#1 Posted by YouMakeKittyMad (31 posts) -

dear bombers,

i've come to a bit of an awkward place. i'm a 29 year old college graduate (BA - Philosophy) from new york city who has been working as a professional dancer for the last ~8 years since graduating. i love my career. i'm working pretty constantly and hope to keep doing so for another couple of years at least, but there will come a time in the not-too-distant future when i'll have to move on from being a performer to a new career and a new path. i have no desire to choreograph, and, while i love teaching, it's not something i wish to pursue as a career. with that in mind, for the last few years, between gigs that have me traveling abroad, i've been building up my skills in other areas. i work as a dance photographer and have been working my way into doing more studio and product photography. i intern, when i can, with a small graphic design firm using the skills in photoshop, illustrator, indesign, and lightroom that i've picked up through my photography. during that internship i've started learning html/css coding so as to better understand the technical aspects of web design, and am continuing that learning process on my own. i feel confident that with more work, both on my own and collaborating with other artists i know, i'll be able to move on into any number of design-based fields when the time comes for me to move on.

and that's great.

but i want to be a 3D artist/animator. i've wanted to do it for years. i think my background in dance makes me fairly well-suited for it. but i have absolutely no idea where to start. my work makes it very difficult for me to take courses anywhere, even short-term continuing ed classes at places like SVA, Parsons, NYU, etc., but i have a good laptop (MBP) and a reasonable amount of free time, especially while on tour, so i can do lots of work on my own. however, unlike for web coding, graphic design work, and photography, the materials i've been able to find for absolute beginners to 3D art are pretty thin on the ground. so, having been a member (albeit a very quiet one) of the GB community for a number of years now, i know that this place is brimming with amazingly talented creative people, many of whom seem to have learned their skills without having gone to school for them.

so i ask of you (and here's for all of you TL;DR folks): where can a guy like me start to learn the skills required to move into a career in 3D art/animation/VFX for a (dream) job at places like Pixar, Dreamworks, Digic, ILM, etc. (or, at the very least, to have a really fun hobby doing that kind of stuff in my spare time)?

thanks all, i look forward to your responses and to seeing more of all of your talents here on GB.

GL HB!

#2 Posted by jozzy (2041 posts) -

I don't really have any advice to give you, but I just wanted so say I will be looking at this thread too because I am interested in this field as well.

When I tried to get into it a couple of years ago a major obstacle seemed to be that you needed a killer pc to use 3D applications, not sure how that is these days. I did have a lot of fun trying to make levels/things in the unreal editor, but that might not be what you are looking for.

#3 Posted by schman42 (14 posts) -

@YouMakeKittyMad: Not much of a modeller, but for animation I would recommend using the Pixar Norman rig. I have been using Maya software to animate, but it also allows you to model and rig. Aside from taking classes, there are plenty of tutorials out there that will teach you the basics of what you are looking to learn.

Besides that, I think the most important things for you to understand are the 12 basic principles of animation. If you get a good grasp on these concepts, it will help you infinitely on creating realistic animation.

#4 Posted by MechaKirby (187 posts) -

You can download free education versions of all the Autodesk programs, pretty sure you can do the same with ZBrush, and youtube is full of great tutorials for people like you. If you want more professional tutorials, a subscription to Lynda.com could be useful.

#5 Posted by Raethen (180 posts) -

I was a Philosophy major for two years, and then started a 3D program that my school offered. It was a strange jump to begin with, but I'm glad I did it.

If you want to animate, I would first pick up the book The Illusion of Life and The Animators Survival Kit. Both break down the fundamentals of animation. The Illusion of Life through the history of Disney animation, and the Survival Kit is more instructional. From there, there are a lot of free rigs on the net, but the 3d program is going to be the big expense. There are free programs like Blender, and animation skills translate across software fairly easily, though I have never used any of the open source or free programs myself. Another thing you could look into is Animation Mentor. It is an online school for animation, an 18 month program that teaches only 3d character animation.

As far as modeling and such goes, there are a lot of tutorials online for specific programs, but modeling and texturing is a lot alike throughout the different programs. The main thing is the differences in UI and interaction. So find a tutorial of something you would have fun modeling and go from there.

#6 Edited by Akrid (1356 posts) -

First off, get a 3d program. It'll be difficult to learn from anything until you have a bit of context as to what to apply it to. The industry standard is Maya of course, but I use Modo, because it simply makes more sense to me then any other package I've tried. A few more popular ones: Cinema 4D, 3ds Max, Blender (Free), and Lightwave. Another very important program these days is Zbrush, but you probably shouldn't go to that first. Go ahead and search for what program you feel fits you best. Take care however; I'm sort of throwing you in the deep end with some of those links. Most of those videos are describing very advanced things that you really don't need to worry about for a while yet. I just wanted to show some footage for you to get a feel for the programs. Each have more basic training somewhere. If you have any questions about the highs and low points of these programs, just ask.

Once you have your program, you need to learn the tools. In every instance, there are a lot of them in there. Many of them you will rarely need, but the ones you will need are universal - if you ever want to change your 3d package, you'll find the basic suite of tools are all there no matter the program, just in different places. The point is to find those tools, get used to their function, and be able to identify when others are using them. Personally, to learn this I picked up a Maya book, which gave step by step instructions like move this vertice to this coordinate, scale this by 25%, that sort of thing. Might sound boring, (And it kinda was) but it got me used to the program, how animation worked, where the tools are, etc. The book I had ( I think 2010) lead me through modelling, texturing, and animating two characters in a small beach environment. I'm not sure I recommend learning in Maya because I have since learned that it's kind of a terrible program, but still. I started to understand what 3D was all about, which is the main goal here. Once you get that basic understanding under your belt of where the tools are and what they do, the world opens up to you because the majority of training materials that Gnomon and the like produce are aimed at intermediate/advanced users.

And all those training materials consist of either someone explaining a singular, more advanced concepts in detail (GI, IKs, topology, etc.,), or simply footage of other people working and talking about it. And the latter is really the most important, because despite having all the tools at this point, you don't know how to use them. You just need to watch others apply the tools. Like, a lot. Everyone works differently, and you'll gain special tidbits from each person that you'll integrate into your own workflow. As you build your knowledge up, you'll have more confidence in trying out your own ideas (Which you should always be doing along the way).

And the last piece: Don't get discouraged. It's as much of a struggle for everyone, and it can be painful when your vision of a project doesn't pan out. But you've got to stick with it. If you're first try fails, start all over again. It's very common - even for pros - to iterate a few times before getting close to what they want. It really is purely practice. For everything you want to make in 3d, you need to (Ideally watch it get made once by someone else and then) make it 10 times before you can truly say you can't do it, because that's really what all those amazing people who seem to accomplish it with ease did. You've just got to power through.

Feel free to shoot me a PM if you ever need any help, I'd be very glad to give it.

Edit: Oh yeah, forgot to link this, which is a very good non-program-specific video series on the fundamentals of 3D. I can't get to their site right now, which is a shame, because I'm pretty sure it has more videos.

#7 Posted by YouMakeKittyMad (31 posts) -

thank you all so much and for your input! one of my biggest questions was which program to get started with, so knowing that it kinda doesn't matter is a really big help. i had already started messing around with Blender (since it's free) and i'll gladly keep going with that since it seemed pretty easy to use.

if anyone else feels like posting any kind of tutorials/sites/videos/etc. on here, i think it would be awesome for this thread to be a repository of that kind of knowledge. i'm sure and i aren't the only two curious about this.

also, just out of curiosity, why would ZBrush, specifically, not be good for beginners?

#8 Posted by Ravenlight (8040 posts) -

First, you're going to have to figure out how to use the Shift key. It's important for keyboard shortcuts and whatever.

#9 Posted by jozzy (2041 posts) -

I have to make do with a pretty modest laptop (Dell latitude E6500). Can I just start using this for a program like Blender, or do I really need something more powerful?

#10 Edited by rflx (573 posts) -

My advice, as a (former) 3D artist; 
Don't.
 
Or the longer answer:
Don't, unless you really have a legitimate passion for it. It's a strange business, with some pretty tough competition, and unless you get lucky, and/or you're very talented, you won't even get a foot in the door anywhere.
But if you have a burning passion for it, by all means go for it. Just be prepared to lose it as a hobby once you go professional. That's what happened to me. Ultimately lost interest in the whole thing.
 
As far as where to acquire the skills, that's pretty much irrelevant. If you have the interest for it, it should just come along by itself, by hobbying around with it, and following tutorials at home etc.. Get an educational license of your software of choice, teach yourself at home from internet tutorials (most professionals I know did this), or go to school (I wouldn't recommend it, unless you're lucky and find one of the very few competent courses that exist). Doesn't really matter. It's your own level of interest and commitment that matters in your success. An educational degree of some sorts can help a little, but is definitely not required in the 3D/animation field.
All that really matters is your portfolio, and unfortunately, to some extent, your networking skills. And maybe a bit of luck.
 
Speaking of luck, Good luck with it.
 
Edit 1: If you want to be an animator, go with Maya. It's the industry standard in the majority of places.
 
Edit 2: Also, it's a good thing to hang around other 3D artists as much as you can. Forums and such. This is one of the few things a school course can be good for, in my opinion. The networking.

Online
#11 Posted by CptBedlam (4449 posts) -
  • Download Blender
  • Read and/or watch a few basic tutorials (not too much at once, get to know the stuff that you need for your next step)
  • Start modelling and animating a low-poly character

I started an indie game project together with a friend about a year ago and I had to learn how to make textures, how to model stuff and how to animate as well.

Here's my first animation ever (amateur work, keep in mind), the fat guy is one of the two player characters:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F30RwfLUIUc

#12 Posted by Akrid (1356 posts) -

@YouMakeKittyMad said:

also, just out of curiosity, why would ZBrush, specifically, not be good for beginners?

ZBrush is just kind of more specific in that it is a dedicated modelling application. It's not that it's technically hard to use, but I feel you should have a foundation on what a polygon is before you go ahead and work with millions of them. The main shortcoming of Zbrush is that nothing that comes out of it is usable in a raw form. You need to know why that is before you try and work around it, in my opinion.

#13 Posted by Daiphyer (1320 posts) -

@Akrid: Why is Maya a terrible program?

#14 Posted by Daiphyer (1320 posts) -

@rflx said:

My advice, as a (former) 3D artist; Don't. Or the longer answer: Don't, unless you really have a legitimate passion for it. It's a strange business, with some pretty tough competition, and unless you get lucky, and/or you're very talented, you won't even get a foot in the door anywhere. But if you have a burning passion for it, by all means go for it. Just be prepared to lose it as a hobby once you go professional. That's what happened to me. Ultimately lost interest in the whole thing.

Why do I see this everywhere about being a 3D artist? What is this 'tough competition'? Why won't he 'even get a foot in the door'? If I keep seeing people telling others to not be 3D modelers, so where are all the 'successful' 3D modelers? (BTW, I don't necessarily want to work in Pixar or Disney. I am more interested in modeling games)

A friend of mine studied in an art school for 3-4 years, and he instantly got a job at EA, and since has worked on Dead Space and numerous other games. Was he just lucky?

#15 Posted by MattQ (47 posts) -
#16 Posted by rflx (573 posts) -
@Daiphyer said:

@rflx said:

My advice, as a (former) 3D artist; Don't. Or the longer answer: Don't, unless you really have a legitimate passion for it. It's a strange business, with some pretty tough competition, and unless you get lucky, and/or you're very talented, you won't even get a foot in the door anywhere. But if you have a burning passion for it, by all means go for it. Just be prepared to lose it as a hobby once you go professional. That's what happened to me. Ultimately lost interest in the whole thing.

Why do I see this everywhere about being a 3D artist? What is this 'tough competition'? Why won't he 'even get a foot in the door'? If I keep seeing people telling others to not be 3D modelers, so where are all the 'successful' 3D modelers? (BTW, I don't necessarily want to work in Pixar or Disney. I am more interested in modeling games)

A friend of mine studied in an art school for 3-4 years, and he instantly got a job at EA, and since has worked on Dead Space and numerous other games. Was he just lucky?

What I mean about that is, that there are A LOT of aspiring artists out there, and not a lot of job openings. So if you're not committed to be one of the best in your field, then it's a tough business. That goes mostly for the positions in large respected studios though.
Online
#17 Posted by Raethen (180 posts) -

@YouMakeKittyMad: Zbrush is a digital sculpting program, used to add detail to models that would be extremely hard with a basic modeling program. It is better to learn modeling in a 3d package, and then learn how to enhance those models with Zbrush. If you would like something to play around with that will give you a rough feeling with what you can do with Zbrush, you should download the Alpha of Sculptris, made by the same company, Pixologic. http://www.pixologic.com/sculptris/ It is digital sculpting without having to worry about geometry. It has no real use within a cg pipeline yet, but it is fun to play around in.

@Daiphyer: He was very lucky to find a job right out of school. It depends some on how talented you are, but from what I've seen, knowing people is the best and easiest way of getting a job. I graduated last May and then spent the next two months finishing up my classes short film, largely by myself. Since then I have been building up a demo reel that I can feel confident about, which is finally coming around because of some major setbacks. From what I've seen, without contacts or immense talent, people are looking at anywhere between 3 to 18 months between graduating and finding a job. It is extremely discouraging, but when it is something you want to do, you have to stick with it.

#18 Posted by Daiphyer (1320 posts) -

@GDYoder said:

@Daiphyer: He was very lucky to find a job right out of school. It depends some on how talented you are, but from what I've seen, knowing people is the best and easiest way of getting a job. I graduated last May and then spent the next two months finishing up my classes short film, largely by myself. Since then I have been building up a demo reel that I can feel confident about, which is finally coming around because of some major setbacks. From what I've seen, without contacts or immense talent, people are looking at anywhere between 3 to 18 months between graduating and finding a job. It is extremely discouraging, but when it is something you want to do, you have to stick with it.

But isn't that the norm for almost every major? With industry being the way it is now, everybody struggles to find a job.

#19 Posted by Akrid (1356 posts) -

@Daiphyer said:

@Akrid: Why is Maya a terrible program?

They've been building on the base for too long, it's just incredibly bloated and inconsistent. Modo in comparison feels much more modern, and it's thought out carefully from the ground up of what is actually needed and essential. It feels cohesive. Meanwhile, Autodesk has just been buying up any promising technology and shoving it into Maya for years. Really, you can do anything with Maya. But I don't want to do anything, I want to do some things very well and efficiently.

That's just my perspective on it though. Plenty of people use Maya and are happy enough with it.

And yeah, 3D is a crazy tough industry - in fact, I still think it's the hardest thing I could choose to try and do with my life. But I've chosen not to worry about it too much. I like doing it. I'm not worrying if I am the best at it. I know that if I continue working I can only get better, so I put the blinders on and just try and do my best. I believe that that's what these people did to gain their 'immense talent' in the first place. Don't let them discourage you too much.

@jozzy said:

I have to make do with a pretty modest laptop (Dell latitude E6500). Can I just start using this for a program like Blender, or do I really need something more powerful?

I really couldn't tell you if that laptop would be okay, mainly because I know nothing about laptop hardware, but I really doubt that you won't be able to open the program or anything like that. People generally use powerful PCs because they want faster render times/more RAM for larger scenes when rendering, usually not because real-time performance isn't fast enough. You might not be able to do everything you want, but if you're just starting out you shouldn't be trying to do big stuff anyway. In any case, it wouldn't hurt to try! Blender has some pretty stellar beginner training, so just give it a shot.

#20 Posted by Alphazero (1536 posts) -

Terrible or not, an animator should be able to use Maya. Blender is pretty okay, but none of the big studios use it. 
 
Lots of folks like Modo for quick modelling. It's pretty nifty. 
 
Assemble a good demo reel of your best work. Keep it short and only your very best stuff. Best of luck!

#21 Posted by Saethir (353 posts) -

If your looking for some tutorials, I've found the video tuts over at 3dbuzz.com to be very helpful.

3dtotal.com has some good non video tutorials as well.

Good luck!