I get a LOT of questions at my graphics company from people who are either interested in getting into the 3D industry for a career or at least personally as a hobby. There are a lot of important things to know and I wanted to shed my own opinions on this.
First the career angle.
Now, I’m not trying to discourage everyone here from getting into 3D. I personally love it, and get a lot of enjoyment in the artwork and graphics I deliver to many happy clients and of course my own personal work. However, there seems to be a lot of people simply thinking 3D would be such a great career and so enjoyable and all they have to do is create some cool 3D stuff. Wrong!
3D is a tough career. Its a cut throat business, has many many different skill and styles available and is extremely competitive and for the most part, does not pay all that impressively. Wow, seems a little more dreary now doesn’t it? Don’t worry, lots of upsides. Work is always a downer in some ways, and the 3D world is still work you realize? Right, moving on. I constantly get asked as well what schools and courses I recommend for people to take and specifically which schools I see the best candidates from. Well, quite frankly, I don’t see any schools or programs consistently delivering better artists than the others. I believe it is nearly entirely based on the talents and determination of each individual, not the school or courses they took. So, I honestly don’t recommend any particular school or courses. It depends more on what you want to do and what you already know. If you want to do character modeling, study anatomy. If you want to master lighting, study real world sets, photography and filming. If animation is your thing, then learn from cartoons and master the art of story telling with minimal details in your models. A great animator can bring a pencil to life. So, you need to find what you are most interested in. If you don’t know, then often some general courses for 3D animation and modeling might help spark the interest, but I’d recommend you find this out on your own as a hobbiest instead of wasting your money on something you don’t even know you like yet. Explore it on your own and if you like it then do some research on various programs available to determine if they are what you need to expand your knowledge. Everyone learns differently as well, some need to be taught, some learn on there own and some just can’t learn certain skills well at all. Depending on how you learn, you need to decide if school is right for that or self study and hard work. You definitely don’t NEED to have formal education to get into 3D, but it can certainly help. No matter what, the skills need to be there though, the education itself will NOT get you a job.
As for the big picture for the career, if you don’t absolutely LOVE the idea of working in the 3D industry, then don’t bother pursuing any further, just skip down to the 3D as a Hobby section below. You have to have a really strong desire and determination to get good and be successful, since there is so much competition. So, a career in 3D has many paths. There are animators, lighters, character animators, riggers, real time model experts, texture artists, special f/x 3D artist, motion capture animators, and all the related aspects like 3D compositors, technical directors, cinematographers, 3D matte painters, and the list goes on.
If you know specifically what kind of job you are after, you probably already know which of those is most interested to you. If not, then you need to find out or be in a world of knowing a little about a lot of things. Not many companies are looking for those type of 3D artists. There are some production companies and a number of great broadcast based jobs that need a well rounded 3D artist to handle everything from the modeling to the editing but this is certainly more rare.
As hinted, most companies look for artists with specific talents and skills for what they need. It is wise to specialize in just a select few of these and preferably the most closely related ones. This will allow you to focus your skills and master a specific area. You will then be able to show an exceptional portfolio, instead of a mediocre (or bad) one, like the vast majority of new grads and entry level artists.
Finding those First Few Jobs
Resumes get you interviews and interviews get you jobs in the normal business world. Well in 3D, your portfolio gets you interviews AND jobs. Of course, a bad interview can still take that job opportunity away but generally, the portfolio is your best friend and is all a hiring company really cares about when screening applicants. So, it cannot be good, it must be great!
See my upcoming article named, Developing a Great 3D Portfolio for guidelines on how to do this. Once you have your portfolio built, you can start looking for that perfect job. There are so many places to go about doing this, I’m simply going to list some options without any specifics since you need to target the areas looking for your skill set and type of portfolio.
- Traditional Job search tools like classifieds, job boards specific company web sites, etc. Target your postings for specific jobs.
- Online job boards and search sites with specifically for finding and filling jobs.
- Online job sites specific to the industry you are looking for.
- Online portfolio sites like linked in and other network building sites.
- Community sites and forums for 3D content, applications and artists. These can help you build a lot of connections around a specific area of 3D.
3D as a Hobby
So maybe a full time job in 3D isn’t your thing or your simply not sure of it yet. Well, then 3D as a hobby is a great thing to get into. Its fun and there are some absolutely amazing artists to learn from online! A numbers of great online communities for artists exist both for styles of 3D and for 3D related to specific applications. You get to create anything that comes to your mind and you can express yourself in your own unique way!
The image at the right is an image from a scene I’ve created simply for fun in 3D. I’ll fully animate it next and I can truly tell you its been a joy to make it. Lots of work as well, but a joy! So, you’ll need to decide what software you want to use for 3D and what you want to do with it. I do all my work in the impressive 3D package called modo 301, and still a few of my more difficult animation tasks in Lightwave 3D, an older package but still a great contender for general 3D graphics. Other commercial packages include Maya, XSI and 3D Studio. There are some entry level free applications available as well to get you started. Blender 3D is an great open source package with an amazing feature set and good community. Also, there is DAZ Studio and of course always google sketchup.
Either way you look at 3D, its fun to create anything in your imagination, just keep in mind its a tough industry and requires a LOT of learning to master. Take a look at the commercial trial versions available or some of the free packages, both will give you a good glimpse into the 3D artists life and will let you also determine where your interests are, whether it really as a career option or as a hobby.