Student work by Alexander Murdoch
Based on a brief and/or concept art, 3D modelers digitally build, sculpt, and add detail to 3D characters, props, vehicles, and sets, often referred to as assets. As a base, 3D modelers are often provided with a scan of a prop, character, or vehicle from the live-action shoot, or a third-party site such as MegaScans.
Assets can and are used in almost every step of the pipeline. They can be rigged then animated by a 3D animator, placed as a stationary object in a scene by a layout artist, simmed or destroyed by an FX artist, and used for shadows or holdouts by a Lighting artist.
Modelers are responsible for helping to make a film more dynamic, adding personality and emotion to its characters, and building on the overall realism of the story (even if done so stylistically).
Not only must a model look good, it must be highly functional and have the ability to work with downstream departments and their tools. This could be as simple as optimizing geo so it doesn’t make an artist’s scene heavy but can become much more complex depending on how it’s used. For example, modelers often have to work with the FX department to ensure models are made in a suitable way to be manipulated, such as building destruction where all components need to be water-tight (i.e. no holes or gaps between the modular pieces that make up the complete model).
Role & responsibilities of a 3D modeler in the film industry:
Modelers require a mix of technical, creative skills, and interpersonal skills. Knowledge of anatomy, zoology, and basic rigging, and asset creation is also useful in this role.
Professional 3D Modeler, Victoria Passariello has some advice on what employers are looking for in an Asset Artist when applying for a job:
“Extremely good and clean topology, good use of chamfers and smoothing groups, great UV layouts, understanding of PBR, and good development of textures. A strong portfolio will show a good eye for proportions, silhouette and gesture, incredible attention to detail in all aspects, and presented with good enough lighting to be able to see the best of the model and textures.”
Film and TV studios may look for the following skills in a 3D modeler:
3D modelers work in the virtual space using computer software but some artists many may have more hands-on, practical experience, which is always useful.
3D modelers may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:
Wages for 3D modelers start at around USD $75,000 and peak at around USD $180,000.
For more information about this field, read: What is 3D Modeling?
3 months - 20hrs weekly
3D modeling for beginners starts with the essentials: navigating Maya, setting up workflows and building 3D assets from scratch. See the differences between film and game models and find out how to work with your models in Unreal Engine and texture in Substance Painter.
9 months - 20hrs weekly
Build on your foundation with more complex exercises. Learn 3D character modeling and create a game ready character complete with hair, clothing and accessories, then build a 3D environment which you'll texture, light, import into Unreal Engine.
9 months - 20hrs weekly
Speed up your workflow and further your environment and character design skills by creating more detailed fully rendered models, including a creature with skin, scales and fur. This course focuses on portfolio prep and career development so you graduate studio-ready.