Jul 2023
Gregory Markov

3D Careers: From Concept Artist to Character Rigger

3D art is vast and diverse, offering numerous unique roles to explore. Here you will learn about ten primary specializations in the modeling artist career, their job requirements, responsibilities, graphic design software, and average salaries.

3D Concept Artist

3D Concept artists develop initial drafts as modeling becomes a more prominent part of the concept art workflow. They interpret design briefs and create preliminary prototypes as the final product's stylistic foundation. Their models are simple yet expressive and evolve throughout the development process.

Software: 3ds Max, Zbrush, Mudbox, AutoCAD, Quixel, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign


  • Collaborating with Art Directors and project stakeholders to understand the brief
  • Researching concept subjects, styles, and genres
  • Creating detailed key designs and presenting drafts for approval
  • Developing specifications for dimensions and details
  • Continuously refining concepts  throughout the production process

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Knowledge of gaming trends and genres
  • Aptitude for interpreting abstract ideas into stylized or photorealistic assets
  • Ability to work systematically and manage time effectively
  • Understanding of multi-pass rendering and visual language principles such as texture, color, scale, composition, and spatial awareness
  • Training in computer graphics, game art, or computer science

Annual Salary: $58,000 – $76,000

Environment Artist

Environment Artists create digital 3D environments for movies, TV shows, and video games based on concept art, reference materials, and scans. They populate these environments with assets and set dressing, ensuring they function within the laws of physics and the game universe.

Software: Maya, ZBrush, 3dsMax, Blender, Substance Painter, Quixel, World Machine


  • Creating high-quality organic and hard surface models and textures based on the brief and references
  • Designing scenery elements and props that underline the game's story
  • Working with Designers and Art Directors to optimize geometry, and texture maps and address mesh fixes.

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Understanding of proportion, depth, scale, and physical space
  • Knowledge of geography, architecture, and physics principles
  • Ability to process and work with scans and interpret reference material to create detailed and accurate 3D environments
  • Imaginative capability to create expansive worlds for characters and objects to move around in, particularly in video games

Annual Salary: 53,000 – $69,000

Character Artist

Character artists bring stories to life by designing captivating 3D characters for movies and games. They develop sketches and concept art in pre-production and collaborate with Art Directors, Writers, and design teams to create emotionally engaging characters.

Software: Maya, ZBrush, Blender, Mari, Substance Painter, Houdini


  • Interpreting abstract ideas or concept art to create compelling photo-real or stylized characters
  • Creating high-quality, anatomically feasible character models based on the brief or references
  • Creation of high-quality texture maps by researching reference materials for aesthetics and genre

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Knowledge of anatomy, including proportions, muscle, and skeletal structures
  • Ability to work from reference materials such as photography or concept art
  • Experience in digital sculpting, modeling, UV mapping, and texturing
  • Excellent understanding of shading, lighting, structure, texturing, and silhouette
  • Imaginative capability to create catchy characters design

Annual Salary: $78,000 – $93,000

Hard Surface Artist

A Hard Surface Artist specializes in crafting rigid, solid objects, as opposed to organic shapes. That type of professional typically produces digital assets for video games and films. For example, they create 3D models of inanimate objects like weapons, machinery, and spaceships you see in sci-fi movies.

Software: Maya, 3ds Max, Blender, Fusion 360,  MODO, Zbrush, Substance Painter


  • Crafting high-quality, geometrically accurate 3D models based on the brief or references
  • Creating high-quality  texture maps closely resembling real-life materials
  • Work with technical artists and animators to deliver animation-ready models

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Proficient understanding of geometry, perspective, and spatial awareness
  • Ability to work from reference materials such as blueprints, sketches, or concept art
  • Experience in 3D modeling, UV mapping, texturing, and lighting
  • Excellent understanding of material properties
  • Strong proficiency in industrial design

Annual Salary: $51,000 – $81,000

3D Illustrator

3D Illustrators play a vital role in the advertisement industry, crafting dynamic objects and evocative visual environments for film and television. Collaborating closely with marketing and production teams, they ensure their models are visually captivating, versatile, and catering to diverse needs.

Software: Maya, ZBrush, Blender, Mari, Substance Painter, Unreal Engine, Houdini


  • Producing high-quality organic and hard surface CG models according to briefs or reference material
  • Interpreting abstract ideas and translating them into compelling, photo-real, or stylized 3D assets
  • Facilitating the creation of high-quality photo-real texture maps

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Strong understanding of form, color, texture, and how these elements work together
  • Real-world understanding of proportion, depth, scale, and physical space
  • Experience processing and working with scans (Megascans, LiDAR scans, etc.)
  • Exceptional eye for proportions, silhouette, and gesture
  • Knowledge of anatomy and zoology

Annual Salary: $47,000 – $73,000

Architectural Visualization Artist

Architectural Visualization Artists generate accurate 3D representations of buildings, landscapes, and interiors before construction. They work with architects, designers, and engineers to create photorealistic 3D renderings that showcase projects in the best possible light. This role is essential in the early stages of a project when clients need to make decisions about layout and design.

Software: Maya, 3dsMax, Blender, SketchUp, Revit, AutoCAD, V-Ray/Lumion, Substance Designer


  • Creating high-quality visualizations of products and real estate environments for clients and internal projects
  • Developing and adding additional assets, such as furniture and props
  • Using rendering engines to achieve photorealistic results
  • Collaborating with clients to discuss project details and review renderings for feedback
  • Managing and maintaining a library of assets

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Experience in graphic design and designing visual content
  • Familiarity with architectural drawings and the ability to create accurate representations
  • Basic knowledge of animation and anatomy, as well as camera operation and lighting techniques
  • Understanding of industry processes, such as architecture and engineering
  • Proficiency in texture and shader creation

Annual Salary: $56,000 – $88,000

3D Generalist

3D generalists are artists who can perform multiple roles and contribute to various stages of a project's professional workflow, such as modeling and optimization. Adaptable to the unique requirements of each project, they possess a broad knowledge of multiple disciplines and are proficient not only in 3D software but also in programming.

Software: Maya, 3ds Max, Blender, Houdini, Substance Painter, MEL


  • Creating 3D models, animations, and visual effects for various projects
  • Collaborating with other artists and departments to ensure cohesive and consistent visual quality
  • Developing tools and scripts to optimize workflow and production pipeline
  • Balancing artistic vision with technical constraints and client requirements
  • Managing time and priorities effectively to meet project deadlines

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Proficiency in 3D modeling, texturing, lighting, and rendering techniques
  • Understanding of animation principles and rigging
  • Strong problem-solving and time-management skills
  • Proficiency in industry-standard software, such as Maya, 3ds Max, or Blender
  • Familiarity with programming and scripting languages, such as Python or MEL

Annual Salary: $54,000 – $90,000

3D Animator

3D animators breathe life into characters, props, and environments by creating their animations. They collaborate with other artists to ensure animations are cohesive and visually appealing. These professionals have a strong understanding of animation principles and character movement and are proficient in 3D animation software.

Software: Maya, 3dsMax, After Effects, MotionBuilder, Mudbox, Premier, Cinema 4D


  • Bringing 3D models to life through animation
  • Researching visual style, genre, and technologies for each project
  • Identifying key scenes and sequences and transforming storyboards into animated sequences
  • Enhancing performances using motion capture
  • Managing files, animation libraries, and integrating sound and synced dialogue

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Ability to visualize 3D iterations of 2D storyboards and artwork
  • Good instincts for timing, movement, and editing cuts
  • Understanding of anatomy, weight distribution, and skin and flesh behavior
  • Advanced understanding of visual language and physics principles
  • Knowledge of film and animation genres and styles

Annual Salary: $55,000 – $89,000

Character Rigger

A Character Rigger creates the internal structure and controls of a 3D model, building a skeleton that animators use to bring the character to life. They ensure that the movement of the characters is believable and follows the laws of physics and anatomy.

Software: Maya, 3dsMax, Blender, Motion Builder, MEL, XSI


  • Creating and maintaining character rig setups to enable animation
  • Ensuring character movements are fluid, free of glitches, and believable
  • Designing and implementing facial rigs
  • Writing MEL scripts to customize the software to specific animation requirements
  • Developing tools and plug-ins to optimize animation and workflow

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Knowledge of physics laws to achieve realistic movement in rigs
  • Knowledge of anatomy and how it relates to rigging, including mechanics and movement of active forms, and understanding of limb movement, weight distribution, and skin/flesh behavior
  • Ability to create character gait, walk cycles, and body language in rigs
  • Proficiency in rigging tools and scripting languages to create and maintain rigs
  • Familiarity with animation principles to test and refine rigs

Annual Salary: $78,000 – $92,000

Texture Artist

Texture artists add depth and realism to 3D models by creating realistic or stylized textures. They ensure their textures are optimized for performance and visual quality and collaborate with modelers and other artists to achieve a cohesive look. Texture artists strongly understand color, texture, and material properties.

Software: Mari, Substance Painter, Adobe Photoshop, Mudbox, Maya, Zbrush


  • Researching reference materials for aesthetics and genre of game, movie, or animation
  • Developing and refining textures during the production process, collaborating with animators and modelers
  • UV mapping and ensuring a consistent look of all elements of the game or movie
  • Creating a diverse and compelling range of textures that enhance gameplay and maintain a high level of detail
  • Collaborating with relevant departments on the design brief and texturing finishes.

Hard and Soft Skills:

  • Familiarity with geographical and botanical elements, architectural finishes, and textiles
  • Solid understanding of visual language, including texture, color, dimension, scale, perspective, shade, composition, depth of field, proportion, lighting, and spatial awareness
  • Ability to consistently draw inspiration from real-world references
  • Basic knowledge of rigging

Annual Salary: $53,000 – $85,000

Proficiency Levels in 3D Careers

In the 3D industry, artists progress through various proficiency levels as they gain experience and develop skills. Understanding these levels can help you better plan your artist career trajectories and set realistic expectations. Generally, there are five main levels of expertise in the 3D field:

• Junior: This is the entry-level for 3D artists, such as modeling artists and environment artists, who are still learning and developing their skills. Juniors may already be working on video games or other art projects but often require guidance and support from more experienced colleagues.

Salary: $38,000 – $54,000

• Middle: At this level, artists can confidently handle most tasks of average complexity. They have a solid grasp of essential 3D concepts and can easily tackle many projects, as their computer skills are well above juniors.

Salary: $46,000 – $73,000

• Senior: Senior artists have extensive experience and can create highly complex objects and scenes. They do not have managerial roles but are proficient in providing constructive feedback to their team members, ensuring the project's overall quality, and maintaining a professional workflow.

Salary: $67,000 – $90,000

• Art Lead: This role involves managerial responsibilities, such as task allocation, interviewing staff, consulting with the team, and devising overall work plans. Art Leads may be assigned to specific departments in larger studios, such as animation, VFX, or concept art.

Salary: $92,000 – $138,000

• Art Director: The Art Director defines the project's overall visual style, including aesthetics, references, and context. Their involvement may vary across studios. Some may spend most of their working hours in meetings and not create artwork themselves, while others may be more hands-on, focusing on key art creations and providing guidance to the team.

Salary: $119,000 and $169,000


Pursuing an arts degree or gaining relevant training in a related field can benefit those interested in various 3D artist jobs. Modeling courses, for example, may help develop technical proficiency in specialist software, but it's also important to get relevant training in artistic talent and soft skills. Ultimately, a strong artist resume showcasing a variety of projects, such as video games with medieval scenes alongside cutting-edge graphic design.

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