David returned home during the pandemic and completed his Bachelor of 3D Design and Animation degree online. It wasn’t long before David landed his first job as Lead Cinematic Animator on an upcoming AAA game Lords of the Fallen.
We spoke to David to learn more about his journey into becoming a freelance 3D artist and his time studying with Billy Blue College of Design.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey towards studying at Billy Blue in Australia.
I grew up just outside of Stockholm, Sweden. I love to travel, meet new people and experience new things. After finishing secondary school, I went backpacking in Australia for a while and I decided then that I wanted to come back and do my studies there. I was working for two years to save up the money and I found Berghs, a school in Stockholm that has an international program, through which I finally found Billy Blue College of Design.
What was your study experience as an international student?
It was an amazing experience coming to a new city from the other side of the world, knowing you would spend the next few years there and starting a new life. I didn’t really know anyone when I first arrived, and I didn’t have any accommodation sorted so I checked into a hostel while looking for a flat. I actually ended up staying there for two months. At the same time, I was also very motivated to do well in school. altogether it was challenging at times but incredibly rewarding.
Could you share some highlights from your uni days?
I managed to find a shared flat with a huge rooftop in Bondi where I was staying for two trimesters. Studying at Billy Blue turned out to be a lot more fun than I expected, these trimesters were great. Sometimes I chose to stay home and work on a 3D school project when my flatmates went to the beach, even if I didn't necessarily have to. I was playing football once a week with another group of students and I would often go and grab a few beers with friends somewhere on the weekend. Good times!
What inspired you to pursue a career in 3D Design and Animation?
I have always been a creative person with a vivid imagination. While growing up I used to draw characters and monsters all the time. However, I never really thought of this as more than a hobby. For a long time, I actually considered studying Engineering. About a year after secondary school, I was working at a gas station and that winter I decided to buy myself a drawing tablet. I started to explore digital painting just for fun and this eventually led me to 3D design. It soon became clear to me that this was my true calling.
Is there a particular project that stands out as a significant milestone in your career?
During the pandemic I decided to go back to Sweden and, since I was unable to return to Australia due to lockdown, I ended up having to finish my studies at Billy Blue from there. I was not able to get an internship in Sweden and I did not really know anyone from the industry there, so once I graduated I found it difficult to get that first job. Instead, I took on a job at a restaurant and I spent all my free time working on a new portfolio piece. It was a 90-second long cinematic and it took me almost half a year to finish. I sent that to every studio in Stockholm and one of them offered me my first job in the industry as Lead Cinematic Animator on an upcoming AAA game. I clearly had the right skills.
You recently worked on Lords of the Fallen and Warhammer: Vermintide 2. How did they come about and what was your role on those projects?
On Lords of the Fallen my job was to create in-game cutscenes. I was given the relevant characters, the location in the game and a bullet list outlining an event, usually taking place before a boss fight. This included camera animation in Unreal Engine 5 and animation for which we used motion capture.
It all started when I was contacted by a Swedish studio that had been tasked by a game development studio with making the cutscenes for their upcoming game. They were given one scene as a test and if this turned out to everyone’s satisfaction there would be more scenes to come. I was hired to create this scene and, luckily for me, the client game studio liked what they saw. I ended up making 10 full cutscenes as well as some additional character animation in the game.
About a year later, when I was just about finished with Lords of the Fallen, the studio where I was working started planning for a new Warhammer cinematic. Thanks to the perfect timing and my latest merits, I was hired as the Lead Animator on this project too.
What is the most exciting and challenging aspect of working in the 3D design and animation freelancer?
I have been extremely lucky to land two jobs with a prominent role in relatively big title games. Now I don’t know exactly where, when or what my next job will be. I know that there is plenty of work out there on other cool projects which is super exciting. I also know that there are plenty of really talented artists that struggle to find work right now which is equally terrifying.
Do you have any advice for aspiring 3D designers and animators?
It can sometimes be daunting and frustrating to learn 3D design, especially in the beginning when everything is new; it can feel extremely complicated. It is essential to develop a solid technical understanding and to get comfortable with the different software, especially if you aspire to work as a freelancer – no one will be there to hold your hand.
The only way to learn is to sit down for hours on end and practice. So pick personal projects that you are truly excited to work on for whatever reason and pick something ambitious. Then make sure to finish it! Your portfolio will be the single most important thing when you graduate, and a few really nice portfolio pieces are better than a lot of mediocre ones. If you are studying, keep this in mind. It is often possible to come up with a project that covers two or more course criteria at the same time, effectively giving you more time to spend on creating something great for your portfolio.
It is so worth the occasional frustration while learning though. I have had many “normal” jobs before this and it almost feels a bit like cheating now, to work on practicing your hobby every day and earn a living from it. What makes it even better is that there are so many fantastic people in this industry too!
So what’s next for David Neselius?
My dream has always been to live and work abroad and I just began looking for that job opportunity now since the game I was working on was released two weeks ago. I’m hoping to find a more technically oriented role somewhere now so I’m currently putting together another reel which showcases the technical aspect of my work on Lords of the Fallen. I’m also building a fantasy-style USD-format laboratory in Houdini because USD is cool and I thought it might be a fun side project!
Feeling inspired and want to follow David’s career? Check out his Art Station page.