Do you have to be obscenely talented to be a digital 3D artist?

I’ve always been interested in digital art and for a while now I’ve been enhancing my Photoshop skills as a hobby. I have CS4 which introduced some very basic 3D capabilities into the program and it’s tantalized me enough to become interested in 3D rendering software.

I have my reservations though. I’m not sure I’m enough of an “artist” to do it. I certainly don’t have good drawing skills, for example. The CGI they’re pumping out now for games/films/etc. is just awe-inspiring and I don’t know if I’d ever be able to make something like that.

Is being a 3D artist something that takes inborn talent or do you think it can be learned? And what’s a good way to get started? I know some of these programs are very expensive, even for educational versions (I’m still in school so before I graduate I might consider buying one of the lower-tier ones), and I’ve also heard of Blender, which is free. Is that good software to start learning on? Any other advice?

My neighbor has a Ph.D. in Computer Sci and works for Pixar. His expertise is 3-D rendering of surfaces to make them more real, textured, properly lit/reflective. So you don’t have to be an expert in all things 3D to make a living doing it.

In my own work, we work with 3D structures represented as 2D all of the time. If you have an ability to make things more representative or more 3D-like, you could certainly make a living designing/rendering images.

Interesting… I’ve wondered how the workload is distributed when they’re knocking out one of these epic, fully 3D movies. So people tend to specialize in certain areas, such as textures, motion capture stuff, etc.?

I would look at it as with any form of art: there’s a technical component that must be learned, and there’s the creative component which cannot. Some forms of art require higher proportions of one over the other, but I doubt you could truly succeed with an absence of either.

From what I know, having friends in the field, you’ll have a lot of competition. To get a job you’ll have to be good and that takes a lot of milage.
There are quite a few message boards specializing in this field. I would suggest to find one in the area you’d like to pursue. Some types of 3-d use Studio Max, some use Maya.

I def think you can learn the talent, but more than likely not well enough on your own. The people I know that do 3-d studied it in school.

My university doesn’t even have a program for that. I’m a “Multimedia” major; a program that involves teaching the Creative Suite software (Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver), but no 3D classes are offered as far as I know. Is it something you can learn at a trade school?

All of the following comes from the viewpoint of an enthusiastic amateur (with very little talent)

3D design falls into 3 main areas.

Modelling/Sculpting: Creating/modifying the basic geometries and items for a scene. You will also need to learn rigging if you want your objects to have adjustable sections (arms, legs, doors etc.)

Texturing: Creating and modifying textures before applying them to the objects you made in the previous step.

Rendering: Composing a scene using objects created in the previous two steps. Applying lighting and shader effects (graphical adjustments to the textures using the rendering software).

You can also add animating into the mix as a subsection of the rendering process.
Blender is an open source modelling tool. I have it, but have not got around to using it yet. From what I’ve been told it’s not a very intuitive piece of software to learn. Many of the paid-for modelling software are supposed to be easier to learn.

Texturing is done for the most part in typical 2D graphics packages from Gimp on up. Theoretically you could even use something like MSPaint as you have little need for alpha channels. Transparencies are usually handled in the rendering software using a separate grayscale image.

If you are creating textures for a self made object then a tool such as uv mapper will be required to generate the template to guide your textures. You can also get plug-ins for some of the rendering software that allow you to place texture effects directly onto your 3D model. One example is Decalmaster for Daz Studio.

The rendering software is where it all comes together. You add your objects to the scene. Apply the textures to them. Add lighting and shader effects. Then the Render software generates your final image.

At the lower end of the market render software tends to be focused towards different styles of image. Vue 8 PLE is geared towards landscape generation. While Daz Studio 3 is more about characters.

Both of those packages are completely free. However while Vue can generate it’s own scenes straight out of the box. To get anything out of Daz you will need to either model your own objects in a third party package (such as the aforementioed Blender), or purchase/download pre-made objects. Prices for these objects range from free on upwards.

To some of us Daz is soething of a digital pusher. Your first hit is free, then you think “I could use that, it’s only $2…” “Where did that hair come from… $4” Before you know it you’re giving handjobs on the corner for StoneMasons latest release.

There is also a nice paid for piece of software from Daz called Carrara that is can do a little of everything. The full version of Carrara 6.2 was given away on issue 12 of 3dArtist.

Thanks for the informative post, BunnyTVS. So as far as those paid modeling software packages, are there any decent ones that aren’t as crazy-expensive as like, Maya and its ilk? Big plus if there are educational versions available because I graduate in a year and would want to take advantage of that discount before I’m no longer eligible.

Caveat: I am not a modeller. When it comes to art I have two left feet (and can’t hold a brush in either of them). What I’m learning at the moment is textures, shaders and lighting. Modelling is far off in the future for me. But here is what I know.

Well the cheapest modeller is of course
Blender. From people I’ve spoken to, while it’s powerful, it’s layout is not as intuitive as the “professional” packages. It’s a bit like comparing early versions of Gimp, and Photopaint to Photoshop. You could do pretty much the same in all three suites, but how you went about it was very different.

Autodesk do student packages for 3ds Max and Maya. Most look like 13month licences, but this one lists itself as a perpetual licence for the whole suite.

That site also has offers for cinema4d, Lightwave and others. Most prices start at around $200. I recall reading about a free version of Maya they used to release that rendered with a watermark. I can’t find any info about it at the moment

There is a spin off from the Poser creators called Shade, but I have heard nothing about this. Prices start at $50.

I forgot this little gem from Daz 3D. Hexagon is their stand-alone modelling software. So here for $30 is Daz Studio, Carrara and Hexagon plus some starting models and an introductory guide.

It is very much aimed at the casual user/hobbyist but again it’s $30.

I think in the long run your best bet is to head over to the forums at 3DArtist, and ask your questions there. The folks there have much more detailed knowledge and can probably guide you more accurately. This is only the second thread on 3D design I’ve seen in the last 3 or 4 months, and IIRC I was about the only one with any info then as well.

Nice! I can definitely spare $30 to give it a whirl… going to be having a fair amount of free time this summer so I need to take up a hobby anyway.

Hm… the link you have for the Daz 3D package links to the same thing as the link for Shade, you may have copied it over. I went to the Daz 3D site but don’t see the $30 package you’re talking about.

It depends. Do you want to do it professionally, or for fun? Do you want to be the guy who paints watercolors in the park on the weekend, or the guy who supports himself painting oil portraits?

If you’re just doing it for fun, it doesn’t matter how much training or talent you have. Play around with it and enjoy yourself.

If, on the other hand, you want to earn a living as a 3-D artist, then you have a lot of training ahead of you. It’s no different than learning any other artistic medium. Having a talent for it will give you a big head start, but you also to devote years to honing your skills and technique. Getting good enough to work professionally isn’t something you pick up in your spare time. It’s something you devote your life to.

I work in videogames, which are similar. There’s definitely specialization. A typical art production pipeline will look like this:

[li]Concept – Creating a 2-D drawing of what the scene or character is supposed to look like.[/li][li]Modelling – Creating a 3-D model based on the concept.[/li][li]Animation – Creating set of motions for the model.[/li][li]Texturing – Creating 2-D drawings that are mapped onto the surface of the model.[/li][li]Lighting – Applying different virtual lights to add mood to the scene.[/li][/ul]Often each of these different steps will usually be done by a different member of the development team. To complicate matters, gameplay designers and programmers may also be involved at various stages. For example, a designer may lay out a rough version of a level to experiment with gameplay before the modeller starts building it. Or a programmer may write a special texturing program (called a “shader”) designed to run when the object is being rendered to the screen to create a particular visual effect. And it’s possible to work as a game designer or graphics programmer even if you have very little skill as an artist.

Yeah sorry, here’s the correct link. Their servers are a bit slow right now. Probably being hammered due to the Millenium Kids 4 release.