There’s a harsh reality that all creatives have to come to grips with before pursuing a professional career as a 3D animator or digital artist. Becoming an expert in multiple aspects of 3D animation requires a bottomless pit of knowledge and skill development. My experience in becoming a professional animator involved the excruciating process of teaching myself about 80% of the expertise that I currently use on a day-to-day basis. Although I’m definitely not an expert in every aspect of 3D animation, it’s important to understand that there are many skills that you have to obtain in order to be successful in this field, which include (but aren’t limited to): 

> Learning how to use complex software

> Mastering the universal principles of animation

> Understanding color theory

> Optimizing your system to handle large/complex project files

> Utilizing the best rendering practices

> Time management 

> Developing an eye for design and composition

Most 3D artists choose to specialize in one field or another, whether it be character animation, modeling, rigging, lighting, vfx, compositing, etc.. Regardless of your decision to specialize or generalize, I want to make the case that it’s extremely important, if not vital in this industry to work on side projects in order to improve your skills, boost your efficiency and become a better artist. 

There’s a common side effect that creative professionals run into when they find themselves in a situation where they’re getting consistent work (which we should all strive towards attaining). It causes a delusion of reality within us that can depress our imaginary nature, cause creative burnout or drive us from our career path altogether. It’s the amnesia of how we obtained the skills we have and why we got into this industry in the first place: PASSION. We forget about the extra hours fiddling with shader parameters on a tea pot model or creating sci-fi robots that we know will probably get less than ten likes on social media. Instead of avoiding passion projects because we think they’re a waste of time, we should embrace the creative process that we all fell in love with when we struggled through our first bouncing ball animation or discovered how to use blendshapes for facial expressions. 

The reason I love passion projects is simple: I know that I’m inevitably improving as an artist. The moment we assume that we’ve learned all that we need to learn in the world of 3D animation, is the moment that hungrier, more passionate artists begin to outcompete us for projects or jobs. Everyone has different inherent abilities and learning speeds, but one character trait always trumps those factors: DRIVE. If you’re motivated to learn complex skills and humble enough to acknowledge that you’ll never have everything figured out, then there’s no limit to where this career can take you. Don’t forget the importance of work-life balance either. I’m not advocating for artists to chain themselves to their computer and spend the entire month working until they’re passion project is finished. Come up with a project that matches your degree of motivation. One that you’ve always wanted to explore, but never got around to. Keep it fun and interesting. Most of us work long hours at our desks and need to spend time outside or in nature, which is a great place to find inspiration for your next passion project.

My challenge to you is to never settle for mediocrity and to always strive to be better than you were yesterday. There’s an abyss of knowledge to be obtained and an unlimited amount of resources to help you enhance your skill set(s). Fortunately in today’s society, we have the internet, which provides us with all of the information we need to become experts in the field of our choice. So open your favorite 3D application and get to work! You never know what happy accidents are waiting to be discovered.   

Written By: Steve Cook, Creative Director, Fog Coast Productions