Best Cities to Start a Career as a 3D Artist

Being the center of the film industry, California has always been a hotbed for computer graphics, and it's no secret that there have traditionally been a lot of 3D jobs in L.A and San Francisco. But competition in those areas is fierce, and the high cost of living can make a "leap of faith" relocation seem rather perilous.

Here are the cities where we feel an English speaking job-seeker will have the best chance at finding work as a 3D artist within a reasonable time-frame. All of these areas are either on the rise or already well established when it comes to jobs in 3D computer graphics.

Although job growth in the CG industry is above average compared to many American markets, it would be naive to say that 3D jobs are "abundant." The cities on this list are a good place to start looking, but even with a solid reel, moving to one of these locations will not guarantee that you'll immediately find work as a CG artist. Use these regions as a starting point, but always keep in mind that there are hundreds of smaller studios scattered around the globe that are equally worthy of your investigation. Check out this interactive map of most of the world's game studios — an awesome resource and definitely worth a look.

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Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, BC

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We put Vancouver first. Partially because it's a great town, but more because Vancouver is where it's at when it comes to 3D.

Pixar, Digital Domain, ILM, Sony Imageworks, Moving Picture Company, Rhythm & Hues, Method Studios, Image Engine — all have studios in Vancouver, and that's just the big names.

For those looking to break into the game industry, Rockstar, Ubisoft, Relic, Next Level, Disney Online, Capcom, and Nintendo Canada are some of the major players among dozens of smaller developers.

Vancouver's studios are in the same neighborhood as a few of the best schools in the industry, so there's a healthy amount of competition here. The good news? If your reel isn't good enough when you arrive, at least you know there are resources a few blocks down the road that can help you make it better.

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Los Angeles County, CA

Los Angeles

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L.A. is a little bit like Vancouver, but with more studios and more pollution. Hollywood isn't for everyone, but you're selling yourself short if you're interested in 3D and don't at least consider Southern Cal. The number of studios in greater L.A. is pretty staggering.

For film and animation, you've got Dreamworks, Digital Domain, Walt Disney Animation, Blur, Rhythm & Hues, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Vanguard, Zoic, and a substantial array of smaller houses with various specialties in FX or motion graphics.

On the game development side: 2k Games, Activision, Infinity Ward, Blizzard, EA, Insomniac, Square Enix, Buena Vista/Disney Interactive, Konami, Treyarch, THQ, etc.

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Greater London & Southeast England, UK


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Fueled in part by graduates from a strong animation program at nearby Bournemouth University, London has become the center of operations for 3D production outside the US/Canada.

For film and commercial work, Framestore, Double Negative, Moving Picture Company, and The Mill are firing on all cylinders these days.

There's no scarcity for game developers in the UK's capital either — it's almost as if every publisher that wanted to have a presence in Europe decided to set up shop in London. Activision, Atari, Buena Vista UK, Criterion, EA, Eidos Interactive, Konami, Lionhead, Rockstar, Sega, and Square Enix all have locations here. Start working on that fake accent...we mean...demo reel.

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San Francisco / Bay Area, CA

San Francisco

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Aside from the two enormous elephants in the room (Pixar & ILM), the Bay Area is a little bit lighter than previous entries when it comes to opportunities in the film industry. But Pixar and LucasArts play second fiddle to no one, so San Francisco deserves a place on the top half of the list. Sadly, San Francisco lost hundreds of effects jobs when The Orphanage closed in 2009.

On the game development side, the outlook is somewhat better. You've got the 2K main campus, Eidos, Capcom, NAMCO, LucasArts, Maxis, Ubisoft, Linden Lab (Second Life) and Zynga among many lesser studios. The Bay is a pretty good place to be a game developer.

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Montreal, QC


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Montreal appears to be a city on the rise.

In addition to an absolutely enormous Ubisoft studio, Square Enix announced in Nov 2011 that they'll be bringing hundreds of more jobs to Montreal by opening up a new studio and adding staff at Eidos Interactive. Other notable representatives from the game industry include BioWare, EA, and THQ.

For visual effects work, there's Modus FX (who completed shots for six feature films in 2011), and Hybride, an Ubisoft subsidiary with a long list of feature credits to their name.

Also notable — if you're a software engineer, the headquarters for Autodesk's Media Entertainment Division (think, Maya, Max, Mudbox, Softimage, etc.) are located in Montreal.

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Toronto, ON

Toronto skyline from the water at sunset

Robert Lowdon / Getty Images

Arc Productions (formerly Starz) is Toronto's only real presence for feature level animation, but there are tons of smaller boutique shops doing motion graphics and commercial work.

A lot of the smaller houses specialize — for instance, one shop might primarily do commercial VFX, while another focuses mainly on architectural visualization. Rather than list them all here, check out this list, which thoroughly summarizes the film & VFX industry in Canada.

You won't find as many game studios here as you would in Vancouver, but there are some big names, including Ubisoft, Rockstar, Disney Interactive, and Zynga (who seems to have made it into virtually every major city in North America at this point). 

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Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, WA

Space Needle and high rise buildings in Seattle city skyline, Washington, United States
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Seattle might be the major city, but the Puget Sound region is really the sum of its parts.

Although there aren't many options for people looking to work in film or visual effects, thanks in part to a certain enormous software company in Redmond, the game industry has a very solid presence here.

Bungie is in Kirkland, Microsoft Game Studios and (ironically) Nintendo are both in Redmond, Valve and Sucker Punch duke it out in Bellevue, and finally, you've got Linden Labs, Zynga, and NCsoft West in Seattle proper. So yeah, there are options in the Pacific Northwest.

Another reason I included Seattle: There's no denying that this entire region is a technology hotbed. Being in Seattle definitely makes it easier to apply for industry jobs in Vancouver (or Portland, or even San Francisco) than if you were living in, say, Texas.

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Austin (and to a lesser extent, Houston), TX

Capitol building, aerial skyline, sunset, Austin, TX, Texas State Capital
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Contrary to what I may have implied just a minute ago, Texas is hardly devoid of jobs in the computer graphics industry — far from it, in fact.

We realize that Austin and Houston are over 150 miles apart, but for the purpose of this list, we'll keep them together. Austin is definitely the more fruitful pasture, but if you're looking for work there, it can't hurt to keep Houston in mind.

BioWare Austin recently wrapped up production on the wildly anticipated Star Wars MMO The Old Republic, and if you know anything about the MMO genre, you're aware that a developer's work is never really finished. Assuming the game is a success, there should be plenty of work at BioWare for years to come.

Speaking of MMOs, Blizzard and Zynga both have studios in Austin, alongside NCsoft and Mac publisher Aspyr Media. The market for game developers in Houston is pretty dry, but Archimage does a wide range of CG work, from animation to architectural visualization.

Finally, thanks to the presence of the oil industry in Texas, you may be able to find opportunities to use your 3D skills at an oil company. Although keep in mind you'll probably have to learn new software, and it's rather doubtful they'll let you design video game characters while you're on the clock.​

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Aerial view and skyline of Madrid at dusk. Spain. Europe

Eloi_Omella / Getty Images 

None of the previous suggestions tickle your fancy? Maybe it's time for a move overseas? Or to Connecticut? Here are some outliers and international options:

  • Wellington, New Zealand — WETA Digital
  • Greenwich, Connecticut — Blue Sky
  • Rockville, Maryland — Bethesda Softworks
  • Sydney, Australia — Animal Logic, Konami, Sega, Take 2 Interactive
  • Glasgow, Scotland — Axis Entertainment
  • Edinburgh, Scotland — Rockstar North
  • Sao Paulo, Brazil — Disney Interactive, EA Brazil, Ubisoft
  • Madrid, Spain — EA Spain, Take 2 Espana 
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