The job of a texture artist has hardly become easier since the advent of HD. Modern television panels and monitors have little sympathy for the craggy bump-maps and flickering seams that, just a few years ago, might have disappeared behind 60Hz scanlines. Modern engines have made print-standard, WYSIWYG screenshots the norm, gamers expecting perfect, porous detail at ever-earlier stages of development. From The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay to The Darkness, Starbreeze has kept its clarity under such conditions, earning a reputation for cinematic visuals that hanker for a close-up. Texture artist Carolina Dahlberg describes the challenge.
How did you get started in games?I’ve always liked games, ever since I was a child and we got a C64 in our home. But I wouldn’t say that I ever became a ‘real’ gamer. It was just one of many interests I had and still is. What really made the difference was that I loved to write stories and create worlds. Everything from grand concepts with epic stories, to details like characters and props. I drew maps, made character portraits and designed their attire, home, background and the world they lived in. My original goal was actually to become a film director.A couple of years ago I realised the potential of games in telling the same stories and creating worlds – but in a playful and immersive way that made it even more compelling. After three years at Luleå University of Technology, on the Computer Graphics programme, I got in contact with Starbreeze and did my thesis work here.
Why focus on texture work?
I’ve been drawing and painting since I was old enough to hold a pen. I am still aiming to work with concept art, but the needs in this area are often very specific, and the requirements are high. Working with textures is also very artistically challenging, but in a different way. It forces you to focus on details and materials, something that’s often missed out when you ‘just’ paint.
How much does your artistic vision have to work around the limits of the Starbreeze engine?
This is very much a question of experience. When I started working at Starbreeze, I felt extremely limited. It seemed like whatever I had visualised was impossible to create.
Later, I realised it had a lot to do with knowing the right way to do things. Sometimes, I might have to stop for a moment, think things through and start over from another angle. Working with textures and surfaces requires constant learning, experimenting and curiosity.
If I answered ‘no’ here, you’d know I was lying, right? Of course it can be frustrating, especially when you’re on a tight deadline and don’t always have the time to change things or redo them. Most of the time, though, such problems are avoided through planning and estimating the complexity and time requirements of a task before we start working on anything.
What would you consider the ideal portfolio for a budding texture artist?
Show that you are a skilled artist. Provide concrete samples of work – not just screenshots of game levels but also hi-res texture maps. But less is more. Show only samples that you are truly proud of.
How much of your skill was acquired prior to working at Starbreeze?
The really strange thing is, I’d done no level texturing whatsoever when I came to Starbreeze. My original plan had been to get into concept art. With level texturing – especially the type of highly detailed textures that Starbreeze use – I was a complete noob! But I was already used to working with the programs required, and I proved my ability to quickly learn new skills and software.
What software, specifically?
As a texture artist, I work mainly with Maya and Photoshop. I then import the raw textures into the Starbreeze Engine tool, Ogier, and start working with the surface set-up. There are a million settings to try out here, and the challenge is to make it optimal for every material. Something a texture artist can’t live without is a good photo stock to get raw material to work with. Starbreeze has a huge texture library for this purpose.
A tricky thing is to know what you are allowed to imitate. There’s a paradox: our work is to create realistic materials and environments, but if we use the wrong reference for a texture there’s a risk of copyright infringement. It is sad to see this development in the industry, but it’s something we must pay attention to.
Carolina Dahlberg. (September 27, 2008). Career Profile: The Texture Artist. Available: http://www.edge-online.com/features/career-profile-texture-artist/. Last accessed 04/02/2015.