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Three Insider Secrets to a stand-out portfolio

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How to Become a Successful 3D Modeler Without a Degree 

by | Last updated Mar 29, 2024

Are you thinking about becoming a 3D modeler but don’t have the experience or aren’t sure you can do it without a degree?

Then you’ve come to the right place. The truth is that you can become a successful 3D modeling artist without a degree.

And today, I’ll show you the exact steps to do so.

Ready to get started? Let’s go!

 

What is a 3D modeler? 

Before we get into how to become a 3D modeler, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what 3D modeling artists are.

3D modeling is when a designer creates a computer-generated 3D model of an object or character.

While you might have to create it from scratch, you’ll typically work off of a brief or concept art to create 3D objects called assets. Assets can include sets, props, and characters.

For example, here’s a 3D modeling time-lapse of a building being built in Blender:

Keep reading to learn about how to get your 3D modeling career started.

How do you start a 3D modeling career? 

As you think about getting into 3D modeling, you might be wondering where to start.

The very first step is learning the art of 3D modeling.

Learn 3D modeling

One of the most common misconceptions about 3D modeling is that you need a degree to become a successful 3D modeler. 

And while you can get a degree, it’s not necessary. Often, it’s an expensive route to take and not always the most convenient. 

The truth is that there are plenty of ways to learn 3D modeling, including on your own!

If you want to learn and master the art of 3D modeling on a more flexible schedule or for less money, you might consider taking an online course like the ones available at our animation school.

While most animation degrees take four years to complete, our courses help you build the right skills that will help you stand out in the job search.

Build a 3D modeling portfolio

Speaking of standing out as a 3D modeling artist, you’ll need to create a portfolio or demo reel to land your first job. A great 3D modeling portfolio is what will get you noticed by hiring managers and help you stay competitive.

While your resume will speak to your experience, your portfolio is where you’ll actually demonstrate your skills – so be careful about the work samples you choose to include.

We’ll talk more about building a portfolio in a later section, so keep reading!

Get an internship

Getting a 3D modeling internship before you get a job is a great way to get some real-world experience, learn from those already working in the industry, and get your foot in the door.

While the requirements for internship and apprenticeship programs vary by studio, most look for interns with a background in art, design, graphic design, computer science, VFX, and animation. 

I’ll show you how to get an internship in a later section.

Get a job

Finally, getting a job is the last step in starting your career as a 3D modeler. 

As a 3D modeler, you often work in 3D animation, VFX, and gaming, but the best part about a 3D modeling career is that you’re not tied to any single industry.

In reality, 3D modelers play an important role in several industries. That includes, but isn’t limited to medical, engineering, manufacturing, architecture, science, industrial design, and even marketing.

To find a job, start by checking out job boards like LinkedIn for 3D modeling roles or networking at job fairs and career centers.

Or, if you want to work at a studio, you can always go straight to the studios themselves. Oftentimes, open positions are listed right on their website.

We’ve compiled a few of the best ones to work for in these guides: 

Now that we’ve touched on what a 3D modeler is and how to get started as one, let’s talk about what you’ll actually be doing in the role.

What do 3D modelers do?   

Again, a 3D modeler is the one responsible for building the model that will be used to bring an idea, character, or environment to life. The models you create will be based on pre-established direction and character design.

You might work as a 3D modeling artist in the entertainment industry. But 3D models are also used for websites, 3D printing, architectural modeling, graphic designs, special effects, and location-based entertainment. 

What does the day-to-day life of a 3D modeler look like? Let’s talk about it.

As a 3D modeler, your responsibilities will include tasks like:

  • Creating high-quality 3D models based on a brief or other material, including abstract ideas
  • Creating character skeletons for animators using animation programs like Maya, RenderMan, POV-Ray, and 3DS Max
  • 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

You can also expect to collaborate with other teams throughout the course of any project you work on. This includes the FX department, as you’ll need to be able to make sure the models work correctly.  

Other individuals you’ll work with include 3D animators, riggers, production designers, managers, and more. 

Now that you know the responsibilities, you might be wondering what type of salary a 3D modeler makes in the US. Keep reading to find out.

How much do 3D modelers make? 

On average, a 3D modeler in the US makes $75,946 per year, though their salaries can range anywhere from $50,000 to $114,000.

Like most careers, your salary depends on several things, including how long you’ve been a 3D modeler, the kind of experience you have, your job level, and where you work.

While it’s hard to know the exact job growth rate of 3D modeling, the good news is that the industry is growing rapidly.

In 2022, the market size was valued at just over $2,975,000,000. In the next five years, it’s expected to grow by more than 15% to $7,112,340,000.

The demand for 3D modelers will grow, too, so let’s talk about the qualifications you’ll need to become a 3D modeler.

What qualifications do you need to become a 3D modeler? 

The most important thing to know is that while bachelor’s degrees in graphic design, animation, or fine arts can help you become a 3D modeler, they’re not necessary.

It’s entirely possible to learn 3D modeling on your own by using online courses. Not only are they faster to complete, but they’re less expensive, too.

However, you DO need to meet industry requirements for new 3D modeling artists to get a job. 

Let’s talk about the qualifications and skills that will help you on your journey to becoming a 3D modeler. 

They include hard skills such as:

  • Experience using 3D modeling software such as Maya, Unreal Engine, Blender, Cinema 4D, and 3ds Max
  • Familiarity with different 3D modeling techniques, including sculpting, polygon modeling, and subdivision modeling
  • Knowledge of artistic elements such as form, color, and texture, as well as how they work together
  • Understanding of anatomy and spatial awareness (e.g., physical space, depth, scale, and proportion)

And soft skills like:

  • Creativity
  • Artistic sense
  • Time management
  • Effective communication and collaboration
  • Problem-solving

You’ll also need to build a 3D modeling portfolio, which we’ll cover in the next section.

How do you build a 3D modeling portfolio? 

When setting out to build a 3D modeling portfolio that will help you stand out from the competition, think of it as your visual resume.

Because that’s what it is. As such, your portfolio – also known as a demo reel – should showcase your best work. After all, it’s how you’re going to demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and capabilities.

Remember, your demo reel is all about quality over quantity. It should include three to five pieces of your best work, and be sure that each one is noteworthy. 

Beyond that, how do you know what to include – and not include?

According to Pixar, your demo reel should include a cover letter, resume, demo reel, demo reel breakdown, and online application.

As for the demo reel itself, make sure to keep it short, coming in at 4 minutes or less. In terms of the examples themselves, your best work should come within the first two minutes, and you should never include unapproved or incomplete work.

But do include your demo reel breakdown. Take the time to write a short summary of each project that includes a description of the work you did on elements like the wireframe, texture maps, and normal maps, plus the tools you used to achieve it.

Don’t forget to include your contact information, such as name, phone number, headshot, and website.

To learn more about putting together an eye-catching portfolio, check out our free guide filled with insider secrets.

How do you get 3D modeling internships? 

As mentioned earlier, getting some hands-on experience before your first job is a great way to break into the industry.

And internships are the perfect way to do it. But where do you look for them?

I always recommend starting with places like job boards such as LinkedIn, social media, job fairs, and local career centers.

But don’t underestimate the power of the connections in your own network. If you haven’t built a network, now is a great time to start! It’s easier than you might think – for instance, taking one of the Academy of Animated Art’s online courses will set you up to meet other artists and industry professionals.

You can also go straight to the animation studios themselves. Many of them offer internship programs, including Disney, DreamWorks, and Sony Imageworks. 

The requirements for these programs vary, but typically, you should have experience in graphic design, VFX, and animation.

Most require that interns have:

  • Communication and collaboration skills
  • Video editing experience
  • Experience with 3D animation software

Your application should include the following:

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

To learn more about how and when to apply for 3D animation internships, check out this article.

Next steps 

There you have it! Everything you need to know about becoming a 3D modeler without a degree. 

The best part about becoming a 3D modeler is that you can work in almost any industry, from gaming to marketing.

If you want more, get our FREE PDF on how to make your demo reel stand out: 

 

Learn more

The Best Online 3D Animation Schools

The Ultimate List of Best Animation Courses

The Best 3D Animation Software for Beginners

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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