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Aspiring 3D Artist Q&A
I get a few emails a month, usually from students, asking various questions. Some might be students on the verge of graduation, trying to get a handle on “the real world”. Or perhaps someone writing a paper. Even possibly a high school student wondering if they should go to art school. I have comprised a list of questions that I get a lot and attempted to do my best to answer them all in one place.
What advice would you give to someone entering this field?
Live your craft! Surround yourself with people that are better than you. This is how you learn and grow as an artist. Critique other’s work. Have your work critiqued. Soak everything in. Study your surroundings. Learn from life. This actually applies to any part of the CG field. Take photos. Your eye can learn a lot from taking photos, such as framing and lighting. If you are an animator. Go to the park or the mall and watch people interact. Go to the zoo and watch the animals. If you are a game designer, look at real life locations and figure out to improve the layout. You can literally turn your surroundings into a game. Keep a sketchbook. Draw all the time. Dedicate yourself to your craft.
Here is an exercise for you. Look up a company you would like to work for. Find people that work there. Email them. Start a conversation. I am not saying stalk people. But you can definitely get some insight into a company from your peers that already work there. If you want to do this properly, you could always use LinkedIn’s networking system. Get introduced etc, etc. Network, Network, Network! I cannot say this enough. This is the age of easy networking. It has never been easier to meet people in your own field.
How did you get into the field?
I will give you the cliff notes. My journey began with school. I went to The Art Institute of Atlanta, graduated 4 ½ years later. I heard about a possible job opportunity at a small start-up studio right out of college, through my best friend. I promptly applied and was hired as a special effects artist. After about a year and a half, the studio shut down. This happens quite a LOT. The norm is usually work on a game for a few months, to a few years. Then you finish the game, 75 percent of the production team gets the ax. After being thrown back into the pit with other unemployed artists. I began to freelance. This is where networking comes in. I made a few phone games for Verizon, did some web design, logo design and basic 3D freelance. I landed a contract position at a simulation company texturing characters. I heard about this position through an ex-coworker. Like I said… Network! Try to keep in touch with the people you meet along the way. This may seem impossible, but it’s really not. It only takes the occasional hello. So after a few months of contract work, I did a few other freelance jobs. Then I heard from the simulation company and was asked to come in for an interview. Nine years later, I still work for that same company. It has been a long road, but I really do enjoy working there. Simulation is a little more stable than game and film. So there you have it, the summary of my career… so far.
What education or training is necessary?
I won’t go too much into this topic. I just wrote a snippet about this topic which you can find here. Regardless of whether you go to school or train yourself, absorb everything like a sponge. Tutorials, blogs, friends, classmates, professors, books, and acquaintances… this is your training arsenal. Learn your craft. Know your craft. Share your craft. Teach your craft.
What software should I learn?
The software you use doesn’t matter as much as, how you use it. However, after saying that, I would say that you are most likely not going to get a job at Blizzard if you only know how to use Bryce and Poser. There are quite a few 3D Software packages. I don’t think anyone can dispute that the mains are 3ds Max and Maya for 3D, Zbrush and Mudbox for sculpting, Photoshop for texturing, as well as Substance and Ddo for detailing. Some are starting to cross over stepping out of the bounds of its own niche. Pixologic just added modeling tools to Zbrush. Eventually Zbrush might be a one stop shop for all 3D, but I think it still has a little ways to go. But all in all, your final presentation of work will speak louder than what software you use.
What should I include in my portfolio?
This is almost impossible to answer. This really depends on several things in my opinion. The quality of your work is always the single most important thing. I say, show your best work. Don’t clog your website, but 100s of images. Unless they are all awesome, then by all means, go for it! Which actually brings up one thing. You must have a website. If you do not. You are invisible. What you show might also depend on your audience. I do know from a few people that are currently employed at Blizzard, that it is very rare for someone that doesn’t have Blizzard style art in their portfolio to get hired. If you are not the best traditional artist. Don’t have an entire section of your site dedicated to it. Same goes for photography. You might think you are an awesome photographer, but the person you are trying to impress might not. There is a caveat here. If you have a step by step, from concept to final render set, definitely show that. Even if your drawing is not the best. So take what you want from this.
Should I be a generalist or should I specialize?
This would entirely depend on where you are trying to work. For instance, in simulation, you usually have to be a generalist. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a specialist and a generalist. What I mean by this is to have your passion, such as characters. Be really awesome at this, but have knowledge in the rest of the areas of 3D. Know Photoshop regardless of your specialty. Everyone uses it, or an equivalent, at some point. Do your research. Check out the job boards, research companies you are interested in and be the candidate they are looking for. Larger game and film companies typically use specialized artists. Smaller startups typically, but not always, use generalists. I believe the reason for this is because a lot of recent graduates are generalists and recent graduates are cheaper than seasoned vets. So this one is pretty much up to you.
How do I market myself?
This is probably the most important part of your future career. Google your name. Are you on the first page of Google? You should be. Can you even find yourself online at all? If you can’t find you, no one else can either. I will soon write more about how to conquer Google. That is a much larger topic than this post. How large is your social network? Are you following more people than are following you? Start a conversation with your followers. You will see that your follow count will grow.
- CV/Resume: It is very important that you keep your CV/Resume up to date. There are a ton of resources online about creating a great resume. Everyone has their opinion. Blue Sky Resumes is a fantastic resource. Make sure to check it out.
- Personal Network: Another way of marketing yourself is through personal networking. Basically this is your acquaintances, friends, and co-workers. These people are invaluable to your network. Think of this like Linkedin. Linkedin has various levels of connections. The first level are people you know. People you have met in real life and have actually networked with. Level two are friends of friends. The more level one connections you have, the larger your network gets. Six degrees of separation is a part of life, but the game and film industry is more like three degrees of separation. If your network is decent, you should be able to trace your dream job, wherever it may be, by only a few people. If you can’t, grow your network.
- Conventions: Go to conventions! This is a fantastic way of networking. This is a great way of growing your personal network as well as your extended network. Take your portfolio with you. I know it is not always possible to go to conventions, as they can be quite expensive. If you have one in your home town at least grab an exhibition pass and go to the job fair.
- Social Networks: Social Networks are the easiest way to grow your network. The best part of it is that it is FREE! People tend to be less guarded on social networks as well.
- Facebook: I do recommend using a fan page instead of your personal page.)
- Linkedin: Use this if you do not already.
- Twitter: If you tweet it, they will come.
- Pinterest: This may seem weird, but Pinterest is an awesome way of networking. Create a collection that relates to your field. I have a huge collection of 3D Environment Art on Pinterest. It is basically a reference folder that I share with anyone that would like to check it out.
- Practical Experience: Internships are a great way of getting a foot in the door. This isn’t always a shoe in. However if you can swing one, it will give you a much higher probability of being hired.
- Your website: Your website is a crucial part of your identity. If you do not have one you do not exist. Build your website, focus on your best work, and build your corporate identity.
- Corporate Identity: Treat yourself like a brand. Branding yourself gives you an advantage over those that do not brand themselves. Without a brand it becomes much harder to sell yourself to a potential employer, or really anyone. Boxedart.com is a great site for getting started with a corporate identity.
In conclusion, what does it all boil down to? Its not only what you know, its who you know. Sure you can get hired somewhere without a huge network of people, but knowing the right people will only improve your chances.
I would love to know what you think. If you would like to have a question added or have a different perspective on any of the topics I covered, please comment below.