It’s been a long time since our last Wushu Roundtable. We love to highlight our awesome team members and show appreciation for the craft here at Wushu. In this week’s session, we sat down with Senior Environment Artist Mark Hurd, a veteran from games like Wipeout 2048, 007: Bloodstone, Super Stardust and others and talked about his start in games, career highlights, and even discovered some culinary roots!
We hope you enjoy!
Hi Mark! Thanks for joining us in this edition of Wushu Roundtable.
Hi there, no problem! I’m intrigued what the questions will be!
How have you been doing these last six months through COVID and working from home?
I’ve been okay, apart from when the schools were closed – that was bad! I’m lucky to live near the Peaks so I have lots of open space. I started running again a few times a week which has helped to combat some of the frustration caused by lockdown. I also built a home office in the back of my garage before starting at Wushu which has made a huge difference to my mental health. Last year I was working in the corner of my bedroom.
That’s great to hear. Keeping yourself active is super important, especially now. So, to rewind the clock a bit, you first started studying art at Canterbury College. Did you always want to go into art growing up?
I was always drawing as a child and thought I would be an artist. I was actually training to be a chef at Canterbury, I couldn’t afford to take art so, encouraged by my parents, I chose a course with funding. Being a full-time student already, I found out that I was eligible to take evening classes for free. I took life drawing classes, lots of them, and painted on canvasses at home. Then I took A-level art. I did work as a chef and had a successful career working at the Ritz Hotel and as an event chef at Wimbledon and Man United. It came in handy when I decided pack it all in and do a degree in animation, as I had a well-paid student job.
Wow! We’ll keep that in mind for the next company cookout! What made you veer towards environment art in particular?
Initially, it was a way into the industry as my 2D skills were better than my 3D. At that time I had been working as an offline editor and motion graphics artist after graduating. I knew 3D from logo work but it had a steep learning curve and most of the detail was in texture work back then. Then I grew to love the variety within environment art. There was a new challenge every day. Working in a team suited me after years of working in kitchens. Knowing that people spend hours exploring the world you have helped to build is a great feeling.
What makes environment art different than other forms of art? The differences between that and, for example, illustrating characters are obvious of course. But are there ideas, techniques, or approaches to environments that makes it unique?
I guess it’s the broadness of tasks. In a lot of ways, the process is similar – creative processes are iterative. I suppose the biggest difference for environments is you can’t be precious. You can build something exactly as the Art Director wants, only to find it doesn’t work for gameplay. We also must start from a blank canvas, which can usually be scary. To get past this we grey box levels, working out the scale and detail needed in the final props. There are many constraints to building levels, so crafting a level that works stylistically, is fun to play and runs in-frame can be a challenge but very rewarding when achieved.
Do you dabble in other types or foresee yourself experimenting with others?
Oh yeah – video editing, sound editing, rendering, digital sculpting, and some digital speed painting. I would like to improve sculpting characters and learning Marvelous Designer for faster outfits. I was freelance for a while so I have done pretty much anything needed, but you can’t compete with the specialists so I mainly stick to environments!
You’ve worked on quite a few games over the years between Blur, 007: Bloodstone, Wipeout 2048 and more. Was there a highlight in your career that sticks out?
I’ve enjoyed everywhere I have worked and always find an aspect of the project enjoyable. To me, it’s the people I work alongside that makes the biggest difference! Saying that, there have been stand out moments. Working at Bizarre Creations and being part of an amazing creative team at a massive studio was a “wow” moment, as was helping to make Wipeout 2048 at Studio Liverpool. It was wonderful to work on such an epic franchise with another great team who let me have creative input.
Making Super Stardust Ultra, which was based on the Housemarque original Stardust HD was another one. I remember this because, being a game built for PlayStation VR, all the art needed remaking and for most of the project, I was the only artist. I had a great time sculpting new planets in Zbrush and problem solving the levels of complexity for level stages, and again the team at D3T were great to work with. There were only six coders, with me as a freelance artist. I remember lots of jokes and funny stories being told.
What programs would you say are integral to mastering environmental art? What do you use on a daily basis?
I used to live in Maya or Max but now spend more time in level editors, like Unity or Unreal. It varies greatly depending on the type of game you’re making. Of course the 3D software Maya, Max or in some studios Blender are common, and don’t forget Zbrush for sculpting, and Substance Painter and Photoshop for texture painting. You need a good base knowledge of software so you can pick up software and tools as needed.
What kind of advice would you give to students or environment artists starting on their career paths? How and where should they focus their time?
Focus is a big problem in the beginning. I wanted to know everything when I started out, but that enthusiasm needs to be focused. It’s good to know a bit about everything but you need to master skills that are useful to land your first job in the industry. Research companies you are interested in and make work suited to their style. I went to games conferences in London with my portfolio before I landed my first job at Juice Games. The feedback I received from companies like EA and others were all the same. They wanted to know what kind of artist I wanted to be just by glancing at my portfolio.
And as is customary in our roundtables, we love to end on a fun note. Is there a game out there whose environment art made you think “How in the world did they pull this off?”. Something that made you appreciate the hard work and craftsmanship that goes into it?
That’s most games! Some that stand out are Resident Evil (Wii), it looked great at the time, even though it was such an under-powered console relatively speaking. Spider-Man (PS4) is another one. The amount of work that went into creating New York with that level of detail! The game I have referenced the most though has been Uncharted – detailed worlds and set pieces, mixed with fantastic lighting and post-processing set this series apart from many other games.
Mark, thanks so much for taking out of your busy day for a chat!
No problem! Hopefully my answers don’t make me look like a MAD MAN!