The third dimension has been enticing artists for decades, but it’s only in relatively recent years that some incredibly talented creatives have been able to truly utilise the flexibility, the depth, the power and the potential of 3D artistry.
Mastering 3D art is not easy, particularly given the fact that you’ll often need to learn not only how to negotiate the complications of depth and scale but learn how to use brand new pieces of software and hardware. It’s a field that is always evolving and always changing but it’s also one that has birthed some truly incredibly talents.
It’s a role that demands flexibility, patience and the ability to bring the intangible to life in a manner that can be either decidedly surreal, confidently realistic or anywhere in-between.
The role of a 3D artist is to create three-dimensional models, artwork, animations and effects to be utilised in a variety of creative projects, whether that be for film, marketing, gaming or a brace of associated industries. The job often involves following a brief and putting together a piece of work which reflects that brief and brings a client’s ideas into a tangible 3D space. This can be done using several techniques and combinations of those techniques, including hand-drawn work and the use of the latest computer software, such as the Adobe Creative Suite.
Salary and benefits
The median salary for a 3D artist depends on their experience level. The average annual salary in the UK currently according to Payscale is £25,483 with experiences artists earning well beyond £40,000. Experience and location have an impact on the pay available for this role. Depending on the company, there might also be bonus structure and profit-sharing opportunities to consider, which could amount to some substantial gains.
The benefits of working as a 3D artist include:-
- The opportunity to be creative within your job role and experience various creative challenges on a daily basis.
- Minimum educational requirements, though a degree is often helpful in helping candidates to stand out from the pack.
- The ability to work in several industries, each offering their own benefits.
- The flexibility to either work in all areas of 3D design or specialise in one specific area such as environment, character or background design.
What is the work like?
Some 3D artists primarily work with computer programs to design, illustrate or animate characters or environments by writing computer code. Others prefer to create their designs by hand and then import them into software applications. Their responsibilities can include researching design concepts, creating conceptual art, drawing storyboards and touching up animations, as well as rendering, texturing, lighting and shading graphics.
Often, 3D artists work on teams and specialise in a specific area, but they may be required to obtain a broad variety of skills to maximise their career opportunities. Many 3D artists specialise in a particular medium, such as video games, television or motion pictures. Within these areas, 3D artists can further specialise by concentrating on specific areas of design, such as the characters for video games, the layout and look of game levels or the scenery of an animated film.
As a 3D artist, you’ll be expected to be able to fulfill the following responsibilities:
- Create quick and detailed 3D models and drawings that could be anything from environments to character models, buildings, vehicles and props.
- Utilise a combination of traditional and technologic approaches to 3D design.
- Interpret briefs efficiently and pitch ideas clearly to the client and design team.
- Respond positively to feedback and have the ability to adapt and refine work based on that feedback to ensure solid communication with the client.
- Meet with clients, designers, or directors to review projects and deadlines and agree on development timelines. These meetings may involve collaborating on design ideas and coming up with new suggestions for improving a project
- Research relevant topics and reference points for ideas to use in your designs and upcoming projects.
- Help conceptualise ideas and processes to come up with the best plan of action. This is especially the case if a 3D artist specialises in a particular area of 3D effects and their expertise is crucial to the project’s success.
- Create spec sheets that provide accurate details for others to follow.
- Work to strict deadlines and be prepared to put extra hours in when required.
Hours and environment
Whist the work of a 3D artist has traditionally been an office-based role, there is scope for freelance and remote work, particularly given the current climate. Indeed, almost 60% of 3D artists are self-employed, and they may work from home or in offices. Whilst it is typically expected for 3D artists to work 36 hour week, when deadlines approach, they will commonly work long hours, nights and weekends.
Skills and personal qualities
Useful skills for 3D artists include, but are not limited to, the following:-
- Strong artistic capabilities with colour theory, illustration and rendering.
- Good communication skills.
- Keen interest in computer programs old and new.
- Ability to work cohesively as part of a team.
- Ability to handle multiple projects.
- The willingness and ability to keep up with the latest industry standards and computer programs.
It is obviously recommended that all 3D artists have a strong interest in the arts and multimedia. The industries where the lion’s share of the work lies is currently in gaming, film and TV and advertising, so at least some legitimate fluency in these areas would be appreciated any most employers.
Whilst formal education isn’t strictly necessary, it’s recommended that all aspirant 3D artists obtain at least a bachelor’s degree in art, computer graphics, or a multimedia field. Some students, however, might specialise in subjects such as game design or interactive media. A good portfolio and technical skills are also an absolute must with many people in this field honing their skills and enhancing their portfolios through self-study.
You don't necessarily need to hold a relevant degree to qualify for 3D art jobs, because the primary qualifications are artistic and technical ability. However, many artists pursue further education in order to hone their artistic abilities and to receive training in specific illustration and computer graphics programs.
A solid foundation in traditional drawing and painting is often essential. You'll also want to be highly skilled in popular programs such as Adobe Photoshop, 3D Max, Autodesk Maya and Blender. It's also important to develop a professional art portfolio that illustrates the range of skills you have to show to potential employers.
A wide variety of computer programs are used for the conceptualisation and design of characters, animations a,nd other graphic art. You can stand out and get ahead by cultivating demonstrable experience with several programs that go beyond the required few.
Conversely, you could also stand out by becoming an expert in the use of a particular software application or perhaps a more niche 3D design application, such as one that utilises VR space. However, you may want to first research job postings of employers for whom you seek to work to learn which programs they use and then invest your time in learning those programs.
It’s also recommended that you stay current on industry trends and are able to adapt your working methods and ideas to align with these trends without losing sight of what makes you an individual artist.
Final words of wisdom
- Keep developing your skills and broadening your software knowledge. This will help you stand out and increase your opportunities for work.
- Networking is key - it's important to build up a range of contacts who can be helpful when you're looking for work and who you can go to for tips and advice.
- Time management is also important - when working on projects with tight deadlines, the ability to prioritise tasks is essential.
- 3D artists should have a collaborative personality but also be able to defend their own ideas when necessary.
- A creative mindset is essential. This is a role that requires brainstorming new ideas regularly and strategising ways to stand out from the competition.
Photoshop for 3D Artists – Photoshop remains a key tool for 3D artists, and here top professionals share their tips and techniques for working in the 3D industry, from initial concept stages to post-production.
Anatomy for 3D Artists: The Essential Guide for CG Professionals – An essential guide for anyone working in the industry, this book is filled with everything an aspiring 3D artist needs to know to recreate the human body in 3D.
Light for Visual Artists – Illustrator Richard Yot, known for his work in film as a lighting artist and stylised 3D illustrations, takes you through the fundamental properties of natural and artificial light, shadows, the interaction of light on different types of surfaces, reflections, as well as transparency, translucency and the effects of light on colour.
A Beginners Guide to ZBrush – An in-depth introduction to Pixoogic's premier digital sculpting software.
Autocad 2019: From Zero to Hero – This indispensable resource teaches AutoCAD essentials using concise explanations, focused examples, step-by-step instructions, and hands-on projects.
Digital Modelling – Digital Modeling is unlike any other modeling book you’ve seen. It gets to the core of what it takes to create efficient production-ready models and demystifies the process of producing realistic and jaw-dropping graphics
3D Artist – A well-respected source of inspiration for any aspiring 3D artist and those already working in the industry, this site features industry coverage, guides, and a strong community of professionals.
Blender Guru – Here you’ll find a handy collection of tutorials, articles, and podcasts that highlight tips and tricks for using Blender software.
3Dtotal - An invaluable resource of books and tutorials for 3D artists of all levels.
Medium - Whether you’re a 3D master or a 3D newbie, we’re sure you can find some ideas for your digital toolbox in this exhaustive collection of resources.