From 3D College to Mastering the Art of Environment Design: A Student's Journey

From 3D College to Mastering the Art of Environment Design: A Student's Journey

Meet Nikita Nielsen, a 24-year-old Danish 3D artist on a quest to become an Environment Artist. With a Multimedia Animation education from 3D College and an apprenticeship at Retail Fabrikken, a Retail Design Company, Nikita's path is driven by passion and determination.

Meet Nikita Nielsen, a talented 24-year-old 3D artist from Denmark, currently embarking on a path to become an Environment Artist. With a background in Multimedia Animation education from 3D College in Grenaa and an apprenticeship at Retail Fabrikken, a Retail Design Company, Nikita's artistic journey has been marked by determination and a passion for the world of 3D.

In this interview, Nikita shares insights into her career aspirations, experiences, and the pivotal moments that shaped her 3D journey so far.

What are you currently up to?

I'm currently in between jobs while trying to expand my portfolio. I have a part time evening shift at a nursing home, and when I'm off I work on projects, take courses and apply for positions. My dream when I first started my education at 3D College was to work in game development, so the courses I've taken have been Unreal Engine related.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in the Games industry?

My love for games has had a huge influence in getting in to the industry, and I knew for sure I wanted to do it at 15 when I applied to an HTX (Danish STEM high school) for game design, which later just changed to a love for 3D in General, my apprenticeship at Retail Fabrikken was not game development related, but interior design for stores, and I absolutely loved it.  

How did you get your first big break?

There are different times in my journey to where I am now, that I could consider the first “big break”. When I got accepted into 3D College, I had been going for a long time doing nothing really, and family close to me often worried about where my road was leading me. I got rejected by another school for Digital Media, and I heard about 3D College as another option, but the deadline for applying was already over. I called the school to ask about practical stuff and what they expected for a portfolio. They asked me to send in my work and even though I was late for the deadline I was told I could start that summer if I wanted. Getting an apprenticeship is considered a lot harder, but this little success at that time in my life is what I consider to be the big “breakthrough”.

Personal work by Nikita

Describe the journey you took into apprenticeship at Retail Fabrikken?

I enrolled in a HTX program focused on Game Design. While I thoroughly enjoyed the lessons in Unity, Design, and Innovation, I struggled with some of the traditional STEM subjects like math, physics, and chemistry, which were part of the curriculum. Recognizing my inclination towards hands-on experiences, I made the decision to drop out and pursue a career that offered more practical involvement.

I faced two rejections from a school in Roskilde before finally being accepted by 3D College. Looking back, I'm glad I experienced both rejection and acceptance because it led me to 3D College, which turned out to be a great fit for me. After completing the initial 20 weeks of education, it was time for an apprenticeship. Fortunately, Retail Fabrikken recognised my potential and offered me a position. Interestingly, my teacher inquired about my interview invitation, which I hadn't received. I hesitated to reach out to the person in charge, fearing that I might bother him. However, to my surprise, he contacted me the next day and requested an interview. This experience taught me that sometimes taking a risk and "annoying" someone can lead to unexpected opportunities. In this industry, I've learned that being proactive and putting yourself out there is more about showcasing your passion and skills rather than annoying others.

Throughout my education and apprenticeship, I gained valuable knowledge not only in 3D but also in navigating a diverse work environment. I consider myself fortunate to have been hired by such a fantastic company that has provided me with tremendous learning opportunities.

Why did you choose to study at 3D College?

When I was told about 3D College I was shown their website, and the first thing I thought was “Is this what their student are able to create?” I mean, at this point my best work was that donut that everyone starting 3D has made. And I saw these super realistic 3D renders and I knew I had to apply, and I am so happy I did.

Personal work by Nikita

How does your education complement your work?

My education gave me a lot more than just 3D knowledge, even though the lessons in it where great and really gave me all I need to get started, what I really valued about the school is how much they encourage us to learn by yourself, and how to find the information that we need to learn new things everyday. Your “education” doesn't just stop after 3 years of school. This industry constantly changes and there is a lot of development in tools and standards. So being able to adapt and learn by yourself throughout your life with the help of other artists, courses and articles is really one of the most important skills to have, not only that, it's really a skill that is needed for most careers in most fields.

Describe a typical day for you at Retail Fabbriken - what does an apprenticeship look like?

My apprenticeship at Retail Fabrikken was great. I had a great work environment with people that were very passionate about what they did. The work was fast-paced and it gave some challenges with making decisions surrounding 3D tasks, and what needed the most attention and where I was able to save some time.

I was given great insight into the industry of design and learned a lot working with a team and going through the different processes to give costumers their final product.

What third-party and proprietary tools do you use on a daily basis?

I normally use both 3ds Max and Blender everyday. 3ds Max for modeling and Blender for sculpting. I use Substance 3D Painter everyday as well for baking and texturing, photoshop I use as well for some texture work or editing renders. When I do real time projects I use Unreal Engine, and for those projects I use Substance 3D Designer a lot more as well.

Some other programs that I use often but not on a daily basis are Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator, and Marvelous Designer.

What does your workflow look like?

Whenever I start a project, I start out trying to sketch out the idea I have unless I use a still image as reference, if I use a still image I sketch on top of the picture to figure out what assets I need. If I need some ideas I start collecting inspiration from places like artstation, pinterest, or google. I normally start out with the landscape, making foliage, textures in Substance 3D Designer and creating a master landscape material. All the assets I make normally go through 3ds Max first for a Low Poly Mesh, then Blender for a high poly mesh version, then I bake and texture in Substance 3D Painter and then I take them into Unreal engine.

Depending on where you are in the world, this maybe is not the case for everyone, but for Interior and exterior visualisations and fashion here, you can really feel that a lot of companies have seen the value of 3D and there is more demand for it. A lot more in office 3D jobs out there now for those specific fields, which is great for people like me who struggle keeping a network which is needed for a freelance position. There are also a lot more remote jobs.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

Well my last job which was my apprenticeship was a great place to work, and the best thing about the place was not really related to the work itself I did, but more so the work environment. It was not a big company, I think 15 people whose position ranged from accounting, product management and design. Even though we were so many different people, from different aspects of life, it was a place that had so much room and space and compassion for all of us. I never had to explain myself if I had a bad day, it was just accepted that sometimes I was not in the ideal mood. There was room to be human, there was room to have flaws. It really takes a great team of people to be able to do that.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing changed is?

The place I worked did this very well, however I like to see it more from other places as well. I think a lot of people that do 3D are inherently creative people, and I am certainly one. Which is great because I have such an intense passion for creating, but it's also bad because I lose all motivation if that gets taken away from me. Involving people in the creative aspect of a project is something I think would really benefit a lot of workspaces. It gives people a feeling of being a part of the development and not just a “tool” in the process.

Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?

Formal education is not a prerequisite, but it undeniably provides assistance. I firmly believe that it is possible to forge a successful career without it. Personally, I can attest to the immense support I received from passionate and knowledgeable teachers during my educational journey. However, numerous online resources are available; the key lies in discovering where to find them.

What tasks would you be typically asked to do as a junior artist?

I think this depends on where you work. At Retail Fabrikken I was the only 3D artist for most of my time there, and if I needed help I went to my teachers or online. All the 3D related task were my responsibility unless they hired a freelancer.

Where do you get your inspiration from and how do you implement it into your work?

I find a lot of inspiration in my everyday life, doing regular stuff. My last work was inspired just by a walk in the park with my boyfriend. I get inspiration from other people and their work. My part time work gives me a lot to think about, especially working so close to death. I think about stuff I would never have thought about if I did not spend half of my time around people in their 90s and their families. It puts me in a mind space where most of my ideas comes from, even if unrelated to them.

Describe a project brief that you’d recommend artists create for their portfolio?

This applies to all types of work as a 3D Artist. Capture a photo of anything that catches your eye, whether it's a beautiful building, lovely flowers, or captivating skies, and then recreate it in 3D. This exercise showcases vital skills and presents unique challenges that you may not encounter when creating from your own imagination. It demonstrates your problem-solving abilities, proficiency in using reference materials, and can be particularly valuable when you find yourself lacking inspiration. Including such a piece in your portfolio is highly beneficial.

What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?

I don't have a lot of experience with it, however this mistake I do all the time: not applying at all. I think I run into the circle of not feeling like my work is good enough so I work on a new project, but then I begin feeling like my new work is not good enough. You don't really know what an employee is looking for other than the requirements, and maybe your work is just what they want. So keep applying. Take it a step further and reply to a rejection, asking what they felt your work did not meet. The worst thing that can happen is that they don't respond, but you could also be lucky and they give you some good criticism that takes you to the next level.

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

Don't compare yourself to others but compare yourself to the person you were yesterday, however don't be shy to use other peoples work for inspiration and learn from them. Putting yourself and your work down for not being on the same level as a senior 3D artist helps no one, but asking for advice from them and seeing your own art becoming better and better everyday is going to keep you going and make you feel better about your work.

If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?

I spend so much time putting down my art instead of using it to get better. You have such a great opportunity to get better and it's a waste of time to use it making yourself feel inadequate. When you first start out you have such a great gift, you are an untouched talent, you could choose any direction for your work to go, take advantage of that.

You can find Nikita on LinkedIn, The Rookies, and ArtStation.