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  • Career Advice: Creating Your Demo

    [05.25.06]
    - Marc Mencher

  • Game Artist?

    Although some game careers don't necessarily require a demo, you simply can't become an artist without presenting a mind-blowing demo reel. The best format is a Web site or CD containing clips from games on which you previously worked. Of course, if you're trying to break into the industry, you won't have professional game clips to show off, so you'll need to get creative.

    Game companies receive literally hundreds of demo reels each month from aspiring artists and, as you might imagine, very few make the cut. Unfortunately, in most cases, it's the submitted material -- not the individual's skills -- that gets in the way of scoring a job. So how does one stand out from the crowd?

    Don't try to be a jack-of-all trades. Use your demo to highlight and emphasize your strengths.

    Are you an animator? If not, don't put animation in your reel. If you're a great animator but can't model, use someone else's models. Are you a texture artist, are you good at color composition, at lighting? Abstract or cartoon characters in your demo instead of realistic human or other carbon life forms is an immediate warning to an art director. If you can't really build characters, don't claim you can. Spend your time refining the few elements you're exceptional at, rather than trying to be good at everything.

    Here is a list of suggestions for designing your demo:

    Exercise #1: Generate a series of concept drawings, color comps, and construction layouts based on an original game concept, or take an existing game, book, comic, or film franchise and visualize elements from it, as if you were preparing initial images for a game project. Include conceptual images of characters, objects, environments, and possible story/game scenes.

    Exercise #2: Based upon these concepts -- and using one of the noted 3D software packages (preferably one that a prospective employer is using in production) -- generate several models. Choose examples from each asset type that you have conceived: characters, objects, creatures, vehicles, and structures.

    Exercise #3: Now that you have several models, it would be a good exercise to create and apply appropriate textures to fully realize your aesthetic vision. Using Photoshop -- and possibly DeepPaint3D or another UV mapper -- apply these textures to your models.

    Exercise #4: Taking your textured models, set them up for animating, if necessary, in your 3D software package. If you are not a proficient animator, apply mo-cap or pre-animated files to your armature. If you are an animator, create several short move animations of 30 to 60 frames, including a walk/run cycle, several periodic personality idles which reveal your ability to “act” through your character model, and a couple of dynamic action moves to stress test your model.

    Exercise #5: Finally, either using a standard 3D software package or a commercially available level/world editor, create an acceptable example showing your abilities at building an exciting, compelling environment. Keep it limited in scope so that you can use your limited resources of time and materials to make the most professional quality portfolio piece of a world.

    Concentrate on those exercises that represent your best work for your targeted career goal (whether that's a concept artist, modeler, texturer, level builder, animator, or interface designer).

    The results of these exercises should yield quite a portfolio of game art assets that, if consistently polished to a higher production value through honest self-critiques and re-edits (and using successful marketed products as the paradigm), they will no doubt fuel a very appropriate demo presentation to prospective employers.

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