9 Fulfilling Ways to Make Money as a 3D Artist

12 May 2017

How do you want to make money as a 3D Artist? Shouldn’t we all be able to create what we can do best, are passionate about and especially what fulfills us and gives us purpose in life?

I used to have so much fun creating my own 3D projects in school or at home. Now it just seems like I have to adjust my work to where the money lies.

Do you adjust to the industry, look for jobs and create whatever a client wishes and has money for?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around, that you create what you are passionate about and the right customers will come to you?

Creative Jobs, especially in the 3D industry, that let you create entire worlds and stories digitally, sound like jobs that should fulfill you to the core!

3D shouldn’t be just for paying the bills.

It is for telling stories, building audiences and sharing a common vision.

The 3D Artists dilemma

Today, everyone wants to pay less, the value of your 3D skills seems to have plummeted and the global competition is excruciating.

Customers are satisfied with less than top notch quality and settle for good-enough. So how can we as 3D Artists make a living and feel fulfilled in this kind of environment?

Should 3D Artists take on multiple jobs?

Learn more or different skills?

Be crushed and burn out because of too much low-quality work and a 3D-Artists salary that is usually much too low?

Give up our former hopes of starting a career in a creative industry that had the potential of making our dreams come true?

Let’s get into this really deep and start off with some questions to ask ourselves before looking at how to make money with 3D:

Why are you a 3D Artist?

We love 3D.

We love creating new worlds and characters from a blank computer screen. We love to polish a rendering and try to get that leather material to look as realistic as possible.

We want to make cars explode, dragons fly, heroes succeed, enemies surrender and render imagery adored by the world and never seen before.

Why are you a 3D Artist?

What is the Ultimate Goal of a 3D Artist?

We want to be remembered, be an authority in an area or a specific topic, be needed, liked, in an artistic or technical way and also as a person.

We want to visualize our thoughts, our emotions, want to feel like we have reached our goals, have overcome our old self and are progressing, growing beyond what we were able to do in the past.

We want to be fulfilled by what we are doing and find purpose in it.

We want to be unique and original and market our own vision and not others.

We want people to value what we do. There is no magic button that makes everything pretty and cool and stylish, or produces a viral hit in seconds. We know that, but do our customers?

Make millions or be happy with enough?

What if you earned your first million. Would you just stop working and chill for the rest of your life? Shouldn’t you care more for the person you have become while making that first million, then for the money itself?

The person that makes that first million will not stop working hard on improving and learning for the rest of his or her life.

If you really needed that million now and your life depended on it you would go out and make that million, no matter what it takes.

Maybe you’ll only really know you are in the right Industry and passionate about your projects, when you continue working on your 3d projects for yourself, even if you had all the money you needed.

State of the 3D Industry

Globalization and Technology is transforming the 3D Industry. Simple grunt work can be done for a fraction of the former costs, by Artists in countries with low living-costs.

Technology is allowing us to automate tasks such as 3D Scanning and Motion Capturing to make it cheaper for studios to produce certain types of shots.

With on-demand Viewing such as Netflix and Amazon Prime on the rise, TV, TV Commercials and animated ads are on the descent.

In this globalized Industry competition is at an all-time high, and bidding wars on freelance platforms are ridiculous.

Some have suggested, in order to be able to compete in high-wage countries, you should shift your focus to learning how to bring the right people together to do the job, instead of doing all the grunt work yourself.

This means learning the business aspect of the 3D Industry in addition to your creative skills.

Fresh out of school or senior 3D Artist

As a long-time senior 3D Generalist in 3D Advertising Studios myself, this article is somewhat biased.

I have seen people come and go, worked on hundreds of projects in several Studios and am now aiming to help people in similar situations, find their passion again.

If you are a recent graduate, let me just say, it is important to at least have worked in the actual 3D Industry for some time and learn valuable lessons, before diving into Self-Employment or similar business undertakings.

Let’s take a look at what common job types there are in the 3D Industry:

Common job types in the 3D Industry

OK, so let’s start with the obvious ones.

Full- or Part-Time Employed

You can work full- or part-time at a 3D Animation Studio, a VFX Shop, an Advertising Agency and the like. Depending on the size of the Company, it will prefer 3D Generalists of Specialists.

You will have tasks assigned to you and will be managed by your superiors. You usually don’t have any client contact, unless you are in a small Studio that will trust you enough to handle client relationships.

Over-time is common to meet project deadlines, but income is steady and you usually don’t have to worry about finding new work, since this is the Studios job.

Freelance

Freelance too is very common. As a Freelancer you usually use Hard- and Software of the Studio that is hiring you and you work on-site.

You have people managing you and you don’t get in touch with the client. Being a Freelance Specialist is usually higher in demand, since Studios have their own 3D Generalists and bring in Specialists to get specific tasks done they can’t do themselves.

Being a Freelancer usually is only possible in Areas, such as large cities, with lots of relevant Companies you can go work for to be able to work without having to worry about your next job.

As a Freelancer you will have to go find work yourself and have good relationships with the companies hiring you in order to have them book you multiple times.

Business Owner / Solo-Preneur

Now, if you consider yourself a Freelancer but are working from home and not or seldomly being managed by the companies Staff, then maybe you have to change your definition a bit, because it looks as though you are a Business owner.

Of course working for yourself is like working multiple jobs.

You will have to be the 3D Generalist, Animator, Director, Editor, Modeler and Sound-Designer all by yourself AND will have to market yourself, do the invoicing and accounting, go on sales calls, and keep all of your hard- & software running on your own.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

Automatic / Passive Income as a 3D Artist

So let me recap: We need money to work on our own projects. This is where automatic and passive income streams are great.

At least the Idea of it: You can work on your own passion projects while money is flowing in that pays the bills. Make your Art work for you just like your money could when it generates interest in the bank.

The Top 9 ways to making money as a 3D Artist

Many of these I am currently trying myself. Some have already started to succeed, but at very low rates. I will update this Article as soon as I can say more certain which of these turn out to be the most lucrative.

1. Sell Tools and Plugins for 3d Softwares

Combine your skills. Being able to code in some of the Softwares scripting languages can greatly help you in not only making yourself much more valuable to any potential employer but also in earning some money on the side.

Writing and selling plugins and scripts for 3D Software is something you can do, when you have coding skills and know what artists are looking for to make their lives easier.

Write scripts that optimize workflows, speed up repetitive tasks, enhance the software with additional features or optimize accessibility.

This can be as easy as scripting a button on top of the user interface of a command, that is usually hidden deep inside a menu.

You can code a plugin, that fixes missing texture paths at the click of a button, or automatically instantiates duplicate objects.

People who know their way around 3D and know how 3D Artists work from their own experience can add tremendous value to any 3D Team not only on terms of pipeline optimization.

Chances are, you have already coded some little helpers to make your own work more efficient. Share these and make them donation ware. If they are truly helpful you will be astonished at how grateful users are and what they are willing to pay.

Here are some pointers where you can start selling your Plugins and Scripts right now:

2. Make money with Material Packs

This is a no-brainer. There are always artists in need of materials they can just drop onto their objects, or use as a starting point for tweaking until it looks perfect.

There are so many different render engines and 3D Packages out today, that the need for specialized materials will stay on a high in the foreseeable future.

A new render-engine is being developed for cinema 4d? Go convert or create some materials, so they can be used in this new render-engine.

3. Make money selling Courses on Udemy

Selling Tutorials and Courses on popular learning-platforms can be extremely lucrative. Just take a look at some of these people who have sold a multitude of courses. That particular course has over 3000 enrollments, at 10$ a pop, you do the math!

As a 3D Artist all you need is a Microphone and Cam some screen recording software and you are set.

Go do some market research to find areas people are interested in, make a plan, structure your tutorial and sign up as a content creator.

4. Make money with a 3D Printer

Ok this is a big one. I am not talking about 3D printing your own money, but physical 3D Printed Products that solve problems.

Ever since 3D Printers have become affordable, the 3D Printing Industry has boomed. All you need are some 3D Modeling skills, a 3D Printing service or an own 3D Printer, and you can print products, 3D Characters, anything you can imagine, on your own.

You can basically found a startup, set up manufacturing from your home, launch an eCommerce Store and sell products that tackle other peoples major pain-points.

Making money from 3D Printing is as easy as never before.

5. Digital Prints and Posters

I am sure there is nothing you’d rather do than just render awesome Images all day long. So why not crank that resolution up a bit, make prints and sell them online?

You could be making some money on the side right now, with all those renderings gathering dust on your hard-drive.

6. Make Money 3D Modeling and selling 3D Models

If you had the chance to work at a studio, you will know that it is much cheaper for a studio to go buy some models off a 3D Model store, than to have employees spend lots of time modeling the models themselves.

If a studio needs a generic model, that doesn’t need a specific style, chances are very high, they will not think twice before investing a couple hundred bucks into buying 3D models.

The need for 3D Models is very high, though the market is quite saturated. You will have to top everyone by providing superior quality, some special software formats or additional features such as materials ready for specific render-engines to have a competing chance or pre-animated features.

As a 3D Artist, you probably have some models lying around on you computer, so why not try this and upload them for selling online?

It won’t cost you anything. Make Money with 3D Models on some of the following sites:

7. Make Money Online by Starting a 3D Blog and Website

Give back to the community. The 3D Industry is quite small and we have to care for one another. Share your knowledge and insight with the world and the favor will be returned sooner or later.

Start a blog on the side and write about what you have learned when working on your 3D Projects, what Problems you have encountered and how you have overcome them.

Let us know how passionate you are about your projects and connect with the 3D Industry through social networks and Industry gatherings such as the NAB, FMX or Siggraph, to name a few.

Take anything you have created in 3D, Materials, 3D Models or Plugins and make them available on your site. Give away some for free and make people want to come back for more.

If you run a popular site you will be able to make money through affiliate marketing and ads.

A nice thing about starting a Blog that you contribute to continually, is, that it is low risk, needs almost no funding and scales progressively. The more time you put in, the more you will get from it.

Compare this to, say, a mobile game dev, that needs 2 years of development and only in the end will you know if it was the right choice to spend 2 years on.

8. Create a Childrens Series for Youtube

Have you seen what gets a Billion views on youtube lately? Childrens ABC nursery rhymes that run for a fair amount of time. Why? I can only imagine parents wanting some free time from their children and letting them sit in front of the TV to watch the same ABC childrens learning video over and over.

Now here’s the catch: I know you can do better. Given the quality of rendering, animation, even storytelling.

These series didn’t take long to produce not even a week or two for someone like you to create full-time.

There is no reason you shouldn’t get a piece of the pie. Go get a voice actor and create a series, the 3D Industry can actually be proud of.

9. Sell 3D Renderings on Stock-Image and Stock-Video Sites

Remember those Renderings you have lying around on your Hard-Drive gathering dust? Make them work for you!

Setting up an account and uploading your renderings and animations to Stock-Image or Stock-Video sites is something you can do in less than an hour.

Some market research and reading of the news to create great image combinations that are high in demand, will of course go a long way in increasing your income from these kinds of sites.

9 more ways of making money in the 3D Industry that didn’t make it on the Top List

  • Sell T-Shirt Prints with your artwork
  • Make an awesome Short Film and go get some Festival exposure or even Awards
  • Research and wrap your head around making a viral hit with 3D animation
  • Pitch a Project on Kickstarter and get funding
  • Make awesome Art and get funded on Patreon
  • Get funded by the government (I detest this, but it might be up your alley)
  • Make an App/Game
  • Render Product Packshots for Startups
  • Make some 3D Clan-Logos and Advertise in the Gaming-Industry to get Customers

A thought on Risk-Taking

You want to make money with your 3D Skills and want to have freedom as to when, what and how you create it.

Let me say some words about effectively lowering the risk involved in failing at an advanced stage of your project:

Start small and fail often and as early as possible.

Let me give you an example:

You know 3D and have some coding skills. You are ready to start developing a 3D Mobile game. You have big plans, are planning on launching a freemium game à la Clash Royale.

It is good you have some money saved up, so now you can create your game for a year and then make the big bucks.

Well after a year you have finished the game, good for you! But no one plays it, or even invests in any in-game purchases. Your savings are gone and you have an unsuccessful game.

You have worked an entire year and only now, that the game is finished, know that it has failed.

The Solution: Work on Projects that scale and get market feedback as early and often as possible.

Let me give you an example: You are starting a blog about 3D Printing. Setting up the site takes you 1 day. You publish an Article. This article took you 2 days to write.

You let Google Index the article and wait for the first visitors to come to your site. After a couple of days you will have your first visitors without spending an entire years worth of salary.

Sure it might not be worth as much as your failed game, but at least now you can analyze and adapt.

After your next article you might double your monthly visitors. And so on. You have immediate direct feedback if the project you are working on is going to be a success, or if you have to adjust some aspects, or start a different project altogether.

Longing for ultimate creative freedom.

Conclusion

The ultimate goal should be to cut out the middle man, cut out the distribution channels and sell yourself. You want creative freedom, you want to manage your own time, be able to work from wherever you are and create whatever your passion seeks.

You should market directly to your customers & fans and only create what really fulfills you.

I’ll just quote the Film LaLa Land here and say: “People love what other people are passionate about

The most fulfilling way to making money not only as a 3D Artist is to create something that you are passionate about and build a fanbase that likes what you are passionate about.

They will not demand a thing of you other than for you to live your passion and let them ride along.

Now go create and share!

 

How do you make money as a 3D Artist and are you fulfilled by it? Let us know in the comments.

Alex - post author

Hi, I am Alex, a passionate Director and 3D Generalist currently working in an Animation Studio.

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