How to Become a Better 3D Artist?

Realistic Goals, a positive mindset, and countless hours failing at doing things. These subjects are something that stays under our radar, yet we cannot pretend they’re not there. So today, let’s talk about personal development and becoming a better 3d artist!

By COMMONPOINT / Oct 01, 2021 / 10min READ

Introduction

Pursuing your interests has become as easy as it has never been before. Plenty of well-established artists are in their place by making the extra effort to learn something new, one step at a time. We have access to pretty much anything, yet just a few people take advantage of the opportunities given. Basically, there’s no reason you can’t keep moving to the top, and we’ll try to help you reach that goal.

Coming from a creative industry background, we reflected on our careers and shared some thoughts on everything connected to personal development. Now, we’ll introduce a way of thinking that will help you understand yourself better and see our craft from a broader perspective. Also, we invited a lot of star guests who shared their amazing work and priceless insight. So, all in all, we hope you’ll become a better and happier artist. Have a good read!

Foster Your Mindset

Stay fascinated by our unique craft and appreciate the fact that your hobby is your profession. We often forget that being able to do what you love is a huge privilege. So show curiosity, ask questions, be observant. What you think needs to align with what you do, and a healthy, positive mindset is a great starting point. That being said, you need to be highly driven. You really, really need to want it - more than other things in your life. As simple as it sounds, it’s arguably the most important part of it - you are the driving force of your time.

Steve Maraboli: “Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.”


At the same time, be ready for a challenge. It’s all about pushing yourself to the limits and getting really uncomfortable (whether you start to learn 3d modeling or approach huge landscapes). Don’t take the safe route and let others make decisions for you, force you to do what you’ve been avoiding forever. You’ll feel discouraged, yes, and at times, even upset. It’s common when your values are challenged, but sometimes, you need to leave behind what you already know. Eventually, you’ll become wiser and reprogram yourself to do things differently. So, be open, explore and stay fresh; it makes a perfect combination before jumping to any situation.

Keep your Goals S.M.A.R.T.

You get better one step at a time. One does not get good at automotive or exterior rendering out of a sudden. So while becoming a better 3d artist, you need to be SMART about your goals (bigger and smaller ones). They should drive you towards action, excite and itch you. The clearer the goal, the more powerful is their impact on your life. When your goals are fuzzy, it’s hard to motivate yourself to take action. So stop with unreasonable expectations and form your objectives more precisely. They should be:

As soon as you express and understand your goals clearly, you’ll start to notice a change, find solutions instead of obstacles. Suddenly helpful articles pop up, and people understand how to guide you better. So before you begin perfecting matte painting, start with practicing sketching daily. This way, you can take action immediately and measure progress. It’s a process that involves time, and you get better at bigger tasks while understanding many smaller pieces of the puzzle.

Imitate before Innovate

Start from the ground up, learn the basics and build a solid technical foundation. Look at references and try to get results as close to them as possible. Copy 1:1, either fragment of the image or whole aspects (obviously contributing to the author). It may seem like cheating, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s all about connecting the dots, especially at the very early stage. Start with anything related to modeling, materials, composition, and lighting. Those aspects can be relatively easy to compare with a reference so that you can measure if you did well.

Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”


This way, you’ll quickly learn “GO-TO” techniques. Make the first step and gain a new skill set. Our industry lies in doing things fast, so gaining tricks and knowing how to cut corners is the way to go, whether finding assets quickly or modeling something from scratch. Being a better generalist lets you see the whole picture. This way, you can pick your path mindfully and eventually specialize.

Fail enough to get good enough

It may seem that failing means not being good enough. But making mistakes is a part of the journey to becoming a better 3d artist. It’s essential and inevitable. You gain experience by learning your lessons. Failing is practice; it’s all it is. Just experiment whenever you can, and welcome the unknown. Fail in the spirit of enthusiasm. And just be prepared to fail at all times; otherwise, you may never truly reach your potential.

Johnny Cash: "You build on failure. You use it as a steppingstone. Close the door on the past. You don't try to forget the mistakes, but you don't dwell on it. You don't let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space."

As an artist, you can look at it from this perspective - give yourself a safe space to experiment. Go for a personal project where you can have all the space you want. Have fun and invite any happy accidents. Allow some randomness to your work, and maybe something extraordinary will happen. It’s a bit harder with commercial work because you don’t want to F#$! Up, so experiment on a smaller scale, strategically. Instead of wandering around, you can test one small aspect of modeling or shading. Fail small, fail fast and remember that you truly fail if you stop trying.

Embrace Problem Solving

Problem-solving is overcoming obstacles and finding creative solutions as quickly as possible. That’s why we need to have a solid technical foundation. You’ll go beyond the basics in this stage of your career. You’ll understand that you can come up with solutions on your own instead of looking for tutorials. That’s the part of it we adore because having a good understanding of problem-solving lets you have creative freedom, but it will impact even more things:

You’ll understand how things are connected and where you can cut corners even more. When you think about the composition, you’ll immediately keep in mind the color palette and lighting. You’ll approach things knowing the issues beforehand and solving them fast in exact areas. Train your analytical and critical thinking. Everything is connected, so you must diagnose the real problems and be smart about them. Over time, it’ll help focus on the artistic side of things even more.

Articulate knowledge

It may seem that you need to understand something to write it down. That it should be easy, since you know it, right? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Actually, it’s the other way around; by writing things down, you test if you really understand them. Complete clarity comes with articulation. It doesn’t need to be written, though; it needs to be expressed. You can make a personal project to be sure if you know something. You can talk to someone to figure out if you understand the problem. Explaining the process, figuring out the issues is the ultimate test. Gain knowledge, test it, and reflect on it.

Robert Heinlein: “When one teaches, two learn.”


Set your intention to share and teach. It helps to deepen your knowledge, foster ideas in others, and strengthen professional ties. At the same time, be ready to hear others and have your ideas challenged. We’re going to touch on a similar topic, “Getting and sharing feedback,” in the future, but just for now, remember to be open and curious. Clearly describe your thoughts, just as you clearly set your goals. Diagnose problems that came along the way, and compare possible solutions. Over time, that’ll have a massive impact on your problem-solving skills and setting up goals more precisely.

Generic Skills

Striving to be a better person and having a solid technical foundation is essential to push your career forward. For that reason, we prepared a list of different aspects that you look for within yourself (Just be sincere about it.) Am I well-organized, do I communicate well, keep things professional, and always deliver, even under pressure? Ask those questions and keep improving; no one is perfect. Also, there are technical aspects that you can jump into right away. Do a little modeling, start making your shaders, or prepare a lighting setup from scratch if you haven’t already. Understand the smaller bits before seeing the bigger picture; the first step is always the most difficult.

  • Planning

    keep in mind the deadlines, be able to perform even under pressure

  • Composition

    understand how form, color, and texture work together, master rules of composition before you break them

  • Organization

    coordinate and control your work, schedule, prioritize, learn to multitask

  • 3D shading

    look at objects in real life and understand how they behave under different conditions

  • Communication

    listen carefully, speak and/or write clearly, be respectful, and don’t assume bad intent

  • 3D Lighting

    have a solid understanding of science, use various lighting techniques, go for smooth lighting transitions

  • A good eye

    study work and realize what makes an image realistic (in terms of color, light, composition)

  • Photography

    understand how cameras work and how that translates to believable renderings

  • Storytelling

    building emotions, selling the image story by props or human experiences, not cluttering the scene

  • Post-production

    recognize how to bring image potential to be maximum, bring attention focus or further develop storytelling

  • Research

    know your texture and 3d model resources, be able to choose references that fit your tasks

  • Software proficiency

    learn various tools, find a 3D program you feel comfortable with, hone your skills within that

  • Marketing basics

    understand what’s the purpose of an image, target audience, and distribution platform

  • Own style

    develop artistry that is uniquely yours, tones sensitivity, attention to details

Meanwhile, be mindful, measure your progress, and most importantly, don’t compare yourself to others. Think about a version of you from 6 months before and ask yourself a simple question - how did I grow? Having a broader toolset at your disposal will naturally set you apart from the competition and make you a more professional, happy, and confident artist.

Specific Skills

Now, any given task consists of many smaller chunks, whether that’s interior, exterior, or automotive rendering. You already know that you can practice 3d modeling, lighting, shading, and composition to become a better all-around 3d artist. But after you build that solid 3d foundation, it’s time to specialize and dive deeper into specific tasks. In that case, you’d need to focus and study more pieces of the puzzle. For this reason, we invited many star guests who shared their work and insight so that you could explore even more. Just enjoy these outstanding pieces, and come back whenever you need to inform and motivate yourself.



Interior

Interior design - aesthetic and functional space
Design trends - research and adaption of different styles
Shading - unique materials (old, wet, soft, etc.)
Lighting - custom setups with smooth transitions, sense of depth
Plugins proficiency - unique 3d assets (Marvelous Designer)

Konstantinos Anninos

Exterior

Landscaping - study features of an area of land (flora/fauna)
Exterior Design - alter the project to make it more attractive
Lighting - different day/weather conditions (nighttime, rainy)
CAD management - heavy scene optimization (Sini, Prune)
Post-production - unique color palettes, 2d entourage

Piotr Banak

Environment Design

Composition - understanding of different masses and scale
World study - biomes, ecosystems, cities, architectural styles
Laws of physics - conditions that create believable worlds
Storytelling - props that convey emotions/story
Software proficiency - World Machine, Gaia, Megascans, etc.

Andrei Petrukovich

Concept Art

Idea/concept - new and fresh ideas, typologies, variants, and iterations
Efficiency - planning and fast execution
Techniques - sketching, drawing, matte painting, photo bashing
Storytelling - relevance, consistency, emotions

Bartosz Domiczek

3D Matte Painting

Image database - hi-res library (photobash.org, cgtextures.com)
Philosophy of art - study color and lighting from painters
Uniqueness - attention to details, tones sensitivity, brushes
Storytelling - authenticity, relevance, consistency, emotions
Broad skillset - knowledge of Photoshop/Affinity tricks

Tomasz Miksa

Automotive

Vehicle appearance - auto stance/swivel vs. camera position
3d materials - advanced materials (car paint, carbon fiber)
Automotive trends - branding for different world markets
CAD management - heavy scene cleaning/optimization

Damian Bilinski

3D Motion Design

Animation - bring elements to life through motion, animation principles
Technical skills - adaptation to new workflows, software, operating systems
Typography - complementation of the design, typeface features
Uniqueness - having your signature, standing out from the crowd

Peter Tomaszewicz

Procedural Imagery

Analytical mind - transferring a visual reference into mathematical expressions
Iterative approach - a LOT of data adjusting and tweaking
Software proficiency - various workflows to create fresh results

Luke Penry

Product

Lighting - “go nuts”/“less is more” - fitting lighting scenario
3D materials - hyper-realism, a study of micro properties
Marketing purpose - unique properties/customer expectations

Magnus Skogsfjord

Food

Food styling - preparing a stylized background and overall layout
3D materials - hyper-realism, a study of micro properties
Software proficiency - PhoenixFD, Tyflow, After Effects, etc.

Artur Tamiola

3D Simulation

Science - understanding how physics behave (water, smoke)
Software proficiency - FumeFx, Tyflow, After Effects, etc.
Pipeline knowledge - cooperating with other pipeline artists
Coding skills - programming languages, abstract thinking
Planning - working within a budget and narrow time frame

Mateusz Klamrowski

Key Art

Asset management - large numbers of models/textures from game engines
Huge resolutions - geometry/texture often needs a complete rebuild
Key moments - iterative process to convey the right message
Teamwork - multiple artists, designers, retouchers, and art directors

Brendan McCaffrey

3D Photoscanning

Shooting - capturing object from every possible angle
Engineering - building a lighting rig, streamlining the shooting process
Retopology - error fixing, reducing polycount/remodeling
Unwrapping - preparing various texture maps
Patience :) - calculation time, taking 1000+ photos if needed

Creative Crops

HDRI Creation

Location Scouting - finding and securing a cool place
Dome shooting - methods and tools with the aim to capture the entire EV range of the scene
Development - brackets stitching, color calibration and neutralization
Gear - professional equipment (wide tonal ranges, high resolutions)

Raffaele Galli

Texture Creation

Detailing - proper colors, contrast, sharpen, saturation
Gear - professional equipment (wide tonal ranges, high resolutions)
Software proficiency - Quixel mixer, Substance Painter

Reini Wust

Close-Up Photography

Photography - macro photography, sense of scale, and depth
Background - suitable surrounding (contrast, temperatures, detail)
Storytelling - objects that convey emotions

Ruming Cao


That’s pretty much it! We hope that gives you an overview of many different 3d tasks, inspiring you to keep in mind there’s more to any work than it might seem. Remember, dig deeper, and study until the problem or solution becomes clear.



Conclusion

We wholeheartedly encourage you to be sincere with yourself, understand both your strengths and shortcomings. Acknowledge your existing skills and work toward your true potential. Seeing the bigger picture and gaining clarity will help you set precise goals and motivate yourself to take action. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; reflect and build upon them. Over time, you’ll become more productive, satisfied, and confident. A healthy mindset makes a better 3d artist each day, one step at a time.


Artur: “I made my first rendering in 2006, and I can honestly say I haven’t started to understand myself (or the craft) till late 2017. Finally, being sincere with myself, building a strong technical foundation, and setting up realistic goals were so liberating. I set myself on a journey that I’m continuing every day. Hopefully, sharing our thoughts on this topic will help you realize you can do the same, but way sooner. I wish you all the best!”

Bartosz: ”Each day is the step in your artistic evolution and the farther you get there, the more conscious you become about how much everything is connected. You are learning the universal skillset that might let you solve problems from arch-viz to film and advertisement. How great is that? If you embrace it, I am sure your career is going to be long, exciting, and fruitful.”

Useful Links:

[Youtube] How to Learn Anything
Personal or self development
Job Profiles
Imitate before you innovate
Recommendation: “Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter” by James Gurney

Konstantinos Anninos


Andrei Petrukovich


Luke Penry


Piotr Banak


Damian Bilinski


Tomasz Miksa


Peter Tomaszewicz


Brendan McCaffrey


Reini Wust


Creative Crops


Raffaele Galli


Magnus Skogsfjord


Mateusz Klamrowski


Ruming Cao


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