Self-Learning Vs Online School


Hi there. I’m new to CGsociety, so forgive me if I’ve posted in the wrong place.
I’ve just recently become unemployed, and have been trying to decide whether or not now is a good time to try and pursue an interest I’ve wanted to get into for a long time.

I have a little bit of savings set aside to last a couple of months, and have been trying to learn Zbrush and 3DS Max (with no real background experience in art or vfx besides photography + photoshop)
I’ve seen there are quite a few different schools (both physical and online) that teach fundamentals or foundation in 3D modelling, and was wondering whether this is a waste of time and money and if I should just try to teach myself on my own in my spare time whilst working another job?
I understand this can be a subjective choice, but if anyone has any personal experience in this situation or advice, I’d really appreciate it.

The course I’ve been considering is the foundation for Film and Games with CG Spectrum.



I’ve heard of CG Spectrum, I think it’s a new online CG Educational provider though it’s specific course curriculum is comparable too “bricks and mortar” tertiary institutions (…there’s an online portal available for those located here in Australia)

And I suppose you can take the user reviews at face value (…I would)?!)

But then again if you can afford to spend that amount of cash on an online course…?!
I mean at the end of the day it’s really up too you?

Personally I’d go the much cheaper option and teach yourself or take a moment and see what CGS has to offer at a exponentially less onerous cost to your wallet, before deciding which way you’re gonna eventually jump. In my honest opinion well worth it if you do:


…plus a follow up to my original comment, I wasn’t able too edit in initially for some reason?

But then again if you can afford to spend that amount of cash on an online course…?!
I mean at the end of the day it’s really up too you?

Personally I’d go the much cheaper option and teach yourself or take a moment and see what CGS has to offer at a exponentially less onerous cost to your wallet, before deciding which way you’re going to eventually jump. In my honest opinion well worth it if you do:



I have experience doing both, i.e., studying introduction to 3D in a brick and mortar setting, studying online, and self-instruction. Interesting story… Back in the late 1990s, I contacted Pixar and actually got a chance to speak to a producer/modeler/animator (I wish I could remember who), posing the same question you are. He said that if I have access to a decent workstation and software, then he suggested to, in the least, go the self-taught route. He personally had no negative opinions against going to school to learn 3D, quite the contrary, but he did say there is something to be said for self-teaching, especially the growing number of avenues.

I first studied 3D at university (Lightwave 3D in fact), but I have been teaching myself 3D using Maya (and recently 3D Studio Max) using the free software Autodesk offers as part of their educational license. Amazing company! I absorb as much as I can about the basics and always incorporate a simple project to cement my learning - something taught to me by my first 3D instructor decades ago.

Like you, I too have decided to make a change. Although I’ve been a professional artist for the last 20 years, 3D calls to me, and I’ve recently decided to make it my career - a bold step considering I have just now started diving into NURBS, having yet to master polygonal modeling.

I’d say, in the least, if you have a decent computer, and consider purchasing/building one as it is a necessary tool, teach yourself 3D using the various forums, instructional videos, and advice offered on sites like this until you decide to enroll yourself in more of a structured environment.

I wish you good luck!


First off, thanks so much for such an in-depth reply! and sorry in advance for a barrage of questions.

I’ve spent the last 6-7 weeks trying to self-teach (Zbrush and a little bit of 3DS) , but the problem I’ve been having is knowing what to teach myself, the best way to learn it, and recognizing mistakes and how to fix them. That’s why I thought maybe the structure of having a good teacher/mentor might help the process along. I guess it’ll just be trial and error for a while if I do the self-learning route.

Are there any skills or techniques you would say have been vital for you to learn in either Maya/3DS/ Lightwave?

Would you recommend Max over Maya/Maya over Max? or is it down to personal preference?
I’ve found the interface of Max to be more welcoming so far, and I feel like I can achieve results I’m expecting a little easier with it.

My computer seems to be okay for the moment, but I’m definitely going to look into upgrading memory a little bit.

Again, thanks for the advice!



Never ask for forgiveness for questions asked. I do teach occasionally, and I always tell my students that asking questions leads to learning and innovation. Without them, where would we be today? Also, there is never a stupid question except not asking one at all. With that said, allow me to answer your inquires in order of their appearance.

First, however, wow! Teaching yourself Zbrush! Now, to me, that tells me something about you. You’re obviously not afraid to jump right in. I too want to learn Zbrush. The tutorials look daunting! Good for you.

Okay, moving on…

Knowing what to teach yourself. This is indeed a problem, and an excellent starting point. First and foremost, learning 3D without a program of choice is not necessarily pointless, but it is sort of like learning how to drive without the use of an automobile. In other words, difficult and potentially frustrating. Therefore, to sort of skip ahead to “which program: Maya/3DS/Lightwave,” my recommendation is to pick the one you either have direct access to or the one that is seen used most in the workplace. Maya chose me. I did not choose Maya. In other words, I had immediate, free access to Maya because it was pre-installed on a workstation I was using, and I had access to a experienced user. However, right now, as I look for intro 3D work in the field to gain experience (I live in Florida), I am seeing a ton of jobs requiring knowledge and experience in 3DS, forcing me to purchase a refurbished Dell Precision T6500 (cause I am a die hard Mac fan) and downloading 3DS from Autodesk.

As for “are there any skills or techniques… vital in learning either Maya/3DS/Lightwave,” having taken a 3D class at university using Lightwave, when I sat down for the first time in front of Maya, all of that knowledge was useless because I did not even know how to save a file in Maya much less create a polygon primitive. However, as for where to start, I was taught - day one - to begin really studying the shapes of everyday objects around me and see if any of them could be, fundamentally, modeled using primitives, e.g., cube, cylinder, sphere, cone, etc. That is where we started in that class. We spent roughly three-weeks modeling objects using only polygon primitives, which gave us the foundation for 3D. From there, we moved onto NURBS, and animation, culminating in a short-film at the end of the class. So, I’d say, to reiterate, no, nothing really prepared me for learning Maya until the basics of using the interface was learned.

“Would I recommend Max over Maya…?” No. I would not recommend any particular 3D program per se because they are both phenomenal programs, each having their own strengths and weaknesses, but both staples in the CG/VFX communities. My personal preference may be Maya only because I am very comfortable using it, but I am very eager to learn 3DS and Zbrush because they, too, are important.

I look at learning as many 3D programs as I can like learning how to operate both an automatic and standard shift automobile, maybe even learning how to drive a motorcycle. One day, you may need to fill the shoes of someone who has an expertise is this or that platform. It never hurts!

For me, the basic requirements for either self-teaching 3D or going to a school are these: First, a decent computer is mandatory, a PC that can be upgraded as both your skills increase and the software demands more from it (3DS only runs on a PC, for example); Secondly, a decent 3-button mouse, and if you can get a used Wacom tablet (I did on eBay) - that is a plus, and lastly, software, software, software, software!

Whatever you can do to gain --legitimate-- access to Maya, 3DS, Lightwave or Zbrush, do so because learning the interface is half the battle. Lastly, I fully recommend getting a subscription to, searching for videos on YouTube, and joining other sites like this one to help your learning process, and ALWAYS have a project in mind to challenge what your are learning. There is nothing like finding a new problem and working towards a solution in 3D! My old Maya instructor used to come to me and say, “Really quick! Model a paper milk carton! Go! You have 10-minutes,” and then would come back and request to see what I did. In other words, constantly pushing yourself is how you learn both the software and the tools to get the desired effect. As a way to master polygons, I bought a Lego toy, modeled all the individual pieces, and then put them together in 3D, texturing, coloring, and rendering a final project. It was both fun and challenging, and it culminated in a finished project for my portfolio.

Please stay in contact. I hope this helps.


I would like to learn on my own, so self-learning will be my choice. I’ve done this most of the time. I shall say that “experience is the best teacher”.


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