Career Advice - Working as a 3D Modeler and Texture Artist by Corinne Dy
Want a successful career working as a Digital Modeler and Texture Artist? Corinne Dy is a Digital Model Shop Artist at Industrial Light & Magic in Vancouver, and she sits down with us to share her journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like her own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
Digital Model Shop Artist, I help model and texture hero creatures and props.
Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?
I work at Industrial Light and Magic. We work on projects such as Star Wars and Marvel as well as TV streaming shows for Netflix or Disney+. I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved with films like Black Panther, Ready Player One, Aquaman, Aladdin, Terminator: Dark Fate, and recently Space Jam 2.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
Growing up I loved film, drawing, and storyboarding in my spare time. However, while I was in high school, film and 3D animation were never really discussed as potential career fields. So I swept my hobby aside and took a traditional path in obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree.
After working in a microbiology laboratory for a couple of years, I began to realise that I had missed art and film. One of my mentors shared how he wished he took more risks and pursued his passions when he was younger. I took that as motivation and decided to take a swing at applying to 3D art schools and found myself at Think Tank Training Center.
How did you get your first big break?
I believe that luck and timing played a major role in getting me to where I work today. I applied to ILM on a whim. Luckily, I applied at the right time and place when they were looking for junior artists.
Describe the journey you took into your current role?
I started off at Think Tank Training Center with no 3D experience; just excitement, willingness to learn, and a lot of nerves. I thankfully had many amazing mentors and peers who helped me develop a texturing, modeling and lighting reel.
I used that demo reel to interview at various studios and started my first job at Pixomondo as a lighting artist. I was there for a short time before I moved onto Industrial Light and Magic, and I’ve been there ever since!
Day in the life
Describe a typical day for you and your team?
Our “day-to-day” differs a lot depending on the project and person. For myself, it usually starts with a brief from a supervisor or production coordinator, where we review tasks and expectations. From there, I gather references of the asset I am texturing or modeling and get to work. Once I complete my task, it is usually submitted to my supervisor or in a session called dailies, where you review your work with your lead and VFX supervisors, and they can either give notes or approve the submission.
What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
When I am texturing, I usually work hand-in-hand with the lookdev and modelling department. If I am modeling, the texture artist is the main person I work alongside with.
Are there any industry trends that are changing the nature of your role?
Within the texturing field, things have begun to shift towards a node focused system, which can be more efficient and faster than the layer Mari system. There is also more integration of Substance Painter and Substance Designer to quickly generate tilables and masks.
One thing you’d never change about your job?
I enjoy how my job gives me a degree of creative freedom to tell a story with textures in my own way. There are obviously cases where I am asked to recreate an object one-to-one, but I love that I am occasionally given loose concepts that I can really make my own.
But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?
I feel like as movies and companies are getting more and more competitive, there is a lack of thought towards what is feasible for an artist to achieve. I find there is more concentration on how a company can achieve something faster and at a lower cost. As a result, deadlines for assets and shows become unrealistic and tough for artists to achieve, which can cause a lot of stress for workers on those shows.
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
For me personally, I tend to learn faster and better in a school environment. I had very little 3D knowledge before starting at Think Tank Training Center and I knew I needed a school to teach me the programs. However, with the internet at your fingertips there are many tutorials online to teach you the basics. I personally was not as disciplined to learn on my own. Secondly, receiving a formal education helped me build connections in the industry faster than I would have on my own.
What tasks would you typically ask a junior artist to handle?
A task that a junior artist may start with could be something like a simple model or texture task of a background or small hero prop. Generally, bigger assets or creatures would be given when the supervisor thinks you would be ready to handle them.
When I first started at ILM I was very lucky to have been given a large asset in Black Panther. If you’ve watched the movie, you can see my asset featured in the Ancestral Plane, where I was asked to texture and model the large tree that the panthers laid on.
It was a challenging asset, but I was really happy to be given this task as a junior, as it helped me better understand the pipeline and process.
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
I look for a good work ethic and attitude. Talent and skill are obviously great to have, however, being personable and easy to work with are valuable characteristics that are more difficult to teach.
What skills seem to be missing all too often?
I feel like finding someone who is willing to continue learning and growing can be difficult to find. This is a really dynamic industry, but sometimes artists can get a little complacent. It’s important to be passionate about learning so you can improve your skill set.
Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?
Demo reels and projects take a long time to create, so I think it’s important to balance the scale of the project with the story that you want to tell. Although a large-scale environment may be impressive, you may have to cut corners to get the project done in a timely manner. Working on a smaller asset that means something to you and can showcase a variety of different materials can certainly be enough to get you a job.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
I think some artists starting off make the mistake of snubbing smaller companies when they apply. I truly believe that getting your foot into a door, any door, is the first step to your career in films. Don't be afraid to apply everywhere, big or small. Once you get into the industry and get some baseline experience, it is much easier to move around.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Try not to take criticism and rejection too seriously. The film industry can be brutal and critiques can be harsh at times. Take the reviews and apply it to your work and try to leave your ego at the door.
In the end, try to look at the big picture: as artists, we get to work on fun fantasy films and even silly animations at times, so let's not take things too seriously.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
I feel like work life balance can be a struggle, especially for new juniors starting off. Once I finished my demo reel in 2016, I went full speed into my first job. I was definitely guilty of overworking myself. I wanted to make a good impression and to perform well and efficiently on my tasks. As a result, I felt a bit burned out on my first job.
If I could go back I would try to cut myself some slack and encourage myself to take breaks when needed and not work that extra hour to get something done fast.