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Shifting career to 3D/visualisation/VFX


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Hi,

 

I am considering moving into a career in 3D/visualisation/VFX but wanted to get some opinions from the internet first.

 

For the last eight years I have been working as a graphic designer, more specifically an ‘artworker’ which is basically a role to quality check the work being produced by the company to ensure it is of a high standard and suitable for printing.

 

I started off in a local printers and eventually worked my way up into one of London’s top advertising agencies. After eight years of doing this role I feel I am hitting a dead end with no career progression in sight. On top of this the company I work for has a very toxic work culture. There is a nasty culture of staying late all the time and everyone seems to be overloaded and doing two jobs. Having said all that this is nothing new or shocking in the agency world but all in all I do not feel this is a good company to work for. Worse still, my colleagues say that most advertising/brand/design agencies are like this so the prospect of handing my notice in and moving to a competitor is unlikely to fix the problem.

 

On the side I have been teaching myself and retraining in Cinema 4D/Octane/Redshift etc. and have really enjoyed this aspect of the work. I mainly got into 3D for the the sake of visualising 2D graphics onto packaging/products but have come to immerse myself even more into this field to the point where I am looking at making this my main career.

 

What would people suggest as a way of getting into the 3D industry? I understand I would have to go down to a junior/intern level for any companies to consider taking me on due to my beginner experience.

 

Are the salaries higher compared to other creative roles? Is the work/life balance any better than other creative roles? Or do people in 3D tend to go freelance? 

 

Totally open to any advice as I am in the dark on this one.

 

Thanks in advance 🙂
LECHUCK

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Hi LECHUCK,

 

I think that what you are experiencing is something a lot of design workers experience. Most of the things you mention are universal for graphic designers as well as for 3d Artists. I would say that long hours for example are more dependent of the company you are working for then the stuff you do. It is absolutely not uncommon in the 3d World. But as you often have longer projects then working 2D you might have the possibility to arrange your work in a smarter way and therefor you might be able to influence it a  bit. But the more efficient you are the more work will be put on your stack... so well it stays the same 🙂.

I am in a quite similar situation as you are, just on the 3d side. Doing this for 20 years I have the impression to have reached a border, that doesn't let me develop any further. of corse not artistically (there always is plenty of room in 3D) but concerning the projects and income. Over the years this border somehow didn't move with the inflation of lving costs. therefor it relatively gets less over the time. But you will still get paid quite a bit better then a regular graphics artist even thoug you will not get rich. 

One thing, that I used to love about 3D but after such a long time starts to annoy me once in a while is, that it is 1. a huge area and you have to learn several jobs to master it ( sculpting, camerawork, lighting, directing, and so on) and 2. it developes so rapidly that you always have to learn new things. So you will not get bored that easily but on the other hand it will stay demanding for the rest of your career. And that also is true for a lot of everyday work there are not so many things where you can just switch of your brain.

All of this of corse is just my experience living as a freelancer in germany.

 

I wish you the best luck with your decission.

best regards

Jops

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Hi Jops,

 

Thanks for your response. Very interesting indeed.

 

Yes totally agree 2D graphic work often has very quick turn arounds so little time to plan your time efficiently.

 

I am indeed finding out that with 3D there are many things to learn and many different types of software to go with it. I started with Cinema 4D, then the render engines like Octane and Redshift and now getting into things like ZBrush and Substance Painter... lots to learn. I guess with 2D graphics the advantage generally speaking is everything is contained within the Adobe Suite.

 

I knew in the back of my mind that a shift in career to 3D is not going to magically solve some of the issue I mentioned in my original message, I guess these types of things happen no matter what industry you're in, but like you say as 3D is so big there is no chance you will get bored 😛

 

In an ideal world I would like to do a hybrid role of graphics work and 3D. I guess I just need to keep an eye out for companies which offer this position.

 

Thanks again for your message. It has been super insightful.

 

Thanks,

LECHUCK

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I have done similar work to you in the past. There is a steady stream (AFAIK) of freelance 3D visualiser work in London design agencies. Its one of the few areas outside motion graphic where C4D is the industry standard.

 

If you already have suffiecient skills/work samples, then I'd just try and freelance. There no guarantees, but you can always freelance Artwork to top up your earnings if there's not enough 3D work some months month.

 

VFX is a different industry completely and I'm not sure it'll be particularily easy to transfer to TBH.

 

R

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I came from an Agency background and made the switch to doing freelance 3D and VFX work about 6 years ago.

 

Concerning hours, from my experience the work/life balance is just as demanding.  It would depend if you are working on Ads, TV or Feature films.... but expect long hours and tight deadlines.  3D is can be substantially more complicated than 2D work and there are more technical considerations as well as things that can go south.   Also, if you aren't working on Ads or TV, projects can last months.  This is amazing on a good production but pretty painful on a long one.  Teams are also typically much larger.

 

Salary right now seems way higher than working for an agency doing 2D or 3D.  I would say somewhere around 20-30% higher depending on your skill level and professionalism.

 

As a side note, I would pick your software according to the field you want to get into.  Specifically for VFX, C4D isn't used much.  It's not that it isn't capable in many areas, it's just not a standard and will keep you out of other company pipelines which often means you won't get the gig.  If you are on a small team or playing the one man band than that doesn't matter as much.....   Anyway, lots of thoughts on this topic.  I don't want to write a novel but feel free to DM if you want any other info or insights and good luck!!

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Hi Lechuck,

 

Here's my experience. :) My time at London's branding and design agencies as a freelancer was the best time I had 3d project wise. I got a lot of interesting work through two creative staffing(?) agencies (one of them doesn't exist anymore unfortunately, the other one was Aquent). I mostly did visualisations of products and interiors that they were designing, not just stills but also animations.

 

I think as a freelancer you automatically get more respect than as an employee, plus you can charge extra for overtime. I'm not sure how much that overlaps with the advertising agency you work at (is it the same industry? Hmm) but might be interesting for you.

 

I also worked in the VFX industry for a short while in London. And even though I never had to work weekends and not that much overtime almost everyone else did and that didn't feel healthy... Either way I think freelance is the way to go imo.

 

Just don't be stupid like me and ever move away from London, nothing compares to London's creative industry, at least in Europe.

 

Btw do you have a portfolio somewhere to look at? What's your skill level with C4D atm?

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I recommend this book for anyone thinking about a career in the VFX industry:

image.thumb.png.cc576261a7f30c2dd01969a35551b81a.png

 

Admittedly (as you can tell by the cover)...it is not a happy tale and the villain's of the book are producers squeezing the VFX company to the point of bankruptcy and anyone you report to with less talent than you but a bigger ego.  If you read this and are still enthused about the work, then you have faced the worst case scenario's and are going into it with eyes wide open.  Of course, all VFX experiences are different and mileage will vary.

 

But this did strike a chord with me based on my own experience.....and remember, I am a hobbyist who has never even been to a VFX studio.  It happened at Siggraph 2009 held in Boston, MA.

 

Roger Guyette (ILM VFX Supervisor) was presenting on Mission Impossible 3.  He said at the beginning that we could ask questions.  So I did...just to get clarification.  Usually the questions started with "well wait, you had to transition at some point back from the live action camera to the 3D camera" or "well wait, HDRI doesn't work that way".  With the first two questions his polite response was "Yes.  You are right...I have left out steps to simplify the presentation".  And then I raised my hands for the 3rd question (okay....as I write this, I realize that I was annoying but didn't mean to be as I do have a passion for this stuff)...and that is when Mr Guyette lost it.  He screamed "WHO ARE YOU!!!".   Every head in the audience turned to look at me....but it felt like every head in all of Siggraph was looking at me.  I slowly lowered my hand and muttered "No one really".

 

After his presentation ended, I walked up to him to apologize.  Mr Guyette actually apologized to me first before I could say anything.  I asked why he yelled at me for asking questions when he said we could ask questions, and his response amazed me and gave me some insight to what life is like in the VFX industry - even for top-shelf companies like ILM.  He said, "I thought you were sent by a rival VFX company to discredit me".  I said, "Really...no I am worse than that.  I am a VFX enthusiast sitting in the movie theater picking everything apart".  He laughed. I then mentioned that magazines like Cinefex always paint VFX studios working and collaborating together all for the "advancement of the art".  He laughed again.  "No, we are not a loyal brotherhood like the magazines portray.  We are very competitive companies just like in any other industry".  Fair point.  He then took the time to sit down with me at the ILM booth for a good long time (I think 45 minutes) to talk about the industry, where it was  going, making the change from mechanical/photo-chemical processes to CGI and fluid simulations.  He is really great guy (IMHO).  Kim Libreri showed up (now CTO for Epic Games), he sat down with us for a short bit.  John Knoll was also there, but he did not join us (though I did get a picture with him).  Best day ever.

 

In 1983 I graduated from an engineering school in New England (on the US east coast about as far away from California as you can get) with a degree in mechanical engineer and applied to ILM.  They were all staffed for Return of the Jedi and no longer hiring but I still have the rejection letter.  In 1993, Pete Travers graduates from the exact same school with the exact same degree in mechanical engineering.  He is now a VFX supervisor working on movies like Midway (2019), Terminator-Dark Fate, etc. 

 

Life is funny.

 

Dave

 

 

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  • Silver Contributor

That was an interesting - and funny - story. A good read : )

 

One thing for the OP to note: working in 3D doesn't necessarily mean movie VFX - far from it.

From everything I've read, including Dave's post above, working in VFX is just as 'bad' in terms of working expectations / conditions as working in advertising - if not more so.

 

There are other niche areas for 3D - less popular, less glamorous, but maybe more viable as a long term career option: visualization for: architecture, scientific / medical, industrial, defence / military, etc. Realtime 3D for training and system simulations - and more.  They require you to develop more specialist skills / knowledge, but might offer you another route to explore.

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  • Silver Contributor
On 10/30/2020 at 12:19 AM, 3D-Pangel said:

I recommend this book for anyone thinking about a career in the VFX industry:

image.thumb.png.cc576261a7f30c2dd01969a35551b81a.png

 

Admittedly (as you can tell by the cover)...it is not a happy tale and the villain's of the book are producers squeezing the VFX company to the point of bankruptcy and anyone you report to with less talent than you but a bigger ego.  If you read this and are still enthused about the work, then you have faced the worst case scenario's and are going into it with eyes wide open.  Of course, all VFX experiences are different and mileage will vary.

 

But this did strike a chord with me based on my own experience.....and remember, I am a hobbyist who has never even been to a VFX studio.  It happened at Siggraph 2009 held in Boston, MA.

 

Roger Guyette (ILM VFX Supervisor) was presenting on Mission Impossible 3.  He said at the beginning that we could ask questions.  So I did...just to get clarification.  Usually the questions started with "well wait, you had to transition at some point back from the live action camera to the 3D camera" or "well wait, HDRI doesn't work that way".  With the first two questions his polite response was "Yes.  You are right...I have left out steps to simplify the presentation".  And then I raised my hands for the 3rd question (okay....as I write this, I realize that I was annoying but didn't mean to be as I do have a passion for this stuff)...and that is when Mr Guyette lost it.  He screamed "WHO ARE YOU!!!".   Every head in the audience turned to look at me....but it felt like every head in all of Siggraph was looking at me.  I slowly lowered my hand and muttered "No one really".

 

After his presentation ended, I walked up to him to apologize.  Mr Guyette actually apologized to me first before I could say anything.  I asked why he yelled at me for asking questions when he said we could ask questions, and his response amazed me and gave me some insight to what life is like in the VFX industry - even for top-shelf companies like ILM.  He said, "I thought you were sent by a rival VFX company to discredit me".  I said, "Really...no I am worse than that.  I am a VFX enthusiast sitting in the movie theater picking everything apart".  He laughed. I then mentioned that magazines like Cinefex always paint VFX studios working and collaborating together all for the "advancement of the art".  He laughed again.  "No, we are not a loyal brotherhood like the magazines portray.  We are very competitive companies just like in any other industry".  Fair point.  He then took the time to sit down with me at the ILM booth for a good long time (I think 45 minutes) to talk about the industry, where it was  going, making the change from mechanical/photo-chemical processes to CGI and fluid simulations.  He is really great guy (IMHO).  Kim Libreri showed up (now CTO for Epic Games), he sat down with us for a short bit.  John Knoll was also there, but he did not join us (though I did get a picture with him).  Best day ever.

 

In 1983 I graduated from an engineering school in New England (on the US east coast about as far away from California as you can get) with a degree in mechanical engineer and applied to ILM.  They were all staffed for Return of the Jedi and no longer hiring but I still have the rejection letter.  In 1993, Pete Travers graduates from the exact same school with the exact same degree in mechanical engineering.  He is now a VFX supervisor working on movies like Midway (2019), Terminator-Dark Fate, etc. 

 

Life is funny.

 

Dave

 

 

 

That's an awesome story!

I was lucky enough to do 4 month work experience in an animation studio when I was on a year break from college. I studied classical animation back then (2000). I got to spend time in every department of the studio, Storyboarding, Animation, Layout, FX and Admin. Amazing few months. Actually, that experience put me off wanting to pursue a career in an animation studio.

In college I had all these ideas for little short animations I wanted to do, but in the studio I realized I'd basically be working on a factory floor following someone else's creative ideas with no input, long hours and on low pay. One day I spent 4 hours in cleanup drawing 2 perfect ovals on 6 frames of animation paper. These 2 ovals were frames of glasses in a larger scene. That was my 'Nope' moment. I dropped out of animation college a few months after returning. With the progress of 3D over the last 20 years it's opened a creative avenue for me again.

 

Only recently doing some side gigs for a small studio I can tell the full time employees work long hours to very tight deadlines. I'm not sure what their pay would be like though. I think it depends on project to project. C4D in an animation studio I don't think is commonplace. 

 

If I was pursuing a career in VFX then Houdini is the tool of choice without question. At least you are familiar with Redshift which also can be used with Houdini so that would give you a good lead into it. From what I've read of Houdini is the learning curve is steep but the payoff is great once you become familiar with it.

 

This short documentary about VFX studio that won an Oscar for Life of Pi was a an eye opener when I seen it

 

 

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  • Silver Contributor

Yes, I watched that, and just did so again. Very sad to see. The one thing that really got me on both viewings was Ang Lee thanking everyone down to his dog - apart from the guys and girls who actually created most of the movie...

I've not really been following the economics of the movie VFX business over the last few years. Has anything really changed?

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I have had the opportunity to talk to a few industry VFX artists about life as a VFX artist.  I have come to the conclusion that I am glad ILM was done hiring back in 1983 and that opportunity passed me by.  The rejection letter (with the ILM logo on the letterhead) made it all worth it though.

 

I do agree 100% with Mike A.  There is a great deal more in the world of 3D than VFX.   Not sure how many jobs are out their though in comparison to what the multi-billion dollar games and entertainment industry produces....but they are an option.

 

Regardless of the industry, the worst case scenario is to find yourself the freelance 3D specialist bouncing from one assignment to another -- and usually one country to another or one state to another -- in the pursuit of keeping yourself employed.  They face all sorts of tax issues - and most importantly - health insurance issues.  Usually the jobs do not come with health insurance or they promise health insurance ONLY after being on-role for 6 months.  So the best case scenario is to hold off on any medical or dental expenses for 6 months at a time as you shift between jobs. But that has risk....especially if you do have health issues.   And let's not even talk about what impact that nomadic lifestyle has on a persons family relationships.  I have heard horror stories about how freelance artists were treated as they faced the birth of a child during those transition periods.

 

Hopefully, as more powerful communication networks are implemented with tighter security encryptions across their VPN framework, COVID-19 has convinced studios that it is okay for artists to do their work remotely without fear of losing their IP.  Of course, that does kill collaboration but again maybe Zoom or Web-Ex conferences can overcome those barriers.  Should VFX artists working from home become the new normal, then maybe that puts an end to their nomadic existence....but you still have to contend with time zone issues....and the lack of health insurance.

 

The best case scenario is a full time job with a top shelf studio....but I understand that those "core" jobs are rare as most studios like to keep their permanent headcount as low as possible and only scale freelance help on an as needed basis.  

 

Sounds daunting...doesn't it?  But probably no different than many other industries.  The days of the 9 to 5 job  that offered life time employment ending in a nice pension ended 40 to 50 years ago.  There are no guarantees.  So if there is risk, then take that risk in something you are passionate about.

 

But you've got to want it...and want it bad because the path to success in this industry is probably no different than any other industry:  You need a hunger to succeed, the discipline to keep working hard and giving it everything you've got, a desire to keep learning and improving yourself, a passion to partner with and help others, and the humility to always be critical of yourself ONLY (keep asking "is there a better way" or "how can I make this better").

 

Dave

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