Brewing Magic with Jennifer's 'Potion Bazaar' Portfolio PieceJul 13, 2023
We got a chance to catch up with Jennifer Castro, a super talented student from Game Arts Academy who recently brought to life the spectacular environment, "Charming Gateway to the Potion Bazaar". She's going to give us the lowdown on everything from how she got inspired to start this project, her deep dive into the design process, overcoming the hurdles, to the rewarding feeling of sharing her completed work. Jennifer's journey will give you a peek behind the scenes of creating stunning game art.
You can find Jennifer's portfolio on Artstation HERE
Q : Can you briefly describe the stylized environment you created in Unreal Engine?
A: So, I wanted to create a style that was similar to the likes of Blizzard and Riot games, mostly because my art is inspired by them, at least for 3D. I wanted to create the rounded edges, the cuts and all that detail, similar to the style that they use in their games.
Q: What was your inspiration behind this particular piece?
A: Role-playing games like RPGs, fantasy, and action. I personally love playing games like Xenoblade, Pokemon, all those types of colourful styles. I also like MMORPGs, like World of Warcraft. I used to play World of Warcraft but currently, I'm into Final Fantasy 14. I just really wanted to make an environment where I would say, "Hey, this could be a level in one of those games." I wanted to replicate something that inspired me.
Q: Can you walk us through the design process for this project?
A: For planning, I looked up artists on ArtStation who currently work at companies that I've been aiming for. For example, I looked up artists who worked on Blizzard games, Riot games, and even styles that are similar to that. I created a mood board where I gathered real-life images of the lighting I wanted, the models I wanted to create, all the props, and even the environment. So I put it all together in a reference piece so I could have that as a point of reference every time I come back to it during my project. I started with blocking out in Maya, then exported to Unreal Engine. Then I went back to Maya to individually model the props and so on and so forth. I learned and applied new tools and techniques while working on this project. I mostly referenced the videos on Game Arts Academy
Q: What about Feedback? Where did you get it?
A: I went and got feedback from colleagues who also do 3D work. Every time I encountered any issues, especially with Unreal Engine that I was very unfamiliar with, I Googled it, and used Discord channels where people mainly focus on 3D to ask any questions if I got stuck. I also asked my fellow boot camp colleagues on Discord for any quick questions I needed answers to.
Q: I noticed you use ZBrush quite a lot in your process. Can you talk a little bit about your ZBrush workflow for a cartoon environment?
A: ZBrush definitely enhanced the stylized look, for instance, I know most people would use Maya for realistic design, and then go into ZBrush to create small details and bevel the edges. For stylized design, you need to make everything a lot more rounded, almost cartoonish in appearance. I had to go in on every edge, bevel it, and even add cracks. For stone textures, I had to flatten those out to make it similar to, say, the World of Warcraft style so that it looks chunky and less realistic.
Lighting the Scene:
Q: Can you talk a little bit about lighting? What were some of the challenges with lighting? How many lighting passes did you do? And how did you come to the final look of the lighting?
A: I think I did about 8 or 10 lighting passes because I was unhappy with the afternoon lighting. I originally wanted to do an afternoon light, like a 1 or 2 p.m., with a blue sky reflecting off the walls, but I wasn't too happy about how it looked reflecting off the textures I created. So, I went with a sunset light instead. I had to keep adjusting the time of day to see how it would look, and also had to adjust the textures a little bit, because I noticed that the color of the sun changed how the textures looked originally. It was a difficult learning curve because I hadn't had much experience with lighting before. Especially when dealing with a LUT in post-processing, but I think just going through every single pass, going through light post-processing, and changing it constantly throughout the project gave me the best results I wanted.
Q: How long would you say the whole project took you in total?
A: I would say about 5 to 6 months. I took frequent breaks after the boot camp ended for personal reasons, and also because I wasn't sure if this was the career path I wanted to pursue. Eventually, this year, I decided that I had to get this done. So, I sat down for about 2 to 3 weeks to actually go ahead and finish the project.
"There were times when I felt so stuck that I wanted to quit the project and I even spoke to my family about it. But then I thought about the end goal like being able to add this to my portfolio and being able to say, "Hey, I did this," to everybody"
Q: Can you share one or two challenging moments during the creation process and how you tackled them?
A: I got stuck the most during the last 80% like the post-processing, adding the decals, making sure the lighting was set up, and adding any extra animations or effects I wanted to do. There were times when I felt so stuck that I wanted to quit the project and I even spoke to my family about it. But then I thought about the end goal like being able to add this to my portfolio and being able to say, "Hey, I did this," to everybody. I decided to work through the obstacles and overcome my hardships even though I got stuck.
The Game Arts Academy Environment Art Bootcamp
Q: How did the collaborative nature of the boot camp impact your learning and creation process?
A: It helped a lot, especially since others had more experience. Being able to have that quick lifeline during the process of asking questions on things that I was unfamiliar with was great. Even getting feedback from everybody was helpful because sometimes you're working for hours on projects and you don't notice an error until somebody brings it up. The feedback I received from the other boot camp participants was great and everybody was really friendly and welcoming.
"Don't beat yourself up if you feel like it's not coming out great. It's a process, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon, so take your time with it and don't rush it."
Reflections and the Path Ahead
Q: So, what's the next step for you now that you've completed this environment?
A: I'm currently I'm going to be applying for more 3D jobs but I'm also going to be working on completing three more pieces and posting on social media to get my name out there.
Q: Looking back at your environment and having gone through the entire creation process and learning all the necessary steps to complete a game art, if you were to start over, what would you do differently?
A: I would say don't try to make it too large. Initially, I wanted to make an entire room and then another room. I think my expectations were a bit too high so I decided to cut down what I wanted to do in the first place. It's better to start big and then cut down from there.
Q: We have a lot of students that are going through the exact same process that you were going through. Undoubtedly, they're facing some of the same challenges, such as working on this project for a long time and getting bored and sick of looking at it. What advice would you give to people who are in that period of struggle?
A: I would say talk to a friend or family member that you trust and see what they say about your current work. Share it with other people that you care about and get feedback. Maybe even take constant breaks if you feel stuck, engage in a fun hobby that you like, or even take a day off. I always tell myself when I'm stuck that even if I work for half an hour or an hour a day on the project, it's better than spending no time on it. Don't beat yourself up if you feel like it's not coming out great. It's a process, it's not a sprint, it's a marathon, so take your time with it and don't rush it. I know it's going to be difficult to get through those hurdles but I have felt the same way during this boot camp and I want to say that you can do it.
"It definitely blew up in ways I did not expect. I was betting on probably like a hundred likes or so but currently, it's sitting at 2K."
Q: I noticed that when you completed this portfolio, you put it on LinkedIn and it got a lot of really positive reactions from people. How would you say your success story of sharing the completion of this piece influenced your peers or your network?
A: It definitely blew up in ways I did not expect. I was betting on probably like a hundred likes or so but currently, it's sitting at 2K. It definitely expanded my network a lot more because I received many connection requests. In the first month or so, every day, someone would ask to connect with me. Once I started posting more on LinkedIn, I got connections from people in actual game studios. When I also posted on Twitter, it got a lot of traction as well. The reaction was larger than I expected but it was great.
Q: Are there any resources either from the GAA Boot Camp or elsewhere that you found valuable and would like to share with an aspiring environment artist?
A: The entire process of learning the game arts process was valuable because my school did not give me any background information about how the process went. I would say all of the information, especially in the extra resources, helped a lot. Even having access to the Game Arts Academy Bootcamp videos, I still occasionally look back if I get stuck, especially with decals because I had no previous experience with making decals in Unreal. I would go back and rewatch them and create my own again. I think the entire resources of that academy helped a lot.
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