I want to talk about the common questions and misconceptions inexperienced artists have, either when they start working towards becoming an artists or when they join Polycount. This is a culmination of advice I've given to people over the years and really, a bunch of stuff I wish someone would have told me when I started out.
That's cool, what software did you use?
This is something you may want to say; however, it's akin to asking a photographer what camera they use, or an architect which ruler they use. It implies that the reason something is impressive is because of the tools they use, not the talent they have nor the effort they put in.
Now, this isn't to say that you shouldn't ask questions about tools, software, workflows, etc (start here
). You definitely should, but a detailed question will give you a much better chance of getting an answer, and the more effort you put into your inquiry, the more effort the person answering is likely to put in. "What software did you use?" is such a vague question that it's very difficult to understand what you want to know. For instance:
Q: What software did you use?
A: Maya (if you get a response at all)
What was accomplished here?
Q: Can you tell me about your workflow for creating the hair? Do you place the planes manually or do you have some sort of script or tool to do it? Did you paint your alpha mask by hand or bake it from geometry?
A: Interesting question, let me tell you about...X...Y...and...Z
Again, with a more detailed question, you're probably going to get a more informative answer. You can't expect someone to put in a lot of effort to explain what they are doing if you can't be bothered putting in effort to ask about it.
What software/tool/workflow is best?
This is an unanswerable question, what it really comes down to is what are you most comfortable using. Rather than knowing what the best tool is, you should know how to use as many of the tools you're likely going to need to use on a job. This makes you a more attractive potential hire, as you can hit the ground running.
How many triangles should I use for X?
Basic standards are Max and Maya for traditional 3d stuff, with Modo being very popular these days as well. Its best to know how to use both Max and Maya on a basic level, as nearly every studio uses one of these. You can get educational copies of each from Autodesk for free, so there is no excuse not to know them. Basic modeling skills will apply to any app, but you should know how to operate the interface of the big two.
Zbrush and Mudbox are the standards for sculpting, learn one or the other. Photoshop is required knowledge for everyone, it's the standard in every studio. Quixel's Suite and Substance Designer/Painter and becoming more and more popular for texturing.
This is another unanswerable question. It depends on a nearly unlimited amount of factors, like the style of the game, the target hardware, the importance of the asset, how close you can ge, how many other objects are on screen, the specific engine, what sort of shaders you're using, etc. Determining what is a reasonable amount of geometry to use is a skill in itself, and if you're unsure, ask, but be as specific as possible when you do.
What is the secret to overnight success?
How many triangles for a character? Is a terrible way to ask this question.
How many triangles for a current generation realistic character that needs to hold up to cinematic closeup views in UE4 on high-end pcs? Is a good way to ask this question.
There is no secret, you can''t fake it. There is no shortcut to putting in the work. To improve, you need to make one asset from start to finish, and then do this again as many times as physically possible. The only reliable source of improvement is unrelenting determination.
Is X software/tool/workflow cheating?
No, shut your mouth. Tools are merely tools, some idiot thought photography was cheating 100 years ago. Do you want to be that idiot? Everyone cheats, you need to use the tools available to you to the best of your ability to stay current in the games industry.
Do you know where I can find a tutorial for X?
However, using a very minimal workflow to focus on fundamental skills can be a very productive exercise.
Maybe, but you can't rely on tutorials for everything. Critical thinking and experimentation is one of the most important skills you could possibly have. Remember, at some point, the people who write the tutorials had to figure out how to do the thing.
Will you make a tutorial for me?
No, I will not. Its not because I don't like you, I'm sure you're a swell guy, but writing custom tutorials for people is an enormous amount of work.
I'm not good enough to post
There is no "you must be this good to post" sign next to the new thread or reply buttons. Polycount, and every community, thrive by having a diverse pool of users with various knowledge and skill levels.
I'm not good enough to give feedback
This is also not a thing. If you have some input to give, feel free to give it. Its up to the artist to decide if what you're saying applies or has value to their work. Giving feedback is a great way to start forging relationships as well.
I'm not good enough to finish my work/what's the point?
The key to improving with any task is to follow through from start to finish. If you don't finish your stuff, you won't truly understand the creation process. You should strive to get better with every finished project, and the more projects you finish, the more improvement you will see.
Nobody gave me any feedback so I stopped posting
Everyone has to start somewhere, behind every amazing artist there is a person who used to suck, who worked until he/she was able to produce excellent content.
The best way to get feedback is to post frequent updates. Giving up because you don't get any or enough feedback is a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you stop posting you certainly won't get any feedback.
You might not suck enough for feedback
Its important to remember that feedback isn''t only about you. Writing detailed criticism takes a lot of work. Everyone has a limited amount of time, so you need to show you're worth the effort, by working hard and being committed to improving your art. Again, posting frequent updates is a good start, but taking feedback seriously and trying to apply it to your work goes a long way too.
There are two types of artists that are very easy to give feedback to. The first is the total noob, whose work is so bad that errors are easy to spot, literally anyone can tell them why that Pokemon looks wrong. The second is the really awesome, experienced artist, often the work is so good that you don't have anything critical to say, so positive compliments are given.
So what if you're just sort of... okay? A lot of people fall in this category, and it can be hard to get noticed. Again there isn''t any secret or shortcut here, you need to be persistent and build relationships, give people a reason to get involved, show improvement over time and people will take notice. Posting your work frequently and leaving feedback in other threads is the best way to start cultivating relationships with other artists.
Not all feedback is created equal
Getting feedback is great, but not all feedback is necessarily good advice. As an artist, your job isn''t to mindlessly apply any and all feedback to your work, but to think critically and find out the best way to use feedback to improve your skills.
However, this is not an excuse to ignore feedback. Even if you disagree with feedback (and you will at some point), you should always try take something of value from said feedback. You should even try implementing feedback you don't agree with on occasion, you may find that despite what you thought, it improves your work.
OMG this rules
One last thought on feedback; telling someone how great their work is, even if it truly is, is not particularly productive. It does little more than stroke egos, and most artists appreciate criticism, regardless of skill level. If you're going to post a compliment, try to at least tell the person what you like about the piece, rather than OMG AWESOME I JUST JIZZED IN THIS THREAD, for instance:
OMG this is so cool +1 - This adds nothing to the conversion.
OMG this is so cool +1. I really love how dynamic the pose is and the locational scratches on the armor, which add an element of believably to the material! - This is a compliment well done, praise has been given, but not only that, the artist knows why you like the work, they know what they've done well which is very important in identifying where they have been successful in their work. If you get praise but never any specific information, its much more difficult to know what has worked well and what you should focus on for further improvement.
I'm in a rut
Everyone has been there before. Try to find a new perspective, watch a movie, go to a gallery, go on a hike, go out and experience something and try to put those experiences into your work. Start a new project if you're stuck on something, but try not to continually start new projects because you're not happy with the results. Sometimes you just need to power through it and finish your task, despite how lackluster the result may be.
Improvement is a gradual process
Improving your art takes a lot of time and energy. Improvement is rarely seen on a day to day basis, more like a month to month or even year to year basis. You have to trust that the process works and keep at it, hoping to instantly improve after watching a tutorial or reading an article is simply setting yourself up for disappointment.
Impostor syndrome, you're the only one who has it
Do you ever get the feeling that secretly, you're a total hack and have no idea what you're doing? Yeah, everyone else does too. Its called impostor syndrome
, and pretty much every artist feels it at some point. Personally, I worry about this frequently, I''ve worried about it so often and for so long that its easy to identify exactly what it is. Recognize it for what it is (irrational bullshit), and work through it.
In my career, there was never an "ah-hah now I'm good enough" moment where I felt I accomplished some sort of mythical goal. Don't let fantasies like "when I finally get good enough" prevent you from posting, finishing work, engaging with others or otherwise improving yourself.
The industry is a very small place
Seriously, don't be an asshole. Everyone on Polycount knows someone who knows someone. That someone may be a lead at a studio that you could get you a job, or prevent you from getting a job. Your public persona on Polycount is how many people may remember you, and you will likely be associated with the things you say. You want to be known for the work you do, not your controversial beliefs.
This isn''t to say that you can't be yourself, just remember that everything you say on the internet is permanent and searchable, and it is common practice to look at forum posts when vetting a potential hire. You should always be aware of how you're presenting yourself, as you're essentially in a very casual interview every time you post on Polycount, or really any public medium that is easy traced back to your real world self. Diamonds, and internet posts, are forever.
Polycount is an art site, after all
Do I need a degree to get a job?
As an artist? No, you don't. As an engineer, it is much more important to have a degree. There are reasons you may want to get a degree (such as higher lifetime salary, or immigration/visa concerns) and also reasons you may not want to get a degree (debt - especially in the US, time you could be spending being awesome/doing contract work). More on this here
Do I need experience to get a job?
No, but it helps. Those X years of experience requirements you see on job postings? Those are there mostly to weed out the noobs. If your work is good enough, most studios will consider you for a position.
Doing freelance work is a great way to get experience without actually having a job in the industry. Indie teams are often looking for talent and may by more suitable to inexperienced artists than larger studios. Mods are also a good way to get valuable experience, provided the project has solid organization and is run with some professionalism (having specific tasks and deadlines is a must).
You made it this far?
I'm impressed! It's important to mention that this is not a list of rules to live by. There are few absolutes here, these points are intended to make you think.
TL;DR: be nice, work hard and don't lurk.