Published: 12 February, 2017
By Ali Ismail
First off, I am certainly not the best person to be giving advice, I am still Learning myself. But I am just laying out the information I know of, with any links I might find useful, in the hope that it could help a few people out there. Please take into account that my personal views will invariably influence this article, and a lot of other people will will have different experiences and advices; most importantly, your time and place are different, and you need to adapt to what you have.
What you do with this information is up to you. I have written this blog because I do receive quite a lot of E-mails from job applicants, aspiring 3D artists and fresh graduates. And quite a large portion seem to have very little information about their expected careers.
After that disclaimer gotten over with, a little background, I started my professional career right after I finished high-school at the age of 17, at year 2002. My first job was with a local architect, who saw samples of my work online, afterwards I partnered up with a friend of mine, and created couple of games which were the first of their kind in the country we lived in (This was well before game engines like Unity, my colleague Tamir Malas had to create his own game engine), Later I focused on my demoreel, and right after I finished university at the age of 22; I was hired by Lucasfilm, flew to Singapore and worked for a year, then jumped on the freelance/my own studio sort of thing where I am at today.
Before going into details or tips on what type of job or career to expect, please check the links below; Joe Harkins knows things a lot better than I do, and is very experienced, reading these posts, can also inform you about the history and how the business has changed.
I am hoping my different background or references could add some value and not be a repetition of what's already out there.
The more research, forums you check, or people in the industry you ask; the better you will be qualified to prepare for your career. Of course, it is always challenging to predict how things shift in the future, but again, I am going to just give you my own perspective.
If you have arrived to this post, I assume you are either interested in having a career in CG, maybe in knowing where to study, or perhaps you are already in the industry and are just curious.
In any case, it's important to always know why you are doing what you are doing.
"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how" Friedrich Nietzsche
If you know why you want to be a 3D Animator or character modeling artist or if you have a very strong drive; it will be a lot easier to overcome all the challenging times, and long hours of work and learning. This is in fact a very competitive career with many trying to become 3D artists of one sort or another to work on games or in place like Pixar.
Before you read what I have, you can see these 2 links, to learn more info from other sources and have a different view from mine:
And you can check my other post: How to Learn 3D Animation.
It's usually not enough to simply like a VFX or Pixar movie, or to enjoy playing video games; to dedicate your life for creating those effects or art content, there is still a long way. Maybe what you like is actually story telling or maybe you can be a pro player?
You either have been through this or are going through it now, but there is a catch 22 here, to know whether or not you like something you have to try it. But if you never tried working as a 3D artist how are you going to know if you will like it or not?
Well, maybe you can't tell for sure about the whole career thing, and you can always switch at any time, but the best thing to do is to grab a 3D software and start hammering on it, if you like it, then it's a start. If not then you can move on.
So, how can you learn to be a 3D artist? IMHO, the best way to learn 3D animation and 3D graphics is on your own but it has some drawbacks.
After experience in the real world, you notice that a University could offer things other than your vocational career, you can meet with people with similar interests and be better in social situations, and sometimes those connections can help you in your career and life.
But the main issue with 3D animation education, is usually the very low quality of tuition being given, in some occasions it is so bad that you end after 4 years with nothing to show for, and you see someone who has was self taught for a brief amount of time or took a short course in a low cost institute far better than someone who paid a considerable amount of money and spent years at a university.
1-You do not need a degree to work as a 3D artist. If your dream is to be a lawyer or a doctor you need to go to university, but if you are lucky to choose a career that doesn't need one and all the education material is widely available. then why bother?
2- Degrees are too expensive, when everything is available online for free, and some specialized material which you can purchase at a low price, why would you want to spend money on a 4 or even 2 year program.
3- The quality of education is usually not worth it, there are of course places better than others, Think Tank Training Center, Vancouver Film School, Bournemouth University and few others are alright, but you have to weigh the benefits/costs.
That being said, again please note that the good thing about universities or colleges is usually that going out in the world is better than staying at home all day long, if you go to a place which the students are actually working hard, and will be employed in your field, then these same students can be your future colleagues and send work your way.
But as we mentioned some places are actually quite bad, and they might not be even good for connecting to the CG community, since very few of them will ever work in the industry, please research the exact course, past students demo reels, and employment status.
If you must go study in some place, please check this other article I have written to advise potential future 3D artists in my locale before enrolling "Things to Watch out For Before Enrolling in an Animation Course in Jordan".
- If you need a course to make sure you actually do some learning and not play around; please feel free to do what is best for you; as long as you understand why you need it and the level of competition out there. It is extremely difficult for most people to discipline themselves to actually learn or do something meaningful on their own. So learning on your own can have its drawbacks
- Some countries do require a degree to arrange for a work permit, but I assume your biggest problem right now, is not that someone from Weta HR is desperately trying to hire you but can't bring you in, because of the degree thing, you will see below that there are other options.
-Options like Animation mentor and on-line master classes and workshops are very good, and can help you if you need training, I have seen many improve quite a lot after taking such courses and the instructors there are most likely more qualified than the university you are planning to go to and a lot cheaper.
Ok, after reading on education, I assume things might still not be clear, and rightly so; because any learning process should have a clear goal and purpose in hindsight.
But here where it's a little tricky, I could not give and maybe no one can give you a very specific advice, only some guidelines and general rules.
If you Google careers in 3D animation, you can get a set of very specific job descriptions and roles, such as 3D modeler, matte painter, compositor etc...
Things change so quickly that I am hesitant to give any formula, Job roles are so diverse that you can be very specialized or a generalist, or maybe really good at one skill with few more minor skills added to it.
But, here is what I am sure of, what ever you do, you need to be really good, I mean really really good. There is just so much competition that if all what you know is something you learned in 6 months or a year, chances are no one will even notice.
Basic skills and qualifications are a dime a dozen, to prove my point please check Fiverr 3D section. This is why it's important to level up.
You can go to job postings forums and read some of the job positions needed and see for yourself what employers need, you can also have a look at this article to have a better idea "Where to Find 3D Artists" on where to see job postings and where to publish your work. And I have another article on freelancing here: "How to Become a Freelance 3D Artist"
Below, are a few links for job postings.
Browsing through the above links, searching for more info to get articles like these: 3D Career Demystified and this excellent page by Polycount: Portfolio; would keep you up to date on what employers need.
There has been also a large number of 3D artists specializing in niches or starting a whole new specializations, again the key is to be good.
Let's give you some ideas:
-You can be working in games making 3D environment assets, or characters, or maybe doing the whole game even coding!
-You could be coloring and modifying elements together, like some fancy Photoshop but for animations (compositing).
-Maybe you will be a generalist and work in architecture.
-Make animations for offshore oil and gas companies (we do something similar) or VR content.
-Perhaps 3D scanning and recreating some dinosaurs, or working for a pharmaceutical company, 3D modeling some anatomy.
-Maybe you can be the best person who renders or models cars (We are still working on it but we we will get there eventually :) )
-How about learning a piece of software and teaching it on-line to the extent that you have a giant following and on-line store to sell videos or content?
-The best concept artist for spaceships.
-Doing motion graphics for TV stations or documentaries.
-You can be selling your 3D models or scripts online.
-Maybe doing scripts and tools that will prepare characters for animation (Rigging), or maybe a complete standalone tool that will do some things thought not possible before you showed everyone that you can! or maybe a combination of rigging and animation, or maybe, just maybe you specialize in animating armadillos!
-I can go forever, there is just so many options but you just have to be good, see whats out there and compare yourself to it, compare yourself to the very best.
As a general rule, it's always easier to establish trust with someone who lives near you or you could call or meet. Locations do make a difference, companies like to hire locally, so if you live in London, San Fransisco or Vancouver you have a lot better chances than someone living in Lahore, Beirut or Bogota.
But, if you are really really good, there is always room for you, it doesn't necessarily mean relocation while that is most certainly possible with some places easier than others. If you find your niche and you are competent in it, and generate enough interest. Things will eventually work out (hopefully :)).
I don't want to make this article longer than what it already is, we could basically write a book about this subject, interviewing people in the industry and linking all available material.
Bottom line is, try something you like, research the industry, see on-line job posts or people who are doing something you aspire doing, do more of that thing, learn more, be good at it, and then become really good, and you will be able to either land yourself a job or start your own thing.
And most importantly, my sincere apologies if I may have sounded like I know it all; because I really don't. This is what I've learned so far, and I hope to actually be following what I am preaching :)