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What is a 3D Modeling Artist? Top Career Paths

by | Last updated Mar 29, 2024

If you’re considering becoming a 3D modeling artist, you’re in the right place!

Today, we’ll talk about what a 3D modeling artist is, plus the different career paths you can take as one.

Ready to get started? Let’s go!

 

What is a 3D modeling artist? 

A 3D modeling artist is responsible for creating models of 3D assets needed for a scene. 

Each model is based on a brief or drawing by a concept artist and is built in 3D modeling software like Maya or Blender.

The models they build include everything from the characters themselves to elements such as furniture, pets, textures, and environments.

Their models are then given to the 3D artist, who brings them to life.

When it comes to the 3D modeling career path, 3D modelers aren’t limited just to industries like film, TV, or video games. They also work in industries such as VFX, animation, architecture, product design, interior design, and scientific visualization. 

3D modelers can also work as freelancers, meaning they don’t have to stay in one industry or specialize in a particular skill.

To learn about what a 3D modeling artist actually does, keep reading.

What does a modeling artist do? 

3D modeling artists are responsible for:

  • Modeling: Using 3D modeling software, modelers combine and manipulate simple and complex polygons until the model looks realistic.
  • Texture: Modelers give their 3D models texture by applying 2D images (hand-drawn or imported as pictures) to the polygons.
  • Rigging: To control how the object will move or react in a particular situation, animators “rig” certain parts of the model to ensure they move correctly.
  • Rendering: After the 3D modeler has modeled, textured, and rigged the model, they render it back to 2D animation so elements like lighting can be considered.

Other day-to-day responsibilities include:

  • Making sure the work done by designers is feasible
  • Testing and refining or modifying existing 3D models as needed
  • Helping creative directors with concepts and designs

To do this, 3D modeling artists are skilled in various 3D modeling tools. We’ll cover the top ones in the next section.

3D modeling tools

The most common 3D modeling tools you’ll come across in your career include:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Sculptris
  • Houdini
  • Blender
  • SketchUp
  • ZBrush
  • 3D Coat
  • Rhinoceros 3D
  • Softimage XSI
  • Modo
  • Creo Parametric
  • Unity
  • Adobe Dimension
  • Adobe Substance
  • SolidWorks Composer
  • 3ds Max Design
  • Cinema 4D
  • SmartPlant Review

Keep in mind that 3D modeling software does take some getting used to. I recommend watching tutorials, reading books and articles, or taking courses to learn the basics.

Are you curious about the kind of salary a 3D modeling artist makes? Then keep reading to find out!

How much does a 3D modeling artist make? 

On average, a 3D modeling artist earns $77,637 per year in the United States, but salaries can range from as low as $47,534 per year to as much as $126,803.

Of course, your salary depends on several factors, including your experience, abilities, location, and where you work. 

Ready to get your career as a 3D modeling artist started? I’ll show you exactly how to do it in the next section, so keep reading!

How to become a 3D modeling artist

Several industries need 3D modelers, but becoming a 3D modeler isn’t something that happens right away. It requires the right combination of technical skills, artistic talent, and dedication. 

Today, I’ll walk you through how to become a successful 3D modeling artist.

Develop your artistic skill 

Although 3D modeling is done using software, it’s not enough to know how to use them – you need artistic skill and a firm grasp of art principles as well!

Observe real-world objects to refine your sense of form, proportion, and perspective. Then, take time to practice several art forms, including drawing, and sculpting. 

But remember to enhance your technical know-how, too. To be a successful 3D modeler, you’ll need to know exactly how to create realistic lighting, textures, and shadows.

Get a degree or take a course 

It’s important to note that an academic degree isn’t necessary to become a successful 3D modeler.

But if you do decide to go the degree route, we recommend focusing on an art or design degree to get a solid foundation.

Of course, you can always learn on your own using 3D modeling courses. 

There’s a course for everyone online, whether you want one that covers everything you need to know to be a 3D modeler or just want to learn about a specific software. 

Our animation school offers course bundles that arm you with the technical skills necessary to be a 3D modeler and show you how to land a job. You’ll also get access to mentoring and a community of like-minded learners.

You can check out our courses here.

Build a portfolio 

To get started as a 3D  modeler, you’ll need a great portfolio (also called a demo reel). Your portfolio is crucial – it’s what will catch the eye of hiring managers.

Your resume speaks to your experience, but your portfolio is where it comes to life with samples. 

How do you build one that makes you competitive?

Focus on quality over quantity. Make sure it lasts 4 minutes or less, and includes at least three but at most five samples. 

Along with each sample, write a short summary describing the work you did and the tools you used.

Each sample should be your best work, and you should only include approved and complete work.

Finally, make sure it includes your cover letter, resume, samples, breakdowns, and online application. Don’t forget to include contact information.

You can learn more about putting together a great portfolio in this guide.

Get an internship or freelance work 

Working as a 3D modeling intern or freelancer before getting a job is a great way to get “in” at a company while gaining real-world experience.

The requirements for these positions vary, but typically, studios are looking for people with graphic design, VFX, and animation experience. 

So, how do you become an intern or freelancer?

It’s best to start your search by looking on job boards, social media, and local career centers. You can also go straight to the animation studios themselves!

You can learn about 3D animation internships in this article.

Network with other artists

Interning and freelancing are great, but one of the best ways to get a job as a 3D modeler is through networking. 

Chances are, someone you’re connected with knows someone looking for what you bring to the table – even if they don’t know it!

So consider building your network by following relevant hashtags on LinkedIn and attending in-person meetups. 

Online forums are another great option. For instance, Reddit’s r/3Dmodeling has over 430,000 members. 

Taking one of our online courses will help you meet other artists and professionals.

Next steps

There you have it! Everything you need to know about 3D modeling.

Are you ready to jumpstart your 3D modeling career? Then head over to our animation school to check out some of our course bundles, which will teach you everything you need to know.

Learn more

What is 3D Modeling? 

The Best 3D Animation Classes Online 

The Best Animation Studios to Work For: The Ultimate List

 

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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