What does a 3D modeler for film do?
Based on a brief and/or concept art, 3D modelers digitally build, sculpt, and add detail to 3D characters, props, vehicles, and sets, often referred to as assets. As a base, 3D modelers are often provided with a scan of a prop, character, or vehicle from the live-action shoot, or a third-party site such as MegaScans.
Assets can and are used in almost every step of the pipeline. They can be rigged then animated by a 3D animator, placed as a stationary object in a scene by a layout artist, simmed or destroyed by an FX artist, and used for shadows or holdouts by a Lighting artist.
3D modeler job description
Modelers are responsible for helping to make a film more dynamic, adding personality and emotion to its characters, and building on the overall realism of the story (even if done so stylistically).
Not only must a model look good, it must be highly functional and have the ability to work with downstream departments and their tools. This could be as simple as optimizing geo so it doesn’t make an artist’s scene heavy but can become much more complex depending on how it’s used. For example, modelers often have to work with the FX department to ensure models are made in a suitable way to be manipulated, such as building destruction where all components need to be water-tight (i.e. no holes or gaps between the modular pieces that make up the complete model).
Role & responsibilities of a 3D modeler in the film industry:
Producing high-quality organic and hard surface CG models in line with brief and/or reference material
Interpret abstract ideas into the creation of compelling photo-real or stylized 3D assets
Presenting work in a turntable-style environment with acceptable lighting for progress reviews and approval (including scale reference)
Ensuring consistency of UV mapping and polygonal subdivisions
Facilitate the creation of high-quality photo-real texture maps
Create “hold out” geo, or Match-Move geo, which is not necessarily seen in the final render but is used by downstream departments, such as Lighting and FX, to be able to generate more realistic outcomes.
Skills required to become a 3D modeler for film and television
Modelers require a mix of technical, creative skills, and interpersonal skills. Knowledge of anatomy, zoology, basic rigging, and asset creation is also useful in this role.
Professional 3D Modeler, Victoria Passariello has some advice on what employers are looking for in an Asset Artist when applying for a job:
“Extremely good and clean topology, good use of chamfers and smoothing groups, great UV layouts, understanding of PBR, and good development of textures. A strong portfolio will show a good eye for proportions, silhouette and gesture, incredible attention to detail in all aspects, and presented with good enough lighting to be able to see the best of the model and textures.”
Film and TV studios may look for the following skills in a 3D modeler:
A good understanding of form, color, and texture, and knowing how these elements work together (demonstrated via showreel)
Ability to interpret and follow reference material to create clean, detailed, and accurate models
Strong polygonal subdivision modeling skills
Real-world understanding of proportion, depth, scale, and physical space
Highly efficient UV layout experience using a UDIM workflow is required
Knowledge of anatomy and zoology
Experience processing and working with scans (Megascans, LiDAR scans, etc.)
What software and tools do 3D modelers use?
3D modelers work in the virtual space using computer software but some artists may have more hands-on, practical experience, which is always useful.
3D modelers may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:
Unreal Engine (and other real-time engines)