Meet The Artist :: Dave Baldwin

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  02 February 2014
Meet The Artist :: Dave Baldwin

(Above Image - Shambhala from Uncharted 2)

Meet Dave Baldwin, our second guest artist for February. Dave's an Environment Artist at Naughty Dog, where he's worked on environments for UnCharted 2, 3 and The Last of Us. He's also our CGWorkshops instructor - he teaches the 8 week, online Environment Modelling for Games which starts in April.

This week, Dave's here to talk us through a little of his life and work. You can ask him questions in this thread by replying to this post, or you can log in this Saturday 1st March at 3:30pm PST to our free, live webinar . (Here is a timezone converter if you're not sure what time that is in your part of the world). You'll need to register first.

When asked about his role at Naughty Dog, Dave replies, "I'm in charge of modeling levels and props in the game's environment. I'm also partly responsible for framerate and visual playability of a level. What's my average day like? Well, there is no real average day! My role changes slightly as a project progresses, from concept to the final burn of a gold master disk. At the start of a project I do a lot of experimental modeling (pushing poly limits etc) I also script small tools I will end up needing to specifically help me once in production."

(Above image - Uncharted 2, Temple)

Once in full production, Dave's usually busy trying to flesh out the environments and making changes to them as gameplay design changes, as well as setting up working collisions and other technical aspects of the levels. Towards the end, he says, "I'm mainly concerned with frame rate and bug fixes, as well as adding the last bit of detail to the levels (cow bell) making them feel that much more rich and fun to explore."

(Above Image - Uncharted 3, Cruise Ship Interior)

We asked Dave how he got his break, and what got him into environments. "I started modeling environments at my first job while working for Sigil Games Online on the game Vanguard Saga of Heroes," he explains. "I have always had a passion for games - as my mother would remind me by saying if I spent as much time on my school work as I did playing games I'd have straight A's! But starting out off after college I was looking for any 3D art job in both film and games. I was able to get my foot in the door with a reference and recommendation from a college friend (Nathan Brock) who had been hired on as a character artist."

(Above Image - Uncharted 3, Temple Interior)

It's always good for aspiring artists to know what advice our featured artists have for those just starting their careers, so we made sure we asked Dave. His response: "General advice I would give to someone just starting in the industry... I think the first and one of the harder lessons I had to learn was to detach your emotions from your art, but use them while making it. This advice stems from the fact that art does not make a game good or bad, just beautiful or ugly, so if it needs to change to make the game fun it needs to change no matter how much you put your heart and soul into a piece."

Please make Dave feel welcome by asking him any question you like in the thread here - he'll log in this week several times to answer you. And don't forget to sign up to the free webinar on Saturday!
  02 February 2014

What helped you most to develop your skills as an artist? College or your first work? Am guessing college mostly, so my next question would be which college did you attend to acquire these skills. Because they 're simply insane! Haha.

Last edited by Nightmare106 : 02 February 2014 at 02:48 PM.
  02 February 2014
First off thank you very much and that is a good question... I attended Savannah College of Art and Design, in Savannah GA. (SCAD). College was great for helping me lay down and sharpen my understanding of art fundamentals. Things like negative and positive space, using lines to convey emotions, how to draw, etc. But i found that only the small group of people, the ones who were in the computer lab as often as they could be were the ones to landed jobs in the CG field.

This was my demo reel from the end of College 10 years ago....

(The B-17 was my first real model in Maya)

But then my professional career has taught me everything that now allow me to make fictional environments come to life. Subtle things like the difference between what I think looks good and what a player thinks looks good. How to make it technically sound, by having it work with in constraints of frame rate, poly count, and memory. Along with what makes LODs and collision good. It's not all glamorous skills but it's what lets my work stand out.
- Z I N G E -
  02 February 2014

Hi Dave. I'm currently playing through Last Of Us and am continually floored by the world you and the artists created, truly inspiring stuff. This brings me to my question. I have been in the games industry for several years working primarily as a character modeller. However, in these current times, losing a gig is a very real and unfortunately common thing. I'm curious how you would recommend a "character guy" learn the ropes for the opportunity to move into level art, I feel I need to broaden my abilities, and have always been intrigued by what it would be like todo a level. Is the course you teach good starter for someone like me or do I need to have a clue on how level art works?

Any thoughts are welcome!
Take care
  02 February 2014
Well my workshop is great for some one like you. I go over basic game play concepts. Mainly related to the "on rails" story driven games I'm used to working on. I'm sure I'll also go over some things you already know, but you may learn a different way of doing it.

The people I see that get the most out of the workshop ask tons of questions and are open to ideas that may differ from their own. If you can you should stop by my free webinar this Saturday, I'm planing to show some student work from past classes.

Aside from my workshop I would try to get involved in game modding groups. Or just try to build a small game on your own from the ground up. (SMALL being the main word there) And above all else practice your craft!

As for the industry I know what you mean about it being hit and miss for steady jobs. My first studio closed down and it was very sad. Its the main reason my wife and I rent still. So we can be as agile as the industry is wild.
- Z I N G E -

Last edited by Zinge : 02 February 2014 at 02:38 PM.
  02 February 2014
Hello Dave, thanks for taking the time to chat with us.

I am currently in a class on environment modelling and as part of that we have to create a fully fleshed out environment.

What I would like to know is how would you go about balancing the narrative, the mood and the theme. I am planning on creating a modern space station with some futuristic/fantasy elements. Any suggestions to help me wow my tutor would be greatly appreciated.

  03 March 2014

From what I know balancing the narrative, mood and theme they are things that you should be thinking about before any modeling happens. As these are essentially the wells you will draw from to help flesh out a level. Look for real life reference as much as you can. Try to base your world on something anyone playing the game could relate to... then add bit of things more fantastical. Like for instance a row of normal one story houses in a neighborhood. But they have large cannons on the rooftops.. as if the residents are constantly shelling the adjacent neighborhood. In that idea you have the homes that most people can know and understand, then the fantastical element of large guns that would only make sense in the context of the proper narrative.

Make sure to ground the environment in reality before adding more fun things to it. So by looking and using lots of reference photos you can help to keep most elements feeling familiar to the player.

With out knowing anything about the class, I would make sure to ask what restrictions do you have in terms of hardware.. like are you making it for phones? PC? X-Box? PlayStation? And be sure to work with a game engines strengths, and not it's weaknesses. So if it's good at lighting / shaders ... try to model for that, and not for something its not as good at like say physics.

I hope that helps you out a bit.
- Z I N G E -
  03 March 2014
Did you miss our live Q & A with Dave Baldwin?

Here's the recording. Enjoy

  09 September 2015
I really enjoy your work.
I would like to know which software packages you use to create your work?
And on average how long does it take to create an epic scene like that?

Last edited by mulley96 : 09 September 2015 at 08:47 AM.
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