Every week I see the same question on Reddit, Discord or even through my own website, asking what they should do if they want a career in the architectural visualisation industry. The answer is generally the same each time, because there are very few requirements to get into it. I wanted to write a post to hopefully answer the many questions in one place based on my own experience and from speaking to others working in archviz.
What software do I need to learn?
This is probably the most asked question I see. The quick and easy answer is 3DS Max and VRay/Corona.
The long answer, it doesn't really matter, as long as you can produce good work and are willing to adapt to new software. Most studios will ask for 3DS Max and VRay/Corona experience, so it makes sense to try to learn this, but the software you use will not limit your ability to create a good portfolio. If you are a C4D or Blender user, you will likely adapt to any software fairly easily. Modelling and rendering principles are similar across most software. The reason 3DS Max has become an industry standard is simply because of the huge amounts of assets, scripts and plugins available. Nothing else really comes close in terms of quality and quantity, with websites like 3DSky and CGMood catering specifically to the archviz industry with affordable, high quality assets for artists. With student and indie licensing for 3DS Max, it has never been easier to get started. Both VRay and Corona also offer very affordable student pricing, which I highly reccomend taking advantage of while you are in school. Should you learn Unreal Engine? It is beneficial and definitely being used more and more, but it is not currently a requirement in most jobs. It will make you stand out though if you have a strong understanding of it. That being said, focus on offline rendering first and creating photorealism, then try to add Unreal to your workflow. You should have a good understanding of offline rendering before you move over to real time.
What should I study to get a job in archviz?
Education is not really a requirement in archviz, though it is not a bad idea to study something related anyway. If you look for visualisation jobs at architecture firms, they tend to ask for a degree in architecture, but that doesn't mean it is a requirement in every firm. If your job is strictly working in 3D, you won't need a degree in architecture. If your job involves drawing plans for construction, then you will. Most archviz jobs are just for the 3D side of things and only require a basic understanding of architectural plans and reading CAD files. If you are in high school and considering a job in archviz, I would highly reccomend taking a year or two to study something like 3D animation, VFX, photography, interior design or even computer programming. All of those will be beneficial in your career and give you some time to build a portfolio. Going straight from high school to a job in the industry is difficult, if not impossible due to inexperience. Having a few years to educate yourself is not a bad idea. But is it a requirement? No. I spent one year in a VFX program, which was was very beneficial to me, but I knew quite early on that the VFX industry wasn't very appealing to myself, which is why I decided to stop that and spend my time focusing on archviz instead.
Freelance or studio?
I think most people dream about working for themselves and having the luxury to pick their own clients and projects, but it is really not that simple. I started my career by freelancing. I was recommended to someone who needed a 3D artist, which kick started my three years of freelancing. But I would not reccomend this method, as it is very difficult to actually find a steady stream of clients and your inexperience in the industry will just cause you to make a lot of mistakes and waste a lot of time. Working in a studio and seeing the business from the inside is by far the best way to start out. Even if it is just an internship for a few months/years. You will learn workflows, you will see client interactions and start to understand how the financial side of the job works. If you try to start by freelancing, you will probably earn less money, not learn as much and generally just have a worse time. I think freelancing has a lot of benefits, of course, but for someone starting out, try to get a place in a studio and spend that time absorbing knowledge. If you can work closely with a small team, you will learn a lot very quickly which will really have a positive impact on your whole career. It will also be a good chance to work on a variety of unique projects that normally wouldn't be given to a solo freelancer.
How much money can I earn?
This question gets asked a lot and is almost impossible to answer because it varies so much, even from city to city. For example, a junior artist in London will need to earn a lot more money than a junior artist in a more affordable city. There are various price charts out there based on surveys, but they are still only a rough guideline. Your salary should be based on your experience and how much you value yourself, as well as cost of living and other factors. You need to be realistic in valuing yourself because there is a lot of competition at the bottom and standing out from the crowd is difficult. As a junior, your main focus should be on getting a job that will benefit your career and give you a chance to learn at the highest level, your salary may not be very high at first but you should use it as a learning experience more than anything. Also it is very common for people in archviz to move to another city/country. It is quite a small industry still and there are hotspots that most studios are based in. London is a big hotspot for archviz, which is why many UK artists will be based in or around London, as well as many Europeans moving to London for work. Though you may be able to earn significantly more money in London or a similar city, your living and travel expenses will be significantly higher.
Is it okay to use downloaded assets in my portfolio?
Yes, but you should learn to model as well. Modelling is a huge skill to have in any 3D job and it is surprising how many 3D artists really struggle with complex hard surface modelling and UV unwrapping. As a junior, you may be asked to model all sorts of things and you should be able to do this to a high standard. Your portfolio should showcase your work, but it is still okay to download assets for a scene. Most studios will expect that you are using a mix of downloaded assets as well as your own. That being said, I recommend challenging yourself on your portfolio as much as possible and not relying on downloaded assets for everything. Creating your own shaders is an extremely valuable skill, so consider tweaking or redoing every material when you download a 3D model from the internet. A huge part of photorealism comes from materials and textures. Even a photoscanned object won't look realistic until you create an accurate material for it. A bad material will stand in your render and unfortunately a lot of downloaded assets have poor quality materials
How should I start?
One of the biggest mistakes I see new 3D artists make, is taking on projects they are no capable of completing to a high standard. My advice is always to start very small and make a render that is a manageable size. You should not try to create an entire house, inside and out, for your first project (trust me, I tried and failed at that already when I started). Focus on something basic, like a small room (bathrooms and kitchens are some of the easier ones) and do it very well. Don't take on a project that requires you to spend weeks on. You will end up wasting a lot of time and making a lot of mistakes. Spending a week on a small room and trying to make every object in that room as perfect as possible will teach you much more than spending three months on something and giving up on it or creating something you are not happy with. Every project you do should teach you something new. The great thing about small projects is that it lets you focus on small details and you will be able to get much better feedback, which will make you improve more as an artist. A huge project is impressive if it is done well, but most of the time huge projects don't turn out well due to inexperience.
"Learn to walk before you run"
Your portfolio should be a good mix of projects so that you can cater it to specific job applications. For example, if you apply for a job where they specifically do commercial spaces such as offices, showing them 5 exterior renders might not be very beneficial. Similarly, working for an architect where 90% of your work is exteriors, they are going to expect to see exteriors in your portfolio. As someone who is much more focused on interiors, I know my portfolio is heavily weighted that way, but you should try to create a good mix of both, that way you will also discover what you enjoy more.
Got any more questions? Feel free to Contact me and I will try to answer your question and add it to this post. Thanks for reading!