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Christian Russeler talked a bit about his experience of being a Freelance 3D Character Artist and gave a piece of advice for those who want to become a freelancer.
Hi, I’m Christian Russeler, currently living in Berlin Germany and working as a 3D Character Artist in the game industry for more than 12 years now. I was kind of lucky and stumbled into the business when I got into contact with people from Crytek over a Forum where I showed my hobby works. I guess I developed the fascination for creating and designing characters when at about four I saw a documentary on the TV, which showed how creatures for horror movies were made. I understood, that those creatures weren’t real, but I was still incredibly scared by them for years. And seeing people using their imagination to create those frightening creatures was just too cool for me.
I enjoy working as a freelancer a lot. The freedom and being able to work on several awesome projects in just one year is pretty awesome. The only thing which I miss from my past days in the office are the interactions with workmates.
When it comes to finding the clients, having a good reputation and a good portfolio is pretty important to me. Most of the time I work with people who I have already worked with before or who I was recommended to by my past clients. I wouldn’t recommend going freelance if you didn’t work in the industry for several years already. My past contacts helped me a lot when I started freelancing and I still often work with them. Apart from that, I would recommend to be as active as possible in the community and show your work to as many people as possible. This might help you to get in contact with new clients.
Speaking about getting paid for the project, I usually tell the client how many days I need to create the character he wants and my day rate. After that, he knows how much the whole character will cost. There are a few exceptions but most of the time this works fine for me.
Organizing the Working Process
In my early days as a freelancer, it often happened that I miscalculated the amount of work which ended up in overtime to meet my deadlines. Nowadays I’m pretty organized. Before telling a client how long it will take me to complete the whole character, I calculate for myself how long I will sit on every part of the character. Usually, I end up with a pretty detailed Excel sheet which exactly tells me how many days I will need for every item of the character. The client will never see this but this helps me to keep track of everything. As soon as I work on those parts and realize that I need a little longer than expected, I can adjust my working speed on the rest of the character and prevent overtime by this.
If You Want to Be a Freelancer
As I already mentioned, I wouldn’t recommend the beginners to go freelance. There is a lot you are going to learn when working on a game. When I started I was a 3D Artist, then I became a 3D Character Artist and after working as a 3D Character Artist for several years I started freelancing. On every step I learned something which helped me to become a better Game Artist. Working on a game for a few years and seeing your character moving around on a daily basis will give you a very different understanding of the whole topic than when you just create an asset and send it over to your client never touching it again. You will also learn to work with other people and how to make their life easier, which is important to build up a good relationship with your clients and will help you to get hired again.
The workflow is very different from project to project. I often get a base body to start with. Then I create a blockout which shows all the major shapes to give the client a good understanding of the character. When the blockout is approved I go into the detailing phase of the high poly. The following approval steps mostly concern the low poly and textures.
I like Substance Painter a lot. Usually, I start by coloring the complete character black. Then I work piece by piece and create every material of the character. I try to make every material look as good as possible right from the beginning. When all the materials are done, I do a few small color adjustments here and there to give the character a better overall look. The last steps would be to add small details here and there.
The testing stage depends on the client. Sometimes you get a test build to load your character in so that you can test it in the working environment, and sometimes it is enough just to make a screenshot in Substance Painter.
I don’t think I use any secret techniques to create a character. Most of the quality comes from experience and a lot of patience. I think a good habit is to be very critical about your own work and look what could be done better next time. As long as you see possibilities to improve, you will improve.