Cameron Thomson: From Growing Marijuana To Growing a Successful Studio

I met Cameron Thomson several years ago from a job he posted on the BlenderArtists.com forum. Since then we’ve kept in touch, and he’s been a wonderful inspiration to me. But I did not know how interesting his story was until asking if I could interview him. Join me as Cameron reveals how he went from the marijuana industry to being head of his own 3D animation studio! 

(Josiah:) Hi Cameron! We’ve known each other for a few years now and I only know bits and pieces of your story, but you’re extremely interesting and I could ask you so many things! Tell me about your background before becoming a 3D artist, how you discovered your passion for Blender and 3D art, and what made you decide to pursue it as a career?

(Cameron:) Before I got involved with Blender I was working in the California Cannabis industry as a grower and then while using 3D for some of our projects I discovered Blender. For awhile I actually used Blender to lay out crops, concept spaces, and to create material lists. 

I lived out in the forest and spent most days tending to the crops and the property. Once I decided to switch industries I moved to Germany looking for something new and that is when I started basing a whole new career around Blender. I quickly saw the demand and the infinite amount of possibilities and became hooked right away.

(Josiah:) Hold on… you lived out in the forest? 

(Cameron:) Oh yeah, it was a good time. Total freedom, tons of cash, just rolling around the property on a quad with my dog, no rules. I did that for nine years.

(Josiah:) Why Germany?

(Cameron:) I had been a few times before. Southern Germany literally feels like Lord of The Rings. Its gorgeous. 

(Josiah:) You’ve also created multiple profitable addons for blender and started your own studio under the brand “Essential Elephant”. Can you tell me the story of how your studio came about?

(Cameron:) I have been happy with Essential Elephant since I thought of it, but it has taken some time to understand the industry and how the business should run. I started another label before this one, but I don’t know that this was much more than a name and a small logo. I initially created a studio because I knew this would be a good way to increase revenue, however running a studio can also be a bit stressful since at the end of the day you have to take responsibility for the project. I would HIGHLY recommend that anyone who is really interested in freelancing get the book: The Freelance Manifesto by Joey Korenman. This is an incredible book that is still very relevant and is packed with information!

(Josiah:) How large is your studio?

(Cameron:) I have a few full time and a few freelancing. I have 5 or 6 people working for me at a time. 

(Josiah:) And do you spend much time getting new clients? Or do you have enough returning clients every month that you don’t do much outreach anymore?

(Cameron:) We do get a lot of recurring clients, but I am spending a lot of time getting new ones.

(Josiah:) What is Essential Elephant turning into? 

(Cameron:) Long term, the goal is to transition away from taking client work, and creating more products ourselves for the Blender community. I think I would rather just compete with Blender Market or Poliigon and those kind of players, I think that’s a better way to go and there’s not enough people doing it and honestly if you look at all the other websites there’s not much competition. 

(Josiah:) What would you say to the 3D artist just starting out? How should they be building their portfolio?

(Cameron:) Alright this I think is actually pretty straight forward so I can clarify for anyone who might be wondering. YouTube + 2-3 other socials ( I currently prefer Slack, Twitter, and Stack exchange ) will get you 99% of the way there. There are so many amazing channels with so much new information coming out daily with many speaking directly to how to go about acquiring clients and business. With Blender I have really only taken a few classes and gotten all the rest from YouTube. As far as what I look for when I am hiring, I would say it mainly comes down to reliability, talent, and personality, this is something any top talent has generally. Also as a side note I don’t think I have ever asked anyone I have hired about their education and in 3 -4 years of operations had little to no issues I am happy to report.

(Josiah:) I know we’re both big Blender fans so I have to give you the chance to talk however much you want about Blender! Why do you love it? Why are you betting big in Blender? Why do you think its the future? Do you think we’re on the precipice of a massive need for 3D talent, and how does Blender play into that?

(Cameron:) This is really big because Blender is amazing and has really achieved something wonderful by defying the odds and making a more unorthodox business model really work and not only did it work but it feels so future. I truly think Blender is helping make the world a better place. At this moment I think it is fair to say our 3D demand is blowing up and we are on the edge of building out worlds of immense complexity and depth not to mention all of the activities soon to take place there. 

Blender has provided a way to empower anybody in the world with a computer the potential to educate themselves and make a living through this software. Blender is now a REAL top dog and excels in several different areas and it’s use cases are unlimited, so I think we are about to see some pretty amazing things from the generation growing up with these types of tools and Blender is just getting started!! It hurts my mind to think of what Blender will be capable of in 10 years or 20 years, since it already has achieved such a legendary status. I think the drive and demand for 3D is set to go up up and UP, and I see too many applications and minimal development considering how far reaching and diverse this tool actually is.

Thanks to Cameron for letting me interview him! Check him out on Twitter!

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