Three insider secrets to a lighting portfolio that lands your dream job.


Three Insider Secrets to a stand-out portfolio


3D Modeler: Skills, Salary & More

by | Last updated Apr 3, 2024

What does a 3D modeler do?

You’ve come to the right place.

Being a 3D modeler is one of the most exciting and fulfilling careers in animation. 

And here’s everything you need to know about how to get started as a 3D modeler – including the skills you’ll need to be successful.

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.


What is a 3D modeler? 

What’s a 3D modeler, exactly?

A 3D modeler creates digital models of the 3D objects you see in a scene. This includes characters, props, and even background materials.

To make a 3D model appear more realistic, a 3D modeler manipulates polygons, edges, and lines for movement and adjusts the size, shape, and texture. 

Once they’re satisfied with its appearance, the 3D modeler will rig the model to a skeleton before animating and rendering it to make it look like it’s moving. 

But what does a 3D modeler actually do in their day-to-day role? That’s what we’ll talk about next, so keep reading!

What does a 3D modeler do?

Although a 3D modeler can work in several different industries, we’ll focus on what it’s like to be a 3D modeler in the film, TV, and entertainment industries.

In these industries, a 3D modeler is responsible for bringing a scene to life by infusing characters with personalities and making the scene look more realistic.

They’re responsible for all aspects of the 3D modeling process, including ideation, modeling, lighting, and rendering. You can learn more about the process in this guide.

Some of the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of a 3D modeler include:

  • Using specialized 3D modeling software to create scene assets. This is anything you see in a 3D scene, including characters, props, and even environments. In a video game, assets also include things crucial to gameplay, including weapons, objects, cars, and background elements like plants or trees.
  • Designing assets based on reference materials. A 3D modeler studies reference materials like design briefs to make sure that the models and assets fit with the overall artistic vision for the project.
  • Optimizing the frame rates and 3D models. It’s up to a 3D modeler to make sure that the assets they’ve created perform smoothly in the environment by reducing polygons and optimizing texture. 
  • Collaborating with other teammates, including designers and animators. Working with a designer will ensure that the model fits in with the rest of the scene, while working with an animator will ensure that the model is properly structured for movement.
  • Creating several versions of the same models for different purposes. This includes low-poly versions for in-game rendering and high-poly versions for cut-screen or marketing materials. 

You can learn more about 3D modeling careers here.

Keep reading to learn what skills and software experience are needed to be a successful 3D modeler.

What skills do you need to be a 3D modeler in movies or games? 

Studios typically look for a 3D modeler who has skills like:

  • An artistic background and understanding of form, color, and texture and how to use them to create visually appealing 3D models
  • The ability to develop models based on reference material
  • An eye for detail so that models are accurate and realistic
  • An understanding of anatomy and zoology and an understanding of how objects and people move in real life
  • Knowledge of proportion, scale, and physical space and how they work in the real world
  • The ability to use different 3D modeling techniques, including polygonal modeling, digital sculpting, and procedural modeling
  • Experience in UV mapping and texturing to ensure that assets appear realistic
  • Strong problem-solving skills 
  • The ability to collaborate with other team members, including designers, animators, and directors
  • An understanding of lighting and rendering (film-specific)
  • Knowledge of game engines (gaming-specific)

Of course, studios also want to hire a 3D modeler who has at least some experience with 3D modeling software such as:

  • Blender
  • Autodesk Maya
  • AutoCAD
  • Autodesk 3ds Max
  • Autodesk Revit
  • Rhino 3D
  • SketchUp
  • ZBrush
  • Houdini
  • Substance Designer
  • Solidworks
  • Unreal Engine

I know it seems like a lot, but don’t let it overwhelm you. You CAN work as a 3D modeling artist even if you don’t have the “right” education. 

Next, I’ll tell you exactly how to become a 3D modeler.

How do you become a successful 3D modeler? 

As you consider becoming a 3D modeler, it’s important to know where to start. 

First and foremost, you have to learn the right kind of skills.

Learn 3D modeling skills 

A 3D modeler needs many skills, from 3D modeling techniques to experience with the right kind of specialized software.

Sure, you could learn them by getting a degree, but pursuing a degree can be time-consuming, inconvenient, and expensive.

It can also be unnecessary. While some animation jobs might require a Bachelor’s degree, that’s far from always the case.

So why not find another way to learn the skills necessary to become a 3D modeler, such as enrolling in an online course like the ones we offer at our animation school?

Not only are online courses taught by professional 3D modelers, but they’re also far more affordable than a Bachelor’s degree, take far less time to finish, and can typically be done at your own pace.

Check out this list of the best online 3D animation schools to get an idea of what’s available.

Get real-life experience 

Part of finding success as a 3D modeler is getting the right kind of experience by taking on an internship or entry-level job. Both will allow you to learn directly from professionals and give you a leg up in the industry.

To land an internship or entry-level job, you’ll typically need a:

  • Resume and cover letter
  • Transcript
  • Letter of recommendation
  • Demo reel and demo reel breakdown

But how do you find and apply for an internship or entry-level job? 

I always recommend checking job sites like LinkedIn, signing up for networking events, or even checking in with a local career center. 

You could also go straight to the studios themselves! Most, including Disney and Dreamworks, list internships and entry-level positions right on their websites.

To point you in the right direction, we’ve put together a list of the best animation studios to work for

Create a portfolio 

Creating a show-stopping portfolio (also called a demo reel) is crucial for showing an employer that you understand 3D modeling and have what it takes to become a 3D modeler.

As you create it, remember to focus on quality, not quantity. Limit it to four minutes and three to five examples of your best work. 

Make sure that each example is approved and complete and that your best work is featured in the first two minutes.

You should also include a breakdown of each example, which explains the work you did and how you did it. 

And, as you would with any job, make sure to include your contact information, phone number, website, cover letter, resume, and online application. 

Read more about how to create a demo reel here. 

Obtain training 

Again, having the right skills and knowledge is crucial to a successful career as a 3D modeler.

You can also learn the basics online by enrolling in training courses on platforms like Linkedin Learning, Skillshare, and Udemy.

There’s a training course for every experience level and goal.

Beginner courses are great if you want to understand the fundamentals of 3D modeling, such as creating shapes and applying textures.

Intermediate courses are a great way to upskill, and they tend to focus on things like character modeling, hard surface modeling, and organic modeling.

Advanced courses are for experienced 3D modelers who want to brush up on the newest techniques.

You could also enroll in software-specific training to learn the ins and outs of each tool. There’s a course for most 3D modeling software, including Maya – here are some of the best.

Does a career as a 3D modeler pay off?

Yes! I’ll tell you about salary expectations in the next section, so keep reading.

How much does a 3D modeler make? 

The average 3D modeler salary is $75,946, but it ranges from $50,000 to $114,000.

It all depends on experience, industry, and location. 

Those in the Northeast or West are paid the most.

For example, a 3D modeler in Nevada earns $127,767, compared to $39,479 in Hawaii.

Overall, though, it’s a skill that’s going to remain in demand. In fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the VFX and animation industry is going to grow at 8% every year (faster than other industries). 

And 3D modeling artists will remain important parts of developing new technologies like 3D printing, VR/AR, and AI in animation. 

Next steps 

Well, there you have it – everything you need to know about a 3D modeling career and how to get your first job.

Besides having the right skills and experience, a big part of launching your career as a 3D modeler is creating a portfolio that gets a studio’s attention.

And we’ll show you exactly how to do that in our FREE guide, which is filled with insider tips and tricks: 


Read more:

Career in Animation: The Ultimate Guide 

The Best Animation Studios to Work For in Los Angeles

The Best 3D Animation Studios to Work For in New York

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

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