Top . Learning 3D . Finding a Job . Demo Reels . The
THE BIG IDEA
The most important thing to remember in planning a career in 3D graphics
or computer animation is that it's what you bring to the computer,
not how well you fly the software, that will matter most to your work.
Most of the best 3D artists have some other visual arts background (such
as illustration, painting, sculpture, live action filmmaking, or 2D or
stop-motion animation) in addition to 3D experience. People with strong
traditional visual arts skills generally produce the best graphics and
animation, and get the best jobs, with the most creative control over their
|To see what it'll take, check out some 3D job descriptions on-line.
VFXpro.com is one of the best sources for
up-to-date 3D job listings.
Or go straight to the site of a 3D company, such as
Pacific Data Images
and check out the qualifications they are looking for in their recruiting section.
By saying "how well you fly the software" is not the most
important issue, I don't mean to trivialize it, either! It takes hundreds
of hours working in 3D before most artists can control the software well
enough to even let their own style show through, instead of the "computer
look" that so often takes over.
If you are learning about computer graphics for the first time, learn
2D tools first, such as Adobe Photoshop and After Effects, before doing
3D. This is not just a good foundation, but Photoshop is also a program
you're going to continue using during 3D projects.
Start with as many short, simple projects as you can, so that you can
go through the whole process of planning, modelling, texturing, lighting,
animating, rendering, and editing your work several times on short projects,
and learn to use a variety of software functions along the way.
I learned 3D by using my own Amiga to run some simple 3D programs at
home. Even at a top school that teaches 3D, much of what you learn will
be self-taught, as a result of spending time creating your work on the
If you're setting up a home-based system to learn 3D, don't go spending
huge piles of money. A package like Hash or Lightwave should be fine for
most people, and will teach you the skills you will use in any other system.
The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonist's Union Local 839 has a list of animation schools.
Pixar's Recruiting Page has another list of schools for aspiring character animators.
I got my MFA in Film at the Art Center College of Design, located in Pasadena,
CA. Art Center has a rare combination of one of the best Silicon Graphics
facilities in any school, and knowledgable, professional instructors. It's
one of the best places in the world to learn Alias. Most of the students
taking Computer Graphics courses are majoring in something other than computer
graphics: you apply to a department (such as fine art, photo, industrial
design, film, illustration, or others) and then do some of your work on
the computers. It seems as though almost as many Illustration and Design
majors from Art Center can now be found working in the entertainment industry
as Film majors. The work is hard, the school is expensive, and it is difficult
to get in. Most of the students in the main undergraduate program have
had some college before attending. Being within commuting distance of Hollywood
was an enourmous advantage for me in making connections while I was in
school, and getting a job immediately upon graduating.
I highly recommend that you request a catalog:
Art Center College of Design, 1700 Lida St., Pasadena, CA 91103.
This spring term, I am teaching a couse at The California Institute of
the Arts (Cal Arts). Cal Arts is another well-regarded Southern California
art school. Different departments and majors are available: Cal Arts does
not have design departments like Art Center, but has departments of Music,
Character Animation and Experimental Animation. While Art Center may have
more advanced computer classes, and a better regarded Illustration department,
Cal Art's focus on character animation is far ahead of Art Center's more
limited animation courses. Cal Arts was partially funded by Walt Disney
and focuses on animation, with and without using computers. Cal Arts is
in Valencia, California, further out of town than Art Center.
For more info:
FINDING A JOB
Focus on finding a specific match between yourself and a company. Companies
have specific positions to fill, to do a specific job. It doesn't matter
if you are the world's best modeller, if you are applying to a company
that only needs someone to write renderman shaders, they won't take you
if you can't do that job. This might seem like common sense, but a lot
of students, and hobbiests trying to turn professional, seem to send off
their tapes blindly to companies they have heard of, without any thought
about the job descriptions and requirements of the company. Landfills full
of VHS tapes, and thousands of hours of company time scanning through reels,
are wasted because of this.
There are a lot of different positions. Some require a certain amount
of production experience, others are entry level. Some require that you
know a specific software package (especially true at smaller companies,
where they can't afford to hire someone who isn't going to be able to get
work done). Others will train you in their software after you are hired,
and hire based on artistic qualifications as a character animator, texture
map painter, etc.
Some positions are very specialized, especially at larger studios and
for feature film work. One person or department might spend years just
building 3D models, which would then be textured, lit, animated, and rendered
in different departments. Most of the companies that are big enough that
everyone has heard of them, also have labor broken down into an "assembly-line"
style production process, where one artist would only be working on a small
part of what goes into a final frame of the film.
Others jobs are more general, especially at smaller companies and game
developers, where one artist might be given his own shot to animate from
scratch, or her own environment to design and render. Knowing a range of
skills, from modelling to compositing, would be a big plus at these companies.
See the animation job openings (CG & non-CG) in "Career Connections" hosted by Animation World Network.
The organization Women
In Animation has a useful web site with profiles of people's careers.
Visit some company web sites:
Blue Sky | VIFX
Sony Pictures Imageworks
Pacific Data Images
Rhythm & Hues
For lots more up-to-date links, see www.vfxhq.com.
Some positions require that employees sign a long-term contract, binding
them to work for the company for a specified number of years. Some (most)
positions can have very long hours, so getting paid by the hour or getting
extra for overtime can have advantages.
Think about what's important to you, and what you are ready for. I am
now working on a freelance basis, but started out on a full-time salary
until I had a number of connections and a strong demo reel.
YOUR DEMO REEL AND RESUME
Your demo reel's purpose is to show that you can do the job. If you
are applying for a character animation job, don't send tapes of spaceships
and flying logos. Be very clear on a written page about what you yourself
did, especially if any of the work on your tape is collaborative.
Transferring drawings, designs, sculpture or other non-CG art onto the
tape can be appropriate if it is relevant to the job, and shows some of
your best work.
Put your best stuff first, and keep it short, with only your best work.
My demo tape is now about 2 minutes long.
Don't bother with color printing or fancy sleeves. Put your name and
contact info on the tape label, in case it is separated from your resume.
RECOMENDED READING: Professional opinions on demo reels, from 3D Ark.
FAQ: Demo Reels
Be clear and straightforward on your resume. Don't pad or exagerate what
you've been doing. If you want to show how important some experience was
to you, use bullets to say what you did (ie. after listing your job or
internship, say -administered this -created that -improved this -studied
this, etc.) to describe what you have accomplished. Don't put down anything
that might make your interviewer think you were being dishonest, even after
you have discussed that specific item in detail.
THE JOB MARKET
There is a global shortage of character animators, and of skilled artists
who can apply their skills on a computer. At the same time, there are also
a lot of people trying to break into the industry. With recent closings
of some studios, entry level jobs are not as plentiful as they once were.
A few years ago, simply knowing how to run a high-end 3D package was almost
a guarantee of finding a job. In a more mature industry, other factors
such as artistic talent, and production experience, are more important.
You will hear stories about the terrific amounts of money that some
CG animators make. Some of us are making a good living from this, but remember
that your earning potential will be much higher once you have more production
experience than when you're just starting out.
The best (and possibly the only) way to predict how good you'll be,
and gauge your personal chances of sucess, before you fully master 3D,
is to look at the artistic skills you are bringing with you. Now, and for
years to come, there will be creative and rewarding careers in this industry
for many artists who pursue them.
|The Motion Picture Screen Cartoonist's Union Local 839 has a survey of 1997 pay scales for different jobs.|