How to Learn 3D Animation

By Ali Ismail

Introduction

I did write a rather long and packed with information blog on 3D Animation Careers and Education where I discussed some of the career paths and education options an aspiring artist might have. But sometimes I get the question of how do we start about learning 3D animation if we don't go to a university or take a course?

I hope to answer this question as briefly as possible.

Point of View

Each person is unique, and interpretations of past experiences, will shape the opinions formulated by that person. So it might help to know from which angle I am speaking of.

When I started out in 3D, there was only a handful of tutorials online, and most certainly not the proliferation you have now. There was no schools or universities teaching animation that I was aware of. And when I began my career, all of my colleagues were self taught like myself.

Later on, as years passed by, university courses popped up teaching 3D animation, more and more training centers started giving courses, and I started working with colleagues who came out of colleges.

While I haven't attended an animation course myself (I studied computer engineering at university and years later a short stint in physics but that's a different story); I frequently interview both who have taken courses and those who are self taught, a lot of my colleagues are also in the business of teaching, and I help train our team at the studio who in a relatively short time are learning how to produce high quality content.

How Far Will You Go

As with anything, the end target or your goal will determine what route will you take. I was surprised the other day when my dentist asked me how he can learn 3D animation! 

Someone who is learning 3D animation can be possibly aspiring to work in Pixar or another who just wants to create his/her game assets or someone who just needs a few animations or renders to demonstrate something for work or maybe just a hobbyist who has fun doing anything related to 3D.

You can sometimes learn what you need relatively quickly, but if you want to work on high end productions it could take years, and if you want to truly stand-out it might take Many years!

Where To Start

Perception is the first step in probably anything. Gaining basic knowledge in the beginning is key. You need to gather as much information as quickly as possible then try to filter what you need. It's not easy! especially if you just have a vague idea that you like 3D but don't know what you exactly want. Yes I did write this article and already mentioned it but I am going to link it here again: 3D Animation Careers and Education, there you can have a much better idea on what careers to expect if you are planning to enter this 3D world professionally.

In short, before you start learning, know what you want, then move on from there, do a web search for all the info you need, or use Quora or forums like CG Society or Polycount to ask people specific questions that you can't find existing answers to.

On Authority

Which of course invariably gets us into the issue of authority, you might wonder on what basis do I consider this or that advice correct? isn't a university program a much more reliable and organized source of information and tuition? you would wish!

Unfortunately 3D animation is such a relatively new and constantly changing subject that most universities can't keep up with it and create courses that will be suitable for employment. 

"Many people never grow up, they stay all their lives with a passionate need for external authority and guidance, pretending not to trust their own judgment"
Alan Watts

Whatever you choose to believe as authority, was because you chose it and accepted it as such. Ultimately you make your decisions and You are your final authority.

For Anyone Who Just Finished School

I don't know if you've seen BBC's planet earth 2 which is awesome BTW! but there is a scene there with an iguana which has just hatched out of an egg, and now has to fight its way out of I don't know how many snakes! iguana vs snakes youtube video. Maybe it's not the best of analogies :) , but after you finish high school, all universities and institutes will be after your money or more accurately your parents' hard earned savings. It's going to be difficult for you to decide, especially that you have not had time to gain experience in the real world.

The good news is, you are not alone, all people make career mistakes at one point or another, and unlike that iguana hatchling, you always have a chance to correct your course of action.

But this doesn't mean not to consider matters carefully, I don't know why but I seem to be picking horrible examples in this blog post :) , but you can learn from experiences like this one: couldn't find a job with $70,000 degree.

If you are at this post, it's probably a very good sign that you are doing research.

What I am trying to say that: Yes! it's very challenging at the beginning to know how to learn and which sources to get information from, it will take time. But it's a  skill that you will use through out your life. Don't be too shy to Google stuff and start from there.

Learning Sources

You can buy whatever books you like about the subjects and read at your own leisure, maybe even general books on "making of" something you like, or heavy technical ones.

Start searching for tutorials online, we have a few over here: Ebal Studios 3D Tutorials, Neil Blevins CG Education is also a great resource, Allan Mckay has some awesome podcasts about careers and business. 3D Total also has lots of free tutorials.

watch Youtube videos, buy online courses or sign-up to CG workshops (please exhaust all free options first before buying anything).

And most surprisingly, the Software Manual! the most forgotten source which can usually answer all technical aspects.

3D animation is basically an artistic career, so learning fine art or drawing is still a good investment and something to stay with you, if you want to get into pipeline and technical jobs you can learn programming basics.

I know this might not sound like enough, if you are starting out, No one exactly loves answers like: it depends and you need to research. You just want someone to tell you: here is this course, now give me your money! but eventually you really need to do the work yourself.

Conclusion

From the people I worked with and education institutes around me, I highly suggest you either learn on your own and save your money, or if you are going to a course to do your research accurately before hand, I wrote this regarding our local teaching institutes but I think it applies to all: Things to Watch out For Before Enrolling in an Animation Course in Jordan.

From my experience in training/helping fellow artists, I noticed that usually the barrier to learning or achieving high quality, is never the technical information or it's availability, and is usually related to:

- General problem solving abilities.

- Beliefs of inability to learn or to produce a certain level of quality. 

- paying attention to details

- persistence and perseverance. 

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right.” Henry Ford

A friend and colleague of mine, Jaafer Al Sadig, has mentioned to me how he read somewhere that nowadays you need a T shaped knowledge, meaning a broad knowledge of everything, all the subject's general information making the horizontal line at the top of the T , and an in-depth knowledge of something specific making the vertical line (Both broad and very deep knowledge). 

Similarly here, whatever the level you are aiming for, you first need to learn the basics and pointers of many things, then decide in what to specialize in, and from there your favorite search engine is your friend! I know this is obvious and you might want something more, but really if anything, this is to confirm that Yes, it's OK to learn online. It will take hard work but it will also teach you how to solve problems on your own and commit.

Some courses can speed things up, especially if the instructor is experienced and loves what he or she does, but you need to have information to first judge if it's good or not.

As with anything all this comes with a disclaimer that I am not responsible for any decisions you take :)