Are you struggling to break into the industry? Or looking for a way to stand out at your studio among a sea of other 3D Artists? Maybe you just need to pivot and set your sights on specialising.
The increasing size of AAA game productions is creating a tendency to outsource a lot of its generic game content to 3rd parties. For 3D artists in mid-large studios worldwide, this means a handful of in-house artists will support outsourced content, another handful create generic content to support the map teams, and then there are Specialists. A Specialist is a 3D Artist who is considered an expert in their specific category of content. This can be anything from a characters, organics, biomes, procedural textures, hard surface, etc. For example, a Specialist could even be more granular like breaking hard surface down into guns, and vehicles or biomes into vegetation, terrain, and vistas.
Generalist 3D Artists are a dime a dozen in today's market. There is an oversupply of them being churned out of colleges and universities globally at an increasing rate, only to find they are stuck in limbo for another 2-5 years trying to work on their skills, improve their networks, and patiently wait for new roles to become available.
These artists might be talented, but their skill sets are generic. There is nothing that makes them stand out from the others. You must define a niche. Find something that you absolutely love doing and become the best in your field at it. Understand all approaches, and outcomes, know the positives and negatives of each approach. Become an expert. Publish your studies, your findings, help others on forums, use social networks to connect with the industry, and grow your brand as a 3D Artist with a defined speciality.
As our industry grows, and technology advances. Consumers will demand a level of visual fidelity that can only be described as ultra-realism. I speculate that in order for this to happen on a large scale AAA+ production, we will need Specialists for everything. As asset types start to incorporate a variety of specific 3rd party development software in a unique pipeline and workflow in order to produce them, a generalist wont be able to keep up with it all. Gone are the days where all game content can be made exclusively in 3DS Max. I feel that Specialists will become much higher in demand in the near future. And because there aren't an abundance of them at the moment, Specialists are able to be more successful in their negotiations with studios.
If you are struggling to get to where you want to be, maybe you need to pivot slightly, and find a niche. Starting out I was constantly told that my portfolio full of high-res organic sculpts wouldn't land me a job in the industry. And I needed to find a selection of generic props that suited a studios style, show the full pipeline from high-res to game asset, etc. Except this was my niche, I focused on being able to sculpt realistic rocks, debris, and destroyed objects. My goal was to have the viewer look at my clay renders, and know instantly what kind of material and surface properties it was, without a texture, or colour, or context. When I started at Ubisoft on FarCry 4, I was "the rock guy". A weird speciality indeed, but it helped separate my skills from other artists with the same title. Co-workers would constantly ask me about my workflow, or the brushes I used in Zbrush in order to get the same effect. As you grow, your niche will change and adapt with you. I have evolved my skills now to be a Specialist on Biomes. My focus has developed from just rocks, to now include vegetation, vistas, terrain, AND rocks. This has allowed me to differentiate myself as a 3D Artist, and add more value to the studio that I work for.
Finding a niche is something that anyone can do, at any stage in their career. It just takes action! Identify an under serviced niche, build your knowledge and expertise in it, share as much as you can, and carve out your space in the industry as a Specialist in that niche.