How to Become a 3D Modeler

3D modeling is a very multi-faceted career that can involve working for a large variety of industries. While many associate 3D with computer animation and film-making, this is only one option that a 3D modeler may pursue. In fact, they can work for architecture firms, the health care industry, laboratories, product design, the automotive industry, manufacturing and many others. This is because 3D modeling has become extremely popular in the recent years, since it gives the opportunity to test concept art in a more realistic environment.

While a lot of fun, this can also be an extremely demanding career. You need both creativity and well-honed technique in order to be a successful 3D modeler. Professionals in this field work with complex designs and software in order to produce the models; however, they also need to have vision and be able to work as part of a team and production line. Many choose to work for larger companies, yet others go into freelancing and consult on specific projects, usually within the industry of their specialization.

Here is some more information about 3D modeling.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Avi Cohen

Vertex Product Development, Inc., President

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Avi Cohen
  • Great Neck, NY
  • 25
  • Vertex Product Development, Inc.
  • @vertexpd

Understanding My Career Path

  • I became interested in design and 3D during my first year of high school. I had the choice to select a profession that attracted me, and since I always liked to draw and sketch, architecture seemed like the right choice for me.
  • Thinking in 3D and imagining structures and space in 3D came naturally for me, but at the time there were no computer programs to design with, so we did it all by hand.
  • When applying to college, I chose industrial design. Only during my third year, was I exposed to 3D programs on a MAC, which was very primitive and limited, but this sparked something in me, knowing the potential of 3D design.
  • I continued my industrial design education for Master in Pratt Institute.
  • My first extensive exposure to 3D was when I worked as a model maker in a design firm. I saw the designs the engineers were working on upstairs, and I knew I wanted to do the same.
  • A year and a half later I started my own design firm, Vertex Product Development. Using Pro Engineer was one of the tools to design, engineer and create prototypes and actual products at the end of the process. Ever since, I have had the opportunity to work with Solid-Works, Rhino, Maya and many more programs for 3D design.

Recommended Organizations

    • Behance.net – If you have a portfolio, start a portfolio page on Behance.net. It is free and gets a lot of attention.
    • Yankodesign.com – Submit new product ideas (even if they are only concepts) to Yankodesign.com
    • Core77.com – Look into creating a portfolio on Core77.com, also one of the leading sites for design and 3D work.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
I am always pro formal education. It gives the person the foundation and understanding of the field he or she is about to go into. In 3D design however, one can teach themselves how to use and work with the 3D program (I know I did), but learning how to use the tool does not mean you will be able to use it correctly or design parts and geometry that later can be used.

Use your hands
Do not rely only on 3D computer generated geometry. Start with hand sketches and modeling geometry with solids by hand. This will give you a better understanding of the way 3D objects interact with one another and better 3D vision before starting to draw the first line.

Teach yourself
Pick one of the popular programs (free versions, Student versions) and learn. If I had YouTube in my time, my life would have been so much easier. Use YouTube and look for tutorials.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
For industrial design, start with designing new product ideas and execute 3D renderings of these products to create a portfolio. Redesign existing products that you may feel you can do better and add to the portfolio. Do not forget to show your hand drawings skills. Remember, you must start thinking in 3D even without a 3D program.

Francesco Baldi

Forestelli.it

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • Twitter:
  • Francesco Baldi
  • Forte dei Marmi, Italy
  • 9
  • Forestelli.it
  • @Fnb82

Understanding My Career Path

  • I had my first foretaste of the computer graphic possibilities when I saw the movie Jurassic Park at the cinema. It was 1993, and I was just a child.
  • When I was attending the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of Pisa, I first heard about the possibilities of 3D software. I left the University, and I decided to try to get into the computer graphics field. I wanted to create something, to be part of that world. I didn’t know yet that I would become a 3D modeler.
  • I started looking for information on the internet, and I began to study the most common and most affordable software at the time, which was 3D Studio Max.
  • Looking for another software program that was more focused on modeling sculpting, I learned about ZBrush. In 2005, I founded the first Italian ZBrush web community to increase my software knowledge and bring together people interested in organic modeling.
  • That same year, I completed the 3D Maya advanced course at the NT Academy in Florence.
  • In early 2007, with my first demo reel, I moved to London and I managed to find a job in the CG field. I worked at an animation studio on a modeling project for the web.
  • I returned the same year to Italy because a company called me to work for some TV series for kids. I moved to Pisa, working on 3D series produced by RAI, then to Rome for a feature film, and then to Florence.
  • In 2009, with my partner and 3D animator colleague Monia, we started working on our own TV series project Forestelli’s Wood.
  • Today I am developing our TV series project for kids that we want to present to the biggest Animation Festivals in Europe. In the meantime, I work as a freelancer for animation companies.

Advice

On whether or not he recommends a formal education
I would recommend a formal education only if school or the course that provides your education will be able to distinguish your CV among others or give to you some additional value, such as a direct link with the world of work after the end of the courses.

Formal training can be useful, not so much for the role of a 3D modeler specifically, but rather to achieve a solid general foundation. If a person does not have an artistic background, then a school could help. It will also teach you how the role of 3D modeler is part of a production line.

On the other hand, you can become a 3D modeler without any courses. Being self-taught is possible but quite difficult, because you have no confrontation with anyone else and you risk losing your enthusiasm. Do research on the internet, watch tons of tutorials on Youtube and spend your time reading manuals and practicing.

Practice, but with a plan in mind
I think exercise is the basis for development of any artistic skill. Start by studying 3D modeling software that can be competitive in the industry. Take the time to consider a few questions: What is your aim? What do you want to do? Be aware that modeling for a video game is very different from modeling for a 3D cartoon or a feature film or that being a character modeler is very different from being a surface modeler.

Learn how to stand out
Schools churn out hundreds of new junior modelers each year and the industry has to absorb this flow. Standing out among this mass becomes increasingly difficult. Pick the most original and interesting reels and watch them carefully. Try to figure out what is the current standard of quality and set it as your goal. Try to achieve this standard and try to overcome it. Remember that companies will watch your reel and you have to attract and keep their attention.

Have a wider view
Modeling is only a part in the production line of a computer graphic piece. As a 3D modeler you need to prove to be able to receive designs from the concept artist, interpret them and take directions. After the modeling step, your piece of art will probably have to be rigged and animated. So you need to know the requirements that a 3D model must have for a good rig and what to ensure correct movements of the geometry in the animation process.

Advice on getting your foot in the door
My first advice is get ready to send your showreel. Put in only pictures you’re sure of, and send it only if it is complete and if it works. Do not be discouraged. It is not easy to get an answer, but if the reel is done well and it works, sooner or later you’ll get positive news.

You can also subscribe to recruiting services. In every country there are specialized recruiting agencies that CG Companies use to find professionals. Subscribe to these agencies; it is free and you just have to send your CV and your reel so that they can keep you in their archives.

Use social networks like Linkedin or Facebook, online forums, web communities, and let people know who you are and what you do. Buy a domain, it’s cheap and easy, and build your website to show your portfolio. It must be a place where people can be familiar with your models and where recruiters can watch and download your reel and your CV. Leave things as simple as possible so that the attention is focused on your models.

Jing Johnson

PCG, Inc.

Quick Look Bio

  • Name:
  • Location:
  • Years in the Industry:
  • Company:
  • YouTube:
  • Jing Johnson
  • Houston, TX
  • 25
  • PCG, Inc.
  • PCGinc2013

Understanding My Career Path

  • Both my parents are structure engineers in the building industry. I literally grew up in a large architectural and engineering design institute in China.
  • Consequently, I chose architecture as my major in college. Later on, I continued my education and got my master degrees in architecture, both in China and here in the states.
  • I had worked in architectural firms in China and the US as a project designer, coordinator and manager.
  • Upon starting my 3D visualization company PCG, I furthered my education with an MBA at Rice University.
  • We provide high-quality 3D renderings and animations to key players in the building industry such as developers, architects, building owners, property managers, etc.

Recommended Organizations

Unfortunately, there are no formal organizations for licensed professionals. However, there are plenty of places to learn from your peers and best practices. Here are some recommendations:

Advice

On whether or not she recommends a formal education
If someone’s career goal is to become a 3D modeler or 3D visualization specialist, I recommend a BFA, Visual Effects or a two-year program at an art institute. Although some of us in our profession had architectural degrees, I don’t think it’s necessary.

Look into local schools
Take a course at a local college or art institute to find out if this is something you would enjoy to do as a career path.

Join online communities
Join some good 3D visualization online blogs and communities to learn the industry trends and learn from the best.

Practice, practice, practice
This line of work is very time-consuming. Quality work comes from years of disciplined practice and continuous learning.

What Are My Study Options?


Many universities and colleges in the US and across the world offer programs that can prepare you for a career in 3D modeling. Normally, these are animation, computer art, and visual effects, among other degrees. These will give you a comprehensive understanding of the relevant software and programs, arts and design training, while you will also need to take other courses relevant to the industry – depending on your focus. If you would like to pursue 3D modeling in a specific industry, a university will also give you an opportunity to choose a minor to prepare you for this.

This being said, a degree is not necessary in order to become successful in the industry. Everyone learns differently, and for some, self-learning can be the perfect path. Especially, since the resources are readily available online, through Youtube tutorials, among others. You will still need to invest in a variety of software licenses and high-end personal technology in order to learn. Keep in mind, that this will require a lot of discipline and will limit your interaction with industry peers, unless you make a strong effort to build a network. Also, you can complement this path by taking college courses in specific disciplines, if you feel the need.

WHAT IF I WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A 3D MODELER?

  • School of Visual Arts
    Located in New York City, SVA offers a variety of degrees suitable for those wishing to pursue a career in 3D. You can take a BA in Animation, Computer Art, or Computer Animation and Visual Effects. The school also holds an annual Dusty Awards for new talent in Film and Animation. Full-time tuition is $17,500 per semester.
  • Pratt Institute
    Not far from SVA, Pratt is located in Brooklyn, NY, and allows students to pursue a degree in 3D Animation and Motion Arts. Students also have the option of pursuing master’s level studies in digital animation and motion arts. Here, you will have access to a number of studio and interactive spaces. Tuition is $44,580 per year.
  • Minneapolis College of Art and Design
    The BFA in Animation at the MCAD focuses heavily on 3D motion graphics but also teaches stop motion and 2D techniques. The college promotes local and international internships and hands-on experience. Students pay $17,438 per semester.
  • Sheridan College
    This school, located in Oakville, Ontario (Canada), offers a Bachelor of Animation that focuses heavily on 3D design but also ensures that students are able to understand and perform the more traditional 2D design work. The program includes an internship, and the school holds an annual Industry Day, where companies from North American meet graduating students. Tuition is CAD$25,455 per year (approx. US$21,000).
  • Digital Animation and Visual Effects School
    The DAVE school in Orlando, Florida offers two programs: Visual Effects Production and Game Production. The school has a very specialized and hands-on approach to learning, and programs are completed within 12 months. A cool fact is that the school is located within a working film studio. Tuition is $33,500 for the whole program.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

A portfolio, or what is in the industry called a demo reel, is your first and foremost priority if you are looking to pursue a career in 3D modeling. This will include a selection of your best work, whether it is done for college or on your own and needs to be comprehensive. Only show your most successful work and truly demonstrate your ability to model.

You can send this to companies you are interested in, and expanding your search is probably a good idea, since the field is quite competitive. You should be open to first taking an internship and then progressing to a permanent role within a company. At the same time, create a page with your demo reel or upload it on one of the existing websites dedicated to hosting portfolios for tech professionals – this can help get you noticed.

It is also highly advisable to become part of online forums and groups in order to start getting to know professionals in the industry, while also following events and conferences. Attending these will give you an opportunity to network face-to-face and stay up to date with this quickly evolving field.