How to hire a 3D designer for your team
Hiring a 3D designer for your team? Here’s where to start.
What does a 3D designer do?
A 3D designer creates three-dimensional models, visual effects, computer generated imagery (CGI), 3D art, animations and 3D renders for use in films, commercials, video games, VR, architecture and product marketing. That translates to everything from creating characters for an animated movie to rendering models for an office building to designing visuals for medical companies.
Combining both hand-drawing and software skills, 3D designers create visuals for agencies, brands, production studios, manufacturing companies, engineering firms, industrial design studios, architecture firms, medical companies and more.
The 3D design job title is broad as it encompasses a wide variety of skills and specialties. Within the field, you will find many different job titles, including:
- 3D artists
- 3D designers
- Crypto artists
- 3D sculptors
- 3D modelers
- 3D animators
- 3D texture artists
- 3D rendering artists
- Game designers
- 3D environmental designers
- Textile designers
- Retail designers
- Product designers
- Industrial designers
- Interior designers
- Architectural designers
- Motion designers
...and plenty of others.
The type of 3D designer you need depends on your project, and the stage of that project. While a 3D designer may have a range of skills, many are focused on one specific area of 3D design.
It’s common for 3D designers to be full-time freelance, or freelance on the side of a full-time job.
What skills should a 3D designer have?
A 3D designer’s skills largely depend on their specialty. However, the following encompasses the range of skills a 3D designer might offer:
Hard 3D design skills:
- 2D/3D drafting, modeling and rendering
- 2D/3D texturing and lighting
- Familiarity with AR and VR asset creation
- Graphic design (composition, colors, typography, etc.)
- Illustration or artistic skills
Soft 3D design skills:
- Attention to detail
- An eye for form, color, composition & shape
- Strong communication skills
- Works well on a team
- Creates quality work on a deadline
The skills you should list in your job description for a 3D designer depend on your project. You would expect different skills from a 3D animator for a film than you would for a 3D product designer. The 3D designer would also have a mastery of different tools and software depending on their area of expertise. However, you can expect them to be familiar with at least a few of the following tools.
Tools 3D designers commonly use:
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe 3D Max
- AutoDesk 3ds Max
- Solidworks Visualization
- Adobe Dimension
- Marvelous Designer
While some 3D designers today may have a formal degree in design, art or another creative field, formal education is becoming less of a requirement. Depending on your specialty, you can learn everything you need to know through online courses, tutorials and practice.
How much does it cost to hire a 3D designer?
A 3D designer’s hourly rate or salary depends on their level of skill, their specialty, the scope of work and the industry.
Skill is the most important factor to keep in mind when budgeting for a 3D designer. You might be able to find a 3D designer with a low rate, but that may indicate their skill or experience isn’t deep. A skilled 3D designer will, naturally, deliver better work on a faster timeline. And while you or your audience may not know the technicalities behind excellent 3D work, you can recognize when it’s not good. It’s worth paying for skill and experience.
What to look for when hiring a 3D designer
The #1 consideration when hiring a 3D designer: their online portfolio.
Clicking through their projects, it will be immediately clear how experienced they are, what their skill level is, what type of 3D design they focus on and what their process is.
Look for case studies that show a keen attention to detail. The small details are everything when it comes to 3D design, from the lighting to the shadows to the texture. Their care for detail will be apparent in the work itself, and in the way they describe it. Their case studies should describe their initial challenge or goal, what specifications they were working with, what process they used and how they feel about the final result.
It’s not a must, but 3D designers often mention the specific 3D software they used to achieve their final result. If your team is familiar with common 3D tools, this may reveal the designer’s skill level and ability to adapt quickly to your team’s process.
Most 3D designers also include a demo reel in their portfolio, which is a short video presenting a selection of their favorite projects. This will give you a good overview of their experience, and range of skills and interests. Ideally, they will have projects in their reel similar to the job you’re considering them for.
3D designers are experimenters by nature. Given how young and quickly evolving this field is, they have to be. Look for a sense of curiosity in a 3D designer’s portfolio. A separate page of experiments and personal projects tells you they care about pushing themselves, having fun with 3D design on their own, learning new tools and improving their skills. The best 3D designers are those who find the job exciting enough to learn on their own time.
What to ask when interviewing a 3D designer
Considering a 3D designer but unsure if they’re the right fit? Here are the questions to ask.
Q: Can you walk me through your favorite project in your portfolio?
This will reveal a lot: Their process, their passion about what they do, how they measure a successful project, how they communicate their work and how thoroughly they’ve prepared their portfolio.
Q: What software would you use to complete our project?
A 3D designer may choose a different tool for character design than they would for an architectural model. A confident answer to this question will reveal their knowledge of industry-specific tools.
Q: What is the most important factor to a realistic 3D scene?
There is no single correct answer here (although lighting, texture and composition are all welcome ones). The idea is to assess their confidence, experience level and ability to articulate their work.
Q: Say you disagreed with a client’s concept or feedback. What would you do?
Their answer should demonstrate an ability to communicate, problem-solve and collaborate without ego getting in the way.
Q: Can you share any recent experiments or personal projects you’ve worked on?
It’s not a must, but personal projects and experiments show initiative, and a passion to learn and grow.
How to get work as a 3D designer
Are you new to 3D design? Here’s how to get work as a beginner.
Getting started with 3D design
There’s never been a better time to become a 3D designer. Before, 3D design was only accessible to those who had the tools, time and resources to learn it. As the field and technology has advanced, anyone can learn 3D design with a computer, free beginner software and practice.
A bachelor’s degree in design or art can only help, but it’s not always necessary to a successful career in 3D design (with the exception of more specialized fields, such as medical or architectural 3D modeling). If you dedicate the time and effort, you can become a self-taught 3D designer on par with the greats.
If you’re interested in getting into a specific industry, for example film or science, you will want to shape your learning around that specific field. Learning animation and illustration will be key to creating 3D visuals for animated movies. Learning 3D modeling and physics will be necessary for a 3D design career in science or medicine.
If there’s any advice we can give to aspiring 3D designers, it’s this: Experiment, experiment, experiment.
Even the best 3D designers constantly play around, pick up new tools and push themselves on their own time. New tools and possibilities are coming out all the time for 3D design. That’s what makes this fun. And as a beginner, this is how you learn everything.
Research 3D design online courses and tutorials. Give yourself small exercises, experiments and self-initiated projects, with the goal to publish your favorites in your portfolio. Social media accounts exist today that offer daily 3D design challenges, in which many 3D designers create the same visual (for example a 3D rendering of a chair) to practice their skills. Day by day and project by project, you can teach yourself 3D design. Whether you go on to pursue a formal degree in a specific field is up to you, but these initial lessons will give you a good foundation to move forward.
How to make a 3D design portfolio
Curation is key to a good 3D design portfolio, even if you’re new to the field.
Whether you have just a few renderings to choose from or a hundreds, you’ll want to select just a handful of your favorite projects to feature in your portfolio. Choose the work you’re most proud of, and, importantly, the type of work you want to continue doing. Creatives are often hired for the work they’ve already done. For example, if you have mainly 3D character visuals in your portfolio, you will be hired for more 3D character work. If your portfolio focuses on product design, you will be discovered and hired by those looking for product designers. It seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget when you’re torn between multiple projects. Choose between 2-10 of your best projects and lead with your favorites on your site.
For each project, write a brief case study that walks us through your process. Tell us what challenge you were presented with, the process you followed, specific tools you used, anyone you collaborated with, and the final result. Each phase of your project can be just a couple sentences, ideally paired with images to make it easy to scan and digest your story.
If you have diverse experience, consider using categories to organize your projects. Create a separate category for film projects, another for product designs and so forth. Include a category label for each project so we can understand your range at a glance, or build a landing page for each category if you have many projects to show.