Last updated 2019/01/11


First of all, problem-solving is not the same thing as debugging. Problem-solving is the more general idea of being able to overcome obstacles by yourself. So, for example, not knowing how to light a scene can be considered a problem that needs to be solved.
Being able to solve issues by yourself and not having to rely on others is a very valuable skill - not just in the CG industry.

Why you should invest your own time

(There's) no such thing as a stupid question

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You certainly have heard this phrase before. So why shouldn't you ask other people for help regarding your problem? You definitely should, but only if you have done your part first. You need to do your research, you need to try to understand what exactly is happening. Being told the answer may be the quickest and easiest way to deal with a problem but it will not help you much in the long term.

There are plenty of reasons why you should try to solve your problems on your own first:

  • By asking someone else for a solution you also spend the time of the other person. This might not sound like a big deal if it's just a small thing but it adds up quickly. Basically, you are asking the other person to invest his resources on your problem. Time, especially that of lead artists, supervisors, team leaders, etc is precious - you don't want to waste it. If other people constantly have to invest time in your work, you are less valuable for the company.
  • You are dependent on others and might easily get stuck if no one is around. This might become a serious issue if you suddenly find yourself in a position where you have to freelance to pay your bills.
  • Doing research on your problem might not solve it but you will learn how to do research in the process. You will get better in choosing the right approach, you will find solutions faster, and you will get in contact with many other concepts and ideas on the way. This will not only improve your research skills but also improve the skills in your particular craft.
  • At the point where you can't solve the issue by yourself and need to ask someone else, you are able to show that you did your research and invested time in understanding the problem. Based on that, other people, especially experts, will be much more willing to help you (and you can't overestimate the value of that). This also shows your supervisors that you can be trusted with more important tasks that may be beyond your current capabilities because you are willing to invest the time and effort to learn what is necessary.
  • Problem solvers are highly wanted and are generally more employable than others.

Despite all those benefits it is very important to note that this doesn't mean that you shouldn't ask people for help, quite the contrary. It's a matter of efficiency. You don't want to spend an hour to find out what one single button does if your colleague next to you can simply tell you. It's a balancing act between investing time in research and wasting time (and money) for the company. This is part of the problem-solving skill, knowing when you should change your approach and, for example, try asking an expert. This is also doesn't mean you shouldn't be a team player. Helping others and answering questions is important. It's the basis of a healthy work environment and may very well help you get a supervising position in the future.

Even after you found a solution, it can be worth asking someone more experienced if they have suggestions on how to solve your problem more efficiently. This shows that you understood, researched and solved the issue yourself but are interested in learning how to even improve on that (which, for example, may very well drastically reduce render times and is always welcome).

How to do it

Learning how to effectively research is part of the research process itself and a matter of experience. However, here are some bullet points that may be helpful:

  • Google it. As dumb as it may sound, this is surprisingly often the direct solution to a problem and ignored by too many artists.
  • Read the documentation of the tool you're using. One of the most fundamental tips and also one of the least respected. Spend the time, it's worth it and will save you much time in the long run.
  • Google it, but chose a more general approach. You may not find a solution for your particular problem in your particular application but it may help you understand the problem conceptually and be able to solve it using forum posts about other applications.
  • Don't just blindly apply a hack. Try to understand why and how it works. Using a magic number may solve one problem, understanding why it works may solve hundreds in the future and tremendously decreases the time you have to spend searching next time.