Becoming a 3D Artist: Job Description & Salary Info

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A 3D artist's salary mean annual salary is around $64,000. Is it worth the training and career requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a 3D artist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a 3D Artist Career

As a 3D artist, you'll use sophisticated software to create graphics and animations for use in various media, such as television shows, motion pictures, video games and multimedia presentations. Find out about the pros and cons of becoming a 3D artist to help you make an informed career decision.

Pros of Being a 3D Artist
Opportunity for on-the-job creativity*
Minimal educational requirements (a degree is usually optional)*
Can work in a variety of industries (film, video games, computer design, advertising, etc.)*
Ability to specialize in a particular area (characters, level design, background design, etc.)*

Cons of Being a 3D Artist
Slower than average job growth expected (6% from 2012-2022)*
Keen competition for jobs*
Deadlines may cause stress*
Many artists work long hours*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Some 3D artists primarily work with computer programs to design, illustrate or animate characters or environments by writing computer code. Others prefer to create their designs by hand and then import them into software applications. Their responsibilities can include researching design concepts, creating conceptual art, drawing storyboards and touching up animations, as well as rendering, texturing, lighting and shading graphics. Almost 60% of 3D artists are self-employed, and they may work from home or in offices. When deadlines approach, it's common for 3D artists to work long hours, nights and weekends.

Often, 3D artists work on teams and specialize in a specific area, but they may be required to obtain a broad variety of skills to maximize their career opportunities. Many 3D artists specialize in a particular medium, such as video games, television or motion pictures. Within these areas, 3D artists can further specialize by concentrating on specific areas of design, such as the characters for video games, the layout and look of game levels or the scenery of an animated film.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for multimedia artists and animators was predicted to increase 6% from 2012-2022, which is slower than average. While there is demand for these artists in both the entertainment and video game industries, some employers are trying to decrease costs by employing workers outside the United States. Additionally, 3D animators can face considerable competition with other highly skilled workers when applying for jobs or promotions.

In May 2014, the BLS indicated that the median annual income for multimedia artists and animators was about $64,000. During the same reporting period, the highest paid 10% of professionals earned about $112,000 or more, while the lowest paid earned around $36,000 or less. Further, reported in 2014 that 3D artists who fell into the 10th-90th percentile range, and who had 0-5 years of experience, earned about $44,000 per year, while those with 10-20 years of experienced earned about $67,000 annually.

Requirements for the Job

You don't necessarily need to hold a bachelor's degree to qualify for 3D art jobs, because, according to the BLS, the primary qualifications are artistic and technical ability. However, many artists pursue postsecondary education or a bachelor's degree program to further hone their artistic abilities and to receive training in illustration and computer graphics programs.

As a 3D artist, a solid foundation in traditional drawing and painting is often essential. You'll also want to be highly skilled in specialized computer programs, such as Adobe Photoshop and Autodesk 3ds Max. It's also important to develop a professional art portfolio that illustrates the range of skills you have to show to potential employers.

Useful Skills for 3D Artists

Most 3D artists also possess the following traits or skills:

  • Strong artistic capabilities with color theory, illustration and rendering
  • Good communication skills
  • Keen interest in computer programs
  • Ability to work as part of a team
  • Ability to handle multiple projects and deadlines
  • Willingness and ability to keep up with latest industry standards and computer programs

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers usually post the specific job duties and the computer programs with which applicants need to be familiar. Computer programs that were commonly mentioned were Adobe Photoshop, V-Ray and Autodesk 3ds Max. The following job postings listed on and in May 2012 can give you an idea of the qualifications and skills employers seek:

  • A multimedia company in New Jersey advertised for a 3D environmental artist with experience in Photoshop and 3ds Max. Applicants should also be able to use Mudbox, Adobe After Effects and Mental Ray or V-Ray. The employer preferred an applicant who could create high-poly models and perform lighting and shading.
  • A technology education company in Indiana sought a 3D artist/animator who could create 2D vector drawings using software such as Adobe Illustrator and 3D models using programs such as Maya, 3ds Max, Cinema 4D or Modo.
  • An architectural and commercial consulting company in Texas looked for a 3D artist with experience in 3D rendering and designing to sketch subjects and render architectural images. Applicants should have experience in 3ds Max, V-Ray, Mental Ray and Photoshop. Knowledge of computer-aided design (CAD), SketchUp and Revit was also requested.
  • A gaming company in Illinois searched for a 3D technical artist with a bachelor's degree in digital art, game design or computer science and at least two years of prior work experience. Knowledge of 3ds Max and 3ds Maxscript was required. Knowledge of .Net and Java was preferred.

How to Stand out

A wide variety of computer programs are used for the conceptualization and design of characters, animations and other graphic art. You can stand out by having demonstrable experience with several programs, instead of the required few. Conversely, you could also stand out by becoming an expert in the use of a particular software application. However, you may want to first research job postings of employers for whom you seek to work to learn which programs they use, and then invest your time in learning those programs.

Stay Current on Industry Trends

By joining a professional organization, you can network with other industry professionals, learn about new industry trends and participate in workshops. Organizations that you can join include the International Digital Media and Arts Association and the CGSociety. If you're interested in keeping up with the latest technology, consider attending the yearly National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) tradeshow, an almost weeklong event that brings together individuals at the forefront of the digital media and entertainment industries.

Alternative Careers

Art Director

If you're interested in working in the arts but the salary of a 3D artist is a deterrent, consider becoming an art director. These professionals are in charge of creating the visual aesthetic for TV shows, film productions and print media. A bachelor's degree is required to enter the field, and some art directors choose to obtain a master's degree. Additionally, at least 3-5 years of work experience in a related field is generally required to obtain this job.

The BLS reported that art directors earned a median annual salary of about $81,000, as of May 2011. Employment for these professionals was projected to increase 9% over the 2010-2020 decade.

Graphic Designer

If the slow job growth predicted for 3D artists is unappealing, then a career as a graphic designer could be a better fit. These professionals create layouts, text and graphics for websites or print media. A bachelor's degree in graphic design or a degree in another area coupled with design training is typically required to obtain entry-level employment in the field.

In May 2011, the BLS indicated that graphic designers earned a median annual salary of about $44,000. The BLS predicted that job growth for graphic designers would increase 13% from 2010-2020, which is considered average for all careers.

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