Getting A Good Education in 3d Design


Earlier this week Issac asked:

Hey Scotty….. quick question.

Know any online schools that do majors in 3d graphics or 3d animation…?

Been talking to the parentals recently and have decided that online schooling is a bit more….. efficient than other schools….

Got any ideas/suggestions?


Thanks for the question Issac! Unfortunately I don’t have a quick answer, but here we go anyway…

Full Sail is the only credited school that I know of that has 3d design. Yes it costs a bunch, but if you apply yourself, you can be making $70k/yr right out of school.

However, most companies in the field don’t really care if you’re graduated or not. They want people who are good at what they do and know their stuff (Take a look at your favorite studio’s job section to get a better idea). If you’ve worked on shipped titles your chances of getting the job are much higher, however that introduces a catch-22.

By the time you are done learning, the tools (software/hardware) you learned on will be outdated so focus on learning the techniques not the tools.

While a lot of the tools and techniques are similar, choose if you want to focus on movies, games, or mechanics (like airplane parts and stuff). What do you want to be doing in 2, 3, 4 years? Also you need to look at yourself and figure out how self motivated you are. Online courses which allow you to work at your own pace and pay monthly/yearly can be much harder to focus on than having to physically go to class (trust me, I’ve done both!). But go at your own pace courses can be extremely rewarding!

I have heard great things about Gnomon. And they offer many different courses.

Digital Tutors is an amazing resource. You can start with the beginner courses free (in fact, follow along with some free courses RIGHT NOW. Forget about if they’re hard or not. Do you enjoy what you’re doing?). Follow the learning paths they provide and learn everything you can about topics. Allow learning to become an addiction

Photoshop… Learn it while in high school. Edit photos, create concepts, paint textures. This is the backbone of EVERYTHING that you will create!

Software… Go legit, don’t waste your time trying to get cracked versions. If you later sell your work you WILL BE found out and no reputable studio will hire you. Student discounts are great, but upgrade to the full version if it costs only a little more so you can make a little profit on the side if you want to.

Blender… Yes you can learn it and create amazing things, but it isn’t yet popular in any industry (except with indie game design). Again, learn techniques, not software. However additionally learn a few extra tools (ex: Maya) so you are knowledgeable and can easily switch between programs.

Choose a program and stick with it! Don’t be learning Maya one day and 3ds Max the next. You’ll probably never learn ether that way.

Autodesk… has some of the best software you will come across. They provide watermarked versions for students completely free of charge. Use it, love it, but remember you will have to pay for it someday.

Updates… Check how long you will receive software updates for after buying, are you covered for the major version? For a year? Lifetime?

Hardware…Get hardware you don’t have to worry about, don’t save $200 on a generic only to have to spend hours trying to get the drivers to work.

Windows vs Mac vs Linux… Use Windows or Mac. Don’t use Linux for 3d development, there simply isn’t support from most companies for it. Both are respected in the community. Use whichever is most transparent to you so you don’t have to learn a new operating system ON TOP OF new software (it’s a pain). Popular software is the same on both systems (Photoshop, Maya, etc…).

Don’t just do classes… Find something away from keyboard that makes you feel alive and that you enjoy, or you’ll find that you missed out on something huge once you come out of the “learning coma”.

Save often and save versions of files as models progress.

Look around, and check out different schools. Ask what software they use. Have the instructors worked in the industry? Checkout what projects graduated students have worked on.



Leave a comment with what tips you’d offer about getting a good education.

Have a question? Send a note!

Learning The Basics of Maya

Progress of modeling an airplane

Over the past few weeks I have been learning the basics of Maya with the Introduction to Maya 2013 course by Digital Tutors. Most of the course was review for me from Blender and Inventor, but it was very helpful learning where menus are located and the shortcuts in Maya. The course takes you from simple concept art (shown in the base layer in the image above) are teaches you the techniques to model and animate an airplane. I found it encouraging following along with the project and seeing my model progress.

I need to remember that I will not be using NURBS models with Unity 3d, but need to focus on polygonal modeling. This is where you may want to change your path if you want to model for movies as NURBS modeling will be perfectly acceptable in that field.


To review my knowledge of Maya and 3d modeling I decided to work on a small project. I remembered some old concept art I had of a sword and I had a go at modeling and texturing it.

fantasy sword with markings

Sword Concept Art

UVs layed out on sword

Unwrapping UVs on the sword for texturing

Concept For My First Game

While it’s hard not to follow what my heart wants to do and get started in on an epic RPG featuring multiple kingdoms and lands, I’m going to start small for my first game. This way I will be familiar with the process of taking a game to market before getting started on a larger project. That doesn’t mean I will create a lame and boring game though!

Target Audience

Choosing a target audience now may help with decisions later. For example, if my games is made for children, I probably wouldn’t want too lengthy of a story, if any. However I will be going after a mature audience who are casual gamers.

Quick Idea

My first game will be a survival shooter in a top down perspective and follow the story of a zoo who’s animals are escaping. The player will play the role of the zoo keeper and have to navigate each level shooting the hordes of attacking animals to ensure they don’t cause harm to the player or the nearby town. The game play will be highly story driven.


Above, I quickly laid out the general focus and idea of the game. Now I need to refine that idea further into a storyboard.

[insert game play sketches here]

Concept Art

Now is also a good time to make some concept art. I think the felt texture and basic color set will create a unique feel for the game and will complement the story in an ironic way. The basic cube shape and simple textures will keep modeling to a minimum. I do need to be careful that my game doesn’t cross the line where the felt characters are not visually appealing. They will have to be styled ironically but not have a super cute look, which wouldn’t be appealing to a mature audience!

concept art felt cube animals

Putting The Roap Map Together

I’ve figured out my goal, and the elements I need to get there. Now I have to figure out in which order I need to connect those dots.

I keep going over the plan again and again with good revisions each time. I am sure that, as I learn more, I will be making a lot of changes before the end of this project, but I need a good place to start.

Here is a road map which I have laid out for myself.

I would like to refine the concept of the game and write out the storyline that will accompany it. Once I have that down, I will know what to model. Next I will incorporate the modeled assets into the game with Unity. I will make the GUI (graphical user interface, the onscreen stuff like buttons and menus) in Photoshop and Illustrator. Lastly I will need music and sound effects in game, however I will worry about how I will create them once I get to that step.

Once I know that I can create a good game I will focus more on the business end of running a game studio.

Planning Where We’re Going

Today is when creating a game studio begins!

Yesterday I set my goal to build a successful game studio from the ground up. But how am I actually going to do that? There are a lots of different choices I need to make, so hang tight as we explore the video game universe at the very top level. If you are  a gamer — and I assume you are — you can probably skip over some of the sections below, but you might miss a few interesting facts along the way.

Choosing a Gaming Platform

PC (subcategories are Windows, Linux, and Mac), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Android, and iOS are all platforms on which your game can run.

The gaming platform (aka: console, or system) will not only determine your customer base but limit which game engines and programming languages can be used. I am familiar with Android mobile devices and can easily release to iOS with the right engine. Not to mention the platforms are a rapidly growing market with nearly a combined billion devices sold. All of those users are potential customers.

Choosing a Genre

Different game engines are best suited for different genres of gaming. So it is important to decide which genre your game will be before learning a new program/language.

There are a ton of different genres of videos games. A few examples include: roll playing games, first person shooters, real time strategy, point and click adventure.

The first game I will be releasing is a top-down shooter. I hope the shooter will be a easy first project. However I love a good fantasy RPG and hope to release one with a good story soon after. I want to learn a work flow that will can be used for both games.

Choosing Between 2D or 3D

Popular game engines such as Unity allow you to create games in both forms, so why should you figure out if your game will be 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional? And you’re probably still thinking how your game will work and stuff, right? But you really should decide before learning because it will effect your pipeline.

My top-down shooter will be a 3D game so I will learn everything I need to about modeling and animation.

If I choose to make a 2D game I would probably need to focus on learning Adobe Illustrator and other graphic creation programs.

Choosing A Game Engine

Unity 3D and Unreal Engine are two good 3D games engines that have cross-platform support for both Android and iOS. Meaning you can create the game once, and publish to both platforms with minimal changes.

Forums are full of arguments over which is better, and comparisons between the two. Truth is both are great engines and both have plenty of releases under their belt.

I will be going with Unity 3D because the community seems to be very helpful.

If you are creating a 2D game for cross-platform, take a look at GameSalad and GameMaker Studio, or code your game in HTML5 with PhoneGap or Titanium.

Modeling For a 3D Game

Maya 2013

I need to choose between 3Ds Max, Maya, and Blender to model the assets for my game. Much like choosing a game engine, this one is also based a lot on personal preference. My advice: choose one and stick with it.

I learned Autodesk Inventor (used for CAD) in 2008, and started learning Blender in 2009 but I had gotten frustrated with the workflow (note: Blender’s UI changed a lot in 2011 with version 2.5x).

Because of my familiarity with Autodesk products I will be using Maya.

There will be more software that I will add to my pipeline such as for texturing, but we’ll get to that on a later update.