My friend has a problem with learning CGI. Need advice


#1

Hi all. My question is about learning CGI. My friend moved to another country without PC and he is depressed because now he does not have enough money for a good laptop. He wants something like an rtx3060 laptop and says that this is the minimum configuration. I’m trying to convince him that you can learn topology, materials, texturing, animation even on gtx1650. He does not believe me, because his friends said that only losers study on weak computers. He says that Unreal Engine 5 requires a very powerful hardware. Do you think it is possible to become a good CGI artist using a gtx 1650 laptop? And what would you advise him? He looks depressed and wants to put his last money in the stock market to make money. In my opinion this is insane. But he is a nice and creative guy and my friend.


#2

AHAHAHA.

Tell him that artists from 20 years ago had to make do with much less.

Today’s technology is far more advance and capable, there is little excuse for approaching 3D.

Even Unreal Engine 5 being released for free and scaling all the way down to smartphones is a blessing.

I had to pay a monthly subscription fee for Unreal Engine 4 when it first came out. Before Epic went public with it.


#3

I don’t want to call your friend an idiot, but he DOES need to abandon that “PC Master Race” mindset. I certainly agree that he should buy the best PC his wallet will allow. It’ll last him longer. However, constantly chasing the best possible performance is a fool’s errand. It is both exhausting and expensive. He’s going to reach a point of diminishing returns pretty soon. He’ll spend an obscene amount of money for what? An extra 2fps?

As for what he should buy… Laptops are nice since you can take them anywhere. However, he’ll end up spending 2x as much for 1/2 the power of a desktop PC. Worse than that, laptops have limited upgradability.

On a desktop, you can expand the RAM, add a fast new HDD, swap out the CPU or GPU for something faster, and expand using external peripherals through up to a dozen USB ports. It’s possible to Frankenstein a desktop PC and keep it alive and viable for up to 10 years.

With a laptop, however, what you see is what you get. Maybe you can change the hard drive or add more RAM, but that’s pretty much it. A laptop is generally old and outdated 6-12 months after you buy it.

Given that your friend is a newbie, he may not even like doing CG. It’s not easy and takes years of hard work to get good. He should align his PC purchase and his wallet accordingly. He should get a PC that can double as a gaming rig. It doesn’t have to be the fastest one out there, capable of running everything on ultra settings, but it should be able to play most games at their default settings.

I say this simply because, hardware-wise, the specs that you might use for gaming overlap with those you’d use to make CG art. A decent GPU for speedy, non-jittery real-time editor performance. A solid amount of RAM to allow him to create scenes with a reasonable amount of detail. A speedy multi-core CPU for when it comes time to render. A roomy, speedy HDD for storing all of that data.

Your friend doesn’t have to spend $6k or whatever. Looking at Amazon right now, he can easily find a good desktop PC in the $1,500 range that will serve him well for a good amount of time. He doesn’t need the latest or fastest. 32GB should be his minimum. Most Intel Core-i7s will work well, but he could go AMD if he wants to save a few bucks and achieve comparable performance. Having a GeForce 3xxx or 4xxx would be great, but you can still do a whole lot with the GeForce 1xxx series for a lot less money.

Your friend should know one thing now. A better PC will not make him a better artist. Neither will buying (or warezing) all of the latest industry apps will either. Those things, hardware and software, are just tools, means to an end. He should focus on mastering the essential concepts and techniques. Those things will last him way longer than any PC or program.

Having an uber PC will only mean that he can get things done faster, not better. That’s all on him.

Let me put this in context.

I first started doing CG right around 1989. Back then, my spec was something like an Intel 286 CPU, standard 256-color VGA @ 320x200 (alt. 640x480 16-color), 1 Megabyte RAM, and 20 Megabyte HDD storage. That’s it. It got the job done though.

By 1996, I had moved onto a speedy Intel Pentium with 16MB RAM, 1GB of HDD space, & a cutting edge NVIDIA NV1 GPU that usually rendered slower than the CPU alone. All running on a “gigantic” 14" monitor. Even so, using that did the job too. I used that PC for school work, gaming, game programming, and all manner of CG art including rendered images and character animation.

Think about all of the amazing games that were made on hardware less powerful than that Apple Watch you might be wearing. My point? Limitations breed creative solutions.

Your friend could build a full and robust industry compliant pipeline that includes Photoshop, Illustrator, Maya, ZBrush, Marvelous Designer, World Creator, Substance Painter, Substance Designer, Marmoset Toolbag, Unreal Engine, and countless other helper apps and plugins.

Hard truth? That won’t make him a better artist either.

For starters, it takes a LOT of time just to master just one of those apps and the associated techniques. Mastering a dozen? He better have a LOT of free time to study and practice. Additionally, he’s looking at spending thousands of dollars every year thanks to subscriptions. He might be industry compliant, but he’ll also be broke.

If he’s just learning, he doesn’t need a lot on the software front either. He doesn’t even need to resort to subscriptions. He can learn CG, master the techniques, and build a badass reel/portfolio for $0 if he wanted. Best of all, he could transfer all of those skills later on to industry standard apps - slowly and as he can afford to.

My pipeline was huge. MASSIVE actually. To remain industry compliant, I was spending an ungodly amount of money. You don’t even wanna know how much I spent over 30 years. It took me forever to come to one basic realization. Those dozen plus apps I was using on any given project? There was a LOT of overlap.

I could streamline by finding out where it occurred, eliminating redundancy, and filling in gaps with the occasional addon/plugin that wasn’t “best in class”, but good enough for most jobs. It saved me so much money and will save me even more going forward.

I still maintain a few subscriptions for industry compliance, but I barely use them tbh. I’ve found that I can accomplish a whole lot using just 3 apps: Blender, 3DCoat, and Affinity Photo. With a few cheap plugins tacked on, I’m actually covering the entire modern pipeline and accomplishing a whole lot for far less money.

Back in 1994, using no plugins, you could actually be a CG badass using just 3D Studio and Photoshop alone. Back then, I was using PS and trueSpace to the same effect. Made a lot of super cool sh** back then too.

Your friend doesn’t need a super computer or a bazillion apps. He can learn using a mid-range gaming PC and a pipeline as short as 2 apps. (Apps like Affinity Photo and Blender are shockingly deep and full featured; More than comparable to their pricey alternatives.)

Like I said, he can always get a faster PC later when he’s reached a point where that becomes the bottleneck and spending more money will actually save him more time. He can move to expensive subscription-based apps once he’s mastered the techniques and has to apply for jobs that require them.

Hardware and software are just tools. They are a means to an end, as I said. Neither will actually make him better. Only time and practice will do that.

To put it another way… You certainly wouldn’t buy a Ferrari for somebody who’s just learning to drive. You’d start them with something smaller, cheaper. And when they DID learn to drive like a pro, well, that fancy car won’t get to their destination any better than the cheap one. It’ll only get them there faster.


#4

Today’s newbie really doesn’t know how great they have it. Seriously.

Imagine being a newbie in an era where all software was custom and in-house. You had no option other than to use crappy shareware that could only do tiny subsets of what you really wanted to do. You had to chain SO many of those crapware apps together just to accomplish anything. Worse? Imagine being a newbie in a world where the software WAS available for sale, but you’d have to pay $20k+ per license and needed a dedicated workstation. So many knockoff apps that could run on cheap commercial hardware were born that way.

Oddly enough, in some ways, being a modern CG artist has somehow gotten cheaper, yet also stayed about as expensive as it ever was. Each app alone might now be cheaper, but you can easily find yourself with 12 apps instead of just 2 and each one of them as a subscription or perpetual, but with annual maintenance. That’s why I’m a big fan of looking for that overlap and eliminating redundancy if you can.

The industry loves these specialty apps, but the barrier for entry for the newbie in terms of cost and time are just insane. The issue of compliance is, imo, getting out of control. It’s gotten to the point where entry level positions now need you to know a half plus dozen apps and have years of experience. (Experience to get experience. Oy! :stuck_out_tongue: ) Beyond cost, I think that this is a good reason why so many new studios are looking to alternative pipelines that do more with less.


#5

In the music world they say, “It is not the instrument that makes the note, it is the musician.” In photography, it is not the camera that takes a great picture, it is the photographer. Applies to 3D graphics as well. You can take a great picture with a disposable, fixed focus box camera. Jack White can play one of his songs on a guitar he made from a plank of wood, some nails, and a pickup. Same applies everywhere.


#6

As cookepuss already pointed out, a laptop is no good idea.A desktop PC has usually twice the power for half the price. And you can connect more than one monitor to it. And you can connect big monitors. I couldn’t live with just one monitor anymore. Even when i have worked a decade with just one. I once started with a 14" CRT ^^

My advice is, simply start. And have a look how far you can come. You will run into the limits soon enough. Then you can decide if you can live with it, or if it is time to upgrade something :slight_smile:


#7

Music is imho a bit different. You run quickly into the shit in shit out problem here. The times where people have even paid for the lousiest bootlegs ever are long gone. And at one point it becomes a quality problem even for Jack White. In 3D you can still deliver the same quality with lower end hardware though. It just takes longer then.

My opinion is, it does not need to be the highest end equipment. But shouldn’t be the lowest end equipment neither. This kills the fun when half of the tools doesn’t work. 3D software has a minimum hardware requirement. A 1650 is still within this limits though.