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If you have ever seen films such as Shrek or Avatar, you
will appreciate why there are so many people wanting to pursue careers in the 3D
digital media industry. With the power of technology at our fingertips, creativity
is at an all-time high and the possibilies reach as far as ones knowledge and
capabilities. Our lack of knowledge is the only real obstacle holding us back –
I say ‘us’ in a broad term because everyone in this industry, (new and old
alike) will have to learn and adapt to new methodologies on a regular basis.
Without learning these cutting edge skills, our thoughts and ideas are merely a
concept in thin air. With a bit of dedication, you can manifest your ideas into
a reality!

What is 3D digital media?

The 3D digital media industry is quite a broad term used to
describe industries such as visual effects, animation, visualisations and computer
generated imagery. If you want to take a part in such a career but don’t know
where to start – don’t be put off. I am hoping this introductory guide will
assist you in finding your way. In the very least, it should help to motivate you.

The skills needed

The truth is anybody with an ounce of enthusiasm, motivation
and an eye for detail can learn to become a 3D artist, although if you have
talent in a traditional artistic discipline such as illustration, painting or
sculpture, you will have a distinct advantage over other learners. This is
because the artistic principles you have learned are transferable into the
world of 3D. The fundamental difference is that you are using your computer as
a canvas instead of a traditional one. The geometry you model in a 3d program
is similar to shaping a lump of clay.

If you do not consider yourself as ‘arty’, do not fear –
there is plenty of scope for the technical minded folk. In fact, programmers
are very sought after in the digital media industry. MEL scripting in Autodesk
Maya for example can really take your animations and special effects to the
next level of cool! Many artists tend to shy away from code but if you have the
type of personality to handle both, you are very lucky indeed.

If on the other hand you wish to follow the masses and
indulge in pure creativity, it is worth learning how to sketch at the very
least. There will probably come a time when you need to show someone a design
you have been working on – whether it be
a quick sketch to help you communicate an idea across, or simply to help solidify
a thought in progress. Photography is also a great skill to learn if you have
an interest in photo real projects; nothing quite beats a real photo as
reference material.

For all you animators out there, a foundation knowledge in
drama could really help you capture the expression of your characters. You
could even make a catalogue of facial expressions and body movements for your
own reference. Get a friend to help you or scout the internet for suitable
material (just make sure you don’t claim them as your own – copyrighting can be
evil)!

Dedication to the things you love

If the whole concept of learning a 3D program seems daunting
to you, you may want to think long and hard whether a career in digital media
is right for you. If you are the type of person who wants fast results, you
might be disappointed since it can take many years to get good at what you do.
This is why enthusiasm is paramount in your success – if you live and breathe
your work, you will learn so much quicker than others. If you lose interest then
come bouncing back with enthusiasm, you risk forgetting most of what you have learned
or even worse, your knowledge will become out-dated very quickly.

The best thing you can do to avoid such slumps of negativity
is to take your time and learn at a pace you feel comfortable with. Read a few
books relating to the world of 3D – preferably a subject that interests you
such as 3D modelling, texturing, rigging, animation; anything that catches your
eye. It is best not to learn too many things at once because you don’t want to
dilute your knowledge at this stage. Instead, try to understand how each aspect
of 3D relates to one another. For instance, you will need to know the process
in which a project is put together; you cannot animate a character for instance,
unless it has a skeleton or animation controls etc.

Finding your strengths and weaknesses

Once you have found a 3d package that interests you, you
should then think about the skills that you want to pursue. If you like
animation, you might want to download some free 3D models and practice your raw
puppetry skills. On the other hand, if you would rather ‘make’ things,
concentrate on 3D modelling to start with. Obviously, you can branch into other
areas of interest as your confidence grows.

If you are like me, it took five years to discover what my
specialisms were
. After all, having an interest in something is one thing, but
being good at it is another! If you are unsure, it is worth showing your
portfolio to a professional and get THEM to tell you based on first impressions.
Sometimes the answer you hear is not the one you want to hear but as a result
it can really save you a lot of disappointment years down the line.

If you think you have
to go to university in order to break into the industry, think again.
University for me was great for giving me the confidence and motivation to self-learn
but most of what I learned was actually afterwards. Don’t give up. The industry
need people who are unafraid of change – the type of person to battle through, thick
and thin – challenge after challenge. You will soon be rewarded with the fruits
of your labour. When this day comes, nothing can stop you!

Talk the talk, walk the walk with the help of Social media

Over time, you will start to discover strange words or
phrases – many of these ‘buzz words’ will help you later on if ever you decide
to work with other 3d artists. If you are lucky enough to know such people,
pick their brains a bit! Ask them questions. Find out what software they use
and what the best learning resources are. If you don’t know any digital artists
personally, check out forums, blogs or social media sites such as Twitter for
the information you need. Even YouTube can be a useful resource from time to
time.

Online digital communities are also perfect for discovering
the best software and technologies on the market. There are hundreds of
different programs but only a handful are really worth investigating, depending
on your needs. There is no point choosing a program too obscure, else you will
have difficulty finding tutorials to help you learn. Just because a program is
free doesn’t make it totally useless. In fact, sometimes the simpler programs
offer a firm introduction to higher end packages such as 3d Studio Max, Maya or
Lightwave.

If you do decide to learn the higher end programs from the
start, try downloading some free software trials first – most big companies
have them. The full versions cost a lot of money so it is not a good idea to
waste hundreds or even thousands of your hard earned cash on software,
especially if you decide you don’t like it months down the line.

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