I've noticed that starting 3D is overwhelming for most people. I mean, these menus have menus! There are probably 25 different programs you hear people saying that you should use. Terms are confusing... and you probably feel like you just entered the front seat of a jet plane trying to press whatever combination of buttons that gets you some glorious render of what you dreamed up in your head. The first time I started Maya, I thought to myself, "How the hell am I going to do this?" But, just like anything else that's challenging in life, you just need to make one little victory stack on top of the next until you get somewhere.
The point is, it's not just you. Everybody goes through this feeling at some point, and the bottom line is that making 3D is complicated. I mean, there's a good reason why the video games and films you see have a small army of people that work on it. So, whether 3D is a hobby or a career for you, there's a few things you ought to admit to yourself. I learned this stuff as I was growing into a 3D artist, and I think it could help you as well.
Tip #1 - Have a Specific Goal or Direction that You're Aiming For
I like video games. I like film. I like cartoons. I like cool swirly graphics that do crazy flips as it flies through a Pepsi bottle. To be honest with you, I think all of this 3D stuff is super-cool and badass! Problem is... I don't have time to do everything... On top of that, if you don't have something specific that you're aiming for, you're going to get lost in a forest of menus along the way. So... find your target. Write it down. Be specific. Pick something that you can achieve in the next couple weeks. Now, I'll be honest here, for a lot of things in my life I'm not really a list guy. But when it comes to 3D, you need to do this. I remember having these really cool lights that strung up in my room at one point. I liked the idea and believed that I could do it, so I set my first goal in 3D to make a string of oriental ball lights. And this is what my first render looks like:
Remember, it doesn't have to be anything fancy. Just start with something that's simple.
Tip #2: Break Your Projects Into Little Pieces
I really wish there was a magic button that just creates what I see in my head. That hasn't really been invented yet, (unless you count the "make ocean" button in Houdini) so I'm guessing that you need to figure out another way to make what you envision. And this piece of advice, by the way, applies to any art project you do. Break it down into little pieces. Claude Monet didn't paint his impressionist masterpieces with one brush stroke. Yet, for some reason, I think a lot of artists put themselves under this pressure. You want to model a gorgeous, Gothic cathedral? Great! Start with a cube. Add some loops. Extrude some faces until you start getting the over-all shape. Take it one little step at a time. Looking at that tiny cube in your viewport might have you feeling, "Wow, nice 'Cathedral,' I pretty much suck at 3D," but in reality, everyone starts with simple components and then takes it from there. There's nothing magical about it... it's just taking things one step at a time and diving into the unknown.
Allow me to give an example... let's take my first render above and break it down into little pieces. Mentally, it looks something like this:
Now, yes, I know... all of this seems pretty obvious... and simple. Kind of like a soccer coach telling you that you need to kick the ball in order to score a goal. But when you face all the complexities, bugs, scary user manuals, and everything else that makes you want to pack your bags running, you need to remind yourself of this constantly.
Tip #3: Tutorials, Demos, Blogs, etc...
What if someone came up to you and asked, "Hey, you know everything about 3D right?" My guess that you'll either say "Nahhh not really" or something sarcastic like, "Oh yeah, I just figured everything out yesterday." Deep down, you know that, of course, you don't know everything about 3D. (The exception could be if you're Ed Catmull... he probably did know everything about 3D at one point). So why is it that so many 3D artists, new or old, don't watch tutorials? Let me put it this way, if you're not watching tutorials, checking out the latest demos, or doing anything to gather more information about the subject, your actions are basically saying this: "I know everything I need to know about 3D , and there's no point in me trying to grow anymore." So here's my advice: Always search for what you don't already know. And if you think that you already know everything that you need at this point, then cut the ego because it's holding you back.
Even if are complacent with the skills you have for your job, (or whatever bag of tricks you've figured out for yourself), that doesn't mean you've reached your full potential. Plus, you also risk being antiquated by those who are humble enough to continually seek more knowledge. So, if you're a new 3D artist, search for new knowledge every day, and don't ever stop. Think about your skills in 3D like a tiny little plant right now. Tutorials are your water. This is probably one of the most important things you can do to achieve your goals and enjoy every stage of being an artist along the way.
Tip #4: Dive Into the Deep End!
Consider something exciting for a second: You are most likely your worst critic! Why is that exciting? Well, that also means that you have more potential than you actually realize. Have this impossible idea of a project in your head? Want to learn this application even though it isn't currently supported by your studio? Want to learn how to code but never went to school for it? Just do it. You can't fail in the long-run so long as you learn, and I've found that every time I placed myself into a situation that I thought was impossible, I somehow figured it out and grew stronger than I thought was possible. So go ahead, take "risks" and grow even faster.
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