If you’re new to CG, the entire experience can be intimidating. There’s a lot to learn – arguably more than any one person can ever know – and the skill curve is steep. You might have all kinds of innovative, awe-inspiring designs in your head, but it might take years of practice and hard work before you have the skills to execute them to your satisfaction.
We polled the Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max communities to crowdsource the best advice for newcomers to help them develop their skills and get ahead in their CG careers.
#1 – Ask questions
Take it for granted that there will be a ton of things you don’t know how to do or problems you don’t know how to approach. After all, most people only see the final product, not the hours of work that went into creating it, or the years of training that made it all possible. That’s okay, though, because the community is large and helpful, and ready to support you. Take it from Paul B.: “It’s a great community. Don’t be afraid to ask even the most mundane of questions. Soon, you’ll find you are the one answering the questions!” People are willing to spend time helping others because, at some point in their careers, they were the ones who needed help, and someone was there for them. When you’re lost or stuck, lean on the community. And when your skills and knowledge improve, pay it forward by helping someone else in return.
#2 – Learn basic photography skills
This excellent piece of advice comes from Jonas U., who recommends that you, “Turn off the computer and get a DSLR: learn about light, lenses, exposure, reflections, shadows, bounce, SSS. Then you’re already ahead of the game.” After all, you can’t create photorealistic images – even if they’re entirely computer-generated – if you don’t understand some of the basics of photography and composition. And this advice demonstrates something amazing about this industry: almost everything you learn outside of your specific skill set can be useful in the context of computer graphic design. Do you love architecture? You’ll probably have to design/build a cityscape at some point. Have a passion for cars? You might end up working on the next Fast & Furious movie.
#3 – Plan ahead
Any time you’re tasked with creating something complex, whether it’s a single animation or an entire scene, you’re going to want to have a plan of action. Break down your assignment into smaller, more manageable components, and then tackle those until the whole thing is done. As Rick T. puts it, “No matter what size your project, plan the work and then work the plan. Before any of the modeling, mapping, etc., plan for any eventuality, envision the project’s completion before you even start. If you follow this one rule, you won’t find yourself second-guessing your project and having to reverse your course to correct mistakes.”
#4 – Take inspiration from others
As with any creative field, it’s easy to look at all the amazing work other people have done and feel discouraged. How could I compete with that incredible design? What’s even left to do? I have nothing original to offer. This is the wrong attitude to take. Dragoslav P. puts it best: “There's lots and lots of content out there, but always keep in mind that there is still a lot to be created and updated. So there’s no excuse for not trying to create something, even if you know that it probably exists somewhere or has been done by someone else.” Instead of using the work of other people to potentially discredit your own, let it inspire you.
#5 – Never. Give. Up.
This might seem obvious, but it was the piece of advice most commonly given, and for good reason: this is a tough industry, with a lot of competition and a limitless amount of things to learn. Even industry veterans, with decades of experience behind them, have to keep up with changes in technology and techniques. As Bilall A. put it, “Don’t give up. It’s a long journey, but it’s full of adventures.” If you accept that you’ll be forever learning, a permanent student, and enjoy the ride, you’ll set yourself up for a long and fulfilling career.
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