Archive for June, 2011

h1

Portfolio Do’s and Don’ts

2011/06/22

Today I read a gamasutra article by Rachel Nador that has so many good and valid points, I just have to post it in here. Rachel is a freelance 3D artist with tons of experience, and has reviewed many portfolios. Some of the information she gives is common sense, some of it really can’t be internalized without some application experience.

Here are 15 points that should be like a pattern to go by for your portfolio. I have added some personal comments beneath each point:

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.

You have to understand that for the development of a game, there are many specialized people working together in a team to create the best product possible. Generalists are more often needed in the area of advertisement or very small companies.

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 I also don’t want to see out of date work.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!

Pretty self-explanatory. Often students feel pressed to have a longer showreel and therefore show stuff twice or even three times. If you feel like doing that – just don’t. A shorter showreel is better anyway.

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.

In fact if you want to apply for a modeler-job you should be able to model in any resolution. At the moment I’m working on environments for a facebook game and at this I have to model VERY low-poly. Make sure you do understand the process of creating game environments and characters – your boss will tell you how many polys the model should have.

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.

Can’t agree more. Your showreel is a showreel and not a fancy product advertisement. Your work alone should be good enough to stand for its own without a lot of flashy stuff supporting it.

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.

Please don’t do porn elves. Just don’t.
No just kidding, the choice of the motif you create actually is entirely up to you. And I don’t completely agree with the reasons Rachel states, NOT to do porn elves. The real reason is this: The people that have to review your portfolio literally see ARMIES of porn-elves every single day. They are bored. They sigh every time they see them. Just picture it. What you want to do is to surprise them! They expect you to send them porn elves, that’s why you shouldn’t do it.  Create something nobody else ever has thought of!

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.

Same with anything else. If you can’t do a proper lighting setup for the life of yours, don’t do it. Because if you are not applying for a job as a lighting-artist, you actually don’t have to be capable of working with digital lights. Makes sense, right? Plus, just because you can’t draw or do the lighting in a scene doesn’t mean you aren’t very good in modeling or texturing. Show off your real skills!

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.

While this has a valid point, it isn’t true for everyone. It really depends on what you apply for. If the company you apply at does social media 2D sidescroll car racing games, it’s actually a good idea to include mostly 2D low-poly cars rendered in a 2D-look. You know what I mean? But it won’t hurt to show a range of skills.

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.

Your portfolio should contain both stylized and realistic work, but again it really depends on the company and their type of games you want to apply to work at.

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.

Very true for environment artists. This also includes a very important hint for your everyday life: Learn to observe the things that are going on around you. Watch closely what materials and textures in the real world look like, and include that observation in your work.

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.

Do it! 

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.

A piece of good advice that my teacher gave me: Don’t do camera movements. At ALL. It needs years of experience to handle a camera, even in a digital environment. 

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.

I don’t really see anything wrong with creating “fan art” for a franchise you are a fan of. Your application to Lucas Arts should most definitely include STAR WARS related work. But of course you have to be careful with that, especially if you are going to send your reel do many different companies.

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.

This is probably one of the most important points. I know a lot of students who tend to do this, simply because they don’t have enough content for a showreel yet. So they include shots where they didn’t do major parts of the work. This is fine, as long as you state very clearly what you did and didn’t.

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.

Use what you learned in a tutorial in another concept or with another idea of your own. That way you learn AND have something for your portfolio.

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.

Rachels own website is a very good example for a portfolio. But more often than not, 3D-artists are also perfectionists and want their website to look fancy with a pretty individual design. (At least I do.) Make sure it’s accessable and easy to navigate.

Although the whole article has some kind of negative connotation on it, don’t lose hope for your own portfolio. Even if it isn’t that KILLER showreel yet, remember, you probably have everything you need to improve your skills. Show the work you are proud of with confidence. There is always something that can be done better, right? I hope this article helps!