3D Character Artist

Learn about the role, salary, software and skills needed to become a 3D Character Artist

Student work by Joana Lelito

3D Character Artist Job Description

3D Character Artists create 3D models of characters for films and video games. Models are often based on original concept art.

Character Artists for computer games draw up the visual elements of as briefed by the Art Director and Lead Character Artist. They create illustrations of characters, vehicles, environment, weapons, props, etc from the original concept artist’s sketches. 

Their tasks can also include creating storyboards, scenery, as well as adding shading and texture to visuals. The Character Artists work closely with creative and technical teams to drive the visual quality of the game and to 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.   

Character Artists in film create the 3D characters, creatures or objects 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.

The processes are the same as in gaming, however as film has a linear structure, they will not incorporate interactive elements or behaviours. 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

Character Artists in animated features, series or shorts 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. These characters are as simple as their film counterparts in that they do not require interactivity. What is crucial in character art for animated features is for the characters to be relatable and sympathetic to audiences. Sophisticated character development and artistry is required to elicit emotion from drawn images.

Role and Responsibilities

Character Artists transform 2D illustrations into 3D models with a skeletal framework, functioning limbs and finished texture. 

The role of the gaming Character Artist is to drive the visual quality of the computer game. They draw up the 2D sketches of all the imagery required of the game, maintaining a certain style and finish. These illustrations go through a process of revision and refinement in consultation with the designers and game developers until the signature look is established. During the course of production the Character Artists curate and oversee the consistency of game graphics.

The next step is to render the artwork into three-dimensional form. Character Artists undertake the task of transforming 2D illustrations into 3D models with a skeletal framework, functioning limbs and finished texture. 

The role of the Character Artist in live action and animated features is to create concept art based on the script and develop it throughout the production process.

Responsibilities of a Character Artist may include:

  • Liaising with art director and lead character artist on the style, scope and polish of work
  • Liaising with the director, cinematographer, design department to fit the characters into the live-action sequences
  • Researching reference materials for aesthetics and genre of game, film or animation
  • Working with post-production and visual effects teams for seamless integration with footage
  • Conducting an exhaustive revision process fleshing out concept art to final approved artwork
  • Creating 3D versions of all artwork, including rigging, working out points of movement of axes, adding skin and texture
  • Working to production schedules 
  • Maintaining production documents
  • Curating asset libraries
  • Taking into account budget constraints
  • Assisting in problem solving, suggesting best practices and seeking out new software, technologies and resources that will aid effective workflows
  • Creating prototypes from which final animations will be based
  • Working with animators to deliver effective models that move and perform believably

Software and Other Tools Used

Character Artists work exclusively with computer software. A fluency in all or some of the following platforms is required:

  • Maya
  • 3D Studio Max
  • Mudbox
  • Zbrush
  • Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator
  • Substance Painter
  • Houdini

Skills Required

The skills required for a 3D Character Artist include a high level of design ability and a strong understanding of the film or game production pipeline. 

Employers 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
  • Vision to take simple 2D sketch to fully realized 3D model
  • Skilled in hard-surface modeling
  • Understanding of mesh topology and edge loops 
  • High level of artistic skills, strong sense of design
  • Knowledge of anatomy - proportions, muscle and skeletal structures
  • Understanding of form, shape language and color
  • Ability to work from reference materials such as photography or concept art
  • Good time management skills, ability to meet deadlines
  • Strong technical skills, knowledge of industry-standard software
  • Good communication skills, ability to work with multiple departments on all their needs and constraints
  • Specific to Video Game Character Artists: passion for playing video games, knowledge of various game genres and  trends

Average Salary

The average salary of a Character Artist is between USD $32,000 and USD $98,000. (Source: Payscale)

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

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



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