Which CG discipline is right for you?

Artist working on a drawing tablet

If your dream job is to create beautiful 3D art, but you're not entirely sure where your skills fit in a CG pipeline, never fear. Here Jon Neill, Bruce Sutherland and Ewan Wright of AXIS Animation explain the main job roles – what they involve and what skills they require – so you can find the one that suits you. 

Character artist

3D mouse and tree frog characters race on snails like jockeys on horses

You could design unique characters like this (Image courtesy of  Fabricio Moraes and Guilherme Formenti)

Character artists are responsible for creating the main focus of any piece: the characters. You should have a thorough understanding of anatomy, and the appropriate technical skill and knowledge of relevant software. An ideal character artist is someone who can take a model from concept to fully realised CG character with realistic shading and grooming.

Check out our articles on 20 top character design tips and how to create new character designs in Photoshop for character art tips.

Environment artist

A stag stands in a dark forest, illuminated behind from a bright doorway

Skilled artists can be a huge asset to environment creation (Image courtesy of Jakub Javora)

This role requires a skilled artist with a broad background creating different types of assets using both hard surface and sculpted techniques. A thorough knowledge of modelling, sculpting, texturing and shading, as well as the ability to troubleshoot technical problems, is a must. There are more opportunities to begin your career with an entry-level position as an environment artist.

Check out our environment art articles, create an atmospheric game environment and how to create epic environment designs.

Rigger/Animator

Man's face appears three times, manipulated into frightened, angry and screaming faces

Bring characters to life as a rigger or animator (Image courtesy of Antony Ward)

Riggers create the joints of a puppet, and animators control the strings that move them. Rigging relates most directly to the skeleton and musculature of a model, which animators can then use to bend, contort and direct movements. Riggers need a solid understanding of maths, while success as an animator depends more on achieving a sense of rhythm, flow and movement.

Read our articles how to rig a face for animation  and how to create custom rig controls in Maya for essential tips.

Lighter

A red topless sports car sits in dramatic shadow

Lighting roles involve a mixture of artistry and physics (Image courtesy of Djorde Ilic)

Lighting artists do what you might expect – they light – but that means far more than simply adding fluorescent strip lights to a scene. It means working with highly complex render engines to give a sense of physicality and space to digital environments, replicating the real-world lighting that surrounds us every day. If you can grasp the complex physics of lightning, then a number of technical CG jobs will open up to you later down the line.

Check out illuminate 3D work with dome lights and how to achieve better lighting with V-Ray for useful pointers.

Compositor

blade runner style city scene

Compositors bring everything together seamlessly, and add the finishing touches (Image courtesy of Mateusz Wielgus)

Compositors are the artistic maestros at the end of the process that take the work of all the departments before them and layer them into one final beautiful shot. The challenge is in blending various stratums of work – such as FX and matte paintings onto plate photography – without the seams ever being visible to the audience. Compositors should have a robust understanding of 
colour, real-world photography and 
image composition.

Check out our stitch and composit 360 footage and how to model a complex 3D city scene in Blender articles.

This article originally appeared in issue 228 of 3D World, the world's best-selling magazine for CG artists. Subscribe here.

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