Getting started in 3D
So you’ve set your sights on a career in 3D, but with the vast variety of roles involved in the industry how will you know what direction to take? Check out our handy guide to help you get started in 3D
You’ve decided a career in 3D is for you, but with so many varied roles involved in every project, from modellers and animators to texture artists and riggers, you need to take a look at your 3D skillset to see where your future lies.
Do you know what career in 3D you’d like?
The games, architectural visualisation and film industries offer a variety of careers that make use of your 3D skills. One such you’ll see advertised is that of texture artist. In this highly creative role you would be responsible for the creation of 3D texture maps for use in games, animated flythrough scenes and CGI films. It involves the creation and application of textures to models and meshes as well as ensuring that the scene has a consistent texture style.
Of course traditional art skills are a big plus as is experience of programming and an aptitude for maths and physics. You also need to be on the cutting edge of games to know just how complex your texture maps can be – and how much you need to fake things – in order to match the processing power or your platform. Such techniques include normal mapping, occlusion maps and multiple texture sheets, all of which generate highly detailed textures without demanding all the system memory needed for the game or architectural visualisation.
You’ll also need to be proficient in 2D graphics software such as Photoshop or Deep Paint, and be able to demonstrate this with a mixture of low-resolution textures and normal maps.
Lighting artist or Lighting TD
A lighting artist creates the different lighting situations for games, 3D artwork, animated films and most architectural visualisations. Knowledge of photography, as well as cinematography, is a must.
You should understand how natural and artificial light is set up and how it changes mood, as well as possessing a firm understanding of the rendering process. You’ll need to be able to light all 3D scenes from shadowy interiors with shadows or underwater shots to external environments at the mercy of sunlight, reflections and the effects of weather – as well as being able to convincingly control all such lighting in an animated sequence.
Working in Computer Aided Design you’ll probably be equally at home with 2D vector-based drafting systems as with 3D packages. The latter can be divided into solid and surface modelling. Solid modelling, where you define solid geometric shapes, normally by extruding or sweeping from 2D sketches, is used in mechanical product visualisation and prototyping, medical imaging and engineering analysis.
Surface modelling, used in automotive design and product design, more closely resembles the manipulation of curves and points on surfaces that is found in 3D modelling for the entertainment industry. CAD doesn’t just involve modelling however. You might be involved in strength testing and dynamic analysis of mechanical assemblies or using animation to simulate how products behave or appear from different dimensions. If you decide to take the CAD route you might find yourself designing anything from a small mechanical component to a complete factory.
This is one of those jobs that appear across the many sectors of the 3D industry- building and manipulating polygon meshes and moulding them into objects, characters and scenes.
For games and VFX, proficiency with software like Maya or 3DS Max is required for this career – this is best demonstrated by having a mixture of low-polygon models and more complex high-poly meshes in your showreel.
In common with product design for industry, the modeller in games and other 3D sectors creates objects like furniture and vehicles, at various levels of detail depending on how close to the ‘camera’ they will be used in the production.
You’ll be expected to build up a library of reusable assets and have some knowledge of industrial design techniques. For character modelling, more organic techniques will be used, so tools like Mudbox are useful to learn. Modellers in the gaming world meanwhile may also have to create levels and design an environment that includes backgrounds, sets and objects.
Also spanning games and visual effects is the job of animator, which can be further broken down to various roles. As any kind of animator you’ll need more than artistic skills, but designing characters, drawing storyboards and creating models obviously require a high degree of creative talent. As a general animator you will work out the timing of movements and making sure things meet the script and soundtrack requirements. As a character animator it’s essential that you know how a character or object in motion should walk, run, jump and so on, so life-drawing classes are a good step.
Learning the classic 2D animation techniques of Disney artists is another smart move.
You also need to know how to shape and animate the mouth to match voices and other vocal sounds while knowledge of ‘timing’ is essential for everything. (The latest issue of 3D World features a tutorial on creating phonemes, which you may find useful.)
An aptitude for creating storylines and creative camera movement is also a plus. Software such as MotionBuilder and Face Robot are great applications to learn in this field as is an understanding of motion capture.
Riggers are artists who set up the skeleton of the character or creature, and prepare it for animation – they’ll need to know how human and animal bodies move, so some life drawing skills and knowledge of anatomy is essential. They also need to know how to limit animation, such as how joints bend and how muscles contract and expand – and how these constraints affect the realism of the model.
Riggers set up skeletons made of interlinked bones then bind these ‘rigs’ to the character, a process known as skinning. The next step is defining the constraints and deformations, then build in controls for the animators to control the movements of the CG character or objects.
Work by Andrew Mitchell, studying for an Master of Fine Arts in Visual Effects at SCAD. Andrew gives a student's view of SCAD in our CG Training Course Guide in issue 154 of 3D World, now on sale in the UK
Effects animation, where you create VFX like fire, smoke, floods and explosions and so on, will likely involve getting on first name terms with particle systems, fields, expressions, scripts, soft bodies, rigid bodies, cloth dynamics and particle instancing/flocking.
All of these require an understanding of physical dynamics and natural phenomena, while a strong background in computer programming, preferably in C or C++ and UNIX, as well as knowledge of scripting is helpful. Effects animation isn’t just for unnatural effects, however, nowadays you’ll find that many films that feature crowd scenes with thousands of independently animated characters use techniques developed in this field.
What is certain, however, is that for all animation jobs, indeed most jobs in the 3D industry, teamwork is essential. So the ability to work with others, shoulder your part of the work and be consistent in all things (timekeeping, quality of work, willing personality) is crucial.
Follow these links to help kick-start your CG career
10 simple steps to getting a job in CG
How to get hired in 3D
Tips for getting that 3D job
Find a 3D Course
5 tips to get started in digital illustration
For more help, grab a copy of 3D World issue 154
In the latest issue 3D World, you’ll find a CG course training guide, showcasing some of the places you can go to study, such as the Savannah College of Art and Design and Vancouver Film School.
Lead image from Adam Strick’s graduate showreel. Adam now works at DreamWorks Animation
on Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 at 6:42 pm under Features, Guides.
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Tags: 3d jobs, 3d modeller, animator, CAD Artist, CG career, Get a job in 3D, Getting started in 3D, Learning 3D, Lighting artist, Lighting TD, Texture artist