Reality Check: 3D Artists & Game Devs Talk Getting Into the Industry

Today, we collected important comments from experienced professionals for beginning 3D artists and game developers on what challenges aspiring creators might face.

Hello everyone! Here on 80 Level, we write about a lot of different things ranging from environment art pieces to book reviews, from business news to the latest achievements of neural networks, but there are two things that have always been the bedrock of our website – 3D art and game development. If you are a 3D artist or an independent developer, no matter how big or small, and have created a wonderful piece there's a big chance that we're going to write an article dedicated entirely to you.

From our experience, we have learned that many beginners picture the industry as a happy place where you only have to be creative to make it and achieve the top of the pedestal. As much as we would love it to be the case, it is simply not so. So, as a sort of reality check, we have collected 15 comments on getting into the industry shared with us by experienced artists and developers. 

As a bonus, we included several informative videos, filled to the brim with important pieces of advice that will definitely help you with getting into the industry. The first video we decided to include is our most recent webinar, in which 80 Level’s CEO and Editor-in-Chief Kirill Tokarev shares tips about finding a dream job in the video game industry.

Make “cool” art that you enjoy and try to gravitate towards a studio that tends to work on projects that align with your skills as well as what you enjoy doing.

Working on something you don’t enjoy can be really demotivating and add stress. Depending on what you want to do, specialize or generalize for the needs of the job you are after. I can’t tell you how many times people told me to specialize in one thing and I hated that. So I learned how to do every part of the pipeline. If your gut tells you that you like being a Generalist don’t let that stop you from becoming one because so many people specialize and miss the opportunity to explore other parts of production.

It’s less common to find Generalist work at a larger studio, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Do what makes you happy and you’ll achieve greatness. Discipline and motivation are key factors to success.

Will Chambers, Technical Director

Always keep up to date with the latest software and keep an open mind to learning new things outside of your comfort zone. And above all, remember to have fun in the process of growing and learning

Bailey Wheatland, Character Artist

For those having troubles with finishing their work, in time or at all, we recommend this 2020 GDC Summer session. In this video, Tribe Games' Charles McGregor explains why setting one specific goal helped him go from finishing no projects to finishing 8 projects in 2 years.

Enjoy the process as much as the subject, sometimes you will make things you aren’t interested in, take joy in the making. Repetition makes you quick, without having to cut corners. Learn color theory. Learn by doing, not watching. Understand that feedback is not a personal attack. Trust that the people who hire you know what they are doing, even if you don’t think you know what you are doing.

Seth Nash, Lead Character Artist

Programming will give you a lot of opportunities but requires more technical work. From that, you can go into technical art if you want to do art and it will also have more opportunities and stability.

Remi Crespo, Game Developer

In this 2019 GDC session, Certain Affinity's Richard Vogel discusses his observations of what it's like working in the games industry for over 20 years and the most important soft skills needed for success.

Study the basics before you get into something more advanced, keep at it, and post the progress of your studies in WiP groups so you can get feedback. Feedback helps you learn and improve.

Justin Carlson, Houdini Environment Artist

Be comfortable with your learning pace as early on as possible. Some people will work day and night non-stop for years and become the absolute best in the field, and most of us draw inspiration from those people. Others will only work at certain intervals and try to maintain a healthy relationship between work and life.

Think hard about what you're willing to sacrifice in order to "make it", and don't feel pressured or ashamed of either choice. This is the 3D entertainment industry, not the child cancer research institute; your choice only impacts you as a person and nobody cares whichever way you go.

Adnan Chaumette, CEO & Founder of Polygonflow

The CEO at Firewolf GAMES Alex Yehorenkov has also shared a great, albeit a bit old, video that will serve as a reality check to aspiring game developers who believe that gamedev is all fun and games and are eager to bring their creativity into it.

Every successful professional will tell you what worked for them, but that won't necessarily work for you when you get your opportunities. Survivorship Bias is real, thus speak to everyone who has also failed to understand better what does or doesn't work.

Trust no piece of advice at face value, including this one.

An-Tim Nguyen, Senior VFX Artist

You have to love it. And I don't mean to like it, you really have to LOVE it. This is a career that you have to keep working at it so you better love what you do. Stay Driven!

Remember, you are competing with everyone. That goes without saying, but putting in the extra time to refine your craft and keep getting better will make you stand out.

No one owes you anything just because you went to school or spent money on this. If your work is very good/great, you will never have a problem finding a job. Period. Companies are now mostly remote in this industry. You can make money in this industry regardless of where you live. But you're gonna have to work your butt off. No one is gonna hand it to you.

Don't take criticism to heart. You are going to have to toughen up if you want to succeed in this industry. If you want to cry and complain because someone thinks your art is bad then do something else for a living.

Find a balance. This is not the easiest... You are in a position where you're trying to get better and better and work can be very demanding, depending on the client. I've sacrificed a lot over the years, and still do, but within reason.

Dan Roarty, Studio Art Director

In this great video, Massive Entertainment's recruiter Sebastian shares 5 top tips on getting into the games industry. Don't miss your opportunity to find out what qualities, skills, and abilities your potential employer will expect from you.

Speaking for environment art, if you want to stand out and be noticed by recruiters then you have to make sure your portfolio demonstrates the key skills that are usually desired for this role.

Show them that you have great attention to detail by properly observing your reference, show them you have a great understanding of composition and lighting by reading up on those principles and applying them to your work, etc.

Read up job descriptions to be aware of what's needed from you and perhaps even follow up on artists who recently began work in the industry to know what kind of portfolio got them the job – this would be your benchmark.

Be pragmatic by listing your weaknesses and steadily improve on those areas via tutorials but mostly via practice within the context of a project.

Also if you're like me you might find it a bit challenging to study on your own and that's fine, not everyone is fully self-taught in this industry.

If you find it difficult to learn on your own then maybe consider applying for an inexpensive mentorship program or sign up for some online classes, this will help you have steady progress towards your goals by keeping you accountable.

Tom Meltser, Environment Artist

Fail quickly and pay attention to processes you like doing and processes you don't like doing. If your passion is characters but you hate working in ZBrush, for example, you might consider something else like Set Dressing or VFX. You have to enjoy the majority of the process of what you do or else you'll end up hating it.

Jack McKelvie, 3D Environment Artist

Do your own projects and don't rely on schools. You can learn all you need on your own and on the job. Do your own small games from start to finish. Personal projects are the only effective way to learn. And if you feel you need classes, don't start with it. Do your thing for a few years, then buy a short workshop to calibrate. And keep doing your thing.

Alex Lex Yaremchuk, CEO/Art Director at ArtSource Digital

You can also check out this video by 3D Artist and YouTuber Mike Hermes that will teach you how to deal with haters online, how to accept criticism, and why it is important for people to be open, honest, and willing to learn and share.

Figure out which part of the production pipeline you enjoy most before spending tons of money at a university. If you don’t know, take online classes first and explore without serious strings attached.

Max Frorer, Concept Designer

Learn, absorb and understand video games and films, enjoy it but also do research on how it was made, composition, color, pacing, design, tech, etc. Use your time WISELY, the pen ain’t gonna do all the work.

Genesis Prado, Senior 3D Artist

Here are some important steps shared by 3D Modeler and Animator Josh that will help you to get started if you are an aspiring 3D artist. Plus, there are 5 fantastic 3D Artists in the video's description for you to check out.

Work hard and never give up. The road is never straight, it's never easy but everything you receive will be worth it

Below are three articles I wrote when I first started out back in 2015:

Gordon Neill, 3D Artist

Before you start specializing in a certain branch, try a bit of everything. Even if it looks unappealing in the beginning.

As an example, don't just focus on character art straight away, but also give animation, Houdini, environment art, concept art, etc a try. And I am not saying specialize in all of them, just follow a decent beginner tutorial for each, and you will be surprised to find out how something unexpected might end up being your favorite direction.

Even if not, your experiences will help you in the long run since you will be working together with all of these disciplines, and be able to see things from their perspective.

Boy Sichterman, Concept Designer

And to help you cope with the weight of all those reality checks, here is an uplifting video shared by Pixologic in which Weta Workshop's Founder Oscar Winner talks about art and what it means to him. 

And here are the awesome artworks we used for the preview:

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