by Pamela Park

Expansive Horizons

How Nick Hiatt Creates Worlds for the Entertainment Industry

Multidisciplinary artist and art director, Nick Hiatt, has a special superpower: world building. You may have seen his fantastic landscapes in some of the popular films and games he’s created including the ones in Star Wars, Thor, Star Trek, Destiny, Call of Duty, Halo and Lord of the Rings.

“I really loved to draw, even as a little kid. As soon as I got my first computer I knew I that I somehow wanted to create art on it. When I got my first Wacom I knew that I actually could make art on my computer.”

Nick began his career as a visual effects artist for studios such as Disney, Bad Robot, Digital Domain, and Sony Imageworks, and steadily added concept art, matte painting, 3D environment creation and art direction to his creative repertoire. He’s currently the owner of Bang Bang FX, a Culver City, CA studio, and has recently launched The Terrain Domain, a company that sells premium 3D terrain scans for film, game and television productions. 

We’re not kidding about Nick’s superpower in designing environments, and asked him how he creates his signature style. Nick uses a Wacom Cintiq for all his content creation and extols the device: “When I bought my first Cintiq it gave me the ability to draw directly on my screen and it was a game changer for me. My Cintiq not only allows me to create faster, it allows me to do it in an intuitive way that feels natural as an artist.”
Here is an overview of Nick’s creative process for environment design:

1. I typically start off with thumbnail sketches and evolve my favorite one into a color key that sets up the variables of my painting such as time of day, materials, etc.

step 1
2. Once I have all of those variables locked down, I start from the background and work my way forward. 

Step 2
3. I usually start with the sky. It is the soul of an image, and sets the time of day, lighting and weather of the scene.

Step 3
4. Then I lay out the terrain and environment details, followed by any FX such as cloud cover, mist, or smoke.

Step 4
5. Next, I add the main subjects such as characters that are critical to the story.

step 5
6. Once I have all of the elements in my scene, I integrate the lighting, cast shadows, and other details that seat these elements into the scene.

Step 6
7. Throughout this process, I flip my canvas both horizontally and vertically to get a new take on the image and check lighting, composition etc.


8. When all of the dots have been connected, and the puzzle has now taken shape, it’s time for the final polish so the image can be shared with the world. 

External Links


Terrain Domain


Art Station 



Nick Hiatt is Owner of Bang Bang FX, a Culver City, CA studio specializing in concept art, matte painting, and 3d environments. Nick has just launched The Terrain Domain, a company that sells premium 3D terrain scans for films, games and television productions. 
Go to The Terrain Domain and get a free 3D terrain scan to use on your next project.