the degree however isn’t artistically believable (for the world of For Honor, for instance) sufficient or has some technical constraints because of the degree design.

As soon as I get the approval, I readjust the scene in line with the suggestions of Artwork path and clear the belongings with the suitable metrics and gizmos. After that, I start to raised outline modeling of the totally different parts and making high-resolution if wanted in ZBrush or 3ds Max.

Within the meantime (or after all of the modeling is completed), I do unwrapping. The subsequent step is to do the primary move of supplies, texturing and lighting. Since at Ubisoft I’m solely accountable for modeling and degree artwork, the textures, supplies, and lighting are made by different colleagues. But when it’s a private venture, my course of at this level begins to be extra natural so I can return to readjust the modeling or UVs relying on what I create. I polish the supplies and textures, and as soon as I’m joyful with the outcome, I polish the lighting.

Significance of Grid

The grid is on the similar time the very first thing we decide in a challenge and the device with which we work on a regular basis. Figuring out the models of measurement in a challenge is necessary earlier than beginning steps like the development of surroundings modules, textures, and degree design. We should additionally take note of the surroundings’s proportions that might be credible from the participant’s viewpoint and measures particular to the gameplay such because the minimal distance allowed for 2 gamers to struggle freely. As soon as determined (often by the gameplay staff), it will be significant that each one artists, animators, and degree designers respect these measures. So the grid in each 3D packages and the engine is an important software for the surroundings artists to assemble their modular belongings.

The very first thing to do for establishing the grid is to match it with the one within the recreation engine and its measures. For instance, in Unreal four the models are in centimeters, so it’s beneficial within the 3D software program to arrange the grid and the models the identical so as to keep away from scaling points and guarantee seamless exportation of the belongings.

Once you use the grid, the snap software is a should for setting up in 3ds Max with the correct measurements and the pivot (gizmo) on the proper locations. The situation of the pivot level on the modules is necessary, as a result of as soon as within the engine the snap will permit you to place them shortly and on the grid identical to Lego blocks. The grid is as properly necessary when exporting as a result of the pivot of the asset have to be aligned with the origin of the grid (zero, zero, zero) in an effort to keep away from an asset with an offset pivot within the engine. Again to the engine, the snap software will make it potential to construct and iterate environments shortly with the grid.

Retaining the Stability

Once I do the primary cross of the essential modular belongings I make it possible for the gameplay flows properly (by testing it) and get some suggestions from the extent designers. For instance, a door entry in a 3rd individual battle recreation have to be 2 meters large in order that the gamers don’t really feel restricted once they enter a room or an space. Additionally, the open space for the battle have to be a minimum of three or four meters giant. We additionally need to watch out with the place we place the props or intricate particulars within the closed environments. The reason being that you simply don’t need to confuse the participant if they should react shortly. It’s additionally relevant to textures: our texturers attempt to not put too many colours or noisy particulars, and as a modeler, I’ve to watch out once I select textures and do the unwrapping. Right here, I additionally check the sport to make sure that it’s playable and never complicated!

Strategy to Belongings: Sculpting Rocks

Doing belongings true to actuality might be troublesome. For some parts like rocks in a number of AAA tasks, the group will envolve photogrammetry or will develop procedural applied sciences with displacement and/or tessellation within the recreation. However within the case of For Honor, a massive a part of the reminiscence finances was already given to gameplay points like AI so procedural rocks weren’t the best choice.

As we have been a small however proactive group that received used to delivering new content material repeatedly, we determined to work with a mixture of sculpting in ZBrush and scans. The cliffs situated in Jordan and in Monument Valley, US, have been our important inspiration, so we searched for the cliffs footage in these areas:

As soon as the chosen rocks have been authorised, we chosen a 3D scan mannequin that seemed alike from our financial institution. Because the scans had a low-resolution it’s straightforward to switch them. We cleaned the scan and roughly modified the overall form in 3ds Max. Typically we map the reference image as a texture on it. The thought behind it’s merely to get a topology with shapes and primary details about the cracks, to not acquire the most effective and most outlined scan ever.

Then the most important a part of the work is the high-resolution sculpt of the scan. In ZBrush, I do a replica of the scan, shut its holes and take away its exploded triangles. Then, I convert it right into a high-rez dynamesh for protecting the definition as a lot as attainable.

Afterward, I do a fast UV cross and challenge the scan’s textures and particulars on it. It’s not essential to get all of the micro particulars as a result of it can serve simply as a reference to start out sculpting on. I refine the primary cracks and different particulars of the rock by sculpting them, then transfer to the little particulars. I don’t want any further references at this level and improvise with the remaining crack particulars. The thought, once more, is to not reproduce the rocks 100%, however to get a rock credible at each angle and beneath any lighting.


As soon as the sculpting is completed I export the mesh to 3ds Max, do a low-resolution retopo with the PolyDraw instruments, do the UV with the peel mode and bake regular maps. I favor Marmoset for baking however you need to use some other software program options.

The primary brush I exploit is the TrimSmoothBorderBrush with alpha from the web ZBrush library, a plain model of TrimSmoothBorderBrush (you will discover it manually in AppPixologicZBrush 4R6ZBrushesTrim) and a Clay Construct Up in spray mode.

Using Modularity

Engaged on For Honor, I had the prospect to make modular belongings corresponding to pillar partitions and basement arches, plus some prefabricated kits of interchangeable fortress partitions. For a few of them, I solely had to ensure they have been useful earlier than sending them away to be polished.

When it comes to the workflow for the modular items, step one can be adjusting every thing to the outlined grid as I defined earlier. The measurements of the modular piece ought to be actual taking the pixel ratio and textures under consideration. Often, when the feel dimensions are multiples of two, we’ll make modular belongings that even have the measurements a number of of two. For instance, in a 3rd individual recreation, the pixel ratio might be 1 meter equal to a texture of 512, 2m = 1024, and so on. and the modular items could possibly be 2m, 4m, 8m lengthy. Observe that there isn’t any particular rule for the pixel ration that a recreation ought to have. It’s totally different for every recreation.

Recommendation: all the time construct an intact model first earlier than going for extra particulars (in a destroyed model, for instance). In addition to, take into account that it is extremely exhausting to make modules with natural and/or complicated belongings akin to timber. As for modular rock parts, you possibly can mannequin them the best way you need with a view to obtain an fascinating take a look at any aspect.

In a recreation like For Honor, there’s loads of natural modeling similar to destroyed partitions, handmade and crooked Viking buildings and so forth. Fortunately, the legal guidelines of the gameplay constraints have been much less strict, so someday we might make modular items 2,75 lengthy, and typically due to the drawcalls restrict we had no selection however to connect a bunch of modular items collectively.

Whether or not modular or not, all of the meshes have been constructed with modular particulars.

For instance, originally of the manufacturing, our lead modeler needed to sculpt 2 kits of wooden planks and development stones, in cleaned and broken model. The thought was to make use of these little particulars as a way to shortly polish each modular structure piece with a excessive degree of particulars. Afterward, they have been put in a standard financial institution obtainable to all of the artists. These meshes have been used for all belongings within the recreation in any potential means whether or not to make a gap in a wall or a bridge. In fact, the extra we superior within the manufacturing, the extra particular wants appeared. Subsequently, we needed to mannequin different variations of damaged planks or rocks and add them to the financial institution simply to have extra particulars obtainable for sprucing.

As you’ll be able to see, modularity is appropriate not solely for degree artwork but in addition for modeling the modular items themselves. It’s helpful for the sake of time. The one concern with this workflow is that you could arrange and make a financial institution early within the manufacturing.

Private Recommendation for Learners

For somebody who goals to develop into an setting artist, I might advocate doing drawing or portray, sculpture, images, artwork courses, and so forth. Briefly: develop your inventive aspect and your inventive eye. Simply watching new artwork on web sites like ArtStation, going to an exhibition and even uncover lovely locations (in the event you’re fortunate to journey a bit) may help. All this stuff will assist with time you to realize some mastery of picture composition, shade principle, and lightweight – important expertise for an environmental artist.

These practices additionally assist to accumulate a sure inventive maturity, which makes it attainable to be self-critical in the direction of one’s work. To be self-critical is an effective high quality to have as a result of each time you’ll have to readjust the surroundings or belongings you create whether or not because of the artwork path’s choice or your personal reflexion.

All these qualities develop solely with time and could be arduous to realize. That’s why I recommend that you simply prioritize classical inventive studying which is longe somewhat than the technical aspect of 3D artwork. Studying 3D software program, recreation engines and the workflow for constructing environments for video games is one thing that you could study approach quicker. These are simply instruments, like a paintbrush. Additionally, Artwork administrators want to rent an artist with unique works within the portfolio quite than artists with typical works which are all over the place.

I don’t have any course to advocate particularly, select what is going to suit you. I personally determined to do a bachelor; for some individuals will discover self-learning on the web and taking on-line programs the most effective answer. Nevertheless, observe, that a diploma or a bachelor’s diploma can significantly assist you to get a job out of the country. However in each instances, it’s essential to proceed studying. In the long run, it’s your portfolio, character and private contacts that may assist you to land your first job within the business.

Talking concerning the contacts, it might be helpful to take a position money and time within the online game group: participating in recreation jams and contests, visiting or volunteering for conventions just like the MIGS, SIGGRAPH, IGDA and so forth. In fact, doing courses can also be a strategy to set up contacts!

For somebody who begins making environments for video video games, I like to recommend checking the articles under. They partly cowl the issues I spoke about and clarify some facet intimately:

If you wish to have a strong introduction to texturing (texel density) and good baked regular map, make sure that to examine Leonardo Iezzi’s documentation Texel Density: All you could know and No Extra Flawed Regular Map.

Lastly, part of my workflow for excessive poly rock sculpts was taken from Strkl’s polycount thread.

Laurie Durand, Environment Artist at Ubisoft

Interview carried out by Kirill Tokarev

The aim of the ClearCut programs is to show you a strong workflow that’s used within the AAA recreation business. The primary episode covers the method of making an AAA hearth hydrant from begin to end.

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