"Time To Get Serious and Get the Skills for a 3D Enviro/Prop Artist Job!" - The Sequel, N:th edition

STORY TIME SHIT FIRST

I'm a Finnish game artist, 26 years old, with a small resume and smaller portfolio. So after 9 months of moping around after I was done with the military, after I was done with my cool LEGO internship, after I was done with everything from uni related to actual game work... I got a job doing some animation for a startup making surgical simulations. Then, after three months, I was fired. Sure enough, it was a startup company, and the lack of any serious motivation for firing me may have been due a lack of funds rather than my skills, but... My skills need work.

So this is my n:th attempt at getting my shit together. I love 3D game art, but I've had this weird fear of actually getting my head down and working on my skills every day. Well, I'm probably not alone there, and there are probably people who have gotten through that, even though the fact that I set out on my game dev journey in 2011 and it feels bad to be one of the handful of artists from my class who aren't employed doing cool stuff by now.

Well, that's the sensitive, self-pity sob story stuff out of the way, I wanted to be open about where I am. For someone who have been doing 3D since 2011, I don't have a lot to show for it. So while I'm browsing the posts by similar people with similar situations asking for similar advice, I figured I'd bravely make my own shitpost about it, and see what morsels of feedback and advice I could gather!

WOT IT IS


Above, the grand total of my portfolio. It is outdated, and almost all of it older than a year, February 2018. I want to do 3D Environments and Props, and while small indie studios are attractive to me as well, ultimately I figure that AAA houses is what I'm shooting for. I'm not rooted anywhere in the world, if there's a job opening happy to take me anywhere, I'll go there. I have gotten some feedback by generous, patient pros, and I do have some idea what I ought to aim for.

Six quality pieces. I'll likely make a separate cathegory in Art Station and just link this as my portfolio, since the portfolio format thing looks kinda crap, right?

- 2 Hero Props/Guns, current gen, nicer than the ones I have.
- 1 Environment. Well scoped, realistic, works in Unreal.
- 1 post with my cel-shaded stuff from before
- 1 semi-realistic, stylized hero prop?
- 1 tank?

Regardless, I think I need to start with an actual environment, and a nice gun. Oh, and taking care of the formalities and finally getting my graduation papers from school likely wouldn't hurt.

Now, that's enough about what I think, I came here to listen to what YOU think, good people generous enough with your time to actually read this. What would you say is the first thing I should attack with my portfolio? What would be a good check-list for me before I can expect to actually get noticed? How long should I expect to spend on that? Is my aim of 3D Enviro/Prop artist in AAA realistic, or does it seem like I'd have better chances working towards something else? I do enjoy stylized art for more casual games, should I keep that more on the hobby-side or should I keep it in my portfolio? And any other pointers or roasts you feel like adding.

I'm out here to be vulnerable and to learn, so feel free to be as real as possible with me.

Before I let you have at it, here's some highlights from my portfolio.



...I have sketchfab models, but the links wouldn't work.

The general vibe I'm getting from most feedback is "Just fukken do something, watch tutorials and make shit, goddamnit", and that makes sense too, but I wanted to make this post, even if no one replies and it ends up being just for the record.

I've applied to a number of smaller companies in Finland for now, and I hope to pick up better artist habits and start making noticeable changes to my portfolio and general attitude towards work and life.

I can survive with social security at the cost of my confidence for now, and I have a safety net in the form of a culture and arts funding for a 12 month art project that I can activate whenever I want within the next three years. The funding project is limited to a theme I've already pitched, namely one stylized environment per month. Realistic stuff doesn't get art funding, but of course, stylized, cartoony stuff might not get me a job.

With that mess of stuff in mind... Any input, thoughts, feedback, suggestions, headshakes, or whatever you can think of, is welcome. Thank you.

Replies

  • Lassiter
    Look at your portfolio I think your cell shaded work is actually really great but the props with real world materials need some work. The texturing especially. The grenade I would cut entirely and the rifle I would look at redoing the textures to get some more detail . Often I hear that you should find something you want to do a focus your portfolio on it. Things like your vector art and 2d work are honestly pretty good but arnt neccessary for a prop position. If you are looking for small studios then theyre more appropriate.  
  • KranckAttack
    Lassiter said:
    Look at your portfolio I think your cell shaded work is actually really great but the props with real world materials need some work. The texturing especially. The grenade I would cut entirely and the rifle I would look at redoing the textures to get some more detail . Often I hear that you should find something you want to do a focus your portfolio on it. Things like your vector art and 2d work are honestly pretty good but arnt neccessary for a prop position. If you are looking for small studios then theyre more appropriate.  
    That's a great feedback sandwich if I ever saw one, thank you!
    Yes, I was imagining I'd try and split up my art station in a few categories, such as "All" and "Environments/Props", per what makes sense to send to different type positions, maybe a little bit like Mark van Haitsima - https://www.artstation.com/mvhaitsma
    Nice to hear that the non-3D stuff could be worth keeping around in some corner of my ArtStation.

    The realistic props aren't amazing, no, especially with how much time I spent on them, and replacing them would be at the head of my portfolio plans.

    What you say about finding out what I like to do the most rings very true, and makes me feel like I shouldn't hold back on trying out different things, maybe even outside enviro/prop. My motivation to sticking to enviro/prop is that that seems to be a good entry point into the industry, as opposed to character art which tends to be for the elite artists, plus I do like enviro/prop stuff. (Animation seems to be another area which semi-frequently has entry-level openings, so maybe something to experiment in as well?) Either way, it's time to get my hands dirty. What kind of focus are you talking about though, could you name an example?

  • Zi0
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    Zi0 greentooth
    Quality over quantity and ask yourself what you would like to specialize in. Not many artist who do guns do environments as well and a good environment cost a lot of time. You can create only two projects and aim for high quality.
  • KranckAttack
    Zi0 said:
    Quality over quantity and ask yourself what you would like to specialize in. Not many artist who do guns do environments as well and a good environment cost a lot of time. You can create only two projects and aim for high quality.
    Currently I'm thinking 4-6 portfolio pieces, and that I shouldn't spend more than a month on any single one, two at most of it's a more comprehensive environment or something. But your suggestion of just going for two really high-quality pieces is one I've not heard before, but curious. How long would you generally suggest spending on, say, a gun, and on an environment? Naturally, these would be two different benchmarks, since environments should probably take a bit longer.
  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor hero character
    I'm a hobbyist working on a portfolio myself, but the general consensus I've got from this place and the working artist I've talked to is to just set a target quality and redo your work until you hit that. Not worry about the time involved at all.

    Obviously, if it's going to take you like two years to finish one scene at AAA quality, probably you just don't have the fundamental skills yet and should focus on building that first (and for building core skills I think quality over quantity is key)... but I think OP is beyond that point. So hitting that AAA quality mark may be more like a matter 1-6 months spent on a scene, dependent on variety of factors.

    So I'd say just shoot for one scene that is absolutely on par with the people whose job you want -- nevermind how long it takes -- and then based on what you learn from that factor how much time you'll need to do 2 more or whatever. You could apply for jobs in the meantime after getting that one really good one finished.

    Grain of salt as I'm just repeating amalgamated advice from others.
  • Taylor Brown
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    Taylor Brown polycounter
    Zi0 said:
    Quality over quantity and ask yourself what you would like to specialize in. Not many artist who do guns do environments as well and a good environment cost a lot of time. You can create only two projects and aim for high quality.
    Currently I'm thinking 4-6 portfolio pieces, and that I shouldn't spend more than a month on any single one, two at most of it's a more comprehensive environment or something. But your suggestion of just going for two really high-quality pieces is one I've not heard before, but curious. How long would you generally suggest spending on, say, a gun, and on an environment? Naturally, these would be two different benchmarks, since environments should probably take a bit longer.
    I'm not the person youre asking but I'd like to chime in here. Quality over quantity is what youre going to hear from anyone when talking about portfolios. As far as time spent, take as long as you need to hit that quality bar. Sure, it can be useful to give yourself deadlines but a good environment can easily take 2-3 months and it will say a hell of a lot more than a handful of okish props or whatever you had planned.
  • KranckAttack
    I'm a hobbyist working on a portfolio myself, but the general consensus I've got from this place and the working artist I've talked to is to just set a target quality and redo your work until you hit that. Not worry about the time involved at all.

    Obviously, if it's going to take you like two years to finish one scene at AAA quality, probably you just don't have the fundamental skills yet and should focus on building that first (and for building core skills I think quality over quantity is key)... but I think OP is beyond that point. So hitting that AAA quality mark may be more like a matter 1-6 months spent on a scene, dependent on variety of factors.

    So I'd say just shoot for one scene that is absolutely on par with the people whose job you want -- nevermind how long it takes -- and then based on what you learn from that factor how much time you'll need to do 2 more or whatever. You could apply for jobs in the meantime after getting that one really good one finished.

    Grain of salt as I'm just repeating amalgamated advice from others.

    Zi0 said:
    Quality over quantity and ask yourself what you would like to specialize in. Not many artist who do guns do environments as well and a good environment cost a lot of time. You can create only two projects and aim for high quality.
    Currently I'm thinking 4-6 portfolio pieces, and that I shouldn't spend more than a month on any single one, two at most of it's a more comprehensive environment or something. But your suggestion of just going for two really high-quality pieces is one I've not heard before, but curious. How long would you generally suggest spending on, say, a gun, and on an environment? Naturally, these would be two different benchmarks, since environments should probably take a bit longer.
    I'm not the person youre asking but I'd like to chime in here. Quality over quantity is what youre going to hear from anyone when talking about portfolios. As far as time spent, take as long as you need to hit that quality bar. Sure, it can be useful to give yourself deadlines but a good environment can easily take 2-3 months and it will say a hell of a lot more than a handful of okish props or whatever you had planned.
    Thank you both for your replies! They seem to point towards the same thing, same with Zi0. The call for spending longer on higher quality portfolio projects seems unanimous, so long as my target quality is right for the companies I want to apply to, and so long as I posess the skills to deliver that within a couple of months or so.

    That being said, I'm not sure I've got the skills for this delivery yet. At the same time, waiting for my skills to "definitely" be up for it seems hard to defined, and proned to perfectionism procrastination. I could maybe split up my weeks so I do some tutorials while also working on the portfolio pieces? Maybe 3-4 days portfolio piece project, 2 days tutorials?

    Thank you, though, this is already helping me make up my mind about a lot of questions.
  • Alex Javor
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    Alex Javor hero character
    no way to know until you try. probably some professional environment artist can look at something you've got to like 90% and have a good idea how far away you are. Like, could you hit a hireable level with a bit more work, or are you missing something major.

    if you post in the 3d showcase section but don't get the help you need, maybe seek out some artist who offer reviews or mentorships just to help you figure out where oyu stand.
  • KranckAttack
    no way to know until you try. probably some professional environment artist can look at something you've got to like 90% and have a good idea how far away you are. Like, could you hit a hireable level with a bit more work, or are you missing something major.

    if you post in the 3d showcase section but don't get the help you need, maybe seek out some artist who offer reviews or mentorships just to help you figure out where oyu stand.
    Thank you, yes, this sounds about right. The keyword here is "try", as I doubt I could really honestly say I've attempted to produce one full realistic or semi-realistic enviro scene piece. So maybe I ought to set myself some time to study up on that, and then scope out an appropriately scoped project to try my skills on.
  • Zi0
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    Zi0 greentooth
    Zi0 said:
    Quality over quantity and ask yourself what you would like to specialize in. Not many artist who do guns do environments as well and a good environment cost a lot of time. You can create only two projects and aim for high quality.
    Currently I'm thinking 4-6 portfolio pieces, and that I shouldn't spend more than a month on any single one, two at most of it's a more comprehensive environment or something. But your suggestion of just going for two really high-quality pieces is one I've not heard before, but curious. How long would you generally suggest spending on, say, a gun, and on an environment? Naturally, these would be two different benchmarks, since environments should probably take a bit longer.
    I have no experience in creating whole environments so I have no idea how long that would take but I do know a thing or two about creating weapons. How long it should take depends on what you want to learn during this project. A weapon artist has to know how to create highpoly models you need to know subD as a base and the zbrush boolean workflow, have a understanding of PBR and software like substance painter. If you haven't learned one of these things yet I would recommend to do that first but If you do then I would say take 4 weeks for a weapon and try to ace it. Dont worry if it takes you a bit longer and you end up needing 2 or 3 more weeks.
  • KranckAttack
    Zi0 said:
    Zi0 said:
    Quality over quantity and ask yourself what you would like to specialize in. Not many artist who do guns do environments as well and a good environment cost a lot of time. You can create only two projects and aim for high quality.
    Currently I'm thinking 4-6 portfolio pieces, and that I shouldn't spend more than a month on any single one, two at most of it's a more comprehensive environment or something. But your suggestion of just going for two really high-quality pieces is one I've not heard before, but curious. How long would you generally suggest spending on, say, a gun, and on an environment? Naturally, these would be two different benchmarks, since environments should probably take a bit longer.
    I have no experience in creating whole environments so I have no idea how long that would take but I do know a thing or two about creating weapons. How long it should take depends on what you want to learn during this project. A weapon artist has to know how to create highpoly models you need to know subD as a base and the zbrush boolean workflow, have a understanding of PBR and software like substance painter. If you haven't learned one of these things yet I would recommend to do that first but If you do then I would say take 4 weeks for a weapon and try to ace it. Dont worry if it takes you a bit longer and you end up needing 2 or 3 more weeks.
    Alright, interesting. As you can see, I know some basic PBR, but not sure I could confidently sell my skills as such. So perhaps a round of studying is in order before attempting a gun project. And thanks for quoting a decent timeframe for a portfolio project like this, and it's great to hear from someone with experience making guns, specifically. Guns are funs. I should probably figure out a good rule of thumb for how long to spend on tutorials, since as I understand it, there comes a point where you're just wasting time and not learning anything more before you start trying stuff yourself, and I think I'd be a sucker for that spiral.
  • Zi0
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    Zi0 greentooth
    The oil lamp tutorial on algorithmics youtube did the trick for me + reading about PBR online. 
  • KranckAttack
    Zi0 said:
    The oil lamp tutorial on algorithmics youtube did the trick for me + reading about PBR online. 

    I'll have a look, thank you!
  • Ex-Ray
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    Ex-Ray polycounter lvl 8
    I recommend treating environment and prop artist into 2 separate fields and focus your portfolio content accordingly. For example content like:

    Environment artist - 2 or 3 feature rich, in engine scenes, with attention to some props but main focus on the environments, showcasing composition, set dressing, lighting, tiling and trim textures etc.  

    Prop artist - a plethora of high end props, with a range in scale and complexity, showcasing high poly work, unwrapping, texturing, material definition, topology etc.

    I think you have to decide where your passion is, stylised or realistic. If you have some time I would do some small 'quick turn around' projects as an exercise to see which you prefer. Try and imagine which one could you see yourself doing as a job for many years.

    If you manage to figure it out which direction then you just focus on that path 100% and aim for a structured plan on what to have on your portfolio, do the things you enjoy but at the same time tick most of the boxes you see on job listings too.
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis ngon master
    @Ex-Ray This part always confuses me to no end. When creating a portfolio for an environment artist position, you still need to make your own props for your environments. Hiring personnel looking at your portfolio are going to be judging you on the quality of everything in that environment, including the props.
  • Taylor Brown
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    Taylor Brown polycounter
    @Ex-Ray This part always confuses me to no end. When creating a portfolio for an environment artist position, you still need to make your own props for your environments. Hiring personnel looking at your portfolio are going to be judging you on the quality of everything in that environment, including the props.
    I think he means that not every prop can, or should, be a hero prop.
  • zachagreg
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    zachagreg interpolator
    @Ex-Ray This part always confuses me to no end. When creating a portfolio for an environment artist position, you still need to make your own props for your environments. Hiring personnel looking at your portfolio are going to be judging you on the quality of everything in that environment, including the props.
    I think he means that not every prop can, or should, be a hero prop.
    Portfolio art to get a job is also different from studio work. An important distinction, while not EVERY prop can be a hero I believe a lot more can be and should be when making a portfolio piece.
  • Ex-Ray
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    Ex-Ray polycounter lvl 8
    @Ashervisalis In the industry, depending on the studio you may or may not be making your own props for the environments, but you still want to show you know how to make them.

    Ideally you want to show props that you've made specifically to complement your environments as it provides context. Basically in your portfolio you want to say I know how to make props and how to utilise them to dress my environment, but my main focus is on the whole scene, here's loads of environmental beauty shots; I understand time management and prioritising my tasks so I have spent less time and attention on small props and more on my hero prop.

    It feels more meaningful to showcase a hero prop that you've made, for example an ornate fountain that you've used as a centre piece in your 18th century court yard scene, than to show a random gun or vehicle.

    I hope that makes sense, let me know if you need further clarity.
  • poopipe
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    poopipe ngon master
    That is the best advice on the page,  follow it
  • Ashervisalis
  • KranckAttack
    I keep reveling at the amazingly useful replies I've gotten here, and I hope I can really absorb it all. Like all good advice, this does raise a few follow-up questions.

    @Ex-Ray , your advice really seems very well-rounded and informed here, and seems to build nicely on what the others have said. Do you have any examples of good scopes for the kind of small, "quick turnaround" projects I could do to test and make up my mind? Perhaps I could use some tutorials for this?

    @zachagreg seems to elaborate nicely on this, too, thank you! So environments in a portfolio likely would ideally be smaller than production ones, and might have a higher "percentage" of props being higher end and hero props. But like Ex-Ray suggests, it seems to make a lot of sense not to go nuts with more than one or two props, as all props should exist to serve the whole of the environment. It's a scene, not a pedastal for one prop! The whole thing is the art piece. I think I'd do well to keep in mind these points you've given me

    However, were I to decide I wanted to go down the path props specialization, I suppose I'd do more "detatched" hero props, such as "a random gun or vehicle"? Though I guess they should be made for something, since a prop artist will always indeed be making props for something, and they should be pretty good at serving their context. A gun should actually look like it belongs in the hands of a plausible hero in a playsible game, found or crafted in a plausible world. A hero prop, like a fountain, needs to belong to a specific courtyard, background context.

    Anyways, yes, I've got to make up my mind about what to do, and I need a scope for what sort of exercises or tiny projects I should do for that.
  • KranckAttack
    Ah, and I should explain. One reason I'm so anxious and eager to ask about examples and scopes for what kind of projects I should set out for, is that I've struggled a lot with perfectionism and setting over-ambitious projects in the past.

    Shoot for the stars, they say, and sure enough, that's good and all, but when you aim the cannon too high and it ends up tipping backwards and crushing you, then you've got a problem.

    Perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand. The idea of doing nothing at all becomes psychologically more acceptable than the idea of not succeeding in doing something perfectly. Even practice and tutorials become challenging to accept.
    I'd say this is the biggest demon I have, like many others, it's paralyzing and awful, and I think the best tool against this would be learning how to scope things smarter for myself, especially at this "early stage" of my development curve. The advice I've been given by all the wonderful people replying here so far already seems to help.
  • Ex-Ray
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    Ex-Ray polycounter lvl 8
    For the realistic asset project I would recommend making something that your own, something that you can hand hold so there is no 'interpretation' from looking at reference photos. There's should be no excuses for not matching the form, material definition and feel of the object. As an example I made a screw driver as an exercise to learn Modo and further improvements in Substance designer. See here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/sa9iufx7fltgrhv/ScrewDriver01.jpg?dl=0

    For the stylised asset project, same advise as above but perhaps look at the game 'Firewatch' and the props made for that, see here: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/QqgBd and http://janeng.com/?p=676 and try and match that quality.

    These projects shouldn't be consider portfolio worthy but as training. When you have levelled up you can scaled up the project slightly, walk don't run. Small diorama before a bigger environment etc.

    It can be difficult to choose which path, sometimes that choice has been made for you ie. if you are working in a studio and your next project is in that style, or you decide based on the job availability.

    Regarding perfectionism and procrastination, you'll have to changed that mindset. These are things that don't go well in games development where you have task iterations, re-works, quick implementation, new features, schedules etc. Try and figure out why you feel this way, is it really your voice or somebody else?

    Doing small project with critique and feedback from the polycount community should help you improve your skills, which can be a healthier validation tool that you are going in the right direction, and to counter the perfectionism and procrastination.
  • Taylor Brown
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    Taylor Brown polycounter
    loving the knowledge you're dropping, @Ex-Ray . thank you!
  • Ex-Ray
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    Ex-Ray polycounter lvl 8
    @Taylor Brown Thanks, just trying to 'pay it forward'.

    You just reminded me something I forgot to mentioned regarding 'quality vs quantity' and 'spending the time to reach quality'. Besides the obvious benefits there are some other points to consider.

    - People prefer to know you can reach that quality standard, as it means you understand the effort and attention to detail required to get there. For example somebody finishing a marathon knows the full struggle and efforts to get to the end.

    - It is much easier to improve someones speed and time by improving their workflows than trying to improve their artistic output, which there is no guarantee they can get there.
  • KranckAttack
    This remains such a valuable kick-off platform for me. I'm currently tied up with a couple of work tests for a few job applications, but I can't wait to put the advice here to practice, trying out the different fields in earnest quicker projects, then getting to grind on nicer quality portfolio pieces that I allow time and quality for. I'll post some progress either here or in an appropriate "what are you working on" or whatnot thread when I have some. For now, while I think I'll try and dedicate at least one day to exclusively studying tutorials, otherwise just looking things up as I go (and please let me know if you have a smarter way of balancing practice, portfolio work and tutorials)... Have this meme about doing too many tutorials. https://i.imgur.com/RGZesHt.jpg

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