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  • What Should You Put in Your Portfolio?

    - John Pearl

  • Group projects

    Most game art programs or 3d based curriculums now have a bigger emphasis on team projects than they have in the past. A lot of them are even modeled after somewhat realistic team structures. Having work from a team project is great and shows that you can work with other people to achieve a larger goal. This is an important skill to have when applying to a job at any company. However, be sure to clearly label your work and contributions in your portfolio. I've seen a portfolio come in and with images of a group project that looked really good with no context for what the applicant worked on. There have been group projects where certain elements were fantastic and we've followed up with the applicant only to find out they didn't work on those elements. Be clear with your contribution in your portfolio.

    One last bit of advice when working on group projects in school. If you want to put it in your portfolio, make sure you contribute some assets or hands on work in it. I've interviewed artists, who had the job of "Producer" or "Art Director" on a student project, where they oversaw the project without directly contributing assets or elements to it. While those two roles in a group project act as a good learning experience, they don't do much for your portfolio. Putting images from a school project where you were in a supervisory role doesn't really impress outside of the class room. Chances are you're applying for an entry level job where those skills won't be what the company is looking for.

    Subject Matter

    I've been asked a lot in the past of what to put in a portfolio. Do work that interests you, but that is also in line with the job you desire. Don't fill your portfolio with colorful hand painted textures if you want to work on gritty modern shooters. Some old standbys that you can't go wrong with:

    • Concept artists - Lots of thumbnails, character and animal poses and gestures, fully realized concepts showing the beginning to the end of your creation process, weapons, armor, color studies, environmental mood paintings, props, variety of subject matter
    • Environmental artist - Props, examples of lighting work, scene composition, level design, texture breakdown sheets, vegetation, destruction, modular pieces
    • Character Artists - Anatomically correct characters(meaning not necessarily realistic but accurate proportions), weapons, armor, faces, textured finals as well as the high poly models
    • Animators - walk cycles, aiming and reloading of weapons, sword attacks, two characters struggling with each other, climbing walls and ladders, traversal over and around a couple objects, and lip syncing

    Some things to avoid:

    • Crates/barrels/dumpsters - While these do appear frequently in games, in isolation they are all very mundane. If you feel urge to make them, work them into a scene and show off the scene, not the individual assets. An unwrap and texture breakdown of these objects really isn't interesting.
    • Overly sexualized ladies - This is a generic catch all, but usually not a great thing to focus on in a portfolio. It's perfectly fine to have attractive female characters in your portfolio; even somewhat scantily clad is ok, just don't overdo it. Also, if you want to show a lot of skin in your art, make sure you do it well and the muscle tone and form is correct. There's nothing worse than terrible anatomy on a character with large breasts.
    • Simple artwork masquerading as low poly - The bar for low poly is an ever increasing target. Low Poly in the Playstation 1 era is not the same as low poly today. Most low poly devices like phones, handhelds and tablets can render an impressive amount of polys. There's no need to make low poly art that doesn't look good and label it "low poly" as an excuse.
    • Overly noisy normal maps - This may just be a personal pet peeve of mine, but normal maps that are noisy for the sake of showing there is a normal map on a surface are terrible. One thing every artist needs to learn is the application of subtly to their art, and normal maps are no exception.

    Implementation of your work

    If you're putting a video in your portfolio, avoid long intro sequences and long black screen pauses. They're not dramatic they're actually quite frustrating to watch. Also, don't feel the urge to make a video if what you're showing can be summed up better in still images. Animations and scene fly throughs are great for videos, where stills of models and textures are better served as high res still images. Also, avoid cliché music or heavy metal in your video. Music shouldn't detract from your work; it should exist to enhance it.

    It's great to have a lot of good looking art in your portfolio, but half the job of a game artist is technical problem solving. While this isn't necessary, it's a great idea to get your art into a game engine. There are a couple of reasons. You'll get the experience of a real workflow, and this will teach you a lot about how you build your assets. You'll have an extra level of experience on your resume. Lastly, it's a great place to take screenshots. Modern engines have most of the bells and whistles traditional offline rendering software have had for years, however it's real time and revisions are immediate. I'd recommend checking out the free sdk of the Cryengine or other free engine sdks out there.


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