Long-term thoughts for portfolio/career direction

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NinjaSocks polygon
Hey everyone, I'm trying to get some advice for my current situation and i hope this is the right place to post this. Basically I have quit a perfectly stable position as freshly promoted full time lead compositor at a respectable VFX company to try and land a position at a game studio preferably in Europe. The dream is to work my way up to lead character artist at some point just as I did with vfx composting. I have devised 5 objectives to pursue which I believe will help me kickstart my gaming career and I thought it best to get your input about them:

Objective 1 = build a solid portfolio which only includes characters and shows off skills such as:
- Anatomy
- hard surface
- cloth
- hair
- hyper realistic shading
- ability to work from concept art
- ability to work without provided concept art
- all technical skills required to make everything game ready and optimised
- sculpt concepting

Objective 2 = Create industry connections buy building/tending to online presence every day. This includes being active on linked-in, polycount, artstation and zbrush central. Posting WIP stuff will also help in building a better portfolio.(being active includes helping others with their WIP)

Objective 3 = Dedicate 2 days/week to only do tutorials which can be applied to portfolio progress and gain more knowledge when it comes to "substance designer/painter","marvelous designer" and unreal engine developing/artistic sides.

Objective 4 = Research potential Studios to work at and figuring out the process to work in that country. This includes researching stuff like living/renting costs and taxes applied in that country. This would also help figuring out portfolio direction

Objective 5 = Time myself while working and set timing goals in order to review/ compare progress

My Concerns:
- Can't tailor my portfolio to a particular studio since i will probably apply to a bunch of studios. I obviously have a preferred style but I guess i'll try to have variation of style instead of tailored to studio

- Should I build a character portfolio since juniors will probably do props and work their way up to armour and eventually characters? If my character pieces have nice assets and costumes wouldn't that imply that i am capable of building basic props?

I would love to know if I'm tackling this whole thing the right way as having piece of mind will always help to keep me focused on the daily tasks i'm setting for myself. :) sorry about the long post..


  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR polycounter lvl 4
    One thing I would make sure (after you're set in the foundations/basics) is if you want to work in VFX or in videogames. (I realise that you've mentioned video games)

    That said could you post all your most recent work in this thread?

    I looked up your work in the other threads, they are all stylized models that seem to be going in a printed figure/maquette direction, or stills for 2D overpaint for marketing material (which is done a lot in the VFX industry)

    Looking at that work and what's written here I'd say you're going in the right direction though I'm not sure if you're focusing on making these models (particularly the wonder woman) game ready (since you already posed her)

    Many juniors do props rather than characters straight out simply because their characters really haven't reached a point visually or technically for them to be considered competent enough. The term "junior" in this case is decided by the quality of their work. 

    Sure if you've just joined a studio you're probably a junior but if your work is very competent and shows experience you're probably not a junior as far as your work is concerned and you can use that to your advantage on the negotiating table.

    Mind you that I say this strictly with regards to the quality of your artwork, not studio work experience.

    Tailoring your work to a particular studio is a good idea. You could potentially tailor your work to the studio you're currently working at, if they do that kind of work.
    Also you seem to favour stylised, so it shouldn't be too difficult to cater to a particular studio that does that style of work

    About your question whether having nice assets and costumes = props, its possible, but this depends on whether the studio would hire you exclusively for doing props. If your character work is good and they have an opening, they should hire you for their character team where you might do props instead of working on body/head sculpts. Maybe you'll be a texturing artist on the character team.

    Even environment artists do props, it really depends on where you are in a team, especially at a large studio.
    It definitely helps to specialise over time though since you make yourself more valuable and relevant.

    This link explains what you need for a character art portfolio, however I won't say that every artist on a character art team is exclusively doing organic work like head sculpts.etc. They would work on art pertaining to the character team.

    But this is a good benchmark for what you might need. Your portfolio would need a good assortment of completed work with good breakdowns.
  • NinjaSocks
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    NinjaSocks polygon
    @NikhilR Thanks for taking the time to reply in such detail. Your insight is very useful since i'm not familiar with the typical hiring/ranking of an individual in a game studio. So if I manage to get a solid character portfolio, you think it is possible to get hired onto the character team and work on characters from the start (without previous game studio experience)? or is that a rarity even if the characters are at a level they consider competent? As for the characters i'm building, I decided it would benefit me more to work on 3 projects at the same time and go through the pipeline for each in the way listed below:

    stage 1- high poly sculpting for all 3 characters
    stage 2- retopologise to game ready poly counts for all 3 characters
    stage 3- pose all 3 characters
    stage 4- uv and texture all 3 charcters
    stage 5- import into marmoset and finalize work for all 3 characters
    stage 6- show clear breakdowns along with marmoset viewer on artstation for all 3 characters

    This way I enable myself to repeat the same tasks for each project every time. I found that it helps me build muscle memory and learn ways to be more efficient in a shorter period of time. The downside is that it takes longer to actually finish a project completely and it is for this reason that don't have any recent finished work to show on this thread (keep in mind that i have only spent roughly 1.5 months so far). For anyone else who might want to see what the work is looking like so far I've linked them here, here and here. Obviously they need more work because two of them  are at stage 2 and one of them is at the first stage.

    Thanks again for your input!
  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR polycounter lvl 4
       If you're sticking with stylized work, you're going in the right direction in my opinion. Make sure there are stylized studios you can apply for in your vicinity.

       Companies do hire competent character artists for a first job, when the job is overseas and needs relocation, that may cause complications with regards to visa's and work permits in some cases.

       I've known cases of aritsts in countries that could probably never be hired full time in the USA because of visa issues, work remotely as freelance contractors. So they'll have their work experience listed on their resumes but have never worked on site.

       Game studio experience would give you an edge of course when they are considering a large pool of candidates, however with good quality work you can compensate.
     Hiring also depends on a how competitive the market is and how specialized the artist a studio is looking for needs to be.

       If you do get an opportunity to be a character artist in a freelance, indie, volunteer capacity and have someone to vouch for your work in a collaborative project it does help. Make sure you gain from the experience in someway, being accountable means being paid/compensated in some way.

      You should keep pushing the portfolio in anycase with feedback as and when you make progress, since that helps you build your network, and more importantly tells you if you're progressing in the right way. Sometimes others do notice things you've missed.

       As far as your current work goes, the wonder woman character is one I'd push through the game pipeline, primarily since besides being a really interesting stylised piece with good anatomical and hardsurface detail, it has a reference to draw from.

      A reference is vital for a studio to judge your work/interpretation. Its one of the reasons they have art-tests.

      Not to say that all work without a reference would be sidelined, but when your on the job in a studio you will likely be working from a reference to exacting standards. There are very few studios if any that would give artists a free run (especially artists new to the studio)

      You could keep working on the other pieces though I fairly certain its the wonder-woman model that will remain the most relevant as far as the game pipeline goes.

      There's also a difference between a 3D character concept artist and a 3D character artist. Most recent hires would work on assets related to background characters starting out. There are always exceptions to the rule.

      For your work flow, I'd say pose after your texture, I mean down't bake down a posed model (a relaxed to T pose model should suffice) 
    And use the PBR pipeline, its possible to do hand painted stylised work using substance painter/3d coat also.

     Also make sure you model your topology keeping in mind that the model would be rigged and animated (this is what makes modeling for games a unique experience) with adequate tricount providing maximum detail captured from the hi res model.
      Its a smart idea to do multiple models at once starting out if you can make the time. I did the same with my work as well. The key is choosing work that has good reference and challenges you. 

     I wouldn't focus too much on gaining popularity, there are a variety of reasons why people are drawn to some work over others on artstation and I'm not certain how much effect that has on a recruiter. 
     For the time being just enjoy the experience and ask for feedback when you need to,
  • NinjaSocks
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    NinjaSocks polygon

    Thank for all the info it really helps putting my mind at ease that i’m at least planning stuff the right way. 

    Basically i’m choosing projects by checking if it would be a good candidate to show off a certain skill and they all have a 2d concepts which i try to follow as closely as I can (even though sometimes i feel that when I build a form it looks good from the angle it was meant to be seen from but when you view it from a different angle to the concept..it seems off and I end up amending the shapes a bit). 

    I decided that it would be a good idea that one piece out of the portfolio would not follow the concept a closely as the others to show that i’m able to concept if needed to.

    As for the workflow I am baking from the T pose but I feel like I’d rather pose it to confirm that topology deforms nicely before I UV it for texturing (also the the pose helps me confirm that the sculpting is done)

    which brings me to something I’ve been curious about.. I have developed a zbrush plugin-in which enables me to go from a t-pose to a specified pose and back very easily while I sculpt (usually the concept art is in a pose so It helps me see my model in that pose while i work). I love to develop tools for zbrush and maya and I’ve developed small games on unity and plan to get familiar to doing so in unreal engine. Do you think studios consider this as a plus when hiring character artists? should I put more time into this area of my skills? As a former Film VFX compositor I also know how to build motion graphics and I plan to try out Unreal engine VFX, is that also something which could help me land a character artist job? my reasoning i that smaller studios would probably use artists for anything they can get them to do apart from the main role as a character artist.

    As usual thanks so much for your insight. 

  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR polycounter lvl 4
    I think plugin development and scripting for character work falls under character technical director/artist, and that's a great skill to have since there aren't many artists I know that can do that.

    You would gain more insight in that from an artist employed in that role. 

    Here's a link to what that role requires, its usually the same across the board, though once you join a company there is a lot of reshuffling depending on what is required.

    This has more to do with rigging, animation but requires scripting knowledge,

    here's one more

    Motion graphics could lead to a career in UI design in games I think though there are more specific requirements and VFX definitely has applications though I think game companies use mostly in engine vfx so you should probably learn that.
    something like this,

    These are just random job posts, you'd have to check what's relevant to your skill and location, but these could give good insight to what to work towards.
    Main thing though, do what your most passionate about.
  • NinjaSocks
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    NinjaSocks polygon
    very interetsing links! lots to think about. thanks again for your time!
  • NikhilR
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    NikhilR polycounter lvl 4
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