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When working by yourself it is generally more difficult to keep a steady income, but the flexibility can be very rewarding.

General Advice

Finding Clients

  • Ask previous clients if there's anything you could do for them. If you did good work for them in the past, chances are they would like to work with you again.
  • Ask former colleagues, people you've worked with in the past. For some people that might be other recent students, for others that would be game developers you've worked with at a studio in the past.
  • Make sure your portfolio link is in your forum signature, and that the site works properly. See Portfolio for details.
  • Post your work in progress on art community forums, solicit feedback, and submit updates. Don't use work-related art, post personal projects you're using to learn new techniques. You get noticed, and emails pop up, asking if you can do X or Y. Do the same process with online art competitions.
  • Go to local industry events and introduce yourself to people, let them know what you do, and that you're looking for new work. You'll also get people you met giving your name to other people they know, who were never there at the event but are looking for talent for something or other. Never underestimate the power of face-to-face communication.
  • Send overflow work to other freelancers you know. Send them work when it's something you're not good at or more than you can do by yourself. You'll find they're thinking of you more often, and sending work your way as well.
  • Create assets for one or more of the online stores (Unity, Unreal, etc.). Not only do you make income from the assets, but you also get noticed, then people ask if you can do X or Y.

Questions for the Client

Get the information you need when you start a project.

  1. Software (i.e. Maya 2012, 3DSMAX 2013)
  2. Polycount (i.e. 1500 tris)
  3. Texture count, sizes, and type (i.e. 3 512x512 textures, head+upper body+lower body, diff+norm+spec)
  4. Sculpt required, or is Crazybump\nDo okay?
  5. Target engine ( UDK, Unity, etc.)
  6. Target screen resolution (in general but especially for mobile)
  7. Player perspective (FPS, third person, top-down iso)
  8. Timeframe (2wks, 4wks, ?)
  9. Concept or reference given?
  10. Sample asset provided? (art style, quality level, tech specs)
  11. Complexity? (complex rig, animatable parts, per-pixel painting, etc. can increase the time needed)
  12. Deliverables? (i.e. finished .MA file with texture flats in TGA format, plus layered PSDs)

Art Tests

See Game Industry#Art_Tests.

Freelance Rates

The following numbers are averages, posted by Polycount members. All numbers are in USD unless stated otherwise.

Freelancer Type Day Rate Hourly
Offshore individual contractor $120 - 375/day $15 - 47/hr
Offshore low-end studio $140 - 180/day $17.50 - 22.50/hr
Offshore average studio $200/day $25/hr
Offshore high-end studio $300/day $37.50/hr
U.S.A. individual contractor $300/day * $37.50/hr *
U.S.A. low-end studio $350/day $43.75/hr
U.S.A. average studio $500/day $62.50/hr
U.S.A. high-end studio $800/day ** $100/hr **

* Individual contractors in the USA generally range from $275 - 500 per day ($34.50 - 62.50 per hour)
** These rates are for rare high-end boutique studios.

Time Estimates

In my experience outsourcing current-gen characters, the average time for developing one from a concept to final and ready to rig is about 4 to 6 weeks. I usually see it broken down something like this:

  • base mesh: 5 days
  • sculpt: 11 days
  • game res mesh + UVs: 5 days
  • textures: 12 days

It can go faster or slower depending on the artist and the specs, but on average that's how it usually shakes out. That's average Hero character spec when I outsource with a studio. That's also about how long it took for the badass character dudes at Vigil for most creatures. Individual contract artists tend to be a lot faster, though, in my experience.

Jon Jones

I usually get about 20 Business days which is about 4 weeks in studio.

  • 2-3 days in Basemesh + Props (Assets Base)
  • 8 days sculpting and detailing + hitting likeness etc
  • 2 days retoppo and building game res mesh
  • ~2 Days Baking Maps
  • 5 days Texturing

of course those numbers are just approximates... since some things go faster or slower depending on the complexity... i should add that's the time estimate on a 12k average complex character... heroes and boss monsters and more complex characters get more time of course...


lol,I rarely get more than 2 weeks( 10 working days) to base mesh/zbrush/retopo and texturing.

Ruz, almighty_gir

I'll keep it rough, but all current- and next-gen stuff I've been working on breaks down about like this... for only the modeling to final texture phase:

  • characters are 4 - 6 weeks (sometimes)
  • vehicles with interiors are 4 - 8 weeks
  • third person weapons are about 2 - 3 weeks
  • I haven't done first-person weapons but realistically I'd guess 3 - 4 weeks.

And when I count weeks, I mean a five-day, 40-hour workweek. And I'm at the point now where I'm seeing characters and vehicles as being a nearly equal amount of effort.

Jon Jones

20days and up would be one mighty complex character, though "nextgen" (as in ps4 xbone) realistic characters can ge quite complex pretty easy and usually start at around 3 working weeks (15 days).


Selling Assets

There are alternatives to freelancing directly for clients. You can sell assets via online stores, which can offer an alternative income stream.


Advice from Ben "poopinmymouth" Mathis from Spiral - Recruitment Thread:

Let me lay out how I work with first time clients.

  • First, we agree on what will be done, any technical requirements, concepts made clear, triangle count, blah blah.
  • Next we agree on a fee and what exactly will be delivered and by what date, and how revisions are charged.
  • Next, I require 50% up front before I start working, by international money transfer, not paypal.
  • I turn in jpegs or gifs of progress at regular stages so feedback can be provided in a timely manner. When the work is complete and both parties agree, I am paid the remaining 50% before I upload the 3d format and textures. Till this point they have seen only see jpegs.

Here is why this works. I would never have made the 3d asset without this client wanting it. I cannot do anything with the 3d asset when I am done, I cannot pay rent with it, I cannot sell it to someone else, and I might not even have enjoyed the process. The corollary, is the dollars/yen/euro the client is going to pay me, can easily be used elsewhere. This makes the exchange rather one sided in terms of leverage since once the work is done they have no reason to pay if they are not on the up and up. Once I have established a working relationship with a client, I can work with invoices, regular payment schedules, etc, but the first time I work with someone new, no matter big or small, I require this payment setup, and if they aren´t willing to work with it, I have to politely decline. This is to protect myself from doing work, and not getting paid. To date not a single client has had a problem with it, and I have worked remotely for many companies of various sizes.

Most experienced freelancers that I know work in a similar manner. If you have no portfolio, and no experience, you might not have the leverage to work this way, but after the first time you are burned by non-payment, you will come with a method to protect yourself.


Freelance game artists typically use one of these methods to be paid by international clients:

  • Direct wire transfer - A few banks offer it free, but many banks charge up to $60 USD per transfer. Corporate clients mostly use this method to pay.
  • PayPal - 2.9% fee plus $.30 USD. Paypal Fee Calculator. Small companies and individuals tend to use this payment method.
  • Personal check - no fees, least secure method, sent via traditional mail.

Other options are available, but they're expensive or annoying to use:

  • Bitcoin (fee varies) Seems to require a series of manual inputs at >20 minute intervals.
  • CoinPip 2% fee (1% for Premier Customers); No minimums, no forex charges
  • Elance (8.75% fee)
  • Google Wallet (2.9% fee)
  • Payoneer (1% fee, plus 2 - 2.75% conversion fee)
  • Skrill (3% - 5% fee)
  • Upwork (10% fee)

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