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Together with Texture Artist and Lighting Artist/TD this job forms part of a CGI/3D Generalist (Also called a Generalist Technical Director) skill set.
Modelling Artists, Modelling Technical Directors or simply Modellers, ‘Create 3D 'assets' for the digital world. Often building 3D models from scratch,. a modeller uses a range of techniques, often based on diverse real world skill sets such as sculpting or engineering.
Modelling Artists need to have a thorough understanding of the broad craft of CGI. An ability to work across texturing and lighting with some basic rigging and animation not only benefits a better overall understanding of the craft of CGI, it also offers improved employability and ensures better 3D literacy for other sectors and future needs. People particularly interested in creature/character work may specialise in digital sculpture and work with ZBrush or Mudbox software. Rigging and animation become separate disciplines and would also be performed by specialists. Modelling Artists do go on to become specialists in Digital Sculpture and creature work. Equally some people are happy to root their careers in making objects, props, vehicles and fixtures and fittings for film, TV or games as a 3D/CGI Generalist as well.
Polygon Modelling is the most common type of modelling. An Artist needs to have an intuitive sense of how an object exists in 3D space, a firm understanding of an objects topology, and a strong eye for detail. The ability to use sculpting software is always a bonus and an understanding of voxels and pixols with the sculpted form.
In addition it will be expected that a Modeller is fully conversant with the fundamentals of UV-ing.
What’s it like?
A Modelling Artist works long hours, often working in facilities across the world. Thinking through how an object has a profile in different viewing angles, or its orthogonal plan, and can best be built into 3D form inside a computer is the essence of the ‘3D awareness’ that modellers need to have. In the early days, modellers often came from industrial design and mechanical engineering backgrounds which, although still great training grounds for work in VFX or games, a shift of emphasis is needed to be able to move from making things that mechanically exist in the physical world to making things that are BELIEVABLE in a film or games (fantasy) world. For those who successfully make the transition from these backgrounds however, this is fun and liberating work.
Modellers attend review or ‘dailies sessions’ where their principal models are coloured in monchrome (grey or vanilla), diffuse lit and presented on a ‘turntable’ as a rendered clip, so detail and finish can be inspected ‘in the round’, before texturing, lighting or animation rigs are built. Companies will also tend to keep assets in a library, that junior modellers may re-purpose, modify or re-texture either as training exercises or as background military vehicles for another show, for example.
Depending on factors such as the size of project or the company’s pipeline and structure, modellers may work much more extensively than with just their neighbouring disciplines, perhaps interacting with the Director or VFX supervisor, delivering texturing and lighting and, sometimes, basic mechanical rigging and animation work. Or they may work to a production design brief, modelling against orthographic drawing or photographs imported into software. They may be involved in cleaning up or modifying the geometry from 3D scanned practical props or marquettes.
Hard surface modelling
As the name suggests, hard surface modelling covers non-organic, geometric and mechanical forms such as cars, buildings and environments. This involves the augmenting of existing architecture or physical (practical) set design which are built digitally as hard surface models or? a ‘set extension’.
Digital Sculpture or creature/character work
Modellers can go on to specialise in this more sculptural work that tends more towards the creation of characters or creatures for film, tv and games. Specific knowledge of, or at least an affinity for, anatomy is needed as is a more thorough understanding of the needs of departments/teams down stream of modelling. You will be working closely with the Character/Creature TDs, who will be taking care of rigging, so more than a basic grasp of rigging is a distinct advantage for those seeking employment as Digital Sculptors and Creature Modellers.
Modelling has become more ‘freeform’ in recent years with developments in software that allows for a more sculptural approach to creating 3D objects. In its widest sense though, the job of a Modelling Artist is still grounded in the essential ability to slice through form and tie the faces of an object together, either in the artist’s minds eye or by sketching designs on paper first.
The fundamental skills of a Modeller are:
• Thorough knowledge of the principles of 3D/CGI and the 3D/CGI (animation, FX, modelling, texturing, lighting, scripting, shading, rendering, rigging)
• Efficiency – the ability to produce work that is ‘detail orientated’, fit for task and for use by other departments downstream in the pipeline
• Strong attention to detail
• Understanding the concepts of topology, poly count, tisselation and edge looping
• Understanding how to layout the UVs of a model
• Understanding the use of bump and displacement maps in texturing work
• Knowledge of relevant software (see below)
• Ability to communicate with colleagues and work as part of a team
• Ability to take direction and willingness to address feedback
• Ability to manage priorities and bring multiple tasks to completion within a deadline.
• Enthusiasm to learn and develop professionally
Games, commercials, television and architecture tend to use 3D Studio Max and Maya packages. Maya tends to be the tool of choice for high end VFX and feature film. Projects that require more graphic/typographic modelling and have After Effects pipelines tend towards Cinema 4D. Artists who need to work more ‘freeform’, concept based or to develop creature work will specialise in Mudbox or ZBrush packages.
Modo has been popular in product design and will become increasingly used in games, animation and VFX as a result of the commercial partnerships that have developed in the sector.
Blender is worth exploring as a starter package as it’s open source, free to download, and provides a good introduction to 3D literacy and the opportunity to experiment with modelling. However, its’ interface is biased towards computer programmer use as opposed to artist use. This in itself though may form an interesting STEM focused challenge.
Learning matchmoving will leadto modelling and work as a 3D/CGI Generalist. Find a school/course with a decent reputation in the industry where you’ll be surrounded by like minded people with a common goal. Guidance and mentoring in producing an industry standard entry level showreel with shots that show matchmoving, modelling, texturing, lighting and good generalist CGI skills is crucial. Ask questions of any potential course.
Have the instructors/tutors worked in the industry rather than just in academia? What are the course graduate employment rates like? Is showreel/demo shot mentoring in place from instructors/tutors who understand the industry reference standards for VFX as well as animation?
Modelling Artist is a generalist role and therefore provides a great foundation in CG. Although everything from terrain, vehicles, weaponry and the principal creature have to be modelled - expecting to land a first job in the modelling department of a very concept driven creature project may be unrealistic.
There is a clear demarcation in modelling that is underpinned by a ‘market need’ for the routine things that have to be made for films and games and ‘full CGI’ animated projects. So ‘entry level’ modelling in terms of skills level of sophistication begins with hard surface modelling. In terms of career development and challenge, this can progress further onto environment work or Creature/Character design or across to lighting, FX or look development. Modelling tools and techniques are always being developed so a keen awareness of the latest techniques and being aware of other artists work is a must.