The amount of games Ryan Love has worked on over his career is as vast as it is impressive. Though his title say Senior Environment Artist, his skill with character development and design is just as spectacular. His personal work developing hard surface concepts, with a particular interest in suit and helmet design, is a detailed look at how shapes, materials and lighting work together. He uses KeyShot up front to experiment with textures and lighting, on through creating passes and final renders. Here, he tells us more about how he got started and why he uses KeyShot.
Modeling software used: ZBrush
What sparked your interest becoming a 3D Artist/Environment Artist?
I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember but there were a couple things that sparked my interest in 3D and using computers to be creative. I grew up loving video games. I had a Nintendo and later Super Nintendo system but at that time I was young, and didn’t think making games was a real possibility. My family eventually got a PC and I started to see more clearly how games were made by creating skins and levels for some early 90s FPS titles. Games like Star Control, Myst, Red Baron, Kings Quest, Doom, Quake and their predecessors had a big impact on me and ultimately drove me to a career creating environments for video games. I always have such a great time getting immersed in new worlds created by artists. I wanted a career helping to create them.
Another thing that pushed me in the direction of 3D and learning software to make art was seeing movies like the first Jurassic Park and later Toy Story. I was 13 when Jurassic Park came out and it really inspired me to start researching how they made it. Seeing amazing VFX in movies and playing great games both of which I still love, are what set me on the path of learning that I’m still on today.
What are the highlights of your career?
Working with so many talented people on interesting projects has been a lot of fun. Learning new techniques and workflows from other artists who I admire has also been one of the highlights of my career. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many interesting and creative people in the game industry. I enjoy being part of a large team that creates a singular idea. I think game development is unique in that it brings together so many different disciplines to create a unified vision. I love being a part of that.
What would you say is unique about your approach to a project?
I don’t think there’s anything unique about my approach to using software, I’ve seen many other artists work in similar ways, but I think everyone brings their own unique vision and perspective to everything they make. My approach varies depending on the project. When I’m working on personal projects my flow is very organic. Sometimes I have an idea and I try to complete that exact idea but most of the time the original idea will change a lot by the time I call something complete. I usually try to stay in the moment and just let things flow. I think this can be a great way to experiment and find pleasing shapes and new ideas. Creating designs that are interesting and believable also requires research and good references. Having a strong vision or concept before you start a project is always going to make things go more smoothly, but sticking to it too strictly can sometimes rob you of discoveries that can be made along the way.
Creating environments for large AAA games has it’s own unique set of challenges so it must be approached differently. Environments are created in a more focused and organized way. I’m usually provided with a ton of reference material or amazing concepts. I work closely with Concept Artist, Designers and Art Directors to create game assets and build worlds. Work is also done within time constraints and you need to do a lot of on the fly problem solving. Environment art for video games has many technical requirements plus additional limitations and constraints depending on the intended hardware whether its a PC, Console, a VR Headset, a Handheld system or a mobile platform. There are often many people involved in every stage of designing assets and deciding how they are used in the game world. There’s a staggering amount of complexity involved in game development so approaching these large projects is a massive team effort.
What is your primary 3D modeling software?
I think I’ve been using ZBrush longer than any other program. I just love the freedom it provides to explore and create anything you can see or imagine. I’ve also used Maya and 3ds Max professionally for many years. It’s difficult to choose one primary program, things are continually changing, new programs and technology are always coming out. Recently I’ve been having a lot of fun using ZBrush and KeyShot via the bridge.
Where in the process do you use KeyShot?
I take things into KeyShot at an early stage to start experimenting with materials textures and lighting. I’ve also been using KeyShot for simple render pass and final beauty renders for many of my models.
What makes KeyShot an important tool to have?
KeyShot is a great tool for quickly visualizing different surfaces while I’m working on a sculpt. It often influences the direction I take with different parts of a model. I also think the layout and ease of use make it ideal for me. KeyShot takes a lot of the guess work out of the technical aspects of rendering and allows me to focus on materials, textures and lighting. KeyShot has been able to easily handle projects with hundreds of SubTools and many millions of polygons. This makes it ideal for quickly making renders of high-rez sculpts from ZBrush. I also use KeyShot for simple render passes, or the incredibly useful clown pass. I also love the label system for quickly adding decals to objects. The drag and drop setup of KeyShot has sped up my workflow and allows me to quickly turn my ideas into reality.
What advice would you give to someone interested in doing what you do?
I think a strong understanding of the fundamentals of art will always help in any creative endeavor. It’s also important to be excited to learn new things and have a desire to keep working to improve. I attended a Fine Arts school before taking some 3D courses and I found the Fine Arts program to be more useful in the long run. A good teacher can give you advice that lasts a lifetime.
Be prepared to move. So many people I’ve met in the game industry are from different places in the world. People are passionate about their work and move to the projects that they want to work on.
You need to match the current standards of whatever creative industry you are trying to enter so be prepared to put a lot of hours into learning and continual growth. The learning never stops, never stop practicing. Websites like Artstation have allowed the world to see so many amazing artists sharing their techniques and creating the most amazing pieces of art all in one spot. It’s a non stop flow of awesomeness. It’s important to stay inspired by other artists work and know where the bar is but I think it’s even more important to not get discouraged by others achievements. Try to focus on doing your own thing and creating your own voice.
Also, expose yourself to a variety of experiences, it’s important to step away from the computer and build your visual library by experiencing things. Nature is one of our best resource for inspiration. I’m continually inspired and amazed by nature, space, technology and scientific advancements. Never stop practicing and learning!