How To Become a Freelance 3D Artist

By Ali Ismail,

Sections

- Advice

- Freelancing Locally

- Freelancing Remotely

Introduction

There are a lot of freelancers in the digital world, and most 3D artists have experience in freelancing either full-time or on the side.

I will try to redirect you to as many resources and links on the subject as possible, because by no means will I call myself an expert! I have been freelancing/running Ebal Studios for quite some time now, and I have fallen into too many pitfalls, I am still learning and hustling myself :) but this article will include whatever precious little I have learned so far.

If you are just starting out and would like to learn more about becoming a 3D artist please visit: 3D Animation Careers and Education.

Advice

Freelancing in any field requires that you first have solid experience and established some connections. This experience can be the result of working in a job or industry for many years.

Or it sometimes happens that you have done something even if small, that is actually starting to sell and is on demand and you are welling to take a risk on it! Many successful businesses have started by making good use of such opportunities.

But freelancing is most certainly not for someone who only has very basic knowledge with little or no market experience. Although I do not like to exclude anything, maybe you start doing something totally wrong (like me!) but as you go, you keep learning and you spend years improving until you nail it right (I hope :) ):

"If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise." William Blake

You can listen to advice repeated by many 3D industry professionals who have been asked by amateurs on how to start freelancing:

- The very best place to learn about freelancing in CG: Polycount Freelance Section.

- Allan McKay podcasts.

- CGSociety Thread: beginner freelance artist. WHERE do I start??!

- CGSociety Thread: Is it possible to make a living by freelancing in 3D modeling and animation?

- CGSociety Thread: How to escape the freelance trap?

- CGSociety Thread The best sites for CG freelancers? (Really old thread and not what the title states it to be, but any snippets of info can help)

- a Blog post about freelancing in general: The state of freelancing, a guide to 2017

All the people who have experience and have been asked about freelancing, will mention few points repeatedly:

- Have experience. (Working full-time on location is usually the easiest way to meet people and learn about your particular business sector)

- Make sure you have lots of connections.

- Don't move to full time freelancing unless you are very busy already or have enough savings.

- You will be constantly looking for work, management and marketing are priorities.

- It's not easy! (Actually having a staff position is a lot easier than freelancing because then you wouldn't have to worry about managing, marketing, finance and these sort of things)

There are different types of freelancing though and different niches, even marketing can be made differently now a days and "hustling" for work is taking different forms.

I will lay out here some of the types of work; I believe a freelance 3D artist can expect to work in:

I- Freelancing Locally

1- Working for a local studio on location

Instead of a typical employment contract, you are employed for a project or a limited period of time. Many companies resort to hire in "freelance mode" instead of the typical employment options to avoid social security or government regulations.

It's not that the studios are necessarily trying to exploit the artists and deprive them of staff position rights, I assume they would very much want to offer their staff a more secure position and keep them happy, but most of them if not all, are operating under a really tight profit margin, paying an employee when not working could be something they can't afford or the governments in the geographical location they are in, could make it really risky and expensive to hire anyone.

If you have a studio in the same city you are living in, applying and finding a job there is your best chance, an interview can break the ice and eliminate any guess work which exists when hiring someone from abroad.

This option of course can work better for some people rather than others, depending on your location or ability to travel.

To learn more, you can check Allan's podcast on freelancing: The art of freelance and becoming a digital gipsy , Though like most of Allan's posts it usually assumes that you have a passport that can actually facilitate your travel! but the general experience he talks about can really be insightful.

2- Freelancing to local clients who are not game, animation or VFX studios

You can work with advertising agencies, film production companies, architects, developers, local entrepreneurs, corporates, lawyers, etc...

It needs a lot of marketing and PR skills, just imagine that for example one corporate might need an animation only once every 3 or 4 years, some ad agencies don't get a project involving a 3D animation for a very long period of time, if you can find a constant stream of clients it can be more profitable than working for studios, but it's really not easy to find those clients, you need to know the business sector you are in very well with all the ins and outs. 

Realize also that even though you are trying to market for the local market, you are also competing with artists all around the world. If you are not skilled or convincing enough, maybe your clients will consider getting their job done at freelancer.com

II-Freelancing Remotely

1- Freelancing remotely to studios

This one is actually a lot tougher than what you might think,  people like to work with people they know and can see in front of them, in spite of all the tech developments, a studio will most certainly prefer to have all the team in one place.

Usually if you work with few studios and establish confidence and they know you very well, you could later work with them remotely. Also if you have special skills, they might consider you, maybe they only get this once in a year type of project that you can handle. so they will send it your way.

From experience though, trying to e-mail studios to hire you remotely is not easy and needs a very special art and I am not sure how much success you can have with it.

But if you are good enough that you become well known in something, then it's very likely you will be asked for a project every now and then by a studio.

There are a lot of difficulties in making sure the work get done on time and the software and pipeline you are using is compatible.

You can check Allan Mckay's podcast on working from home: Work From Anywhere.

2- Freelancing remotely to Clients which are not Studios

It would be very difficult to actually go about looking for clients this way. You would need to establish yourself in a niche or a very specific sector and be well known in it in order to establish trust. Think about something like being number one on google ranking for whatever you are targeting.

3- Freelancing on freelancers websites

Welcome to the very bottom of the food chain! you will find plenty of work here.

Although you are being paid scraps, please do not make the assumption that you are going to have easy clients!

In fact, the less a client is paying the more likely he/she is demanding. These last 2 options really need a lot of dos and don'ts but I generally recommend you avoid freelancing on websites like freelancer or fiverr. Even if you live at a country where the exchange rate is low, in my opinion in the long run this option are not viable.

Not to leave this on a completely gloomy note or perspective and oust all possibilities; if you find something that you could streamline or automate to make very quickly and is a service you think is on demand, give it a try! never underestimate low price at mass quantities.

4- Passive income from selling online

This one is tricky, it can work on the side but it is rare to make it full time, websites like Turbosquid make it difficult for you to make money after they take their cut and taxes, but you can think of it as something on the side.

Generally speaking your options are:

- Selling 3D models on Turbosquid or CGTrader. (Think collections, higher quality with a higher price tag or lower quality made very quickly)

- Selling game assets on Unity asset store or Unreal market place (large number of asset sales at a low price)

- Selling images or footage on Shutterstuck or istock photo. (Think of unique ideas and images)

- Selling tutorials on something like Udemy or Gumroad.

To make it work, from my experience, I would have to agree with David Edwards and also recommend a multi-pronged approach, make some assets, make a tutorial about them and maybe some footage or images if you can, and aim for being well known in the niche you picked in the long run to get custom requests and succeed as a freelance artist.

You can view this link for a very interesting discussion on CGSociety: 3D Artists Making Money on The Side.


I probably need to sort out my ideas more, maybe with separate blogs for many points mentioned, but I hope that whatever is provided so far can be of some help.