Whether you’re a recent graduate looking to refine your skills to start your career, or a complete beginner looking to break into a new industry, we’re here to inform you of all the amazing free(!) resources out there, including software, mentorships and asset resources.
Nowadays, some people will tell you breaking into CGI requires a degree - but most will tell you the most important thing is a portfolio. So if you’re a recent graduate looking to refine their skills to start their career, or a complete beginner looking to break into a new industry, we’re here to inform you of all the amazing free(!) resources out there, including software, mentorships and asset resources.
It’s no secret we’re big Unreal Engine fans here at CGHero. With it’s latest increment, Unreal brings incredible rendering, beautiful game play and seamless graphics, along with an amazing source of assets and textures with the Quixel Bridge plug in - all of which is totally, 100% free. The software is profitable through revenue sharing - if your Unreal Engine game makes over $3000, 5% of profits is owed to Epic, per quarter. In return for the genius features Unreal includes, we’d say this is a fair price. It’s also completely free to publish a game made through Unreal on Epic Games Store!
It’s no secret that you can do literally anything in Blender nowadays. Model, UV, texture, render, animate, 2D animate, VFX, environment art, lighting, post production… The list is endless. This amazing open-source software is an incredible resource that is straightforward to learn, and has great support for Unreal Engine. Many artists working in the CGI sector, including those on CGHero, use Blender exclusively for freelance work; it is also becoming more and more widespread in studios. EA and Ubisoft are among those who are known to seek out Blender artists specifically for their games.
Recently, Nuke’s founders, Foundry, have released a version of the VFX software for free, aimed at helping hopeful artists hone their skills. Although the free version has some limitations (limited output resolutions, some nodes are restricted), this is a great place to jump in and follow some tutorials.
The best AfterEffects alternative, Blackmagic Fusion 16 has a nearly totally unrestricted, completely free version; no watermarks, no budget subsidiary. The only real drawback is a maximum output resolution of 1080p - however, for most uses this is more than enough. Fusion 16, part of the Da Vinci Resolve group, has been used for digital composition for Marvel and HBO - which makes it totally worth your time.
This is a great alternative to the likes of AfterEffects and Houdini; our advice? Jump in there, follow a few tutorials and build your portfolio, ready for your first VFX role.
Credit: Blackmagic Fusion 16
This UK-based podcast talks with games developers in the industry on how they go about their day-to-day, whilst sharing tips on how to become the best games developer you can be. The focus of this podcast is especially on mistakes developers, producers and artists alike see other professionals making on their games journey, making for an immensely relatable, enjoyable listen. In addition to this, Pete Bottomley, a developer at White Paper Games, has been featured on the podcast, who many may know for their latest title, Conway: Disappearance at Dahlia View, which we at CGHero were lucky enough to work on with the team.
ArtCafe is a weekly (now sadly discontinued) podcast, talking to how the art industry works. Maciej, the host, talks to a range of people from around the globe, looking at all sectors within artistic discipline, including VFX, animation, concept art and virtual reality. Topics vary from how to break into the industry, and how to find work as a 3D artist.
Credit: Draftsmen Podcast
Although not a games focused podcast, Draftsmen is an awesome resource for all things art related; the two hosts, Stan and Marshall, look at everything that an aspiring artist might come across, including overcoming art block, finding a mentor, pricing yourself as a freelancer and tackling creativity. A great fountain of knowledge for anyone looking to develop their skills, Draftsmen is an outstanding guide to becoming the best artist you can be.
The Rookies is a worldwide competition, aimed at anyone who has been working professionally in the CGI industries for less than a year. Dozens of categories are included in the annual contest, including Environment Art, Architectural Visualisation, VFX, 2D and 3D Animation, Motion Graphics, and much more. Prizes include scholarships, software subscriptions and courses. Every entrant is granted access the Rookies’ great supply of resources, with lectures and content from art directors, studio heads and the like.
In addition to this, the Rookies also hosts dozens more contests throughout the year which are open to anyone. If you’re looking to level up your skills, and maybe win a few prizes along the way, the Rookies is definitely the place to start.
Search for a Star and Rising Star are two contests hosted by Grads in Games, a European based recruitment specialist for the games industry. Though limited to European countries (not EU!), the two are amazing opportunities; Rising Star is specifically for students, whilst Search for a Star is for those in their first few years in the industry. With categories in Environment Art, Character Art, Prop Art, Games and Level Design and Coding, this is an amazing chance to get valuable feedback. The prizes include job interviews’ at the contests’ sponsors, which include nDreams, Splash Damage, Rebellion and Playground. From the site:
“Students can receive feedback on their development projects from games professionals, with high achievers invited to take part in an interview with industry leaders at our annual Finals Day & student conference.”
LimitBreak is a UK based mentorship program for underrepresented groups in the Games industry. The scheme partners those in the games industry with a mentor to aid career development, skills and provides some amazing networking opportunities. The scheme covers all facets of games, including UI design, production, marketing and journalism, including more mainstream branches such as environment and character art.
The International Diverse Game Developers is a worldwide organisation looking at boosting diversity in the games sector. In order to qualify for one of the four categories, you must identify as a person from an underrepresented background, which includes LGBTQIA+, people of colour, people with accessibility needs, marginalized genders and veterans. The scheme serves those either still studying, those who have recently graduated, or for those looking to break intro the games industry from an unrelated field. IGDA offers 1:1 mentorship, lectures, networking events, and application and portfolio reviews - all of which is totally free.
The below links are sites with free content options, including kitbash assets, HDRIs, Photoshop brushes, and more. Some of these sites additionally offer courses and guides, including Blender crash courses, Concept and Character art tutorials, and more.
Gumroad is an open-to-all marketplace that features everything from Procreate palettes, to photo editing tutorials, to kit bashing assets. For exclusively free content, set the maximum price to $0 on the filter.
Epic Games’ partnership with Quixel has brought this incredible array of realistic assets, materials and decals to the forefront of the kitbashing community; all assets are completely free with an Epic Games account.
ArtStation’s Marketplace is an amazing resource, with thousands of free assets with an emphasis on 3D. Content includes everything you might need to break into digital art across dozens of software options, including HDRIs, alphas, hair cards - and so many more. In addition to this, ArtStation regularly hosts sales, making a lot of the paid-for content often very cheap or free. In fact, our very own Paul Bannon has a selection of tools available for purchase here.
Earlier this year, ArtStation announced it was making all of it’s learning content completely free. There are some truly amazing video resources in here, all of which was once only available under subscription. This is a great place to get started on your artist journey, and is the best alternative to paid, online courses and classes.
Epic Games is truly the gift that keeps on giving. In addition to hundreds of free assets, Unreal Marketplace makes a batch of selected content free every month. These are often complex Blueprint, lighting, animation or post processing systems, specifically for use in Unreal Engine, which can be used to amp up your level or scene.
Similar to the Unreal Marketplace, Unity’s Asset Store has years’ worth of contributions from the game engines’ thriving community, with new content being added daily. Content on the site includes scripting addons for Unity, such as a visual scripting mode and a FPS kit.
Udemy is one of the best sites out there for beginners; the site’s free resources covers Blender especially extensively, with recorded lectures from art directors and veteran 3D artists alike.
We’ve partnered with several game developers to bring you a series of tutorials right here on CGHero! The ongoing series looks principally at 3D Environment Art, but going forward you’ll be seeing rendering, VFX and animation content - and a lot more. You can check out our tutorials here.
Last but not least, the holy grail of free CGI learning content. YouTube has long been the go-to resource for those opening Blender for the first time, for games students in universities looking to work on their assignment, to VFX artists working on a movie who need a bit of guidance. Possibly the most vast resource out there, the site has literally millions of videos, serving all areas of the industry, in dozens of languages, across all skill levels. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of our favourites:
One of the best out there for more technical content, British YouTuber Dean Ashford shows his viewers how to use Unreal Engine for VFX, mechanics, basic level design and shaders - and more. Dean also runs a Discord community, with plenty of aspiring games devs who are always happy to help if needed. Although the majority of his content is Unreal Engine 4 based, they are backward-compatible with UE5.
One of our collaborators here at CGHero, PinkpocketTV, also known as Israel Rangreji, is a young, enthusiastic and insanely talented indie game developer who makes Unreal Engine tutorials on the side. With hundreds of awesome videos, Israel’s wonderful content makes it straightforward for anyone to jump into Unreal and start creating. You can find resources on environment art, implementing games mechanics, devising cinematics and using Quixel assets to bring life to realistic scenes and settings.
One of the biggest Unreal Engine-based YouTubers on the site, Unreal Sensei creates insanely high quality tutorials, generally based around hyper realistic world building and environment art.
3DEx is a seriously amazing YouTube channel, dedicated to stylized modelling, rigging and animation. His tutorials are clear, using a learn-by-method approach to instruct viewers to make games-ready assets, encouraging viewers to work alongside his modelling step by step. With over 11 years of 3D modelling experience, the channel is especially ideal for those looking to learn zBrush. In addition to this, a free procedural stylized material is available for free through the channel, which is seriously amazing for stylized assets.
3DEx also runs a Patreon site for more in-depth video tutorials with commentary.
Though sadly now discontinued, Danish programmer Brackeys created hundreds of amazing free videos for Unity over his 8 years on YouTube. The channel’s tutorials extensively cover all aspects of game design in Unity, including boss battles, UI and UX design and quest systems. In addition, a Discord community keeps Brackeys’ legacy active, with a bustling community who are always keen to offer help or feedback whenever needed.
Credit: Brackeys, Youtube
A truly talented creator, Jon Beardsell, also known as BeardGames, delivers high quality content based around implementing systems in Unreal Engine, among other games mechanics. Each video is laid out in a easy to digest, simple to understand way, with a clear and often funny explanation for each tutorial.
Simply known as J, this game art focused channel looks at rendering, hair grooming and character art specifically. Many of J’s tutorials have reached over a million views - and for good reason! These are seriously high quality, which make them one of the best free resources out there for those looking to get into digital art.