I live in Toronto, and I work at a company called Ganz doing 3D modeling for them for a toy line / website they do called Webkinz. If anyone here on DToid has kids, there's a pretty good chance you've heard of them. They're kind of a big deal.
Anyways, obligatory "Top 10" style favourite games list follows:
10. Silent Hill 2
8. Beyond Good and Evil
7. God of War
6. Shadow of the Colossus
5. Guitar Hero 2
3. The Orange Box *
2. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
1. Half-Life **
* Ya I know, it's not one game, but I'm willing to ignore this for the moment for the sake of the list, otherwise I'd have used up 3 slots on it.
** If it wasn't for the original Half-Life, I don't know that I'd be doing 3D work for a living right now. It's what really inspired me to get into games / 3D
So, I've been lurking on here forever now, but never really had anything to say / time to say it...
Just recently I just got a job at a company here in Toronto doing 3D work, and I figured that anyone looking to get into the 3D animation / game design fields might benefit from some advice, cause it's not an easy field to get into. So without further ado, here we go:
1. Educate yo' self, fool.
College isn't always an option for everyone, but there are alternatives. AWESOME ALTERNATIVES. There are all kinds of resources to get you up and running in the whimsical world of 3D.
For beginners, I recommend 3DBuzz.com. They have all kinds of videos available FOR FREE to get you up to speed on a few different 3D packages. They also have forums there to post your work and get some constructive feedback. For intermediate users, head on over to Digital Tutors. More in-depth videos, and more programs to learn. These videos aren't free, however, and have to be mailed to you. For the ultimate in training, you want to check out The Gnomon Workshop. There are really great videos there, and the instructors are industry professionals. They have videos on anything you can possibly imagine wanting to know about, from matte painting to creature rigging to texture painting. As with the Digital Tutors videos though, they'll cost ya, and are sent in the mail.
So now you've gone and got yourself good and edumacated? Good, we're ready for step 2 then.
2. Practice, practice, practice!
Don't be afraid to just go nuts using whichever program you decide to use. It might end up in some wasted models in the end, I know. I realize it's super painful to model something for a week only to ultimately trash it and start over, but you'll learn more by diving head first, and in the end, you'll probably end up looking back at your first models and laughing at how bad they were in retrospect anyway. I have honestly trashed a combination of at least 50 models, rigs, textures, etc. that will never see the light of day. That's OK though, because it'll only make you that much better at this in the end.
3. Get a protfolio started
You have a few options when you decide on before you get started on a portfolio. Do I show off 1 visual that I'm great at, or show a range of styles? Do I only focus on showing off modeling work, or go for the broader approach of showing a little bit of everything? I can't answer these questions for you, because it really depends, but I can tell you what I did and why I did it.
I went the route of showing concept, modeling, texturing, rigging and animation work on one reel, as well as using a few different styles. It sounds like a lot to put on a demo reel, but it's not really if you plan it out well in advance. For me, I modeled a couple characters and a couple buildings / areas. For the character models, I textured, rigged, and animated them as well. Showing off all of these aspects is great because it shows you're diverse and are able to work in any area, although it's best to have one thing you stress more then the others in your reel (whatever it is you're best at).
You can also go the route of picking 1 visual style / skill and sticking with it. I would only recommend this if you're willing to move around the country or there are a lot of studios in your area, and if you're VERY confident in your work, because this approach will limit you.
So now your portfolio is done. Next logical step?
Apply anywhere and everywhere, but here's a pro tip: Most of the big companies that people want to work for (Blizzard, Valve, Insomniac, etc.) will almost NEVER hire newbies unless their portfolio is absolutely jaw dropping, stunning, second coming of Christ type work. You can try if you want, but don't hold your breath. It's a more realistic goal to find a smaller studio to work for. The games that you work on might not be the genre-defining tour-de-force that you were hoping to work on when you got into the industry, but you'll get your feet wet, and get plenty of experience that your dream company will want you to have. In the event that you don't hear from anyone your first time around, don't get too down about it! Go back to your portfolio, trim the fat, and start on a new piece or too to add into it, and try again.
So there you go. A long post, I realize. There's tons more I could go on about, but this inaugural post has gone on long enough I think. Maybe I'll follow up sometime with some general tips in a later post, if enough people want moar. Hope you got some useful information out of this, and I hope I didn't suck.