a degree, is it that important?


I’m a huge graphics enthusiast, I’ve always been good at armature art, but I never thought of taking it up as a career, until lately. I’ve taken up a course in Maya from a private institute and am working on my 3D skills. I know of all the relevant skills, like drawing, painting, imagination etc that are very necessary for this particular field. What I really need to know is whether I’ll be able to survive this industry without a degree.
Due to some personal reasons I couldn’t, nor will be able to complete my degree/ education. Will a degree really matter if I’m skilled and good enough? Is it difficult to get a job in the industry based on sheer skills?
Please advice me on this, I really need it. Any (inexpensive) career tips or ideas are most welcome.
10x. :slight_smile:


simple, NO! It helps a lot of course…but if you are an artist, your diploma is in your skills, your head. You may acquire them in college but a degree is not imperative.


It’s all about the reel.


If you intend to work solely in the 3d industry you don’t need a degree at all.

However, I’ll play devils advocate (aka jerk:-)…

I have worked in the 3d industry and I can tell you there are times I wish I had my paper. The ridiculous amount of hours (10-15 per day or worse if its crunch time) on projects can cause serious burnout. On top of that you have the sporadic employment that is hitting the industry (traditional animation especially) harder than ever before. I have a family. Those type of working conditions are not conducive to raising a family, let alone being a member of one:-( A degree doesn’t matter. But think of the future. Things change. Today the choice for companies is the best get the gig. What will happen in 5 years? Tomorrow’s employer who has the option to choose between 2 workers of equal skill will have to make a choice? The degreed or non-degreed? I can definitely say that in this industry ageism, sexism, other isms? are alive and well. The old adage of “its who you know first, then what you know second” still applies. Perhaps you’ll want some downtime to teach or even maybe change careers? You’ll definitely need your degree then. Outside of LA and NYC you need your degree. In short, if you are going to enter the industry make sure you are willing to commit every waking moment to being the absolute best.

Will getting a degree kill you? You could certainly learn a lot in school if you dedicate yourself. If you’re not willing to give time and a whole lot of money to 4 years of school, look into online schools. You can get your full degree at your own pace in the comfort of your home while still working in 3d/Digital. I’m starting next month:-)

Whatever choice you make, good luck (jerkmode off:-)


WOW Tacumacah! You hit home on so many points you made :slight_smile:
I too have felt the burnout of crazy overtime hours and what not. You are also exactly right about the family part. It’s such an unstable industry for a majority of artist. Im not the best 3d artsist but Im also not the worst either. I consider myself a couple nudges above average and I am haveing a hard time getting another job. I lost my job a while back and havent been able to land on my feet again.

I think that going to a school helps to put you in a concentrated environment and will force you to work hard. After all who wants to waste like $9,000 - $15,000. Thats about the only advantage you get from going to a school, but its a good advantage. I think that making that kind of monatary commitment is a good step in telling yourself that you are doing something very serious and difficult that is gonna take alot of dedication to execute (properly).
Go for it cause I gaurantee you that it will be close to impossible to dedicate that time with your own will. You’ll get too tempted by other things like PS2, Quake 3, and eating cheetos in your under-roos. :stuck_out_tongue: :smiley:

P.S. The people that give the final word on hiring are usually artist. They know better than to go by a dinky peice of paper. So try to be the best and you will be on your way.


I’m not too sure that you need a degree to get a good job but it does help you break into the business. At most top companies they require a huge amount of industry experience before they hire you. If you have a degree, then I believe that you don’t need the same experience to be considered on the same level.

I got my first job without any industry experience and my degree really helped me get the job.


I agree totally with Tacumacah, thats why im doing my degree. Plus itl give me a chance to get my reel together. Beeing made to do assignments is good because theyre usually pretty broad, but they give you a deadline that you have to work too. Doing stuff off my own back ill never finish anything :slight_smile:

Yeh like 3dflasher said- its a commitment thing, it shows an employer your not afraid to stick with something and to work hard.


I think a degree and an education are two completely seperate things.

You need an education to be sucessfull in the industry but a degree is just a piece of paper. You need to learn to do good work whether you learn that in a classroom or on your own.

I’ll bet you could walk into almost any studio and ask the art director or person who is in charge of hiring who among his employees has a degree most wouldn’t be able to tell you. However they would be able to tell you who is the best modeler, the best animator, who is the fastest, who is the most technically profficient, etc.

That’s what really counts, not a piece of paper.

I’m 21 years old and am now working in my 3rd fulltime job as a 3d artist making video games. Most of the people I graduated high school with are just going to be graduating from college now and entering the job market. Now I think that if an employer has a choice between a college graduate and me with 3 years of experience I’ve got a pretty good chance.

Of course the final decision is going to boil down to who has the nicest portfolio/reel. Not who has the fancy piece of paper.


well i agree with tacumacah . a degree is important and as he’s clearly pointed it out esp in these ever changing times . if you can afford it go for it it’ll compliment ur artwork n it wouldnt hurt if u picked up a secondary skill like maybe a lil bit of programming to compliment ur own portfolio ( say like ah the ability to make ur own scripts ? ) IMHO this is much better than just restricting urself as a "i’m just a 3d artist and i dont give a damn bout anything else . the rest is ur prob " try to adapt and be more versatile and not limit urself to just doing one thing . on a more technical side certain companies do still hire artists or technical guys ( programmers…etc…etc… ) based on their degree from a recognised institution because they have known wut the students have to go throught or set the standards themselves . if u do get a degree and do well in ur own reels all the better . it shows initiative and resourcefulness . :slight_smile: the experience will come with the job :slight_smile: education is never too expensive compared to ignorance .


As far as I’ve seen, a degree is mostly ignored in this industry. At very best, a trainee applying for a TD apprenticeship type position would do well to wave a bit of paper on the way in, but it certainly doesn’t elevate him/her at all. It’s still as it always has and always will be a case of who you know.

This isn’t as horrible, nor as wrong as it sounds. Art, and the capacity to produce it, are unquantifiables under any measure but experience. Anyone in their right mind will be a billion times more comfortable hiring someone they know can pull off the job, and can fit into the company, especially since the person doing the hiring usualy has a boss to answer to, who has the people who have the money to answer to, who need to answer to clients when things don’t go well.

So, given that you need to know someone, how does that happen? That’s where the rub is. The 2 best ways I can think of are to know someone from Uni, and meeting people on the net. The first one obviously assumes you went to Uni at all, the second assumes you’ve had time to spend on the net and have material to show there. Ipso factum, the going to Uni at all part can and usually does play a big part in our careers that way.

So it’s not just about the education, it’s deeper than that. It’s about laying groundwork for the rest of your career. Making sure you have the basics covered, making friends, both students and teachers. Expanding your horizons, trying classes you wouldn’t otherwise have tried. Heck, it’s even about partying, making sure you understand how not to burn out. In short, helping to round you out as a complete person, not just a 3D program operator. At least I know that’s what I look for.



Thank you all for your wonderful inspiring comments and advice. I truly understand the need for a degree, it’s not an absolute necessity, but it’s an added advantage that might help in the long run (I agree with you Tacumacah).
The real problem with me is that, there are no colleges or institutes in my county that conduct degree courses in 3D art, animation etc. (at least I’ve not heard nor have been able to find any). There are only small private institutes that teach limited stuff. I solely depend on books and the net to avail help or support to learn.
If at all I even think of taking up a degree, it’ll be in a totally irrelevant field that I’m not interested in. ( n I’m sure that wont help much, would it?)

Tacumacah – you were talking of some online schools that conduct degree courses, could you tell me some more about them. I need to know of schools that are cheap (coast wise) and worth enough.


you were talking of some online schools that conduct degree courses, could you tell me some more about them. I need to know of schools that are cheap (coast wise) and worth enough


It totally depends on what you want from the degree. Perhaps I should have qualified what I wrote earlier. Without a doubt you don’t need a degree for success in the 3d industry. Subagio and others are absolutely 100 percent correct. It really is about your work and reel…and personality(as much as thats not spoken about:-) Having said that, a degree (the paper only, not the education) gives you room to leave or manuver outside of the 3d industry. Which is what I personally am doing so we may be in different situations. However, let me tell you a tale…

Devil’s advocate Jerkmode on:-)

I teach Max at one of the major NYC colleges. I have three thesis students. Literally one hour ago, I learned that one of my students had applied and been accepted into an internship for EA (Electronic Arts) Needless to say I’m very proud of him. This is a great opportunity for my thesis student to make major inroads into the 3d/gaming industry. Something that tons of folks would kill to do in or out of college. I am doing all I can to encourage him to embrace the work and learn as much as he can. A good impression can lead to a full time job. Plus it makes me look good as a thesis advisor (sorry had to say that:-)LOL Anyways, I ask myself why is it that he got that internship and not others? He works hard no doubt. But I see folks who work just as hard as he does…and not all of them go to school mind you. What I’m getting at is that being in school gives you access to things that you wouldn’t have so easily. You have access to software (legit or illegitimate high and low end…whatever that means I don’t know after thursday:-) You’ve got on site instruction and counseling. Jeez, I allow my students to contact me day and night via email and aol instant messaging. Also, a significant number of your job contacts will come from who you know. For many people that can mean girlfriends, boyfriends, running buddies, etc. For those in school it often means your class mates. What I’m getting at is that the education is irrelevant because you can learn just as easily at home what you pay thousands for in school. What you don’t get as easily is the networking and contacts and the room to manuever elsewhere. Think of it this way, if you’ve got 800 Computer Art majors you’ve got potentially 800 contacts.
You make the determination.

Jerkmode off:-)

Online Schools.
This is a tricky situation because what an online school may offer might be irrelevant to your goals. I haven’t read about any online school that offers a accredited 3d degree (I wish I did cause I’d enroll in a second:-) However there are a number of 3d/2d animation programs that offer online courses (some even certificates) but I don’t think they are accredited. Check out www.oken3d.com www.maxhelp.com http://www.gnomon3d.com/certificate_program.html

or check out this list on


What do you want the degree/paper for? Do you want to only get training? Maybe you don’t want to spend the money at a school; online or otherwise. If thats the case save your money, buy Maya, Max, Lightwave, Soft and train yourself if you’ve got the dedication. Oh I’m sorry, you can download the big boys for free Maya Ple, XSI experience (along with disks and 70 hours of video training:-))), and GMAX. The savings in terms of money can’t be beat. It is now cheaper to learn the tools than ever before. Right in your home.

Still though, my reason for getting a degree is that I want to move beyond just being a studio worker. My goal is to do my own projects. This requires a certain level of polish in my personal work (got that covered) and the legit credentials (the paper) to approach the parties who can help me achieve my goals. Online schools offer the convenience of doing your school work at home and still being able to hold down a gig in 3d. I personally am looking at Thomas Edison College in New Jersey (yes NJ:-) I want a degree in the Humanities. The beautiful thing about that program is that they not only offer the degree but take into account life experience added up as additional credit. And trust me I got loads o dat:-) Go online and do a search on the type of schools you’d like to check out. Take a look at this link http://www.worldwidelearn.com/online-degrees.htm

I wish you good luck my friend.


Well Tacumaca that was really nice of you to explain.
I really need people like you and others on this forum, it’s always a great source of help and on top of that it’s really very interesting and motivating to talk to people from the industry.

The tragedy with me is that, not much people around here in my town know or even consider this field as a good career (no use talking about it). The first friend/contact I made with a 3d artist is located 150 miles from my place, at the institute. I go there every week end.
Hadn’t it been for online friends and Amazon, I wouldn’t have been anywhere to even thinking of 3D. With my limited access and reach, I believe this (the internet) is the best way for me to gain contacts and friends, like you, to learn from. Right now I’m just a beginner, but I’m sure I will be good enough and ready soon, I’m putting a lot of efforts into it. I love everything about science and technology, but this particular field interests me above all. I love it and I’m here to stay. I’m sure guys like you are always going to be around for support whenever needed
keep up the good work

You said you always keep your doors open for students who need help, well, that’s really nice, you can expect me troubling you every now and then for sure :). As of now I don’t know what exactly to ask for, but I’d always like to hear a word of motivation. Its keeps me going :slight_smile:



Hey thanks for this discussion its been really informative, many things I’ve thought about myself and I just wanted to put in my two cents. I’m currently a senior at UC Berkeley near the end of my education majoring in Psychology and minoring in Art Practice and all the art classes…heck, ALL the technical/studio classes here, like any university are theory based contrary to learning on a practical level. I’m not sure how art schools work exactly, but here when we enter a techinical class, we’re expected to know the tools/programs in usage or pick them up on a whim. Computer Science? We’re supposed to know C++, Java, or scheme (I didn’t even know what the hell scheme was) upon enrollment. Art classes? 90 percent of the time it’s about exploring your own ideas in the medium of the class with professor guidance rather than strict assignments; case and point being the digital animation/effect/design classes. No one is hired in the department to teach you maya or after effects or photoshop, you’re to pick them up on your own as the professor is there to guide you on the telling of your “story”. My point is that if you have the imagination and the desire to create works of art, learning on your own is feasible (and required at most universities) with the proper books and with the addition of online communities like this to help you out. That’s what I did for a year before enrolling in classes so I could do the stuff I do on the side for an actual grade :smiley: As for that 3d artist degree? Every high-level industry person I’ve talked to basically says the same thing you guys have; for the time-being, the education is advantageous but the degree is insignificant, but subject to change sometime in the future when this new industry becomes more rigid; but get enough exprience now and years down the road the degree should only matter with industry rookies. aaaand that’s just what I’ve been told.



>The tragedy with me is that, not much people around here in my town know or even consider this field as a good career (no use talking about it). The first friend/contact I made with a 3d artist is located 150 miles from my place, at the institute. I go there every week end.

You're preaching to the choir there my friend.  I was raised in a very small town in the south.  I wanted to be a comic book artist and was into stuff like Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica (there are those who say that life here...began out there...Hah, what a geek:-))   Believe you me, they rode my butt about it every chance they got.  Comics are for children, you're so childish, you should go into dentistry(LOL:-)   Obviously my hobbys didn't make me very popular...with the ladies as well:-)  The only support I had was through my siblings, who all are artists even now.  Eventually my family left as we outgrew the mindset (and ecomony:-)  Simple minded thinking limits your options.  Still though, there are times I miss the quiet.  Nothing more alarming than overcrowding, an expensive cost of living, and the smell of urine.  One day, I intend to move back to a small town, (not the town I grew up in of course...hell no over my dead frikin body:-) As long as I've got a nice house with about 5 acres of land...and that 10 system render farm in the back, I'm good:-)

Perhaps you should look to remove yourself, if time and money allow, from your environment?  Nothing is more of a drag than being around a community that looks down on you because they can't see the forest for the trees.  Yes you are right, the internet provided much more access to things than before.  If that works for you then stick with it.  This is only to suggest your options can be dramatically altered if you simply change your environment.  I'm assuming you live in a small town in the US from your profile.  One place I'd recommend you look into is the The Savannah College of Art and Design.  Believe it or not its relatively easy to get accepted into a college.  Why?...they want your money:-)  There is financial aid and all sorts of options to get you through school.  Also, Savannah has this nice small town charm but spiced up with that art school vibe.  Might be something to look into?  http://www.scad.edu/applynow/  Either way, if you want to ask me for advice in the future (if you dare to live dangerously:-)  then fire away

Just so you know, eventually I used my desire to be a comic book artist and moved to the big city. Jeez, talking about culture shock. But, after several years of struggle I actually succeeded at becoming a professional comic artist (no books I’d care to mention:-) It was tough but I did it. Of course as the comic industry went into a downward spiral I switched to digital. (don’t be to hard of Joe Madueira, he’s using his brain folks, I don’t blame him:-) That experience as a comic artist has proved time and again the winning ingredient for making my work stand out from the crowd. I’ve engaged and fulfilled my interests to the extent I feel necessary. No regrets. As a result, my energies are now focused on the next goal.



Hey Tronixx,
I’m also from a background where every notion to do something artistic was repressed and my skills were reluctantly pushed towards learning the sciences, even though I did my best to foster by abilities as much as I could with just books and making my own work (this being back in high school before I even owned a computer). I’m trying to stay if you’re you’re willing to pull through it with sacrifice, anything is possible. It’s true having an environment can help you improve yourself, but I’ve known people out in the boonies who’ve created awesesome short flicks on low-end PII’s. I’ve got a friend who took comics really seriously since he was a kid, coming from a place where everyone told him to actually do something productive with his life, but he ignored the pressure and pulled through college with me and is now in the comics industry (even wrote a whole graduate thesis on his own time, about relating psychological visual pathways in comic framing to buddhist conceptual categories…yea I know… :buttrock: , he’s like some neo-hippie or something). Oh yea, and he NEVER took one art class in his life. I also know several in the 3d industry that do not have an art degree working some good jobs. I know its hard being in the environment you’re talking about because half the part of getting a job is who you know, but with enough sacrifice and humility things happen. But believe me I know where you’re coming from, a place where education is fostered but imagination is hampered (can’t believe I was supposed to be a doctor until I learned it wasn’t the only job in the world… hah) If I sound like a motivational speaker then excuse me, I’m an optimist (a realistic one). In the end though, going through some sort of school is course advantageous due to the environment where you have peers to compare yourself to plus the possible connections you might foster. It’s not a neccesity though. Just some warning though my sister-in-law goes to art school in Georgia and in her design class the teacher comes in everyday and show’s a VIDEO on HOW TO USE …get this… ILLUSTRATOR 5. that’s 5 versions behind…on a video! Choose your schools carefully!


Tacumacah - “I’m assuming you live in a small town in the US from your profile.”

Well, my profile says I’m located at IN, it doesn’t mean Indiana or something. I’m no where located in the US; I’m from India (Asian continent) (Now you can imagine what my tragedy really is).
Tacumacah – (“Perhaps you should look to remove yourself, if time and money allow, from your environment”). I truly agree, and trust me; I’m dying to get out of here more than anything. My isolated environment doesn’t allow me much freedom or choice. What fascinates me most about the west is their work style and openness to everything. Appreciation doesn’t exist here, people in my town think of me and my friends as computer lunatics (doesn’t make a difference to us though). No matter how much I’m criticized, I never let anything between me and my interests. When ever anybody asks me of what I’m doing, I tell them ‘3D animation’, followed by a small explanation of what that means. They only understand when I give them examples of blockbuster movies like the Matrix, Jurassic Park, etc.
Yeah, small towns are good to live in (that way, I love my town, its beautiful). But when it comes to career and interests; its hell, I’ll surely get out of here soon. But for that I have to be good enough to prove myself. Wish me luck :slight_smile:

PeaceOfMind- I understand what you exactly mean. Now let me tell you guys some more about me, I was a student of electronics, (that explains my alias :)), but I had to drop out of college due to some personal reasons. As time passed by, I decided not to revert back to completing my course coz I had already lost interest. Either ways I always wanted to graduate with a degree in computers, which never happened. The screwed up educational system in my country doesn’t give the students much of a choice, we got to take what they give us, unless you’re an extra ordinary book worm whose world cease to exist beyond the books.
I very well understand the need of hanging around and being in an inspiring crowd of people from the same trade. But unfortunately, things like this don’t happen here. I feel so dumb and embarrassed to say this, but students around here don’t go to degree school to learn or seek knowledge in their field of interest (of course there are exceptions). They go there because, they’ve the money to spend or else their parents force them to. Talking technical bores them; they just focus on completing their degree, no matter how low the grades are. And not to mention the professors (frustrated people who do not get jobs any where else, end up here as teachers). I can go on and on like this
. But I know that’ll get you bored.
Due to reasons like these and more I have decided not to attend college and waste money. It’s a total waste of time, we learn nothing, and the syllabus for every course sucks too

The system here is not at all like the countries in the west. Thus I believe as long as I’m here I’ll have to do it myself making sacrifices n putting in efforts.
N as I’ve said before, I’ll be looking forward to making friends like you guys to help me out
Thanks a lot. :slight_smile:


This is just my 2 cents on the whole degree thing. I have been in countless debates about this, so hey :slight_smile:

Is a degree that important? YES

Is a 3D animation degree (specifically) that important to getting a job in the 3D animation/vfx industry? NO


A degree - whether it be in computer science, business, engineering, etc. is a good grounding that will help you in life, whatever path that you choose. It is a solid grounding that can help you get a job within or outside the 3D animation/visual effects industry. In some countries, you need a degree to flip burgers at a fast-food joint.

Is a 3D animation degree key to getting a job in the 3D animation/vfx industry? No - it depends on your demo reel. A 3D animation degree will NOT guarantee you a job in the 3D animation/vfx industry, as employers look at your demo reel.

What many people fail to realise is that the 3D animation/visual effects industry is not just made up of 3D animators and artists - but of technical directors, programmers, render monkeys, scriptwriters, layout artists, texture artists, matte painters, sculptors, storyboarding artists, visual effects supervisors, etc. etc. etc. It is a huge team effort made up of many fields of expertise.

For example, if you’re from a Computer Science background and can code Renderman shaders, or design and script workflow enhancement tools, there are openings for these kind of jobs in the 3D animation/vfx industry.

Also interestingly enough is a recent conversation I had with an ILM employee. ILM is not just made up of artists - but of extremely good technicians. If you think about it, you don’t need a bunch of ‘artists’ to make photo-realistic visual effects, you need people who can do exactly what the director wants. If George Lucas wants a pod racer to race past a stadium filled with aliens, that’s EXACTLY what you do. Unless you’re in the art department, you have almost NO creativity. You just churn out the shot in the most efficient manner like a machine.

I’m sorry if I sound really anal, but this is the harsh reality of our industry. Is a degree that important? Yes, and I would recommend anyone to get a tertiary education in a heartbeat. Is a 3D animation degree (specifically) that important to getting a job in the 3D animation/vfx industry - no. It’s your demo reel and abilities that count.

BTW: This is a great thread. I hope that beginners and newbies will find all the various opinions useful!



Originally posted by Leonard
I’m sorry if I sound really anal, but this is the harsh reality of our industry. Is a degree that important? Yes, and I would recommend anyone to get a tertiary education in a heartbeat. Is a 3D animation degree (specifically) that important to getting a job in the 3D animation/vfx industry - no. It’s your demo reel and abilities that count.

In fact, studying specifically 3d animation is almost a waste of time and money, in my opinion. With the rapid evolution of software, it changes too fast to make software specific degree programs worth the cost. Fine Arts, Buisness, Computer Science, English (written language skills), Psychology, ect are the foundations that will be with you for life.

Not to say there are no outstanding 3d animation specific degree programs out there, but I think for the most part you can learn software via self-study.


Thank you for putting it bluntly. It’s a common myth that we go to college (at the exclusion of trade/tech schools) to learn job skills. Where I go the profs are hard bent to push the theory-based aspect of education: we don’t learn practical knowledge, we learn how to think. I know very, very few people who have used their degrees directly in their respective industries, but just the fact that they’ve been through upper education got their foot in the door. Am I going to use my ability to analyze a shakespearean sonnet to land a moneymaker career? Probably not. But my life is far better with the knowledge. :buttrock: In college though, like anything in life, you get out what you put in.

Tronixx -- in your case, being from India, maybe you could use that to your advantage as I get the idea there's not many folks in the industry from those exotic parts.  Like I was saying, learn the tools the best you can with the books and us online communities, but the work you produce material-wise could produce a very, VERY different flavor than what most of us have seen before, stuff that could definitely stand out, are you getting my drift?   Every strength can be considered a weakness, but the exact same applies vice-versa.  Turn your disadvantage into an advantage.:shame: