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I graduated from college with a degree in math-computer science and have been working in the subd/cad industry for 1 year. My company attends siggraph every year and after going this year, I was fascinated by a demonstration that created a creature using zbrush. Seeing the demo made me want to dabble in the field of 3d design for games.

I've looked around this Q&A site and looked around some of the job opportunities as a graphics person in indeed/monster and came to the conclusion that a BA or MA from an arts academy is probably not required. However I have no training, and am not particularly artsy. So my question is:

1) What is a good way to see if I have a passion for this field? I am very interested in the field right now but I'm not sure if I am willing to do this for a living yet. Are getting certificates a good way to see if I enjoy this field?

2) Out of the many 3d modeling programs out there, which ones are used heavily in the industry?

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Knowing if you enjoy 3D art is something you'll just have to see for yourself. If you still like learning about it and doing it a year or two down the line, it's likely you'll keep doing it for a while.

When your getting started, I would not recommend going out and buying a ton of expensive software and training material. You can learn the majority of 3D for little or no money. Learn Blender which is a very powerful opensource 3D application that covers a ton of 3D features:

  • A full set of tools for:
    • Modeling and Sculpting
    • Texturing
    • Rigging
    • Animation
  • A game engine
  • A powerful raytrace render engine called Cycles
  • Physical simulations for:
    • Water
    • Smoke and Fire
    • Particles
    • Cloth
    • Rigid and Softbodies
  • Compositor
  • Motion Tracking
  • Camera Tracking (for VFX)

As for good Blender training resources there are:

There are also tons of Blender tutorials on YouTube (and for some shameless self promotion, I make free Blender tutorials as well :P).

There are also some good books you can buy. Before you do, make sure they teach about latest version of Blender. Many times people buy books which use outdated versions of Blender which causes crazy amounts of confusion. At the time of writing, Blender is in version 2.6. Many Blender 2.5 books are also usable.

After you learn how to use Blender's tools, you can use tutorials for other software and just learn the concepts. There's a wealth of ideas/concepts/techniques you can learn from non-Blender tutorials.

I have been using Blender for 3+ years and don't plan to switch to other software (except for maybe incorporating ZBrush into my sculpting workflow). However, the most popular (full feature) 3D software used is 3DSMax, Maya or Cinema 4D. You may want to switch over to one of these if you get into the industry.

Overall, I would just say: learn Blender. If you really like it and get into the industry, then switch over to an expensive piece of software.

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I strongly would not suggest going the 3DS Max route because it is very costly and an investment. When I was in school I had to take 3DS max as part of my degree and it still costed me 500 bucks through the school. Average retail for the program outside of school was 3500. Furthermore, you cant save backwards and if someone sends you a file made from a newer version you could forget trying to get it to work. I would recommend first you learn in your free time and see if you like it with Blender.

Visit some forums and talk to some people and practice, practice and practice to see if you have the passion. Examine your skill in a few months and see if you have what it takes. The game design field is a very tough field and even if you went to school its not guaranteed. I know a few people that went to special game design schools and they still dont have a job.

If you dive into Blender also make sure to ask any questions on our Blender Stack.

To answer your questions I've scene a few animation studios use Maya. Last but not least, the game design field is also program based so be prepared to learn C++ or C#.

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  1. I would not look at certificates yet. Buy a few pieces of software and start making stuff. If you like it then you know the answer.

  2. The most used is still 3D Max with second being Maya. If you know one of them you'll be set.

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You could download a free trial of Rhino 3D which runs out after a certain number of saves - after which you can still use it but can't save. I'm a 3D noob enthusiast, I tried Blender first but felt limited by not being able to define anything in measurement units.

I tried Rhino recently and found to be awesome. Another very similarly powerful and highly useful program is AutoCAD, which is available as a free trial, or free for students, to be used for educational purposes.

Both of the programs I have recommended are very well documented, and also professional softwares.

As others have said, download a 3D software, start making stuff and see if you like it. Just building things is difficult enough and will take a little while to master, and then animating them will be another hurdle.

I'd also say start with the very basics, and don't try to get ahead of yourself with huge grandiose ideas, because you can end becoming frustrated and giving up when it really is something you enjoy.

I think that objects made in these programs can be exported to other softwares to be animated afterwards, so get one of these and get creating, you'll soon figure out if you enjoy it or not.

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The most popular programs are Autodesk Maya and 3DS Max. I think 3DS Max is a little more common in the gaming industry (Maya is more film), it's probably a 60-40 split.

If you are serious and want to spend some money training, here are some courses you should take a look at:

I think many people in the US also study at Full Sail

I know Gnomon used to have a whole series of training DVD's, not sure if they still make them.

Here is the most popular forum for 3D: CGTalk

Perhaps asking there may give you access to the suggestions of more 3D artists - most people here are graphic designers.

As a former games industry 3D artist, one thing you should be aware of in the gaming industry is that it doesn't pay very well. It is highly competitive and there are a lot of really highly skilled artists out there getting underpaid. Make sure you really love it before it is something you commit to.

To get employment you need a killer show reel. That is all that matters. The challenge is the time and development you'll need to accomplish something competitive to those coming out of schools like Full Sail. Students study 2-3 years, around the clock developing their reels, so it will be really hard to beat out someone for a job without a similar effort.

Hopefully I didn't spoil any of your enthusiasm - just trying to emphasize how competitive the industry is.

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I had to downvote you because of the mention of Full Sail. Please, please, please, don't ever recommend that place. I live around the corner from it and its an overpriced chop-shop. I've heard far, far more negative than positive about the quality in it and the prospects after. –  Ryan Jul 25 '13 at 15:06
    
I live in Orlando myself, but studied Game Art in Australia. I haven't had personal experience with Full Sail, but I haven't heard anything negative until now. I know at least one Digital Effects Supervisor for a major film VFX company who went there, and spoke highly of it. He busted his ass though and got a job. The lack of prospects are because there is probably only 1 job for every 10 people and competition is cut-throat. I think the government should limit enrollments at institutions where the industry can't support it, so on that note, yes Full Sail is banking on false hopes of many. –  John Jul 25 '13 at 16:23
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