Levi Gajdos: Senior Environment Artist Interview
Senior Environment Artist at Treehouse Ninjas, Levi Gajados tells us all about working on environments for “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus,” some of the technological wizardry going on at the studio, and offers some brilliant advice about getting into the industry…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you, what do you do, and where are you located?
My name is Levi. I’ve been working for about ten years in the movie industry and I live in Budapest. I worked at different studios and covered different roles, eventually becoming an environment generalist. In my spare time I enjoy running marathons, scuba diving, and sometimes I also hunt bears with bare hands.
Tell us about Treehouse Ninjas. When did you get on board with the company? What’s it like working there? And where does the name come from?
Treehouse Ninjas is a young (but asskicking) studio, we make mainly environment and non-character work for games, movies and VR but, as we grow, we’re looking into being a full service provider.
It was founded about a year ago by two movie and game industry veterans, Mauro Frau and Zoltan Pocza. I joined them from day one, because I always was interested in expanding my skillset and diversify the types of projects I work on, looking into games, VR and mixing new media. Given the solid background of the founders, I knew whatever we would do, would have been good. And as a matter of fact, we’re successful, I’d never regret the choice of joining this, we have a great team, made by plain good people. It’s an inspiring working environment, with good projects and a bullshit-free attitude.
The ‘Treehouse’ part of the name comes from the playful and welcoming environment that we want to keep here, while the ‘Ninja’ factor means we’re serious professional and we’re able to provide acrobatic performances to our clients (we’re software agnostic and flexible generalists). Basically; we like playing, but seriously!
The founders of Treehouse Ninjas have a solid list of delivered titles under their belts.
Treehouse Ninjas first project was working on Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, tell us about your work on that.
We started by chatting with our friends at Machinegames, went to Sweden to meet them and got in charge of the ending level of the game (a TV Studio environment.) After completing the work on that one, we took responsibility over a few more sections of the game (the destroyed Manhattan Subway and the Venus Station,) supporting Machinegames until the final delivery. I personally did a bit of everything, from hero assets, to secondary ones, general environment layout and assembly, plus a lot of look development and some material workflow streamlining for the team.
What software and tools did the team use to create the assets for Wolfenstein II?
Can you talk about the company’s workflow for the project; how did it all come together?
As an outsource company our goal was to provide Machinegames with full game-ready environments that would go into their own technology without them having to tweak anything. On Wolfenstein II we didn’t have the chance to get the game engine on site so we developed a custom workflow to assemble and compose the environments here and deliver them in a streamlined way that was easy and automatic.
The core idea came from our creative director, Mauro Frau. He developed a custom set of tools to assemble, disassemble, and manage environments storing the transformation data into a text-based .THN file format (named after TreeHouseNinjas) which contained all the positional and instancing information of each asset. So we were able to build our environments in a very scalable way, by taking advantage of Modo’s Python API, keeping the scene organized, importing, placing, storing and refreshing the external THN files. The guys at MachineGames reverse engineered a way to read the .THN format back into their level editor, so then we could ship packages of [mesh file] + [thn file], that paired together would build the environment by distributing and parenting all assets and their instances in place.
In the end, we would base our work over the level blockout received from Machinegames, build a first pass breakdown of the sectors we needed, break those sectors down further into assets and sub-assets, layout the environment inside of Modo and then start the asset work (modeling, sculpting, baking, texturing...)
The primary path of the player through the TV Studio