Specialist or Generalist: The Artist’s Dilemma

Photo of author
By
/

When you buy through my links, I may earn a commission which will support me in creating more helpful content for you.

Should I learn everything? and be a generalist? or should I get really really good at one thing? those questions are all valid ones and every artist in their journey has to answer them at one point in their life.

In this article, I will break through some of the myths and truths that surround those questions and I will also give you my experience and personal opinion on what you could do in case you were in that situation.

Check out this article to learn more about Passive income for Artists

What is a Specialist?

In the art industry a specialist is someone who is very good at one niche of the bigger 4 categories we have in our industry, first, let’s define the big categories:

  • Modeling
  • Texturing
  • Animation
  • VFX

Those are the big categories we have in the animation and games industry now to be a specialist does not mean just picking one of those, that was way way in the past but nowadays a specialist is picking a niche within one of those main categories.

For example, a 3D modeler is considered a generalist nowadays, and a 3D character modeler on the hand is a specialist, they both work in one of the bigger categories but one chose to only concentrate all their efforts on learning 3D character modeling.

More examples of specialists below:

Another example is texturing, if you are a 3D texturing artist then that’s considered a generalist approach, but if you are an Environment texturing artist then that is what we call a specialist.

What is a Generalist?

Now we know what a specialist is, let’s define more of what a generalist is, a generalist is someone who can do one of those main categories we named before, they are not super talented in all of its aspects but they have decent work across all of its sub-categories.

For example, a 3D modeler is considered a generalist, they should be able to model building, characters, props, vegetation…etc, and give you a decent result across all of those.

More examples of generalists are below:

  • 3D modeler
  • 3D animator
  • VFX artist

Specialist Roles Pros and Cons

I know it’s a trend these days to specialize and seems like an easier route to take but let’s put all the trends behind us and give a list of pros and cons of being a specialist.

ProsCons
Very appealing portfolio in one of
the sub-categories
Low rate of jobs offerings
Easily hired if a position is opened Keeps up with the trends of his
specialty as its not broad
Keeps up with the trends of his
speciality as its not broad
During a project, you might run
out of work in your specialty
and therefore be laid off

Generalist Roles Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Have a diverse knowledge of many
aspects of your role
Portfolio isn’t stellar as your
talent is spread thin
You can apply for both generalist
and specialist roles
Very hard to keep up with all
the new tools and techniques
There is always something new and
challenging to learn.
Specialists can always create
better art in their niche

Industry Trends

Nowadays specialists are in high demand, the simple reason is the quality bar we have is constantly rising with new technologies emerging, 10 years back phones and consoles couldn’t withstand what they can now and it’s constantly evolving this is why the need for cutting edge art is on the rise.

If you ask me it’s really getting out of hand, with full-time positions such as Senior Facial Modeler, or Senior Vegetation Modeler it’s really going very very niche and I don’t know when it will stop, to be honest.

My Journey: From Generalist to Specialist

I started as a generalist well back at that time there was only 3D, so you needed to do everything in all of the categories… and that’s exactly what I did,I learned modeling, animation, and texturing I even did a full short 3d animated clip on my own.

As I experience all these categories and learned about each one of them I started pivoting naturally towards modeling as I enjoyed it the most and right at that time positions like 3D modeler was starting to appear, so I concentrated all my efforts moving forward on modeling.

From modeling characters to environments to props to landscapes the mandate was to do it all and it was part of the job description as well, in addition, I had animation and texturing knowledge and that helped me a lottt starting out.

Studios I worked for were amazed that I could lend a hand in rigging and do animation which only made me more valuable to the companies I worked for and helped eliminate any job security fears I had.

I used to apply for 3D artists positions, 3D modeler positions, 3D texturing positions anything that was open because I simply knew how to do it all and I had a portfolio to prove it.

Later on in my journey I started to specialize in modeling and became a senior and then in characters, but to be honest there were situations on projects where all the characters were done, at that point if I didn’t have skills in environment modeling as well that would have been a huge problem.

Career Path Considerations

So how do you choose? my answer is simple, you don’t!

Specialist or generalist is a journey that you have to go through each of them as an artist, I am very much against any artist starting out with one sub-category and not knowing anything else!

for starters you need to taste and try other categories to know which one you enjoy the most, it is very hard to pick one just because it sounds good or it’s in demand, you have to try and see if it fits you and you have passion for it because let me tell you it’s going to be long hours and long years so you better enjoy it otherwise it will be a very rough road ahead.

Start as a generalist, try modeling, texturing, rigging, animation, and VFX try them all, learn about them all, and practice them all for a decent amount of time enough that you have a portfolio piece in each one or all of them in one (like a small animation clip).

After that, you can decide for yourself which way you want to go and in which category you want to shine the most.

Conclusion

It’s great to concentrate all your efforts on one thing and be the best at it, I agree with that, but in order to be an expert in your field you need to expand your knowledge and have an understanding of how all elements work together.

I know the trend is going for specialists these days but trends come and go and you can’t base your life career on certain trends, learn the basics very well be a generalist at the beginning of your career and then concentrate on one thing you enjoy the most and be a super talented specialist.