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What should be in your portfolio?

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I'm helping some students figure out what's missing from their portfolios, so they can focus on what to improve.

I wrote down a list of stuff I look for when evaluating new hires. I'm sure I'm missing some things. What do you look for? Any help is appreciated.


EDIT: latest version is on our wiki... http://wiki.polycount.com/wiki/PortfolioContents




What an Art Director is looking for when evaluating a game artist:


Animator
  • Acting ability... able to convey emotion, tell a story, etc.
  • Good camera work, composition, timing.
  • Realistic humanoid motion.
  • Exaggerated caricature motion (anticipation, squash/stretch, follow through, telegraphing, secondary motion, etc.).
  • Rigging, skinning.
  • Behavior trees, looping, modular animation systems, effects.
Character Artist
  • Ability to nail archetypes: realistic tough man, realistic attractive woman, badass monster, mechanical robot.
  • High-poly sculpting (zbrush/mudbox).
  • High-poly sub-division surface modeling.
  • Low-poly edge-loop modeling, good edge flow, how to make good joints that can deform well.
  • UV mapping.
  • Texturing, both realistic and stylistic (painterly).
  • An eye for color, value, composition, & lighting.
Concept Artist
  • Ability to inspire, come up with new designs, express ideas.
  • Ability to render the same subject from multiple angles, costume variations, different lighting or time of day.
  • Can render characters, buildings, environments, props, vehicles.
  • An eye for color, value, perspective, composition, & lighting.
  • Anatomy, clothing, armor, weapons.
  • Quick sketching & silhouette studies, vs. full renderings.
Environment Artist, Prop Artist
  • An eye for color, value, perspective, composition, & lighting.
  • Whole environments, interiors & exteriors, individual props.
  • Modern urban, pristine nature, rough-hewn primitive town, sci-fi technical.
  • High-poly sculpting (zbrush/mudbox).
  • High-poly sub-division surface modeling.
  • Low-poly edge-loop modeling.
  • UV mapping, lightmapping.
  • Texturing, both realistic and stylistic (painterly).
  • Modular design, modeling on a grid, efficiency & reuse.
Technical Artist
  • Creates tools for artists. Fluent in one or more coding languages: Melscript, Maxscript, Python, C#, mySQL, dotNet, etc.
  • Rigging and skinning: characters, props, environments.
  • Understanding of game art pipelines, clean and efficient code, good documentation.
  • Physics, shaders, performance tracking, optimization, asset tracking.
  • Problem solver, good communication skills.


Didn't get to these yet.
Effects Artist?
User Interface Artist?
Generalist?

Replies

  • Mask_Salesman
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    Mask_Salesman polycounter lvl 10
    I'm not sure that's quite specific enough just mentioning "uses zbrush/can texture" etc. More useful information would be like effective material differentiation between surface types such as metal, fabric and all the subvariants of those, an appropratie gloss map can really add alot to those.
    Wear and weathering than makes sense in occordance to the function and use of the material type and context it will be in etc.
  • deiviuds
    tanks man! waiting for effect artist!
  • unit187
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    unit187 polycounter lvl 5
    I'd add that TA has to have good understanding of math. Because many tools actually use math, shaders also are math dependant.
  • LordSebbington
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    LordSebbington polycounter lvl 6
    Thank you so much for doing this. I'm working through the first draft of my portfolio and I've been asking myself what it is specifically that people like to see.

    As far as texturing goes, how important is procedural texturing or PBR? Things like Substance. It will always come down to the specific company and I imagine a mix is good but do you feel it's leaning any particular way? Is it important for me to consider these at such an early stage in my career?
  • redhonour
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    redhonour polycounter lvl 8
    Question. Are there any new skills or workflows an employer might be looking for as this gen starts up? I ask as an environment guy.

    Thinking specifically about PBR stuff and procedural texturing.. stuff like that.

    LordSeb beat me to it!
  • thatanimator
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    thatanimator polycounter lvl 6
    I wrote down a list of stuff I look for when evaluating new hires.
    what are you basing the animation part of your list on?
    it feels very, google-ish, where you mention a very broad array of skills that are not specific to an animator, but are skills that one would expect other departments to possess. (I'm talking about AAA studios here, indies? do everything yourself, I get it - am there doing that)


    (I'm basing my comments on your list in regards to game animation and not disney)
    Acting ability... able to convey emotion, tell a story, etc.
    before I got a job at a AAA studio in Sweden, I had read Acting For Animators and had the impression that, just as you mention in your list, animators needed to be actors of sorts.
    turns out it's not like that at all.
    Good camera work, composition, timing.
    I have yet to see a game reel with any camera work. if there has been any, it's been all over the place and with a bright background leaving you wondering what's up and what's down.
    camera decisions are - based on my experience, are made by a cinematic director or maybe an animation director.(*1)

    Realistic humanoid motion.
    to show that one knows how a person moves? sure.. I guess. better yet though, I'd want to see a pre-cleaned mocap take of a walkcykle and a cleaned one. :\
    Exaggerated caricature motion (anticipation, squash/stretch, follow through, telegraphing, secondary motion, etc.).
    now you're talking.
    a solid grasp on the basic principles is something I can see an AD looking for. that said, I'm not refering to squash/stretch or cartoony motions, but rather anticipation, follow through, secondary motion and weight.
    if a reel would lack any proper application of THAT, THEN I'd be worried.
    Rigging, skinning.
    why should the studio even bother hiring a tech animator for? :poly009:
    Behavior trees, looping, modular animation systems, effects.
    effects? you mean, the ones the fx artist produces?
    behavior trees, the ones programmers/designers/leveldesigners take care of?
    looping, yup!



    all and all, cleaning motion capture requires little knowledge of animation really.
    it's more technical than artistic, where the artistic parts are not ones you'll read about in a book but rather come from the animator him/her-self.
    such as poses that the mocap actor couldn't achieve, some timing adjustment, some weight adjustment.. other than pushing poses to more extremes, making mocap go faster or slower takes very little artistic skill and I'd assume an anim reel would have to reflect ones artistic skills rather than technical (we didn't need those TA's right?).

    the list you wrote, is basically what I was expecting a AAA studio would expect out of me. ended up I just cleaned mocap. sure there were lots of times where I hand keyed stuff. but then you just need to use basic anim priciples together with some sweet poses and you're set. especially if it's pre-vis before mocap.. doesn't even have to look proper then!:poly142:



    (1)
    assuming you're writing this list for students, who would fill their anim reel with loops and other game play related animations I don't see the point of an art/anim director turning down their application because they lack proper - or any, camera work in full lenght cutscenes.
  • Eric Chadwick
    This is great feedback, thanks! I'm not an animator really, so hearing your perspective is great.

    All this stuff came straight out of my head. So all the blame is mine. :)

    With the actor thing I meant that animators should get inside their character's head, understand motivation, backstory, etc. Isn't motion influenced by internal thinking? Knowing when to add a hesitation, etc.

    Mocap is a different ball of wax tho. Sounds like your job isn't much fun. :(
  • carlobarley
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    carlobarley polycounter lvl 5
    Thanks Eric, Will relink this thread to my buddies still in school :)
    I used this guide back in my student days. Hopefully it can add

    http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014812/Killer-Portfolio-or-Portfolio-Killer
  • Eric Chadwick
    Awesome link Carlo.

    Also thanks Mask_Salesman and unit187, good things I can add!
  • specsowl
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    specsowl polycounter lvl 6
    This is incredibly helpful. I'd like to hear more about characters and how to tailor my portfolio for character art positions. I know I'm lacking but often find myself lost on what exactly people are looking for. However, that list seems like an excellent place to start :) I'll be watching this rather closely.
  • Eric Chadwick
    Check out the end of the GDC pdf that Carlo posted. A good list for Character Modeler.
  • jermaineb
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    jermaineb polycounter lvl 9
    nice tidbits of knowledge :D
  • AbKI
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    AbKI polycounter lvl 6
    This is a really useful thread, thanks for putting this together guys!
  • specsowl
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    specsowl polycounter lvl 6
    Check out the end of the GDC pdf that Carlo posted. A good list for Character Modeler.
    Will do, looking at it now
  • redhonour
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    redhonour polycounter lvl 8
    Any word on them new fangled skills (PBR, Substance)? Does a guy get like, auto black-balled if they don't have em?
  • Eric Chadwick
    Talking with a colleague here, an animator, he looks for a solid understanding of the 12 Disney principles of animation, ability to get inside the character's head, ability to convey emotion and tell story (not just moving across the screen), focus on character work (don't show bouncing ball anims).
  • Eric Chadwick
    Re: PBR, Substance ... IMHO these are pluses to have, but not core necessary skills. They're both still fairly new. PBR might get higher on the totem pole, as more studios adopt it.

    But for now, a good artistic eye and the ability to implement are still the two top skills, and everything else kind of comes behind those. Once someone has those, the other stuff can be taught on the job.
  • adam
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    adam polycounter lvl 15
    What about other disciplines outside of art?

    Level designer? Game designer? Audio? Code?
  • LordSebbington
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    LordSebbington polycounter lvl 6
    Much obliged Eric, I'm still relatively new and getting the lay of the land so I was worried about doing myself a disservice / not future proofing. I really appreciate getting someone else's opinion on these things. Plus, like you say, some skills are fundamental really regardless of the tech.

    I'll definitely be keeping an eye on this thread :D
  • LordSebbington
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    LordSebbington polycounter lvl 6
    adam wrote: »
    What about other disciplines outside of art?

    Level designer? Game designer? Audio? Code?

    This could turn into a beautiful skills tree infographic.
  • adam
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    adam polycounter lvl 15
    Also, I think the wording that leads in to this is a bit misleading. I don't think its fair to say an Art Director wants to see all of those things, just that you have a trust worthy level of skills in what it is you decide to focus on.
  • Eric Chadwick
    adam wrote: »
    What about other disciplines outside of art?

    Level designer? Game designer? Audio? Code?

    Art Director doesn't evaluate those. I'm teaching game art, so just artists at this point.

    I'll add this to the wiki eventually. People can add/edit if they like.
  • redhonour
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    redhonour polycounter lvl 8
    @Eric: Sweet. I wasn't even aware how widespread (or not) that kind of stuff was actually. Talk to one dude and it's 'sweeping the industry'. The next guy says it's a fad.

    Thanks for giving some info on that
  • HitmonInfinity
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    HitmonInfinity polycounter lvl 7
    I think it could be fruitful to discuss what should not be in your portfolio as well.

    -Bios/pics of yourself are unnecessary to me, and could end up hurting you. Linkedin link at the most in my opinion.
    -Old demo reels
    -Sketchbook (if it's not related and/or not good)
    -School projects (ok if you're just starting out maybe)
    -Other industry work such as graphic design
  • Sukotto
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    Sukotto polycounter lvl 8
    Also you should bring up tailoring your portfolio to a specific studio. If you're applying to Riot you don't want to show 5 realistic military guys and only 1 stylized fantasy character.

    Even though I agree with a lot in that PDF and totally respect the vets that created it, I can't say I agree about showing a wide variety of styles for character art/environment art. Some character artists on here that I follow (Gav, Hazardous, Josh Singh, etc...) have a very specific style to their portfolios, showing focus. While the subject matter of each character is different, the overall style is pretty similar throughout. But because of the quality of their work its obvious they understand realistic anatomy, weight, pose, surface materials, etc..

    I think it comes down to tailoring your portfolio to a specific company and making your own statement as an artist. I've gotten some feedback about my portfolio at GDC that it lacks a 'personality' so to speak, it doesn't carry my artistic brand. And I've been working to remedy that.
  • Dudestein
    Sukotto wrote: »
    Even though I agree with a lot in that PDF...

    I think it really comes down to how wide a net you want to be able to cast or, put another way, how many doors you want to leave open for yourself professionally. There are absolutely people who have developed an identifiable style and been very successful in doing so. Pascal Blanche is really good example. And if you're able to do that and find a shtick that the masses rally behind, then that's awesome. I would say you've beaten the odds. But if you want to cover all your bases, and not preclude the opportunities to work on both realistic and stylized projects, then that should obviously be reflected in your portfolio.
  • Sukotto
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    Sukotto polycounter lvl 8
    Agreed Dustin. You summed my point up better than I :)
  • Eric Chadwick
    Good points.

    Good point adam, will try to prioritize into "must haves" vs. "pluses"

    One thing I want is brevity, tl;dr and all that. I think a "don'ts" list belongs in another place.

    Big caveat here... one guy's opinion, lots of differing opinions out there among the people hiring, etc. One size does not fit all, blah blah blah. Will add this somewhere.
  • Steve Schulze
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    Steve Schulze polycounter lvl 15
    I think it could be fruitful to discuss what should not be in your portfolio as well.

    -Bios/pics of yourself are unnecessary to me, and could end up hurting you. Linkedin link at the most in my opinion.
    -Old demo reels
    -Sketchbook (if it's not related and/or not good)
    -School projects (ok if you're just starting out maybe)
    -Other industry work such as graphic design
    Don't be too hasty to throw out things that will differentiate you from others though. The physical sculpts I have on my folio often go down well despite them being only peripherally related to digital art and not really of mind blowing quality, if I'm honest.
  • Jeff Parrott
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    Jeff Parrott polycounter lvl 15
    Attention to detail
    Ability to render a concept image into 3d art/game space (I don't ever see this enough)
    Competent understanding of material pipeline and terms
    Dedication to improve (keep making stuff and post wips on a blog or something. It's nice to see people continually improving and working at the craft)
  • Lee3dee
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    Lee3dee polycounter lvl 12
    Awesome Thread!!! Interested to read what the Effects Artist section will cover.
  • semmel
    This thread is incredibly relevant - thank you guys so much for the insight!
    One question I'm really interested in hasn't been answered yet though - what should a generalist have in his portfolio?
  • almighty_gir
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    almighty_gir sublime tool
    for generalist, and please bear in mind i've never hired someone. I'd say that where say, a character artist would be expected to have expert knowledge of character art, and a passing knowledge of another. a generalist would be expected to have a good "working" knowledge of at least two disciplines.
  • Shrike
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    Shrike interpolator
    For UI Artist

    - traditional background at best / strong 2D art (graphic design) skills
    - very good at creating icons, the more vector knowledge the better (illustrator)
    - very proficient with colors, values, perspective, composition, & lighting and presentation in general
    - good knowledge about fonts and their usage
    - moderate layouting & composition skills
    - decent understanding of UX and menu flow
    - often flash knowledge is also wanted

    - VFX, 3D, Engine knowledge is a plus

    Graphic designer should be about the same just without the UI things
    and more of the rest I would say.

    A UI Designer or DesignerArt crossover needs to be
    a lot more proficient with user experience, layout, flow
    and more technical skills to provide mockups, know flash,
    a little coding at best
  • Denny
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    Denny polycounter lvl 12
    -Bios/pics of yourself are unnecessary to me, and could end up hurting you. Linkedin link at the most in my opinion.
    Please elaborate on this. Why would it hurt to tell possible employers who you are?
  • Justin Meisse
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    Justin Meisse polycounter lvl 15
    Denny wrote: »
    Please elaborate on this. Why would it hurt to tell possible employers who you are?

    Well, even though it's illegal to discriminate based on age, sex, race, etc.. (in the US at least) it still happens even if it's subconscious on part of the person hiring you.
  • ExcessiveZero
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    ExcessiveZero polycounter lvl 6
    • Boobs
    • Poetry
    • Stylistic black and white photos of yourself, preferably looking off into the distance
    • Political/religious views
    • List every app you ever glanced at
    • add some autoplay music to entertain the viewer and be sure to hide the off button somewhere
    • make sure it all runs in flash or something that takes long to load with alot of cross browser problems
    • Be sure to state how you are not a people person.
  • jddg5wa
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    jddg5wa polycounter lvl 6
    So I am just curious, where in your portfolio does the part go that actually says your looking, or not, for a job? Often enough I see portfolio websites with contact info and resume but there is no call to action. I don't think I can ever agree that a call to action would not help. Are there calls to action that I am not noticing?

    After all your not just displaying what you can do but your also selling a skill set that an employer essentially "needs" to get their project done.
  • HitmonInfinity
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    HitmonInfinity polycounter lvl 7
    Well, even though it's illegal to discriminate based on age, sex, race, etc.. (in the US at least) it still happens even if it's subconscious on part of the person hiring you.

    Yup. Just let the art speak for itself.
  • HitmonInfinity
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    HitmonInfinity polycounter lvl 7
    Jackablade wrote: »
    Don't be too hasty to throw out things that will differentiate you from others though. The physical sculpts I have on my folio often go down well despite them being only peripherally related to digital art and not really of mind blowing quality, if I'm honest.

    Yeah, i totally agree. I guess I'm just saying keep a critical eye if you're going to post wip/sketch stuff. That really goes for everything you post though! :)
  • Eric Chadwick
    Calls to action are unnecessary, really. When you make an online portfolio you are specifically saying "I am looking for work". People will contact you if they need something done and they like your work. A prominent email link is all you need.

    But really, you need to be chasing down those leads yourself, not waiting for others to contact you. Even long-time professionals need to keep reaching out to find new work. IMHO of course (like every post on every forum, haha!)
  • Eric Chadwick
    OK, made a wiki page for this. Added a lot of your feedback. Still want to add items from the GDC paper.

    http://wiki.polycount.com/wiki/PortfolioContents
  • Neox
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    Neox ngon master
    i would be happy if i would see that the youngsters learned modelling in their game schools, interns, juniors can't model anymore these days. it is horrible. zBrush is nice and all, but it is a mess, unless you know what you do and without experience in production the result will be horrible for anyone else to work with :X
    So yeah, sculpts are nice and all but if i look at portfolios, i now look if there is any proper clean modelling involved.

    about the character list

    so thats 2 realistic human characters and stylized monsters and robots? because texturing wise it's realistic and stylized, but realistic humand with stylized textures would make them stylized, not realistic ^^

    Afterall I want to see great art in portfolios, realistic or stylized, if it is good i can find a way to use a person in a production, we have realistic or stylized games, i don't mind the one man band type of guys but i also don't mind specialists I can only hire for specific tasks.
  • haiddasalami
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    haiddasalami polycounter lvl 10
    Personally in terms of tech artists we're moving from script monkeys to proper tool development with software engineering practices. So maybe showing the process of the tool development would be good.
  • Eric Chadwick
    That's a good point Steffen about stylistic vs. realistic. Will try to clarify this.

    Clean modeling, yep, maybe I should move the lowpoly modeling up higher in the list. Add something about clean topology.

    Software engineering practices, thank you, will add.
  • aajohnny
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    aajohnny polycounter lvl 9
    For Environment artists I think visual storytelling is important.
  • RogelioD
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    RogelioD Polycount Sponsor
    For my folio as an Environment Artist I really tried to convey that I am capable of creating a breadth of different genres and styles. I don't believe in tailoring my folio to a certain studio. I think that if I do a project that a certain studio likes, it's great. But those intelligent, artistic people should also be able to discern from my other styles that I do know what I am doing. I find it hard to believe that a studio would turn down fantastic work technically just because it's a different style.

    Also as an Environment Artist I try to convey story and tone through my work. I think that a piece of artwork that is technically great is, exactly what it is, great. But a piece of artwork that is technically great AND that conveys principals of DESIGN, STORYTELLING, MODULARITY, COHESIVNESS, ETC are EXCELLENT. That stuff is extremely important as well. Showing that you know more than modeling is so important. Ligting and Texturing are skills that I pride myself with knowing and could possible come in handy at some point.

    I try to focus on having Full environments but with detailed props that live within them,
    breakdowns of what you have done and experimented with during your projects. Concepts, ideas, workflows.... if you have done the work, do yourself a favor and show that you knew what you were doing and show that you can explain your process.

    Also, specifically for Game-Artists, showing that you know how to put your content in an engine is IMPORTANT. No one wants to see maya or zbrush captures. Presentation goes A LONG way and part of that is showing that you are willing to take the time out to learn a new engine and master it. And then, once you get your render throw your name on that B and while you're at it, give it a nice subtle border or you know, anything to show you're not a boring person just grinding out work. Have fun with it! Keep it professional, but show that you CARE.

    As for the site itself, the less amount of clicks the better. From the home page of my folio you can get straight to the environment AND breakdowns with one click. Pretty much anything that matters on my site can be achieved with one click. That is important to me because I've seen busy AD's skim over hard to navigate folios.

    Clarity is also important. I see too many folios with tiny ass thumbnails that I can't even discern.

    Only put your best work! This is something that I could learn to do better as I have a ton of work to show and feel bad at the prospect of taking some of it off.

    TLDR; just be diverse and show that you do have the skill-set to be successful in the industry. Convey tone and story through work, show it off, and make sure your site is clear and easily accessible. Don't forget to include a link to your resume and linkedin as well.
  • Eric Chadwick
    I think it actually makes sense to tailor your work to a specific company... if you really want to work at that one place. It's generally not good to place all your bets on one horse, as it were. But if you really want to be there, go for it 110%.

    Art Directors tend to get tunnel vision when they're deep in their project's aesthetic.

    Good example even though they're gone. 38 Studios was looking only for painterly style work. If you had rocking realistic work, nope. You had to prove you could rock the painted style. Which makes sense, since that's exactly what they were doing.

    Blizzard has a similar proclivity for the majority of its studio work... be an excellent painter, and you'll get noticed. Jessica Dihn comes to mind.
  • RogelioD
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    RogelioD Polycount Sponsor
    I think it actually makes sense to tailor your work to a specific company... if you really want to work at that one place. It's generally not good to place all your bets on one horse, as it were. But if you really want to be there, go for it 110%.

    Art Directors tend to get tunnel vision when they're deep in their project's aesthetic.

    Good example even though they're gone. 38 Studios was looking only for painterly style work. If you had rocking realistic work, nope. You had to prove you could rock the painted style. Which makes sense, since that's exactly what they were doing.

    Blizzard has a similar proclivity for the majority of its studio work... be an excellent painter, and you'll get noticed. Jessica Dihn comes to mind.

    I completely respect that sentiment and actually, for the most part, I do agree in the broader sense.

    I just really believe in working on the the style you are most passionate about. That work will align with MANY studios, not just one. If you are going for a painterly and stylized look because you want to work for Blizzard, that style would apply to many other studios as well. But if you are passionate about more than one art style, I really think showing that you are versatile enough to do both really doesn't hurt. I think it's the tunnel vision you mentioned as well as a bias against versatility... some people take the same attitude towards versatility as they do towards generalists (flakiness, un-focused, etc.)... and overall I think that is ill advised. Versatility is never a bad thing in my opinion.

    In the narrower sense, I don't agree. How am I going to pay my big-boy-bills if all I'm trying to do is get into one studio? I don't do game art because I love one company, I do it because I absolutely love the craft. I hope that my favorite studio will one day pick me up (NetherRealm Studios) but if they don't I am MORE THAN happy to work elsewhere (at their sister company, for now) as I perform the tasks I love, keep pushing myself to learn more, and work with people I care about.

    Sorry to get off-track...but again, in that broader sense I do absolutely agree. Work on art that you love and care about and the rest will come.
  • Eric Chadwick
    What are the top things that should be in an Effects Artist portfolio?
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