Should you master 3D software or get better at art and design? In an increasingly competitive field, it’s better to focus on art fundamentals.
Starting out as a 3D artist these days can be both exciting and scary. On the one hand, software continues to bridge the gap between what’s possible and what’s not with every new tool release; what’s unimaginable just a couple of years ago is routine today. Hardware has reduced hours of rendering to mere milliseconds. On the other hand, these very same improvements have lowered the barrier to entry and have made the 3D industry more crowded and cutthroat than ever before.
How can you chart a path to becoming a successful 3D artist? In this article, I’ll show you how tools and software aren’t necessarily the defining factors in reaching one’s potential as a 3D artist.
Before we dive into the path to success as a 3D artist, let’s take a look first at the typical path of a 3D artist. There are myriad ways that one gets introduced to 3D: a friend, a coworker, a movie, a game, or even a social media post. You get amazed by the possibilities, get inspired to try your hand at making it yourself. So you go pick a 3D tool to start with. These days this starting point is typically Blender or Unreal.
You then begin to rabbit-hole into the details and nuances of our chosen software, spending hours and hours watching tutorials, trying things out, experimenting, until you become capable of creating something decent enough to show to others.
This phase of exploration and learning can, however, trap and overwhelm you. And when it happens, this can lead you to think that making good 3D is all just a matter of getting good with the tools. Just as you are starting to get a handle on lighting tools and modeling brushes, here come machine learning algorithms and nanite compression tech and procedural mesh creations. You start to get convinced that to become a successful 3D artist, you need to keep chasing mastery of ever-changing tools and that it’s something you can never achieve and, therefore, you’ll never be successful…sounds gloomy, doesn’t it?
Well, one way to get out of this defeatist thinking is to see tools as being the cars and not the destination. They are just means to an end; tools aren’t the end itself. Sure, you’ll need to learn how to drive well but you don’t need to drive all the cars.
While proper knowledge of the tool is a must to become successful, true 3D ability comes from an understanding of the fundamentals and principles of art and design. 3D, just like any other art form, should be directed toward the human eye, mind, and heart. 3D, ultimately, is more art than science.
Knowing how to optimize your time when working on projects is another crucial skill good 3D artists invest in. When it comes to the rendering phase of a project, our online render farm helps 3D artists meet their deadlines by providing reliable cloud rendering services with affordable rates and access to a 24/7 support team of helpful 3D specialists.
Fundamentals and principles define the relationship between human perception and art elements. Once we can truly grasp the power that this knowledge can bring to our work quality, we will be able to evolve from good to great.
Here are some of the fundamentals that any aspiring 3D artist should get good at:
The critical point to grasp here is that our 3D worlds end up on 2D screens, and we should always lay out our worlds to be seen as 2D images. Even videos and animations are only sequences of 2D images.
Getting good at composition lets you have more control of something that’s critical when it comes to visual art: controlling the viewer's attention. By learning how to effectively place detailed components in the foreground, midground, and background of your scene, you are able to guide where the viewer’s eyes go. Controlling the viewer’s attention is key to creating a great visual experience.
Composition, along with color (to be discussed later), has a lot to do with the overall feeling that you want to convey with your images. Here, you really have to develop a filmmaker’s or a photographer’s eye--doing so will go a long way in helping you succeed as a 3D artist. Seeing a subject, say a bottle of soda, from a low angle, gives it a larger-than-life, even heroic, quality. Shooting the same subject from above allows for more playfulness. We can’t possibly list here all the emotional effects that different camera angles can have but the point to remember is this: with composition, you have to take care with the placement not just of the objects in your scene but also, and perhaps more importantly, the placement of the camera. And these are decisions that you have to make as an artist.
While composition encapsulates the principles of laying out our final images, proportions describe the relationships between the design elements. For example, the ratio between the width and height of an element is a study of proportion. Proportions let us see puppies as cute creatures while crocodiles as bulky and scary. The human brain evolved to link certain feelings to specific forms. Artists simply exploit what nature has provided us with.
Colors play a fundamental role in the creative process and human emotions. The hue, values, and tonalities of colors chosen for the 3D work play a major role in how the viewers feel when they look at our work.
Composition, proportion and color theory are only 3 of many principles and fundamentals. Below is an outline of concepts that serve as universal guideposts for visual artists of all fields:
Research, study and work on these principles and fundamentals just like how you’d work on learning the next best tool out there. Once your creative qualities increase, your creative output will improve. And when you focus on improving your creative output, recognition, positions, and money will soon follow.
Being a successful 3D artist is a merging between two worlds. The general principles and fundamentals of art and the know-how of tools and tech. Newer, more automated tools are meant to augment your artistry, not replace it.
In your quest to become a 3D artist, never lose the artist to the 3D.