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  • Porn Elves and Other Offenses of the Common Student Portfolio

    [06.17.11]
    - Rachel Nador

  • 8. Stylization as a Crutch. If I see a portfolio full of nothing but weird creatures, I wonder if the artist could model anything realistically or from concept. Creatures are fine, great even, as long as you have enough realistic content in your portfolio to prove that you can model anything that's thrown at you.

    9. Wear and Decay. If you're trying to get a job in games or movies, wear and decay are very important.. I see a lot of students who want to be environment artists with scenes that look like architectural renderings (which is fine-- if you want to go into architecture.) A good, old, realistic environment though has hardly any true hard edges, straight lines, or flat colored surfaces, or crazy amounts of reflectivity. A sidewalk, for example, isn't just the color of cement. It might have patches of tar, uneven grooves, cracks, chewed gum, bird crap, cigarette buts, age/water discoloration patches, and edges/curbs often crumble or wear down. You should have textures on everything in a scene and use both textures and geometry to break up the hard edges that don't usually exist in real life.

    10. Show Wireframes. I would never hire anyone without seeing wire frame versions of their models. Models that are clean and efficiently built means that someone more senior won't have to spend tons of time cleaning up your work.

    11. Detracting From Your Work. The main offenders of this are crazy roller-coaster cameras, bad/too dramatic lighting, and low-resolution textures. An animated camera should be barely noticeable, not a version of Disney's Space Mountain. Lighting should emphasize how great your model is, not make the viewer squint and wonder what they are seeing. And I'd rather see no texture than a bad one that obscures the detail in the geometry with badly laid out UVs or giant pixels. Also, object-specific textures are much better than generic procedural shaders.

    12. Licensed Properties. I don't want to see licensed property in your portfolio unless someone has paid you to work on that game/movie. It makes me wonder if the model really belongs to you, and if you would respect any licensing/legal issues of my company.

    13. Other People's Work. One of my biggest pet peeve's is reviewing a student's portfolio, noting the highlights to myself-- and then seeing them credited to someone else at the end. Yes, professionals often use pieces they collaborated on in their reels but if your work wasn't the most noticeable part of the scene, don't include it. Often including another person's work in your portfolio either detracts from it because it's worse (thereby lowering the overall presentation of your portfolio) or emphasizes that your own work is comparatively weak. So act with caution here.

    14. Including the Results of a Tutorial. We all do tutorials. The point is to obtain skills and apply them to your own projects. If you're too lazy to do that, I don't want you working with me.

    15. A Word About Web Sites. Web sites are probably the best way to show your work. They are easy to view and accessible by many people at once. Make sure yours is simple to navigate. Don't' bury your content many pages deep, don't make me watch a slide show, and don't make me download some weird plug-in. Keep your work your work and your blog someplace else, because you only risk offending someone. Finally, if you have animation on there, make sure it's big enough that the viewer can see what's going on.

    Good portfolios are brief but rich with information and detail. They can be surprising but must have a clear focus. And it bears repeating that I would not hire anyone without seeing multiple realistic pieces and clean wire frames. If your work isn't as good or better as what's currently being produced by a company, there's no way that company is going to hire you. Compare your work to other professionals, not students, because other professionals are your competition.

    Being a 3d artist can be extremely rewarding, but many students don't understand how amazing portfolios need to be just to land an interview. I wish the best of luck to anyone reading this and hope the information here is useful.

    --

    Rachel Nador is a freelance 3D artist based in the Chicago area, and a board member of the Chicago Computer Graphics Society. She spent nearly a decade as an environment artist working on games published by Electronic Arts, Activision, Midway, and others. She has also created 3D graphics for film, web, vehicle simulation, and interactive medical and scientific visualization. Her work can be seen at www.rachelnador.com.

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