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Frustrated Student Contemplating Dropping Out To Work (Please Advise)


Hello Polycount,

I don't post much here but I'm in dire need of advice other 3D artists in the industry.

I'm a self-taught 3D artist that just completed my first year of university at a highly regarded games program. It ultimately left a lot to be desired and I realized I wasn't going to be learning the techniques and advanced methods I want---and need---to know regarding game art. On top of that, I didn't have much room in my schedule to learn on my own, and ended up just feeling burnt out instead. In short, I was not happy.

I am considering taking a gap year to instead try and find work, as I'm confident that I would be learning more on a job, and with time to hone in my skills and build a portfolio. I believe I am already qualified for a junior to mid level position, having a lot of experience working in Blender, UV unwrapping, texturing, creating tiling textures, and using engines like Unity or Unreal to import assets. I also have experience working with teams and collaborating through student projects. I'm really drawn to environment art and have been working on multiple aspects of game environments for some time, so that's where I would like to end up at the moment.

I feel that the only thing I would be missing in three years time is a degree, which many would say doesn't matter, especially not if I don't want to work in the AAA industry. However, I recently discussed my frustration and current plan with someone who has spent decades working (and currently works) in prevalent AAA studios, and they advised that I transfer to a program that would provide me with instruction that I actually care about, and more time to work on my portfolio and skills. They even suggested that I do take a year off, but spend that time thinking about schools that I actually want to be in. All of these options ultimately meant sucking it up and getting a degree.

They told me that a degree was not as necessary a few years ago, and even meant someone was "taught the wrong practices of game design in school" especially in the 90s to early 2000s. This I knew for a long time, but my connection mentioned that as time goes on, more studios (even small ones) are being consolidated, being bought by a few massive companies which practice corporate recruiting, filtering out applications that don't have degrees, etc. Mostly, they seemed concerned about getting into the industry without a degree, even in smaller companies. I certainly don't want to be stuck in entry level jobs for years because I don't have a piece of paper to my name...

But surely one can be successful without having to work at massive corporate studios, without having to be miserable for years just to get degree, while I could be practicing the art I enjoy and working on projects? I know plenty of indie developers and artists who are hired for their work, but is that somehow changing for the worse?

I don't know, and I'm really conflicted. My gut feeling is that I can make it with a strong portfolio as many did before me, and my experience at school was miserable, but I would really appreciate more input.


  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J godlike master sticky

    Some things you are learning may be useful, you just don't know enough to realize it yet.

    Maybe some of its pointless. But as a beginner it's hard to know. Learning a few things you won't use directly doesn't hurt though, and it may help make you better overall.

    I'm not too keen on college but definitely you should avoid developing a bad attitude in general because when you get a job you'll be doing a lot of stupid shit and you'll make a great big effort at things only to have it thrown in the trash. This is true in corporate world and it is even true if you are your own boss. So you have to just enjoy the work all on it's own.

    To get a better idea where you are now, you can share your current portfolio and people can offer second opinions.

    Specifics about a degree and general advice for getting work is asked so often and answered in so many ways - you'll get plenty of info by searching. There is even whole compilation of info on the topic in the wiki: Game Industry - polycount

    It's never possible to make the best decision. You can optimize your life to the utmost until you are Jeff Bezos but still be a miserable bastard if you have wrong perspective. If you figure out ways to enjoy your work and stay involved with others, things will work out, even if it's difficult for a long time.

  • Par

    I appreciate the response, and I agree that attitude is a big factor.

    https://www.artstation.com/abrams3d is my artstation.

    I'm simply worried that I'll be years behind where I could have been had I the chance to learn on my own, even if I have a degree which could in theory open more doors, but might not even matter in the future.

  • killnpc
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    killnpc interpolator

    college is simply borrowed time, utilize it well to develop your skills, otherwise get the hell out of the situation. you have an opportunity to make it work. you take from it what you put into it, this is true inside or outside of any campus. you certainly pay for it in the long run, but it's a hell of a lot easier to develop the skills you want while being immersed in and catered relivant reasources in a safe environment geared towards helping you achieve your goals. it's not a for sure thing, results vary, but you won't find that anywhere else.

  • Tiles
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    Tiles greentooth

    My advice is: Finish what you start*. Finishing is imho one of the most important skills. And you usually learn the most at the last few meters. Counts for University, counts for making a game, counts for making graphics ...

    *except there is a very good reason not to do so.

    But there is imho no good reason to quit university when you are good at it. I could at least not read a good one in your initial post. And it is imho the wrong approach anyways to think that university will teach you everything. It doesn't. It just gives you a frame and some basic knowledge. Most of the things you still need to learn by yourself. Studying is simply not a 9 to 5 job where you are done when you leave the building. A university is also important to build connections for the future. So, don't quit this easily :)

  • Mr_Nova
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    Mr_Nova polycounter lvl 2

    I'll give my two cents here for what it is worth. Like what Killnpc said, college is borrowed time. School work alone will not really push you to have a banger portfolio for applying to jobs, unless it's a 1 on 1 mentorship (which are way cheaper and better than any college imo.)

    I'm a bit biased but I found a lot of colleges lack teaching industry level skills. However, colleges do offer one thing which is networking with others and that I think is the most important thing to takeaway from the experience. Otherwise I'd say you don't 'need' a degree to work in the games industry because a slip of paper doesn't mean you will get a job, your portfolio determines that. The only reason you would need a college would be to get a visa if you plan to go somewhere else (I'm in that boat right now trying to get into Canada).

    If you decide to stay in school I'd say pick and choose what you deem important to the field you want, but keep an open mind to the things being taught to you. I say this because I went in thinking I wanted to be a character artist, 2 years later I went out on a limb and learned how much I enjoy making environment art. If there are students who support and motivate you to create then connect with them, work with them, in short... be friends with people. Finally, if you get free time to do personal work do that but not at the expense of your physical and mental health. Passion is great but don't let it stop you from living. Drink water.

    If you choose to take time out of it, I'd say focus on honing your skills. Make kickass art and show you know what you're doing building up that portfolio. There are good resources here to help you figure out what you need, whether it's indie or AAA and so on..

    I get this stuff is frustrating, believe me, but there is no clear cut direction and maybe that's what makes life interesting. As with what Alex_J said above you can optimize your life and still be miserable in the end. Everyone's path is different but as long as you keep trying you will make it, from my understanding the only way to fail is giving up entirely.

  • LisaMurphy

    I was in a similar situation, and I can safely recommend that you complete your training. It is true that AAA companies are much more willing to favor employees with a college degree (even if it is not a major for your position). If you're having trouble learning, you always use a service https://samplius.com/ with free essay samples for students. Anyway, the previous commenter mentioned the importance of following the "start - finish" rule and it does help in life.

  • Ruz
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    Ruz ngon master

    why not post a link to your folio , it would be easier to gauge what level you are at

  • Ruz
  • poopipe
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    poopipe godlike master sticky

    Its linked above

    This is going to come across as harsh but meh, it's true...

    You're not employable yet. Unless the course is actually shit then I'd suggest continuing so you can get some breadth and depth to your portfolio.

  • Larry
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    Larry interpolator

    I'm afraid I have to agree with poopipe.

    I stuggled getting my first job with my current portfolio, so you could set this as a soft reference point. Forget AAA studios for now and dont get too focused on that.

    For environment art, composition plays an equal part in your scenes, not just asset quality.

    In Europe they never ask for college papers and honestly, dont get a loan for this. Better spent hose money staying at home self learning. For connections you could visit igda meetups if they are close by, or attend online events.

    Another thing is, simply doing 3d will not get you far anymore, you need to have a soft skill like blueprints, rigging, programming or concept art to increase your chances. Nowadays they mostly hire seniors to establish art pipelines and then outsource stuff

  • poopipe
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    poopipe godlike master sticky

    Soft skills generally refers to interpersonal and communicative aspects of working life so those are not soft skills - those are just (hard?) skills.

    The OP wants to be an artist and thus needs to worry about being good at art . If they are inclined to muck around with blueprints that's great - go for it. Just don't be under any illusion that it'll make up for any shortfall in their ability to do the job of artist - nobody gives a shit if you're a great woodworker when they hired you to dig ditches..

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J godlike master sticky

    i started with game development in 2017. I did mostly 3d art for 3 years, then branched into other things once I decided to focus on making my own games.

    I can, to some degree, do all of those skills you've mentioned. But if I was applying for jobs at any large studios, I doubt they'd hire me, lol.

    If I had been doing just one thing this whole time I'm sure I'd have a competitive portfolio.

    Maybe at some indie studio I could be hireable but it would be hard to demonstrate my skills in a meaningful way I think. Much easier for a specialist to advertise themselves it seems.

  • Larry
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    Larry interpolator

    In the interviews I did, they were asking what else I could do apart from 3d modeling. Programming was a question that popped often, as well as rigging/skinning. So, my take on this, as a freshly hired junior in Europe - for people with little to no experience working in the field, studios seem to be asking for more than just modeling/texturing/sculpting and adding stuff to the engine.

    Maybe as a junior you should be expanding your skillset to be more valuable to a studio doing small tasks, and when get your first job and move towards the path you want to specialize? πŸ˜…

  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J godlike master sticky

    I'm not a junior. In fact, I'm a boss. A big boss.

    j/k, but im not looking for work. my point was that in order to learn such broad skillset, it's going to be like 5+ years or more, and honestly I doubt most people will have the ability to get good at such broadly different skillsets. It takes an enormous amount of time.

  • zetheros
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    zetheros polycounter lvl 8

    hi Par,

    yea, it's insanely difficult being a 3d artist, and quite frustrating at times. I've been branching away from art and into programming for the past few months myself.

    poopipe is spot on. Personally I would recommend taking this https://www.artstation.com/artwork/nEbldX to the next level, or perhaps starting on even smaller environments.

    If I were aiming to become an environment artist, I'd make dioramas. Small projects that demonstrate ability.




    Keep in mind that if you want to get hired, the employer will expect work that is on par or exceeding those who already work there, so find art that you like, and try to emulate the artist.

    If you're still not sure what to do, go to Artstation jobs and read the requirements on the job listings, and plan your life from there.

    It's daunting AF but if this is really something you want to do as a career you'll need persistence, perseverance, and a ton of hard work. It's a 100 mile marathon to get in, not a sprint, and once you 'make it' it's hard work to 'keep it'.

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