3D Character Artist

The role, salary, software, and skills of a 3D character artist in film and games

Student work by Joana Lelito

What does a 3D character artist do?

3D character artists create digital 3D models of characters for films and video games. Models are often based on illustrations drawn by a concept artist.

 In film, character artists create 3D characters that are integrated into live-action. Their work primarily takes place during the post-production process, but sketches and concept art will be developed from pre-production stages as part of the film or series’ production design.

In animated features, series, or shorts character artists develop and create the character art that is used throughout the production. They work closely with directors, writers, and design departments to bring the characters to life. Sophisticated character development and artistry are required to elicit emotion from drawn images.

In games, character artists work closely with creative and technical teams to drive the visual quality of the game and maintain a consistent character style. In the competitive gaming market players now expect high-standard graphics, it is up to the character artist to deliver on the overall artistic quality of the game.  The processes are the same as in gaming, however as film has a linear structure, they will not incorporate interactive elements or behaviors. 

3D character artist job description

Character artists transform 2D illustrations and concept art, or scans of live-action actors, into 3D models with a framework that can be rigged, anatomical limbs, and finished textures. This work is vital to the believability of the production as these elements need to fit seamlessly into the footage for the final product to be believable.

Role & responsibilities of a character artist in the film and games industry:

  • Producing high-quality, anatomically feasible, photo-real or stylized CG character models in line with brief and/or reference material 
  • Interpret abstract ideas or concept art into the creation of compelling photo-real or stylized character
  • Presenting work in a turntable style environment with acceptable lighting for progress reviews and approval (including scale reference)
  • Ensuring consistency of UV mapping and polygonal subdivisions 
  • Facilitate the creation of high-quality photo-real texture maps
  • Researching reference materials for aesthetics and genre of game, film or animation

Skills required to become a 3D character artist

A 3D character artist role is not generally an entry-level position. While some junior positions are available in the industry, most character artists have years of character creation, sculpture, and design experience. A good way to break into this field is to learn 3D modeling and build up a portfolio of original 3D character work. 

Film and game studios may look for the following skills in a 3D character artist:

  • Experience in digital sculpting, modeling, UV mapping, texturing
  • Excellent understanding of shading, lighting, structure, texturing, and silhouette
  • Understanding of mesh topology and edge loops 
  • Knowledge of anatomy - proportions, muscle, and skeletal structures
  • Ability to work from reference materials such as photography or concept art

What software and tools do 3D character artists use?

Character artists work in the virtual space using computer software but some artists many may have more hands-on, practical experience, which is always useful.

Character artists may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Maya
  • ZBrush
  • Blender
  • Mari
  • Substance Painter
  • Unreal Engine (and other real-time engines)
  • Houdini

How much does a 3D character artist make? 

The average salary of a 3D character artist is between USD $32,000 and USD $98,000. (Source: Payscale)

To learn more about this field, visit: What is 3D Modeling?



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