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Beginner's Guide to Becoming a 3D artist

With Web3.0 and the advancement of AR and VR technology, here's an in-depth guide on how to become a 3D artist and facilitate the industry.

3D artist sitting in front of computer and designing a 3D model

There is no denying the fact that the future is here and we are lucky to witness a revolution.

Web 3.0 and the advancement of AR and VR technology, has reinvented the design landscape. And this change beckons competent 3D artists who have the relevant skills to fulfil the mushrooming demand.

BUT. What is 3D Art exactly and is 3D art a viable career? Let’s find out.

What on Earth is 3D Art?

3D art involves the use of specialised computer software to draw images in three dimensions. Unlike conventional 2D art, it has height, width and depth to it.

3D model of a shark being designed on Maya

This is achieved by linking points and lines to form ‘polygons.’

Such shapes are then altered to obtain the desirable size, shape, and texture.

Due to its infinite scope for customisation and a great number of uses, 3D art or 3D modelling is slowly taking over every major sector. From films and fashion to architecture and healthcare, we’re all witnessing the potential of 3D art in our everyday lives.

But the art is only as good as the artist. Visualising 3D models and then designing them in a modeling software demands a keen eye for detail. And this critical role is fulfilled by a 3D artist.

So who is a 3D artist? And what does their role entail?

Who is a 3D Artist?

3D artists create specialised models, visual effects and animations, using digital programs. They draw and render images in a ‘3D space’ provided by a digital software. The characters, environments and visual effects formed by 3D artists are then used in creative projects including films, video games, mobile apps and marketing campaigns.

Now comes the big question: Do you need to be tech savvy to become a 3D artist?

From the knowledge to the skills required to become a 3D artist, we’ll address all your concerns. Let’s examine what you’ll need to become a successful 3D artist.

3D artist sitting and designing 3D model on a computer

Skills that make an ideal 3D artist

Here's a list of the top skills that help you become the best 3D artist, so that you start practising them now:

  1. Technical & Illustration Skills
  2. Eye for Detail
  3. Diligent and Efficient
  4. Effective Communicator

Technical & Illustration skills

A 3D artist should have strong working knowledge of various animation, 3D modelling and designing software. Additionally, having basic drawing skills is an added plus, as they may need to script and storyboard their ideas for better clarity.

Eye for Detail

At the end of the day, the core of 3D modelling lies in art. This means that you need to have a strong comprehension of colour theory, composition, visualisation and lighting. Only then can you manage to create models that appear photo-realistic. (And boast of them being visually compelling and believable!)

Girl sitting in front of a computer and illustrating on a tablet

Diligent and Efficient

Every organisation operates under schedule and seeks employees who respect briefs and deadlines. As a 3D artist, you should learn to adjust with the workplace goals, whether as a full time employee or as a freelancer.

Effective Communicator

As a 3D Artist, you will collaborate closely with other artists, clients or organisations - right from animators and graphic designers, to project managers and art directors. You will depend heavily on consultation and criticism to perfect your art.

Therefore, you should be open to feedback and also be confident to voice your own suggestions.

The Path to becoming a 3D artist

Here's a 4-step guide to becoming a 3D artist:

  1. Complete your education
  2. Learn relevant tools
  3. Figure out market demand
  4. Gain experience

Complete your education

Do you need a degree to be a 3D artist? Not mandatorily. With the right mix of classroom pedagogy and industrial exposure, even a novice can transform into a professional 3D artist.

An associate's degree or bachelor's degree in graphic design, visual arts or a related field is usually preferred. But many artists master the skill through unconventional routes.

It is always advised to gain some professional certification, either from a classroom program or through an online course. This increases your employability and paves a clearer path for you.

Learn relevant tools:

The core of 3D modelling lies in using specialised software to generate three-dimensional figures. Software like 3ds Max, Maya V-Ray, and SketchUp have proven to be reliable additions to a 3D artist’s toolkit. We advise you to explore them as you upskill.

Figure out Market demand:

Man pointing to a projection of a graph with upward trend

Let’s face it. The market is harsh and the competition is fierce for 3D artists. However, with the right skills and by keeping your ear to the ground, you can gauge the pulse of the market. Also, join communities of like minded people and organizations who keep you updated about emerging opportunities.

Gain experience:

3D artists have numerous domains to explore. It becomes necessary to try different alternatives before you can recognize your niche.

So gain wide experience before you specialize in something specific.

Do 3D artists need to know how to draw?

Now that is a legit question to consider.

Do you really need to be great at drawing to bring your 3D art ideas to life?

When animation and graphic design was 2D, being able to draw was a necessary skill. Hand-drawn artwork was the only way to go.

But thankfully, those times are gone. Today, you no longer need to be a super skilled artist to be a 3D artist. Sounds ironic, but with the advent of computers and specialised software, all you need is proficiency over the software to weave your magic.

BUT. There is no denying that knowing how to draw will be an additional help in your 3D art journey. The knowledge of clean silhouettes, lighting and shadows can translate into your 3D art, elevating your final creations.

Taking beginner courses in drawing is super beneficial for perceiving weight and anatomy.

How to get started:

Most 3D artists begin their career as freelancers, and as you gain experience, you gain stability.

Being an independent artist, you shouldn’t expect a steady stream of gigs, unlike a regular job.

Instead, you will have to make an effort and go job hunting. It’s all about building a network. Stay active on sites that post ads on freelance 3D modellers, and apply for whatever roles match your proficiency.

Learn to handle rejection and keep strengthening your credentials. Here's a list of the steps to follow if you want to make a viable career as a 3D artist:

  1. Prepare a portfolio
  2. Get your artwork noticed

Prepare a solid portfolio:

Now, it’s time to put your skills on paper. Document your competence by preparing a portfolio that clearly displays your skill set.

Organisations usually ask for one before they shortlist you for an interview. So having one that highlights your achievements is always a good idea.

It’s advisable to be part of a community that has the technical know-how and industry exposure to guide you. You can also start creating your own list of most influential 3D artists whose work you love. Exploring sites like CGSociety and Behance can be a great way to hone your skills and discover budding 3D artists.

Getting your artwork noticed

The 3D art industry welcomes those who have the knack for building solid connections and networking smartly.

Hence, it becomes very important for you to keep publishing your work right from the early stages. This way, when you are ready to set foot in your career, you already have the attention of recruiters.

Keep updating your artwork on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.

Platforms like Artstation, Zerply and Polycount, even Reddit and Quora, are ideal locations to meet other budding artists and gather feedback on your work.

Working as a 3D Artist

Being a 3D artist gives you immense room to experiment and several employment options. Primarily considered freelancers, several 3D artists quickly become associated with organisations.

A 3D artist spends time researching design concepts, creating storyboards and designing graphics. Soon after finalising the storyboard and script, a 3D artist designs and renders the visuals with material, lighting, shadow and textures to make it look realistic.

Duties And Responsibilities Of A 3D Artist

It is a given that 3D modelling is a demanding profession. As an artist, you need to operate in a high-octane environment to cope with client briefs.

3D artist creating a model in front of a computer with a lamp on the table

Often, amateur artists get flustered under taxing circumstances and tend to get demotivated. Having a clear understanding of the demands of your profession helps you in getting ready for a challenging yet super rewarding career ahead.

Here are the broad responsibilities expected of you, as you become part of an organisation as a 3D artist:

  • Interact with clients and comprehend their exact requirements
  • Collaborate with marketers, visualisers and the design team and brainstorm ideas
  • Conceptualise and zero in on the design, colour palette, and other finer details
  • Carry out in-depth research and provide insights to the team
  • Involve a combination of computer software and physical drawings to create graphics
  • Manage, plan and conceptualise detailed frameworks for the project
  • Receive feedback from superiors to inculcate changes and overcome design flaws

Fields to specialize in as a 3D artist

3D artist sitting and designing 3D model of a lion shaped ride on a computer

A 3D artist is a generalist who has numerous core competencies to choose from. As you advance in your career, you can choose a specialisation that you’ll be known for in the art world!

Some of these jobs that lie under the vast umbrella of 3D art are:

  1. Architectural Visualization
  2. 3D Concept Artist
  3. Marketing Graphic Designer
  4. 3D Animator
  5. UI Graphic Designer
  6. 3D Motion Capture Artist
  7. Visual Effects Artist
  8. 3D Printing Artist

Architectural Visualization

Perhaps the most popular field for 3D artists, it demands your knack for recognising the art within architecture. If construction and designing excite you, architectural visualisation is the perfect domain to explore.

Top view of 3D visualization of a house

Not only does it allow you to be creative, but also lets you bring your big ideas to life.

3D Concept Artist

Taking a project from ideation to execution requires several rounds of brainstorming, modifications and discussions. As a 3D concept artist, you would occupy the preliminary stage of this process, as you create illustrations and blueprints to convey project ideas.

A crucial link in the production chain, a 3D concept artist dictates the success of all subsequent processes. Artists, 3D modellers, and VFX compositors all depend on you to give a tangible spin to their ideas.

Marketing Graphic Designer

Top view of an open laptop with a hand on the keyboard and a camera on the side

Brands focus heavily on unconventional techniques to lure the customer. Marketing teams have begun using 3D artists to create interactive marketing campaigns and gain a competitive edge.

Magazines, brochures, social media posts, and banners can all be given a facelift when a 3D artist works their magic on a campaign.

If the world of branding, advertising and marketing attract you, this could be a rewarding career option.

3D Animator

Multiple views of a man with closed eyes being designed on 3D modeling software

Remember the spellbinding movies sprinkled heavily with visual effects? You could be contributing in the creation of those marvels as a 3D animator. From Game of Thrones to Iron Man, the media you love all came out of a 3D artist’s studio.

Another vast field that is actually an aggregate of several exciting opportunities, 3D Animation could be an interesting field to explore for a 3D Artist.

It can be further classified into the following:

UI Graphic Designer

Print and digital media have undergone a steady transformation. It is no longer restricted to boring newsprint and jargon heavy shows. With UI graphic designers, visual displays have upgraded to provide a fluid user interface. Now, websites and apps have become highly interactive and appealing.

As a UI Graphic Designer, you decide how a page looks, right from its layout to the colours. If you perceive yourself to be a creative web intellectual, this option is great for you.

3D Motion Capture Artist

Motion Capture being designed on Autodesk Maya

Motion capture has changed film-making, security, robotics and medicine. As a 3D motion capture artist, your job would entail the creation of computer-generated characters who resemble real people.

You collaborate with actors and technicians to capture movements and generate graphical equivalents of the same.

Visual Effects Artist

Being a VFX artist puts you at the centre of the entertainment industry as you use motion graphics and digital drawings to create photoreal imagery.

As films, cartoons and even interactive comic books become increasingly reliant on visual effects to appeal to a younger audience, a career in visual effects demands a solid consideration.

3D Printing Artist

And that brings us to one of the most impactful and revolutionary subsets of 3D Art. With 3D printers reducing the process of complex 3D models to a mere software and few hours of patience, 3D printing has emerged as a massive subculture.

Several artists routinely put their designing skills to test as they develop immaculate and hyper-realistic models, armed merely with passion and a 3D printer.

3D printing is used heavily in the entertainment and fashion industry. From jewellery to figurines, masks to hardware, 3D printing is a highly monetizable business.

Tips to stay motivated as a 3D artist

Does the road ahead look tiresome? Worry not, 3D artist, for all you need are these tips to stay motivated as you navigate through the ups and downs and emerge victorious.

  1. Overcome the laziness
  2. Believe in yourself
  3. Be ready to upskill
  4. Dream big
Man in blue suit standing in front of chalk outline of muscles flexing

Overcome the Laziness

You cannot be a successful 3D artist without being disciplined and respectful of the art. Excuses that make you skip your deadlines should be avoided, and you should try to manage your time and continue practising to progress in this field.

Believe in yourself

Trust your skills and learn the art of staying motivated. The industry is tough and has no place for unenthusiastic 3D artists. Keep learning more about the industry and your job.

Be forever ready to upskill

The product design industry is cutthroat. With rapid advancements rendering several tools obsolete, you need to stay updated with the latest trends. Only then can you hope to create a viable career out of your skill.

Read relevant books that simplify the process of 3D artwork and try to replicate the expert tips. It’s really just an ongoing process- learn, apply, repeat till you become the best!

Dream Big

Keep tracking your progress and have clear communication with your superiors. Get yourself motivated by following artists that inspire you. Understand their expectations, learn from their experiences and align your training with them. Have a clear goal in mind and strive continuously to achieve your targets.

You’re all set

So now you know the nuances of exploring a career as a 3D artist. Not only is it a field with great scope and exciting challenges, but is also one of the prime building blocks of the future.

The writing on the wall is clear. As more industries begin recognising the tremendous potential of 3D modelling to showcase their products in a visually appealing manner, conventional designing could soon become obsolete.

As a 3D artist, it’s your chance to seize the opportunity and get equipped with the first mover’s advantage in this field.

If you consider yourself disciplined enough to put your artistic skills to the test, becoming a 3D artist can prove to be a rewarding career.

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