3D models are created by manipulating polygon meshes and molding them into objects, characters and scenes. 3D art is used in everything from print ads, Web sites, television, movies, video games and beyond.
So, what does it take to be a 3D artist? Well, obviously, you must have an eye for art. Most people who begin learning 3D have some kind of background in drawing and sketching. It's not unheard of for 3D studios to hire artists who have no experience in 3D, based solely on the strength of a pencil drawing portfolio. Sculptors, who were previously limited to animatronics and claymation (clay animation), also tend to make an easier transition to 3D.
Even if you don't have formal art training that goes beyond the few classes you took in high school or college you can still do great work in 3D.
1. Patience. Many beginners unfairly compare themselves to established artists possessing years of experience. While it can be a great motivator and a valuable source of inspiration, 3D art is a diverse subject, requiring dedication and practice. Some say that 3D is like Go, the ancient game of strategy: it takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to be master.
2. Detail. 3D artists tend to have a strong background in computers, compared to non-digital artists. Experience in computer programming is common in 3D circles, though not required. 3D artists need to have an eye for detail, be resourceful and self-sufficient.
3. Hard work. If you want something easy, pick up a pencil and paper and start drawing. 3D art isn't nearly as immediate with results. One can spend, hours, days, and even weeks perfecting a 3D model before ever moving onto texturing, animation or final renders. 3D art is unique in that it can require a broad array of skills, from drawing to acting, to successfully bring together a finished piece. The payoff is that 3D artist are perhaps the most sought-after creative workers.
4. Willingness to accept criticism. Eventually you'll feel motivated to submit your art for review by other artists. 3D artists can nitpick like no one else in the world, so be prepared to have even the slightest error pointed out to you in exacting detail - especially if you're attempting to create anything realistic. If you intend to work in a studio one day, your ability to accept criticism will be crucial to the overall success of the team.
Types of 3D Art
As mentioned earlier, 3D is a broad subject, and a typical finished composition will be composed of several - perhaps dozens - of hours of work in an array of skills. What follows is an overview of the subjects you'll need to learn to be a well-rounded 3D artist.
Modeling. Modeling is the act of creating a 3D mesh, whether the end result is a bug-eyed alien or a teacup. How you get to that finished model depends largely on the methods that make the most sense to you.
Animation. Animation is the process of taking a 3D object and getting it to move. Animation comes in a few different flavors. There's keyframe animation, where the animator manipulates the objects on a frame-by-frame basis, similar to hand-drawn cartoons. Other methods of animation include placing objects on splines and setting them to follow the path of the curve, or importing motion capture data and applying it to a character rig. Another way to animate is to use your 3D application's built-in physics engines, such as when your scene requires that objects fall.
Texturing. Without some kind of texture art, everything will be variations of solid colors. The most common and accurate way to create a texture for a model is to "unwrap" the mesh (flatten it out) and paint over it in an application such as Photoshop. The final texture is then "wrapped" over the original mesh again. Depending on how a model is created, each section may have its own texture, i.e., a separate texture for hands, one for arms and one for the torso of a character, all made to blend together seamlessly.
Rendering. Rendering an image is typically the last step, and is perhaps the most important part. It's often overlooked by beginners, who are more focused on creating models and animating them. There are many aspects to creating a good final render of a scene, including attention to camera placement, lighting choices which may affect mood, shadows, reflections, transparency and the handling of special effects, such as fluids or grasses.
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Original: January 6, 2009