Be a Master: Artist Assess Thyself


This month is about the work and learning before 3D mastery.

Last month we took an extremely high level look at what mastery in 3D means, how to become a better VFX artist, and the two pillars to take your work from good to fantastic.

This month we’re dialing it back from our lofty goals to something closer to home. If you’re anything like me you know you have the skills and because of this it’s really tempting to run off and start doing the advanced stuff straight away.

This is wrong. Foolish. Foolhardy. Sandcastle in the sky-worthy. And generally a bad idea.

Instead, we’re going to take this month to really look at where we actually are, get our opinions verified, and come up with a plan to put our 3D house in order.

By the end of the month you should either be ready to rocket on to the mastery stuff we’re covering the rest of the year, or have a plan in place to get there asap.

Finding Your Starting Point

Jumping right on in, this week we’re going to start assessing our current position.

You probably already know why this is important (it’s hard to get to wherever you’re going without a map and an idea where you’re starting) so I’m not going to belabour the point. What follows is my own technique for determining exactly what’s going on with my continuing self study / education / ensuring I’m the most badass artist ever. Steal it shamelessly.

How to assess your skills (or, Gut Check ++)

While this can be applied to any discipline, you likely care about 3D art specifically so that’s what this guide is tailored to. Feel free to swap the words around if its something else you’re pursuing.

First, where are you going?

Think about what you actually want to do. Are you excited by making things explode? Perhaps you’re a VFX artist. Want to texture things, ensure models are unwrapped properly, and generally turn scenes into works of art? Look at Texture Artist or Lighting positions. Don’t really care about the fancy stuff later but love making complex creatures? Character artist or Modeler.

Whatever lights you up it’s time to think about what jobs or contracts that relates to. While we’re on the subject you should also think about whether you want to create for film, tv, games, advertisements, documentaries, shorts, etc. (When in doubt, aiming for film is usually wise as its easiest to transition into other media from there)

Side note: If you have more than one thing you care about then either pick one thing and follow the exercises for that one thing (knowing you can change it later), or choose a more general role.

Engage in some basic level Recon

Having chosen where you would like to be (or somewhere you want to work toward for the moment) it’s time to delve into that role and research what it really means.

The easiest way to get started is to jump over to Google and search for your ideal role. Find current job postings if you can, bonus points if they’re with a company you’d love to work for. Advice articles are also helpful in the long run and for generalities however right now the postings are more immediately useful.

When you’ve found a selection (I’d say 10 at least to be thorough) you should go through those posts and dissect what they’re asking for in terms of requirements.

Watch out for the following:

  • Specific pieces of software you’re expected to use
  • Amount of experience needed
  • Soft skills (communication can be common)
  • Specific tasks relating to your field or the job post
  • What’s expected from you in general
  • Benefits, Pay, and Work hours

Make a note of all of these things in a spreadsheet or list for each post then move on to the next step. If using a spreadsheet keep it to one cell per item, not per post.

Collate, Analyze, and Sketch the Land

Now comes the fun part. Using your notes, collate the requirements and other specs. If an item shows up more than once, make a note of how many times it shows up (this is going to be an important requirement).

Grab a piece of paper and start writing out your requirements etc, with the most common ones at the top. (Or create a column in your spreadsheet showing how many times an item appears and sort by that column)

Optional – Take a look at the pay, benefits, and work hours. Average out. Feel smug.

Review Your Resources (Or, Get out the mirror and tape measure, and kick shame to the curb)

In this step we’re going to compare our current skill levels with the posted and prioritized requirements list we’ve researched.

This is not the time to become depressed or overwhelmed.

Repeat: Not The Time.

Right now your only concern is taking a look at where you are in as balanced a way as possible and making a guess as to how you measure up. We’re going to verify our results next week; right now we’re identifying which questions we need to ask and which direction we need to point our binoculars in.

So with this in mind, jot down a list of your current skills. Make a gut check here, you know where you think you are. Try not to over-inflate your skills or under sell yourself, and make a guesstimate.

The Very Rough Road Ahead

Rough, as in not refined, not tough and tricky (though it may be those things too).

Compare your list of current skills with the list of requirements you’ve already identified and note any gaps. Particularly specific tasks that you’re shaky on and programs you don’t have experience in.

Again, the point is not to despair or jump into action and start improving these things. What we’re really doing is creating a baseline for ourselves, so that when we start verifying both the requirements and where we are we actually know how to proceed.

At this point, stop, have a hot beverage, and ignore this stuff til next week.

Trust me. This is a vital part of the process. You need the mental space before you can objectively delve into the specifics and make a plan.

Besides, I need you fresh and ready for the research we’ll need to do next week.

Action steps

*points at the detailed list of actions above* Those are the action steps. Go forth, assess, and be back next week bright and ready.

To Conclude:

Today we stood up, took a quick look around, and broke ground on our foundations. We have some idea of what’s to come however we haven’t performed our full recon. This is a good place to be. Next week we’ll start gathering our intelligence and making real plans.

Want to follow along and receive extra support for the mastery series? Jump onto our newsletter. I’ll be going more in-depth there and answering common problems; you don’t want to miss this.

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