What Is a 3D Artist?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Understand the role of a 3D artist, the skills and education you need to become one, and the salary and job outlook you can expect.

[Featured image] A 3D artist works on a project at their desk.

3D art has the dimensions of height, width, and depth, as opposed to flat, 2D art, which doesn’t have depth. 3D art has taken many forms throughout history, including sculptures and paintings. More recently, it has been created using 3D software and AI programs for use in movie effects and computer-generated art. 

In this article, you’ll learn what a 3D artist is, the different types of 3D artists, their duties and responsibilities, and the skills, experience, and education you need to earn a good salary in this field.

What is a 3D artist?

A 3D artist creates art in 3D digital form. In this role, you'll use computer software to create models, animations, and digital effects for video games, film, and other creative projects. 

The role includes a range of tasks covering the whole design process, taking the art from idea to conception to editing. You’ll create the design, including how it looks and moves, develop a model, put together storyboards, and collaborate with designers, marketing teams, and other creative professionals to manage the process. 

Read more: What Is 3D Design? And How to Get Started

Types of 3D artists:

3D artists cover a wide field, and while you can remain a generalist, it's also helpful to have a specialty. Some specializations within the field include

  • 3D modeling: You'll create 3D objects and models using computer software. You might use models in video games, TV, and film, as well as in real estate, to give a visual representation of buildings and as part of a product design process.

  • 3D animation: 3D animation involves making digital animated images, such as computer-generated characters—including both how they look and how they move—as well as motion graphics and environmental features.  

  • 3D concept artist: As a 3D concept artist, you create computer-generated illustrations and ideas for film, TV, and games, working closely with an animator who takes your ideas to the next stage.

  • 3D architectural visualization: Architectural visualization involves creating graphic 3D models of buildings and architectural structures using digital programs. 

Tasks and responsibilities of a 3D artist

The tasks and responsibilities of a 3D artist vary according to the role, the company you work for, and your specialization. Sample duties and responsibilities of a generalist 3D artist are as follows:

  • Researching and designing ideas

  • Developing storyboards

  • Collaborating with the marketing and design team

  • Developing 3D models, images, and environments

  • Project managing the 3D design process

  • Using software and programs such as 3ds Max, V-Ray, and SketchUp

Read more: What Is Digital Design? Types, Careers, and How to Get Started

3D artist skills

3D art is very technical, but working in this field also means having workplace skills to collaborate in teams and get your ideas across to others. Therefore, you must have a good mix of technical and workplace skills. These include the following:

Technical skills

  • Design software

  • Game design

  • 3D modeling

  • CAD programs

  • 3ds Max

  • ZBrush

  • V-Ray

  • SketchUp

  • Adobe Photoshop

  • Animation

  • Unity

  • Character design

  • Motion graphics

  • Storyboard design

Workplace skills

  • Creativity

  • Multitasking

  • Collaboration

  • Communication

  • Attention to detail

Read more: What Are Job Skills and Why Do They Matter?

Can 3D artists use AI to create 3D art?

Artificial intelligence (AI) can streamline some portions of creating 3D art by automating tasks like shading and texture, increasing efficiency. AI also allows for recommendations and suggestions based on previous work. Prior to the design process, you can use AI to collect and analyze images and data to create lifelike environments and characters, which is much quicker than manual collection.

While AI is enhancing the creation of 3D art in many ways, it’s important to note that it's not replacing humans. The real advancements come from humans using AI to complement their individual, creative work.   

Read more: What Is DALL-E?

3D artist job outlook and salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for special effects artists and animators is expected to grow 8 percent between 2022 and 2032 [1]. The BLS states that the average annual salary is $98,950, with the highest salaries in the motion picture and video industries averaging $129,670 [2]. Lightcast™ reports the average annual salary of special effects artists and animators in the US as $67,769, while Glassdoor reports the average annual base salary for a 3D artist as $64,604 [3, 4].

How to become a 3D artist

3D artist roles are popular among design professionals and require education, experience, and mastery of skills. In a technical role such as this, showing that you have the skills to put into practice is highly important. As well as a degree, you generally need at least one to two years of experience in the field, whether through an internship or a position in design or software development. 

Creating a portfolio is an excellent way to demonstrate your skills. A subject like 3D design is easy to showcase, as you have specific creations that you can display on a website. Through a portfolio, you can show off your work from your degree, work experience, and personal projects. 

Education and training

To work as a 3D artist, you need a creative or technical degree in a relevant subject such as animation, graphic design, computer science, or fine arts. According to Zippia, 75 percent of 3D artists have a bachelor’s degree, and 6 percent earn a master’s degree [4]. 

In addition to a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you might study for certifications or complete online training courses in relevant technical disciplines. Examples may include:

  • Digital animation

  • 3D modeling

  • Graphic design

  • Character development

  • Animating scripts

  • Relevant software

Getting started with Coursera

A great place to begin your journey in 3D design is by building your digital design and 3D modeling skills with an online course. Take a look at Design Computing: 3D Modeling in Rhinoceros With Python/Rhinoscript, delivered by the University of Michigan, or Art for Games Specialization, delivered by Michigan State University, both on Coursera. Upon completing either program, you will gain a shareable Professional Certificate to include in your resume, CV, or LinkedIn profile.

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Special Effects Artists and Animators, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/multimedia-artists-and-animators.htm.” Accessed March 13, 2024.

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