If there’s one thing you’ll have to be in order to build a successful freelance business, it’s resourceful. 3D rendering artists and visualization artists are only as good as their ability to keep learning, pooling assets, and being able to find exactly what they need in order to finish the job and get it done right.
However, those resources can quickly drain a project’s budget if it requires learning new techniques or building models and scenes from the ground up. It is vital freelancers have a few pipelines to pull free content from so they aren’t spending their entire fee on something they might only be using once.
These are the best 3D rendering resources available online, and each one is entirely FREE.
Let’s go ahead and start with the mother of all open-source 3D modeling and rendering programs. Blender 3D is not only one of the most capable, approachable pieces of visualization software on the market, it has been cultivated and improved upon over the past two decades by the people who use it most. Blender has a dedicated community of artists and engineers, and is a great place to start for freelancers looking to dig their teeth further into professional rendering.
Blender is 100% free to download and use, making it an essential mainstay for any designers working on a tight budget. It can do pretty much anything some of the more expensive pieces of software available, and in most cases is even easier to use. Download it. Now.
Building your own, proprietary library of models can take years to develop. If you need a place to quickly grab 3rd party 3D models, look no further than GrabCAD (see what I did there?). Unlike most 3D model catalogs out there, GrabCAD has an extensive list of assets that are all completely free. It’s a great resource that will let you build out 3D scenes you are readying for rendering without spending all those billable hours building cars, trees, and “guy playing with dog on the lawn.” You can search GrabCAD’s massive database by keyword and find pretty much anything you’d need to support the work you are putting into your finished renderings.
Let’s be honest, SketchUp on its own isn’t a great visualization tool. However, it is free, and when coupled with free rendering software LuxRender, it can be transformed into a powerful little engine that won’t crumble your bank account. LuxRender interfaces seamlessly with SketchUp, and is a great alternative to Blender if you’re looking for something of a bit different flavor.
Additionally, SketchUp is a quicker, more efficient modeling tool than Blender will ever be. If you are a designer using SketchUp as a primary digital design tool, pairing it with LuxRender takes a lot of the pain out of producing good renders straight from your model. This is a winning pair if there ever was one.
Becoming proficient at 3D rendering and visualization, you’re going to have to climb a series of treacherous mountains in the form of software education, design experience, and the constant need to keep getting better. Luckily, 3D Total is here to provide a gondola ride and make that journey a hell of a lot easier. It is an online resource providing free lessons and tutorials for a variety of visualization software.
But even more than that, you’ll also find free textures, the latest rendering news, and an engaged community of teachers and artists who are willing to help their peers get better at the thing they love to do. There’s nothing more valuable than attaching yourself to like-minded individuals who want nothing more than to produce better work.
For artists specializing in architectural visualization, CG Architect is the perfect social media platform to help up your game. The online social space is free to join, and features thousands of artists, engineers, and architectural designers who are focused on making unbuilt buildings look incredible. The site operates in much of the same way 3D Total does, only with the pointed mission of assisting a specific sub-industry of rendering. Connect with other members and build a community of other freelancers who’ve sat in your chair and lived to tell the stories.
For post-production rendering work in Photoshop or After Effects (or maybe your free editing software of choice), it’s good to have access to a host of free textures, cut-outs, and other 2D entourage. Xoio-Air has a vast library of such assets that will make finishing up your visualizations an absolute breeze. It isn’t the largest database of textures out there, but for high-quality textures that are completely free, you’d be hard-pressed to do much better.