The beauty of this business is that anyone can practice it. Not everybody can afford, or is in a position to participate in formal Computer Graphics education. There is an alternative: Free Learning. Hardware is not free but there are free and open source applications you can use to teach yourself. If you have an internet connection and a reasonable computer you have all you need to start. Most of the software has forums and communities that offer support in the form of tutorials and solutions to technical problems, on CGTalk and elsewhere on the web. I am compiling this thread as an alternative and an aid to formal education and invite members to participate with suggestions and links (updates, dead link reports etc.) in the posts below so I can add to,and edit this list. I could provide a price list but we are interested in free and open source resources.
Free 3D Software[/b]
Art of Illusion
MakeHuman (pre-alpha version)
Pretty Poly Editor
PFTrack PLE (added fuzzylizard)
Sculptris (added ahmedtelb)
Softimage 7.5 Mod Tool added fuzzylizard)
VUE 7 Infinite/XStrem PLE (added fuzzylizard)
Vue 7 Pioneer (added fuzzylizard)
[b]Free 2D Software
[/b]List alternative 2d editors(addedthecathyinthehat)
Alchemy (added ahmedtelb)
Art Weaver (addedahmedtelb)
Inkscape [size=1](added [/size]gantayet[size=1] )
[/size]MyPaint (added ahmedtelb)
Plastic Animation Paper (PAP) (added mahir)
Pencil (added mahir)
Pixarra Twisted Brush (added Creeto)
Splashup (added Animasta)
Sumopaint (added[size=1] [/size]halen)
50 free engines (or elements) [/size]
Nuke 5 PLE (added fuzzylizard)
Voodoo Camera Tracker (added craigjarvis)
[b][size=2]Free specialst apps[/b] (added ThomasTheToolman[/size])
http://www.scribus.net (added ahmedtelb)
http://celtx.com (added ahmedtelb)
[i][b]Nothing is for Free.[/b][/i]
Is what they say, and this area of Computer Graphics is no exception. While software and lessons can cost nothing, time and effort on your part will be expensive. You will have a much easier time if you love CG instead of like it. If you are inventive and enjoy solving problems there is no reason why you can't produce a professional standard port folio which you can use to sell yourself. If you aren't sure CG is for you then you are free to try it and see, and this will cost you nothing but your time. If you do decide to pursue this vocation I would advise combining this material with art instruction. Libraries and the web are full of free art information and techniques that can prove very effective when studied.
While much of this software will run on a standard home PC there are a few things you can do to improve your experience.
Your computer's operating system should be professional. Home versions usually perform poorly. There is more software and information available for Windows at the moment.
Your computer's hard drive should be de fragmented frequently especially if you have deleted large files. This will leave big holes on your drive and slow your computer down. If possible partition your computer so that your work files are on a separate drive and only applications and the system should live on your internal drive. This will speed up your computer and in the event of a corrupt motherboard all your work files will be safe. A computer crammed full of music and games will be much less efficient.
One good anti virus application and one good antispyware application are enough. Update them and scan on a regular basis.
Before you download applications you intend to work with check the hardware and software requirements on the site you are downloading from. These are usually a starting point statistics and you don't want to download and install something you can't use. These requirements are normally quite low but if your computer fails to meet them on more than a few occasions then it is time to upgrade. If the software you are using preforms badly or not at all check to see your graphics card is sufficient for the task and that you are using the most recent drivers for the card. Other than that the software's forums can usually get you up and running with any technical issues.
If you are following tutorials or extensively using reference material two monitors are a godsend. If your graphics card supports this you can have your application on one screen and the lesson material on another. Many lessons are very intensive and have to be followed step by step, a second monitor will save you the headache of continuously flipping between application. If you are strapped for cash ensure you have at least one good monitor that represents colours well and if you can't afford it an el cheapo second monitor will do for reference material.
You can paint a Rembrandt with a mouse, there are some people who can and do but for most of us a graphics tablet is essential. If you are used to programming or light editing applications then you might think this is nonsense. Heavy 3d and 2d work is very intensive and although a tablet may feel alien at first you will quickly get used to the natural work flow and wonder how you could live without it. Many hours of study and project work can result in RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) or the tennis arm of computer jocks. You don't want it. Get a tablet. Like all hardware and software bigger and more expensive is not always best depending on your requirements. I have an economical little wacom bamboo which is very portable and whizzes over my dual monitor setup with ease. Because you can zoom with every application even a small tablet will provide you with the ability to add all the detail you need.
[i][b]Work and study[/b][/i]
Get a comfortable chair. Often terribly expensive multi adjustable office chairs end up in fire sales simply because they have fallen out of fashion, they are normally very well designed for the job of sailing you through your education and can be acquired cheaply. Make sure it reclines a little and do this occasionally.
When studying or working take frequent breaks and walk about your home studio a bit. When concentrating make a conscious effort to relax your shoulders and posture from time to time.
If you fire up a new application the first place you should go is the beginners tutorials, even if you are more advanced. These lessons are to help you explore functions and the interface not make an apple. Nearly all applications come bundled with [i]getting started exercises[/i] and when you have done these you can find more on the web. Some students find tutorials difficult to follow and it may take a while for you to get used to them. Do not fear everyone has to start somewhere. When you are faced with something that seems unsolvable, take a pause, run around the block. Often a little distance from the task will allow your brain to relax and the answer will come by itself. As you get more comfortable with the applications and the learning process you will be able to follow tutorials made for other applications or even in other languages as you will only be looking for principles you can use instead of a step by step explanation. If you find good lessons bookmark them as you may want to return months later. There is really so much to know that when you discover a process or technique that you know you will need later, make notes. This will save a lot of time.
[i][b]What to make[/b][/i]
CG, 2 and 3D are such wide fields that it can be a real problem deciding what to produce. Everything from fantasy concept art to hardcore engineering and practically all areas in between use CG. Take some time to surf the web and visit company sites to see what work gets your interest. Do a little in each area and see what you enjoy most. There are two ways you can go: what is selling at the moment, or what you like the most. Doing what you most enjoy may be harder in the beginning, but easier in the long run. If you find you are not a creative guru yet there are plenty of competitions here and all over the net to get you started. When you first begin everything you make will seem amazing,... to you! If all is going to plan your work should look pretty horrid to others. This is fairly normal. Don't be discouraged, keep forging ahead.
Next to the web itself forums and communities are your single greatest resource. Treat them with respect because sooner or later they always come in handy. Refrain from being argumentative or rude and remember that if someone disagrees with you it doesn't necessarily mean they are wrong. Like wise if you get rude posts ignore them. Forums are generally very well moderated and your behaviour will be noticed. Never enter a discussion on piracy as every forum and community has rules against this. Getting banned is a waste of time, get on with learning, there is a lot to do. Try and help others as often as your time will allow. Leaving helpful comments and positive criticisms is how this whole bizz works. Never feel under qualified to leave a response except in intensely technical threads as your simple observation may be greatly appreciated.
(idea eldee) Finding good tutorials is also an art. In the beginning you can find links to useful tutorials on the websites of the makers of your downloaded software. Like I said many of these applications spawn communities and forums so try to find these. Google is your friend :)
Some places you can go:
For you painters, concept artists, character designers/builders
[b]Art Techniques and Theories Forum[/b]
[b]Artistic Anatomy and Figurative Art[/b]
For your work in progress
[b]WIP/Critique: 3D Stills[/b]
[b]WIP/Critique: Game Art Design[/b]
For more information on study, workflow, attending networking events, building a portfolio, making and sending a demo reel, buy and read Ed Harriss's book
[b]CGSociety - How to get a Job in Computer Animation [/b]
Have fun and may the force be with you,
The software lists and links above were compiled mainly by Veovis of gamedev.net and contributors to this thread. Thanks guys and gals.