Becoming a Better 3D Artist: A Perspective
3D artists are creatures of habit. It doesn’t matter when you got into 3D; after doing 3D for awhile, it becomes easy to assume you have things “figured out”. Every artist finds what works for them personally, and they use past experience and knowledge to create routines that allow them to deliver for their clients. 3D artists also tend to take the techniques they learned first as the best way to accomplish something, and it becomes easy to assume that you don’t need to learn anything else to continue to be productive. But to have that sort of mindset is to ignore a neverending stream of changes, enhancements, and industry shifts that can, and will, impact each artist at some point in the future.
White Shark by Tora2097
3D is still an art, and art requires constant practice and attention. Just as playing an instrument or traditional painting requires constant maintenance and skill-building, so does 3D art. It never ends; rather it’s an ongoing journey.
Given that journey, I would recommend the following tips and methods to ensure you stay relevant and continue to grow and evolve as a 3d artist. I use these tips myself to try and not fall behind the curve.
1. Find efficiency in your common tasks.
It’s important for an artist to not waste time on things they do every day. If you need to, spend time finding or building scripts and tools that will help eliminate repetitive clicks. For me, as I spend a lot of time modeling, I’ve started to write down the keyboard shortcuts for the tools I use regularly so I can practice them. Since I use a mouse left-handed, I also decided to remap all of my keyboard shortcuts for my right hand so that it was in a natural position on my keyboard. Every time I’m in 3ds Max now, I keep that document open so I have a cheat sheet.
I now find I can perform many modeling tasks far more quickly than I could have in the past. And I’m not afraid to add to my list and refine it to make things even faster. It’s an ongoing process that I don’t expect to end. I’m even researching how to convert these to other 3D apps so that I have a similar toolset for each application I learn. So, I highly suggest that you find the shortcuts that will let you get your work done more efficiently.
2. Practice with free content.
If you don’t have a project available to work on or your own model to use to practice with, there are loads of free models on turbosquid.com. It’s not difficult to download some of them to use for your efforts. Whether you’re interested in retopology techniques, creating new UVs or materials, or one of dozens of other things, I would strongly urge you to take advantage of free models to use as part of your regular 3D practice routine. Don’t be afraid to share your efforts on our forums or to ask questions if something doesn’t work the way you’d expect.
Free Workman Boots by Game Ready Characters
Free Conan Character by cvbtruong
Free Powder Keg by Tornado Studio
3. Practice DAILY.
I can’t stress this enough. Practicing the skills you want to obtain is vital. I now spend at least 30-45 minutes every day just running through my shortcuts on sample assets so I get faster. Doing things daily, even for just 30 minutes, will lead to gradual improvement and you’ll notice it in your work, too. If you’re not doing 3D every day, then you’re simply not going to improve as fast or as far as you want. For example, there are artists out there like Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple to his multitude of followers (http://beeple-crap.com/index.php) and he creates and shares one image every day, and he’s been doing that for over 10 years without missing a day (including weekends and vacations)! He claims he still has tons to learn too, but his work shows incredible sophistication and talent. I would encourage you to be like Mike here and start to produce something to chart your own progress, even if it isn’t shared publicly.
“FOCUS” (Beeple Everyday – 4/30/17)
4. Get involved in the 3D community.
I’d say regardless of your skill level, you should start posting your work to forums like ArtStation, forum.squid.io or Polycount as Work-in-Progress to solicit feedback from others. Nothing helps more than getting a critique from another artist about your work. It may be scary, and you may get lots of notes on areas to improve upon, but that’s also where you learn to see things with the critical eye required to be continue to be successful. You simply can’t hide in a visual field and expect to do well.
5. Understand and try out new tools and techniques.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that the 3D animation industry shifts every year. There have been a lot of changes in the past 20+ years. That means new techniques for just about every aspect of 3D are emerging rapidly. From Photogrammetry and Open SubDiv surfacing with creasing to progressive, non-biased rendering and PBR materials and shaders, it’s a very different landscape today than it was even just 5 years ago. That means as an artist, you have to evolve and change your techniques as well. Asking questions, reading articles and tutorials, and trying out new, more efficient workflow methods is a necessary part of the job now. You have to be willing to reinvent your processes every so often. If you refuse to learn new skills, it won’t take long for you to be left behind in this industry.
PBR Soldier model by Andor Kollar
Real time Creature model by roman3dd
Hopefully these tips and techniques can help you to become a better 3D artist. It is by no means a complete list and everyone should keep looking for additional ways to get stronger and more efficient. And this is only the beginning of the discussion; we’d be interested in hearing from others on what techniques and tactics you use in your own daily workflows to make sure your skills stay sharp and you don’t lose your edge.
Beau Perschall is Vice President of Business Development at TurboSquid and a 25-year 3D animation professional. Over the years, he has developed relationships with most major studios and software makers, manages the CheckMate Advisory Board for TurboSquid and helps their global artist network find new ways to grow and be successful.
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