Even though up to 90% of your screen is taken up by the environment, that area of art is often overlooked. Usually working directly with the game designers, environment artists dedicate huge amounts of thought and planning to creating environments that clearly communicate gameplay. Things like combat vs. non-combat areas, points of interest, or enemy vs. ally controlled areas, are often communicated through the environment alone. But the environment is also key to immersion and storytelling in a game, so environment artists must solve for gameplay without breaking the game’s fantasy.
In this video, the environment artists describe the process of actually building an environment—which is a huge amount of work! From planning a layout to modeling literally every tree, rock, building, prop that you see in the world, environment artists must be masters of prioritization and efficiency. They must understand that every decision is a trade off and focus on the things that are most critical to achieving the desired game experience.
Brandon Martynowicz writes about his work on What Remains of Edith Finch and storytelling through the environment.
Blizzard environment artist Michael Vicente (Orb) showcases and breaks down some of his work.
Blizzard environment artist Fanny Vergne showcases how she built a huge environment with only a few pieces!
Fanny Vergne shares some of her texture work.
The Vertex ebooks! These extremely well-crafted publications are an art community effort to compile knowledge from experts across the game industry.
Pirates of the Caribbean from the Magic Kingdom to the Movies by Jason Surrell
Dream Worlds: Production Design for Animation by Hans Bacher
"Everything I learned about Level Design, I Learned from Disneyland" A GDC talk by Scott Rogers
More technical tutorials:
Helpful Zbrush tutorial on the Noise tool.
Tutorial for making a complex shader for earth in Maya.
GDC 2016: Texturing Uncharted 4's "The Beast" Turret Truck by Christophe Desse A substance painter tutorial from Naughty Dog texture artists.