Career Advice: Working as Lead 3D & Character Artist in Games

Career Advice: Working as Lead 3D & Character Artist in Games

Andres Prados Muñoz is a Lead 3D & Character Artist based in Spain. He sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.

Want a successful career working in Games? Would you love to do it remotely as well? Andres Prados Muñoz is a graduate of Universal Arts School in Spain, and a Lead 3D Artist and Character Artist for game studios globally.  Andres sits down with us to share his journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like his own.

The Journey

What's your current role and what does it involve?

Currently, I'm working as a Lead 3D Artist, although my artist role is 3D Character Artist.

My work revolves around leading the direction of our projects, ensuring that all artists are satisfied with their work, assisting them with any technical 3D-related issues, and providing feedback to ensure that everything meets quality standards.

I also handle administrative tasks such as developing pipelines/workflows for the artists to follow and ensuring consistent naming conventions and folder structure so that we can collaborate smoothly as a team. I continuously consider my team’s mental health and wellbeing so we’re all comfortable and working together in the best ways possible.

Where do you work, and what type of projects are they involved with?

I currently work for MLC (Magna Ludum Creatives Ltd). MLC is a network of 150+ specialist production artists who come from indie to AAA, streamlining the process of sourcing, hiring and managing freelancers. We give game developers the option to outsource to MLC for specific deliverables, or scale with a bespoke team of dedicated retained specialists. No matter which way developers need to hire MLC for game development, flexibility is one of our greatest strengths. We've worked for studios like Free Range Games, Super Rare Games, Outplay Entertainment, Merge Games, Valko Studios, Over The Moon Games,  as well as IP from Disney and Warner Bros. MLC strives to be the best place to work for freelance artists in the industry.

When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?

I started when I was young, making short films with my friends in the street. I learned some VFX through Videocopilot, met the amazing Andrew Kramer in Barcelona and discovered that I wanted to learn 3D. So, I began learning Cinema4D and later Blender 3D. I decided to study 3D modelling and work in that field. Later, I joined PlayStation Talents, loved the experience, and this confirmed that I wanted to work in this industry.

How did you get your first big break?

After completing my degree in 3D Animation, Games, and Interactive Environments, I decided to study a ZBrush sculpting master's program at Universal Arts School. After studying there, my teacher Rafa Costa offered me a job to work with him and Rafael Zabala on an advertisement for Lavazza. A few months later, the famous music band from NY, AJR, contacted me to create a cover album for their song "Bang!"

Describe the journey you took into your current role?

Continuing from my previous answer, after working for AJR and Lavazza, I started working for Odders Lab, an indie VR studio here in Seville, where I live. When Covid hit, I left the studio and looked for work until MLC found me. Max Louis, the Studio Director, contacted me and offered me a position as a 3D Artist. Overtime, I demonstrated my knowledge of various 3D programs and my ability to help and lead the rest of the team. A couple of years later, he offered me the role of Lead 3D Artist. However, I still work as a Character Artist for our clients as well. It’s really cool to have the best of both worlds.

Why did you choose to study at Universal Arts School?

In Spain, there aren't many 3D schools, we don’t have anything close to something like Gnomon. We only have degrees in 3D Animation, Video Games, and Interactive Environments. When I finished, I felt that my knowledge and quality of 3D modelling were much lower than the level of students from other countries. So, I couldn't compete.

I decided to study a ZBrush master's program to improve and try to catch up with other students. I chose UA School because it seemed like the most professional school with the most experienced faculty in Spain.  Rafa Costa, my teacher, had worked for Elite 3D, now 2K Valencia, as a character artist.

My teacher at UA School was someone I wanted to aspire to and knew he could teach, inspire, and guide me, which I believe was a crucial part of my journey.

How does your education complement your work?

Having studied animation, VFX, modelling, and being a generalist with a focus on ZBrush, Substance 3DPainter, etc…And having specialised in 3D characters, I have gained a broad understanding of each department's needs and how they work. As a Lead, it’s essential to know what each team needs and how to assist them is very important. It keeps me connected to my team.

Also, thanks to my generalist background, I can help producers when they're creating quotes and deadlines for different clients. I can provide an overview of a budget without having to ask each department for an estimate.

Day in the life

Describe a typical day for you and your team?

A normal day starts by turning on the PC, opening Discord, our primary communication tool for interacting with clients and the team, and Gather, a social app we use to simulate a virtual office and feel connected even when working remotely. I check messages from Project Managers, clients, and artists to see if they need anything and provide quotes for new projects that have come in.

Throughout the day, we have meetings about ongoing projects, calls with clients, and the rest of the time, I'm working on characters for clients that I’ve been assigned to. I ensure that all files are synchronised with the server so my colleagues can continue working, and clients are updated with the latest files

At MLC, I'm fortunate that I don't just do administrative tasks as a Lead, I also dedicate hours each day to modelling characters for clients.

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

Personally, I use Discord and Gather for office tasks, and for work, I use Blender, Substance 3D Painter, ZBrush, Unreal, Unity, Marmoset Toolbag, Topogun, Marvelous Designer, and Photoshop. As you can see, the work of a 3D Artist requires many programs. Sometimes it's overwhelming!

What does your workflow look like?

This answer is: “It depends”. We don't have a fixed workflow since we work with many different clients each month, and each one has its own requirements and specifications. So, it changes daily.

Typically though, it all starts with a high-poly model, then retopology, UVs, baking, texturing, and a bit of look development in the client's engine. For environments, we also have to develop trim sheets, materials and shaders. When everything is ready, we upload the final files to a shared folder with the client.

Internally, we use our own folder hierarchy and file naming conventions. We adapt these to the client's needs in the final folder.

Which departments and key people do you work closely with?

I work very closely with Project Managers, Producers, and 3D artists. In general, I'm the point of connection between all of them and the filter for delivering final renders to clients.

Sometimes, I work alone for a client and only have contact with the Project Manager who ensures everything is under control. But other times, we can have multiple artists on a project like an environment or a cinematic trailer for a game.

Currently, we're in the age of AI. Many clients approach us with mood boards filled with AI renders instead of concept art. These renders often have many issues and parts that don't work together. For example, armour with pieces in places of rotation or mobility that prevent the character from moving. These errors mean that we need one of our  concept artist to create the final design that the team can then model.

Metahuman is also significantly impacting character creation today. Many indies are opting to use Metahumans for their projects instead of creating characters from scratch. Also, Reallusion Character Creator is really present now.

Lumen and Nanite have also greatly improved my work. Now, we can create real-time renders without having to wait for hours for an offline render engine like Cycles.

One thing you’d never change about your job?

Working remotely. It might seem crazy, and many people are against it. But I was born in the generation of Discord and online gaming so working online isn’t something crazy for me. I’m really used to having online friends.

I live in Spain, and I'm very comfortable working for studios in the UK, USA and China from home, near my friends and family, without having to move to another country alone- which was the standard rule a few years ago.

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

Without a doubt, being able to see them more in person. It’s one of the best things in the year and I really love to get away from the PC to see them and travel to another city. I really enjoy travelling and if it’s to see some friends, it’s a double prize.

Career Advice

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

No, one of my tasks as a Lead is to interview artists for the team. I've never thought that formal education has to be essential. Ultimately, your portfolio and your personality are what demonstrate your skills. Nowadays, you can learn everything online from home.

I've met people with a great education and a very poor portfolio, as well as people with an impressive portfolio but without formal education. In the end, I look for someone in my team who does excellent work and is passionate, not someone who studied at a prestigious institution.

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

As a junior, you'll often be tasked with doing UV mapping and retopology. These tasks are great for learning the fundamentals of tech art and collaborating with the rigging/animation and tech art departments.

If I'm working on a character, I would ask my juniors to assist me with props and small assets related to the character. This way, they can gradually improve their skills.

What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?

For environments, I look for knowledge in level design, composition, lighting, and, of course, the ability to create trim sheets and optimise assets.

For characters, I look for someone who complements me, someone I can collaborate with and improve each other's work. We’re a network of freelancers so having variety for the clients so they can choose a style and have the perfect artist is key for us.

A common thing I look for, for the 3D team, is someone who can add variety to our company  portfolio and can adapt to different client styles.

What skills seem to be missing all too often?

The final look. Many juniors create models that could be great, but due to a lack of lighting and composition theory, their portfolio doesn't showcase their work as well as it could.

My teacher Rafa Costa once told me, "Good lighting can make a mediocre character look impressive, and an impressive model looks terrible." I know we're not "look dev" artists, and we only export models and textures for clients, with the rest being their work. But a good presentation helps a lot in grabbing attention and stands out. Also, posing the character. I made this mistake a lot. It’s 200 times better to show off a posed character than a TPose one. The improvement is massive.

There's also a lack of topology and wireframe theory. I see projects with Ngons and slightly odd wireframes that wouldn't be suitable for production.

Describe your attitude towards your job?

I truly believe I'm in my ideal job. And I love the team!

I always enjoy bringing good vibes, honesty and transparency, especially when something is a little off course, or someone is not quite performing as they should be.

My slogan is: Communication is essential and if you don’t communicate, everything is going to become a nightmare.

I like to be an easygoing colleague. I love to receive feedback or hear different points of view, as well as share my ideas.

As I work remotely, I'd love to see my team in-person more at events. Last year we went to EGX, GDLX, GDC... and I enjoyed it so much. Every trip is an adventure and motivates me to keep working and staying inspired. Besides, they're my friends, and I miss them if I don't see them!

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

Mainly from ArtStation and Pinterest. Although most of the time, it comes from various art books I have from different video games I really like. I'd love to have more free time to create characters based on games like Assassin's Creed, Titanfall...

I've always wanted to achieve the most realistic characters I can and create things like studios Blur, Axis Studios etc. do. Also, demos like the latest Metahuman Blue Dot push me to keep working as there are more tools available every day to achieve it. One day, I'd love to create a cinematic.

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

I believe the most important thing is for your portfolio to match the company you're applying to and show that you can work with them and fit their style. And every prop, environment, character... should tell a story and have life. Not just an axe. That axe should have blood, strange scratches, or a nameplate... Something that gives the axe a sense of belonging.

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

Not sending the portfolio with a link to ArtStation, Rookies Portfolio or a simple website with the works directly. Sometimes, they send a link to a Google Drive folder with a bunch of mixed renders and random names. That's not a professional way to present your work.

Your work needs to be organised, and the recruitment team should be able to view your portfolio as quickly as possible and with fewer clicks.

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

Don't worry about learning Blender, Maya, or whatever software you want. Learn to model and learn the workflow.

Learning one software takes a few hours once you know how to use it. In a month, you'll be as proficient in one as you are in another.

Finish all your projects. An unpublished project is worthless. Even if it's mediocre or you're still learning, you can always hide or delete it once you have better projects and more experience.

Ryan Connolly, the host of Film Riot, always says, "Write, shoot, edit, repeat." I think that's very important.

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

Dedicate 1-2 years exclusively to building your portfolio, watching all the courses and tutorials you can, and learning. Do what you love, not what's trendy or what people say you should do. Study the companies you like and try to create what they do.

You can reach out at the links below, and check out his student portfolio on The Rookies. LinkedIn | Twitter | Instagram | ArtStation