The Disorientating World of Starting Out as a 
3D Artist and Animator: How to Get Going

The Blank 3D Canvas Screen

Believe me I’ve been there, the first time you open a 3D software and find that you have no idea how to do anything. I had all these ideas about what I wanted to create, but the reality is that these software are complex and can take many years to master and there are so many to choose from. I definitely felt overwhelmed starting out and still fight it today from time to time. But I wanted to write a bit about it, in the hope of helping others starting out in this awesome and sometimes frustrating world, if possible.

A bit on Choosing the Right 3D Software

This is a big subject, it really depends mostly on what it is you are interested in accomplishing. There is exciting new software in many different areas of medium to choose from. A question I have found useful to ask myself is what kind of medium interests me for storytelling. Primarily; film, advertising/motion graphics, architecture, games, VR and AR.

Each has more typical 3D software: 

For film Maya is common for animation in films and Houdini for special effects, to name just a couple. On top of this, there are many various roles to fulfill within the pipeline of a production, including: modeller artists, texture artists, lighting artists, animators, tech artists, editing and post-production (rotoscoping and compositing) artists, and also generalist artists. There are even niches within these for specific tasks such as crowd and elements simulation. It can definitely be disorientating figuring out where to begin. Many of these software have free student licences which really helps. 

For those interested in advertising Maxon Cinema 4D seems to be prevalent in the advertising agencies I have worked in over the years, but Autodesk Maya and 3DS Max too is something I have worked with ad agencies using from time to time. 

For architecture and automotive, visualisation in realtime has become an exciting new way for delivering visuals to clients customers and the same trend seems to be happening into film and game, for example Blue Zoo Animation recently work on the short: ‘Ada’, link here :  This utilised these same real time tools, in this case Unreal Engine 4, that made their pipeline more flexible as rendering was taken out of the process and post is more quickly set up within the software.

For many things: UE4 and Unity are primarily used for games, AR and VR. With the recent leaps in advancement of headsets such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift S and HoloLens making these exciting propositions. It seems to me that forms of entertainment, advertising and education are all moving towards more of this sort of pipeline because of the quick feedback, customisability and ability to interact with consumers.


So the final advice on this is to make a decision on a software and get started, I appreciate much easier said than done. I have found that there is always more software that you want to learn. I don’t by any means feel I have mastered many of the software I use today, since they can be used for so many different tasks. More important than the software, is that you are learning the basics of how things work. Very handy to know that most now operate very similarly across different software, since they are now mostly ‘alembic’. Blender is also a great free software that has become a very comprehensive software, as I understand it to get started with.

If you do decide that a school is right for you, then of course it would be worth finding out which software it is that you would be learning. While I am sure you can learn from the internet with its vast resources, and props to those that do, having the framework of learning and classes format plus on hand teaching when you get stuck and comadre of your study group can really help to keep you to stick with it until you are really up and starting to express your ideas. For me recently, 3D tools such as Quill are a great way to more rapidly create and animate an idea, making it great for illustrators and animators to quickly envisage an idea in 3D. 

I got started with Maya and I did this as it was the primary software used during my studies when getting started at Escape Studios. They taught all the essentials to get going and a few extra treats such as simulating oceans. For me, it makes sense to start off with a software like Maya or Cinema 4D and learn the basics of how polygons, memory and pixel resolution etc. work. Then you can touch the surface on building textures, Photoshop I would say is also a must to understand. I felt like a strange scientist learning how some of it works in the beginning. Learning navigation and the tools is essential to this. In the course we were introduced to a new project and there would be a new tool or two that would be added to your roster each time. There are so many great tutorials on YouTube for any specific tool or more general workflows to accomplish a project. Following along with a teacher is a great way to learn new techniques. There is a lot to learn and it will take a considerable time to grasp it so try to be patient and just keep at it. Every time you try something new it will inform how you achieve what you are after and it will start getting easier. 

There is so much more than I have covered here but I wanted to give an overview of a few things to be aware of when starting out. You just need the basics, then you can gradually try out different software over time. I’m still always learning and finding new techniques as my ideas about what I am looking to achieve have changed. Thanks for reading :)

Back to Top