Freelancers work with a high degree of autonomy. They receive payment for their work from sales, assignments, or projects and sometimes have contracts that last as long as 12 months.
Despite working on a contractual or per-project basis, some freelancers develop long-term relationships with clients. Sometimes referred to as independent or contract workers, they are self-employed people working alone for personal or organizational clients. Freelancers are not employees. They usually perform temporary work. Thanks to the nature of the hiring method, a freelancer may work for more than one client at a time.
Many cite cost savings as the most common reason companies hire freelancers., which is made clear by data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the bureau, the average annual salary for graphic designers (as of May 2020) was around $53,000, whereas special effects artists and animators earned up to $77,000. Both professions tend to involve CGI or 3D modeling, which 3D artists and designers offer. Sketchfab estimates that a complex, high-quality 3D model costs anywhere between $600 to $1,000.
Let us say that a full-time employee can create a dozen super-detailed 3D models in a year, one per month. Even if you have to pay a freelance 3D artist $3,000 (which is more expensive than Sketchfab suggests) for each model, the total cost is $36,000. That’s still way lower than the annual median salaries. However, the saving only makes sense if you find and hire the right freelancer for every project.
CGI and computer-aided design (CAD) have now become indispensable skills in a wide range of business fields, including but not limited to 3D architecture, engineering, automotive, manufacturing, interior design, films, video games, and marketing. Scientific research may also require professionals of both disciplines to create 3D assets for simulations, reports, and products development.
A collaborative study by Unreal Engine and Burning Glass Technologies, published in January 2021, has revealed that in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and 20 European countries, the demand for 3D graphics and real-time 3D skills is high and growing at a significant rate. For companies, a competitive workforce means the freelancing market is full of thousands of talented professionals, including inexperienced ones. You want to hire 3D designers on a per-project basis to save money, so it pays to be careful and thoughtful in your search.
Taking your search to Google and hoping for the best results – as recommended by the search engine, is never a good idea in this case. Most freelancers and the websites where they offer their services claim to be the best. You can do much better than simply going through the entire search results page by page.
First, you must know what you need. It is not just about finding a freelance 3D artist. It has more to do with hiring the right one with the best skill set.
Make a list of project requirements, including the scope of work, specific skills needed, timeframe, software/applications to use, budget, etc. Some companies also prefer local freelance 3D designers, preferably from the same country, instead of a foreign one.
The nature of the 3D artist’s project is also essential. For example, a professional who makes 3D architectural renderings may not be the best person for a project about creating game characters. The specification goes further into the types of characters such as humans, animals, robots, fantasy, etc. The more detailed your list is, the easier your search will be.
The list’s primary purpose is to narrow down the search parameter to be as specific as possible. You may still end up having dozens of shortlisted candidates, but they all match the basic requirements.
RELATED: Who is the 3D Artist?
3D Design Specialization
Conventional art skills like drawing, painting, sculpture, or calligraphy using physical media do not always translate well to digital 3D design and art, not without a lot of practice with CAD software. Some 3D artists sketch on paper first before transforming the idea into a digital model. It is not mandatory but could be helpful during the initial discussion of the project. However, your focus must remain on their digital 3D work.
Take a glimpse at their 3D design background in their portfolio. A well-made portfolio should exhibit a diverse range of skills and asset types to demonstrate technical capabilities. Every image ideally comes with detailed information on the software used, completion time, and creation date. If you see nothing of the sort, ask the freelancers to explain it to you.
Creative skills are of equal consequence. You don’t want to hire a freelancer who cannot come up with original ideas. The freelancer may have to follow the design brief during the project, but the 3D design is an artwork where original ideas play a significant role in making each creation unique. Record of past projects and creative skills showcased in the portfolio can be, in a sense, proof of specialization. No freelance 3D artist is the best at everything. Some may specialize in figure anatomy, nature, or architecture, while others excel at animation, 3D visualization, creatures, etc.
Unlike specialization, a freelancer’s style or approach to design can be much more versatile. On the on hand, a freelance 3D designer often works using only one or two CAD applications. The specialization is seen clearly in past projects. On the other hand, there must be subtle yet noticeable features in all the 3D assets and artworks listed in the portfolio to indicate a variety of styles. That includes colors, implementation of shadows, characterizations, perspectives, minimalism, playfulness, etc.
It is in the freelancer’s best interest to present multiple work styles, showcasing technical capabilities and artistic versatility, ultimately convincing potential clients looking for a professional partner to get a project done.
Questions to Ask
Many times the difference between the good, the bad, and the ugly lies in the questions you ask. There may not be enough time to go over all the candidates’ projects. You can still cover all the basics. Here are some example questions:
Have you worked on any similar projects?
Just because a freelance 3D artist specializes in your type of project or has the requisite skill set doesn’t always mean you found the right person for the job. The field of 3D visualization is vast, diverse, and filled with professionals working in various industries. In addition to the skillset, the best freelancer has a work history relevant to your specific work.
For example, an artist has created hundreds of comic art models using sculpting techniques on ZBrush. So far, so good, but your project still requires the artist to design models for digital marketing campaigns. It doesn’t mean the artist cannot handle the type of work, but you might feel more comfortable with someone who has relevant experience.
How did you learn to become a 3D artist?
Many good 3D designers acquire their skills on the job without formal educations. They are self-taught professionals, learning as they go from mistakes and going through the experiences of trial & error. The portfolio quality is still more important than the educational background, but it is not a bad idea to ask.
Hiring a freelance 3D artist with appropriate educational background can also increase confidence. Working with a freelancer trained in civil engineering would be an advantage if the project involves architectural design. That said, you should not limit the search only to those with formal educations.
Are you willing to adopt a different style?
If you like a freelancer’s work and know your project calls for a different style from the models in their portfolio, ask whether they can implement a new approach. You may think the answer is an obvious yes, but sometimes it is more complicated than that.
For example, Freelancers whose portfolios are full of 3D models of robotic art may find it challenging to create wildlife characters. They may be able to do that by using fewer metallic elements or lighting effects, or they may go for more natural visualization. Still, it is a new thing and entirely different from the established specialty. Unless a freelancer is flexible enough already, making a dramatic change of style and being very good at the new approach will not likely happen overnight.
Can you meet the deadline?
Unlike full-time employees on your payroll, you don’t know exactly how many projects a freelancer is currently working on or how complex they are. Full-time employees do not have as many reasons to miss deadlines. That’s because you are aware of their capabilities and the level of difficulties they can handle.
Remember that you might not be the freelancer’s only client. Furthermore, there can be several equally complex projects to be completed soon. Before you decide to hire a freelance 3D designer, make sure the person has the time and resources to get the job done.
Have you ever failed to make deliveries?
It is a tricky question unless you’re interviewing an experienced 3D artist. Designers take months or years to master modern CAD software. It is unlikely that a freelancer has never failed. Remember that the mistake could be on the client’s side too. It often happens when there is neither feedback nor precise job requirements. The freelancer’s blunder was accepting the job in the first place.
As a client, you must assume that the freelancer has failed once or twice. You want to know how well they take criticism, deal with setbacks, and handle pressure.
Where to Look
The first thing that comes to mind is the freelance marketplace. These are the marketplaces where thousands of 3D designers and artists build portfolios and offer their services. They come from all around the world. On these websites, you will not see services of any other kind.
|Cad Crowd||Based in Glendale, California, Cad Crowd is a marketplace dedicated to 3D/CAD services provided by freelancers worldwide. There are several ways to find excellent 3D artists. In the Design Contest section, you can post a project and let any number of freelancers compete for the best work. Whereas in “Private Project” and “Hourly Services,” the marketplace recommends pre-qualified professionals for your specific project requirements.|
|EasyRender||The freelance finding service in Easy Render is pretty easy to navigate. The website houses freelance 3D designers from over 60 countries, complete with their portfolios and contact information. They are allowed to connect directly with potential clients. However, the vast majority of freelancers in the marketplace specialize in architectural visualization.|
|DesignCrowd||There are more than a million graphic designers with different specializations on the site. You can search for the best freelance 3D designer here by posting a project. DesignCrowd says that, on average, a single project receives anywhere between 25 and 100 custom designs. The freelancers cannot see each other’s work to prevent groupthink and copying.|
|CGTrader||The way CGTrader works is more or less similar to DesignCrowd. It is as simple as posting a project and receiving quotes from multiple freelance 3D artists. The client can also search and filter freelancers according to ratings, software, format preferences, and skillset. There are around 40,000 skilled professionals listed on the site.|
Focused marketplaces already narrow down your search quite a bit. If you, however, want more options, there are also some reputable general freelance marketplaces to explore, such as:
|Toptal||It doesn’t have the most extensive database of freelancers compared to most other sites, but that is the point. Toptal has a rigorous screening process to make sure that every available talent is the best. Your options are limited, but if you find one, the service won’t always be cheap.|
|Guru.com||With over 2 million freelancers, Guru is one of the largest options. Despite its enormous database, the marketplace has a certification process for every freelancer applicant. The talent you hire from the site is always a legitimate person.|
|Fiverr||Freelancers can sell their work for as little as $5 on the site. That said, they are allowed to set their prices and accept projects of a larger scale. There are several listed categories. Among them, you can find “Graphic Design” and look for various 3D services such as character modeling and product design.|
|Upwork||The client can either post a job or browse a long list of freelancers. UpWork is a vast marketplace filled with professionals for every conceivable job. To find and hire a freelance 3D artist, search under the “Design & Creative” category, or you can use the search function instead.|
Freelance marketplaces should be more than adequate to facilitate your search. The number of talents in all those sites combined is probably in the range of hundreds of thousands. Those websites make the process easy and practical, either by posting a project or letting the site help select qualified talents. Still, there are some other options.
Hunting for Freelancers
Similar to some freelance marketplaces, you can make a job post on the following websites and let the quotes flow in that way.
|Behance Job List||With one of the Internet’s most prominent names in the industry, it’s easy to find artists on Behance.|
|CGSociety Recruitment||A massive number of 3D designers and freelancers are swarming the site at any given time. The rule is that you must hire a freelancer to work in-house, not remotely. You also need to use the company email address when posting the project.|
|Evermotion Jobs Forum||It’s mainly for architectural visualization, so as long as your 3D projects revolve around interior design (houses and furniture), it is an excellent place to look for a freelance 3D designer.|
|Polycount Freelance||Most posted projects are game-related. Job posting for full-time or part-time employment also is available.|
|Unity Forums||It’s a great place to find and hire a freelance 3D artist for gaming-related industries. Small and big projects are allowed.|
|Shapeways||The focus here is additive manufacturing and 3D printing (rapid prototyping).|
The aforementioned sites do not call themselves freelance marketplaces. Nevertheless, they provide a place to find professional artists and post projects at no cost. Since they are essentially “open” forums, you can work with freelancers directly. These sites may not regulate or be held responsible for handling payment.
3D Asset Stores
Another way to find freelancers is to browse through 3D asset galleries to see artists’ works displayed online and contact them via comment or direct message. Some popular galleries are:
- 3D Total Gallery
- CG Trader
Most galleries mix all 3D artworks in one place. They do this to make it easier to find anything related to your project. It also has a helpful search function and filtering feature.
When you find the models you like, with some characteristics or styles that resemble your project, click the name of the creator. Even if the website doesn’t allow you to send a direct message, the artist’s profile may attach their social media or website address.
Depending on the hiring term, freelancers may expect to get paid per project or hourly. With the former, it is not that uncommon for a 3D artist to ask for a portion of the total agreed payment upfront. The middle ground is to set multiple milestones – each with a deliverable – and send money only after reaching the milestone.
Don’t be alarmed if freelancers demand a secure payment method, such as with an escrow account. They do that to avoid any possibility of fraudulent practice. Some freelancers will have it no other way as they might have had some bad experiences with clients who refused to send payment after finished work.
In some marketplaces, freelancers require their clients to pay the total amount upfront. However, the website acts as an intermediary to secure the money and ensure good communications between freelancers and clients. Regardless of the hiring circumstances, it is always best to be forthcoming about money. Reputable marketplaces guarantee quality and secure payment methods.
Seasoned freelance 3D artists may charge anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 per project, perhaps more. That is no small amount of money by any means, but these professionals know what their work and time are worth and will not sell for less. More affordable alternatives are available at your fingertips all around the web.
Many companies go with overseas freelancers due to lower rates than freelancers from North America and Europe. The result is not always great when affordability is the only attraction. A lower rate may indicate lower standards of quality. Add that to communication challenges (language barrier), and you have a recipe for disaster.
If your design brief is elaborate and your project is large enough, you are better off with a freelance 3D artist from a developed country. You have better chances of getting the expected level of quality when you are familiar with the work ethics and standards.
The most effective way to test freelancers is to assign a low-profile project or ask for a mock-up project. The former is a better option as you can evaluate technical proficiency and communication skills, but this may take a few days or more. When you are in a hurry, the second option is a good alternative. In either case, you have the chance to do a brief assessment of how the freelancer handles time management, works under pressure, and puts ideas into practice.