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With so many resources online, artists can go a long way by themselves. However, YouTube videos and formal training have a lot of differences between them. For one, you can ask an instructor a question. No matter how many times you pause and rewind a video, the artist is not going to clarify their instruction.

Alum Art by Monica Benya

Freelance Hard Surface Artist Cohen Brawley ran into this issue when he turned 17. For many of his teenage years, Cohen was content developing his skills using online resources like YouTube. His own education proved effective, but it was limiting. “I had a decent amount of 3DS Max, of unwrapping to high poly to baking,” Cohen said. “But pretty much, I didn’t know how to perfect that as an artist. I knew from my own work I needed to perfect it a lot more if I wanted to make it in the industry.”

Looking for more insight on breaking into the industry? Check out CGMA course Getting Started in the Game Industry: Interviews, Portfolios, and More.

When Cohen experienced formal training, he realized the differences between what a YouTube tutorial and an industry-expert could offer. With both of these resources working together, Cohen’s portfolio improved drastically and gave him the boost he needed into the gaming industry. Although a self-taught education in 3D modeling can take you far, here are four lessons you simply can’t get on YouTube, including:

  1. Explanation
  2. Feedback
  3. Industry Insights
  4. Technical Elements

1. Explanation

No matter how good a YouTube video is, it’s stagnant. It can’t respond to you or rephrase confusing instruction. You’ll likely end up screaming at your computer, begging to know how they got from step one to step two.

Cohen went as far as he could with tutorials, but was frustrated with the limitation. “I got very stuck with ‘how is this guy doing this, why does this look so good?'”

As a student myself in the 90s…I learned a lot while I was working with a lot of my colleagues by seeing them work. From their technique, shortcuts and styles, it made me understand how the creative process and industry pipeline flow. Bottom line, seeing is learning.

Poe Tan, Concept Artist

Before formal training, Cohen created the weapon below. To many, this is a fantastic product. But Cohen wasn’t satisfied. “I didn’t know how to refine my skill when I got to this point,” he said. “Psychologically, I knew something looked wrong about this photo, I just did not know what it was.”

Both the lectures and Q&A sessions helped Cohen understand the steps he had missed in tutorials.

2. Feedback

Feedback is the backbone of every artist. It can point out mistakes, offer suggestions, prevent tunnel vision, and more. It’s an essential part of working in the art industry, and therefore a huge component of any formal education. Instead of working through the hassle and frustration of trial and error, feedback pushes your project in the right direction and helps you grow as an artist.

Alum Art by Anh Ha

For Cohen, this feedback helped push his weapons design to the next level. He took the course Weapons and Props for Games three times, and you can see his progress from the first gun he created where he knew something was off but didn’t know what.

Getting a professional, trained eye painting over the works you struggled on will save you a lot of time and you will probably learn a lot more this way, rather than watching a video of the same teacher painting his own stuff.

Gilles Beloeil, Concept Artist

“Feedback was pretty much the main thing I was missing in my portfolio, was getting that valuable feedback and being able to improve with it.”

And this feedback isn’t necessarily just about craft or technique. Instructors at CGMA are industry-experts, and can provide insight on best practice within the industry.

3. Industry Insights

YouTube tutorials are typically centered around a skill or project, but may not answer all the questions you have about the industry. A practiced instructor can share more than how to create a great asset. They can share how to create that asset on a schedule that studios would expect. Creative Director and Environment Artist Clinton Crumpler often answers questions about industry-expectations like “Is it okay to use megascans or similar resources while building an environment?” (The answer is yes).

Alum Art by Paul Mcgovern

If you’re looking to turn your passion into your profession, this kind of advice is essential. Cohen noticed that the industry used Maya more frequently than 3ds Max, which was his preferred software. But he quickly learned that exporting work between software was an industry norm, and continued using 3ds Max.

Ready to learn Maya now you know it’s an industry standard? Explore CGMA course Intro to Maya.

4. Technical Elements

Cohen’s YouTube education brought him a long way, but there were certain technical skills he just didn’t know. One gap in knowledge was texturing. Cohen didn’t understand why his weapons didn’t have the same wear as the examples he had seen. His “aha!” moment came when an instructor slowed down this step and explained it in broad terms so students could apply the skill to any project they came across.

An art instructor is not just trained at teaching art, but also at how to give the bits of critique and suggestions that are likely to be most helpful to the student. That is, spot the struggles the students are currently facing and finding the suggestions that are most likely to steer them in the right direction.

Shannon Beaumont, Illustrator

“It made it a lot easier to comprehend: watching him from lecture videos than just watching a YouTube video that will show you one step for five minutes that might have music in the background and it’s fast-fed,” Cohen laughed. “You can’t keep up with it.”

YouTube is a fantastic resource for artists looking to develop their initial skills, but getting stuck is inevitable. Finding a mentor or taking a class will take your work to the next level.


Learn other ways Jason developed his skills and read “How to Leverage Feedback from Unlikely Sources.

Looking for more insight on breaking into the industry? Check out CGMA course Getting Started in the Game Industry: Interviews, Portfolios, and More.

Ready to learn Maya now you know it’s an industry standard? Explore CGMA course Intro to Maya.


CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.