We talk to Martin Teichmann, one of the latest talents recruited by Naughty Dog to join the Triple-A games studio in Los Angeles. We chat software, technology, best advice, and starting out small
Martin Teichmann is one of the newest talents to join Naughty Dog Inc in Los Angeles. Having started his career as a videogame artist back in 2007 - something he did around his lectures - he worked as part of a small team in these early days. It was later that he landed his first gig working full-time for a larger company located in Frankfurt - this time contributing to a role-playing game. In 2010, things got a little more serious. "I got the chance to start my Triple-A career at Crytek," Martin explains. "I was part of the development team for Crysis 2 and Crysis 3." Not stopping there, he later moved overseas to London, to join Rocksteady in 2013. And now? Los Angeles!
We chat to Martin to find out more about his background in the industry, what his work has entailed, and what advice he has for others who want to follow in his footsteps.
3dt: Tell us about your role as an Environment Artist? What's a typical day like in this role?
MT: As an Environment Artist I basically create all sorts of locations like interiors, landscapes, buildings and so on. This includes asset production such as modeling, texturing, and material setups, as well as placement in the levels, scene composition and lighting. Levels need to be efficient to make sure the game runs smoothly on the consoles, so I spend time also doing optimization tasks. This is especially the case later in the production, and these tasks eat away more and more time from my daily work.
"I feel a bit like a rock star. For a long time it was my dream to be a part of this industry and I was working hard to get to where I am now"
3dt: What made you specialize in environments? And why videogames over the other entertainment industries?
MT: When I was a child I wanted to become an architect. Later I found my love for videogames, so it was the perfect match for me to focus on the environment creation. I can simply create what I want and later I can walk, run, and jump around inside the worlds I create. That's really fascinating - and it's actually the main reason why I prefer game art over other forms, like movies or print.
Games need to run in real-time so it will always be a compromise between performance and quality, but, the idea that every player can explore your artwork by themselves, find secrets or admire details or vistas you created for them - it's just too cool!
3dt: How does it feel to be a part of the games industry as an artist? Was it all you hoped it would be? How does it compare to your student dreams?
MT: To be honest, I feel a bit like a rock star. For a long time it was my dream to be a part of this industry and I was working hard to get to where I am now. Looking back, it's just insane to really do what I imagined to do when I was a teenager. I think in my student - or even in my school days - I always imagined game development would be more about playing your game and developing a game for yourself. It is actually more work than I was imagining it back then. Sometimes it can be a bit frustrating if you have to do the same puzzle a dozen times just to check if a light turns on at the right moment you were planning it; nevertheless, it's still great fun! It's just hard work as well.
"One tool I recently started loving is World Machine. It's a node based procedural terrain/landscape generator that's extremely powerful"
What software do you use on a daily basis for your environment work? Can you briefly tell us why these are your tools of choice?
MT: For my daily work I am using 3ds Max, Photoshop, and the Unreal Engine Editor. They're quite standard tools for the games industry. ZBrush is also part of my pipeline. A while back in my career I was working with Maya and I still prefer it over 3ds Max simply because I like the interface better. In general I have to say that all these tools are relatively similar.
In the end, what matters most is what you feel comfortable with. One tool I recently started loving is World Machine. It's a node based procedural terrain/landscape generator that's extremely powerful. Just playing around with it is great fun.
3dt: How do you feel technology is changing the way videogames are produced on the artist side of things? Have there been any notable changes since you joined the games industry?
MT: I think real-time gets more and more important, even in traditional render CGI fields. The possibility to change the light color and instantly see the results improves the production speed so much. Game art, I think, will be growing in terms of quality but I am not so sure if the steps will be as big as they were in the last console generation.
The visual quality of modern games simply reached a level where the majority of players are very happy with the graphics. My hope is that we will reach a hardware level someday where lots of the work the art team has to do, like baking normal maps or faking global illumination, will be done by the hardware in real-time. So the focus will shift even more to an artistic - and away from the technically - driven approaches.
It's also worth to mention the change of real-time graphics towards physically based rendering. Better materials and consistency is helping the artist a lot. Also with Quixels DDO and the Substance tools a lot of new software is released which is changing the work pipeline significantly.
What has been the most rewarding project that you have worked on so far, and can you tell us why you feel this way about it?
MT: I have to say every project I was working on was very rewarding. It's really hard to pick a specific one as all of them had their unique challenges and I've learned a lot from all of them. But there was one game I probably enjoyed most working for: the action game, Venetica. I was new to the games industry then, and that was my first big project. It was a great time, loads to learn, and basically opened the doors for me to get me where I am now!
"A passion for games is key, I think. Also, loving to create games. They're two
3dt: Where do you see your future in CGI? Do you want to stay in games? Can you share some of your goals and hopes for the future?
MT: I think I'd like to stay in games. The industry is changing quite a bit. The new console generation offers a lot of possibilities for game artists.
I can see myself trying out another field in the CGI industry. Perhaps being a pre-visualization artist for motion pictures could be challenging. They have already started using game technologies during their productions. This is definitely a very interesting field and I'm looking forward to the next upcoming projects.
3dt: What advice would you give other artists who like to join the games industry?
MT: A passion for games is key, I think. Also, loving to create games. They're two different things. You spend a lot of your time on game design changes and dealing with hardware limitations. This will affect your work but it's also a great challenge. I think, when you have an eye for art and an interest in how games should work, then that's the perfect mix!