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Mike Sharpe's top tips for 3D designers

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The demand for skilled 3D designers has increased in the past few years thanks to tighter budgets and shorter delivery times. Technology now plays a significant part in cost-cutting on shoots and computer-generated work is key to delivering a project on time and to budget. But what makes a good 3D designer?

“Something I’ve realised in the past few years is in this business you’ve got to be willing and able to adapt,” says Mike Sharpe, creative director at Found Studio. “I came from a more traditional film directing background but, as timings and budgets have shrunk, our time on set has dwindled.”

Found is a creative content studio in London which makes content for a range of platforms. Sharpe adds that the transition from being on set to having more of a hand in effects was daunting for him personally at first, but he’s since embraced the experience and evolved his skills.

“It was scary at first,” he continues. “But as the tools and talent have become more sophisticated, it’s seen me make a move into directing more VFX-driven, design-led motion work which is really exciting,” he explains.

Craft and execution are the key things Sharpe looks for in a good piece of 3D design today. “I want to see well-conceived ideas, beautifully executed. You can have something super simple as long as the finish is tip-top,” he adds.

As for a good 3D designer, apart from obviously needing a good eye for design, he says you need attention to detail, patience and an insatiable appetite to constantly review and refine your work to succeed.

Sharpe keeps these values close when approaching his own client work at Found. He warns it can be easy to just jump into projects sometimes without properly thinking them through and it’s important to differentiate from the rest of what’s out there.

Try to stop and really think about the project in a ‘global’ sense before you dive into the computer and start reference hunting,” he explains. “Think about what your trying to achieve and, if it’s a commercial project, what the client needs. With the wealth of resources and references at our fingertips, it’s easy nowadays to become very referential and you have to be careful not to keep making work that looks the same.”

When it comes to his own creative process, Sharpe reveals that the importance of fine finishing is often overlooked. With so much to consider including concept development, R&D, storyboarding, previz, modelling and animation, the final steps can end up getting neglected or not given enough attention.

Make sure you prioritise (and protect) enough time at the back end of a project for the ‘finish’. The thing that can often end up getting squeezed is ‘polish’,” he adds. “It always takes longer than you think and it’s SO important. If you’re a producer, my advice is to double what your animator tells you they need for the compositing and finish.”

Adapting to different needs and client briefs is a skill in itself and 3D designers need to be able to switch up their style according to what’s being asked of them.

“As before, we take the time to learn about the background of the client, product or service before we start thinking about our technical approach or visual style,” says Sharpe. “That way you can think without restrictions and may come up with something that’s outside of your immediate skillset. That’s when we draw upon our pool of freelance specialist talent.”

Asked what one piece of advice he’d give to aspiring 3D designers, Sharpe ends by suggesting that when building a reel from personal work, it can be hard to find the subject matter to showcase your talent. That often means people do tutorials or copy existing commercial work. “That’s absolutely fine as a way to learn the craft, but it shouldn’t go in your reel,” he concludes. “It’s a bit like learning an instrument – you start off by learning other people’s songs but, if you want to be a songwriter, you got to eventually find your own style.”

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