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  • Porn Elves and Other Offenses of the Common Student Portfolio

    [06.17.11]
    - Rachel Nador
  •  I'm writing this article because as a board member of CGS Chicago and a professional 3d artist for 15 years, I'm often asked to review portfolios. I'd estimate that 95% of portfolios I review would not even merit a job interview. I frequently see the same mistakes and I want to create a document summarizing both common errors and what I would rather see instead.

    Enough introduction, now on to common portfolio errors.

    1. No Focus/ "Generalist" Reel. If you can actually be a generalist, that's great. But that means you have to prove you are good at multiple things. Most student reels I see that are "generalist" in reality contain an unfocused body of work and just prove that they are bad at multiple things. Have a focus to your portfolio. Make that clear-- if you want to do game environments, have a portfolio full of game environments. State this on your resume, on your web site, whatever-- and then follow through.

    2. Too Redundant. I don't want to see the same work in different places on your web site or many times over on your reel. I don't need eight different slow pans over the same simple model. If I see work repeated, I assume it's time to stop watching/browsing because you have no new content to show me. I also don't want to see out of date work. It's better to leave the viewer wanting more than to let them know where your skill set ends. I also feel this way about most "in progress" work I see-- if it's weaker than the finished pieces, leave it out. And even if it's not weaker... just finish it!

    3. Too Low Resolution/ Too Low Poly. Nobody is hiring anyone to make games for the original PlayStation. Even companies that require low-poly work are impressed by higher resolution work. Models should always be clean and efficient. But when I see students claiming their work is "low poly", it's often visibly faceted with blurry textures-- and that impresses no one.

    4. Caring Too Much about the Stupid Stuff. Students often spend way too much time on the things that don't matter: music, titles, branding, fancy flash stuff, or "trying to tell a story" with their reel. Nobody cares about the music on an artist's reel: often reels are watched on mute. In a reel or web site, I feel like simple presentation is the best-- let the viewer focus on your work, not fancy fonts, flashy animated intros, logos, etc. If your reel is so polished that you have time to spend on all that stuff, great. But for most 3d artists, myself included, the time is better spent on actual portfolio content.

    5. No Porn Elves. Porn Elves are what I call the grotesquely modeled mostly or completely nude women with pointy ears. Somehow students think these badly-executed creations are fine as long as they have pointy ears, wings, etc. With nudity, please err on the side of realistic life drawing and not some twelve year old boy's fantasy. If you have nudity in you portfolio, it better be well-executed and should not make me question your ability to work with men and women in a professional setting.

    6. Don't Prove You Can't Draw. I used to think I could draw. Then I worked with professional concept artists in California who work for both the game and movie industries. Those people are amazing. I realized that while I might impress my friends, my high school art teacher, and my mom, I am not a concept artist. I do not have any concept art in my portfolio. If you're not really, really good, neither should you.

    7. Have Substantial Content. As I mentioned earlier, portfolios should contain a related body of work. I see so many student portfolios consist of one environment, one car model, and a character... not enough of anything to get a job. I personally feel that any portfolio should contain three realistic pieces. I can't emphasize enough the use of photos as reference and as texture source too. Many jobs want you to model realistically. Also, if you can model something complex that is photo-realistic, chances are you could model from concept art.

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