Hello. My name is Justin McCollum. As a hard-working, devoted graduate from Indian River State College with a Bachelor's degree in 3D Modeling, Gaming & Animation, I intended to use my skills to land a job in the gaming or animation industry. However, it seems impossible.
The trouble is, I live in a small, retirement town called Vero Beach, Florida, an hour and a half away from Orlando. I know in Orlando, there are lots of 3D-related companies, but it's irrelevant because they're "in-person jobs" & I can't afford to get my own apartment in Orlando right now.
So, I am trying to land a job via remote work.
I'm curious to know if you guys think I at least have the potential, but I have my doubts because I applied for 6 different full-time remote jobs, and got rejected from all 6 of them. It's discouraging, sometimes I can't help but feel I'm not good enough, regardless of me having a Bachelor's Degree.
What is your advice to landing a job in this industry, particularly remote work?
I appreciate your time.
Also you say you have a degree in game art but none few of your portfolio pieces appear to be in a game engine. I see Renderman is being used a lot, but game companies want to see everything in a game engine (or at least something with comparable technology such as Marmoset Toolbag).
I also don't see any mention of Substance Designer or Painter anywhere? Most studios use them these days so it's important to know them (unless you plan on working at an indie or mobile developer which focus on 2D / Pixel / low spec 3D art).
Where do you want to focus your skills? Environments or characters? Start there, then wipe everything from your portfolio that is not in that category or put them at the end of the portfolio. If you would re-work some of your MK scenes, they could be those pieces that get you hired. For example, on the subway you have the same material on the ceiling as the walls of the hole, and that just doesn't happen. Little details like that are what will start to set you apart from other candidates. Look at the Brawl submissions from a ways back for inspiration if needed.
As mentioned before, it doesn't matter how good of a modeler you are if your lighting skills are killing the presentation. Your model is the camera body, but lighting and materials are the lens it must pass through before it gets to the camera. Would you put a $50 lens on a $6,000 camera?
Remote jobs are hard, and especially hard to hire a new graduate at. You have no history so how can they count on you to get the work done? Remote work is easily 1,000% harder than in-office work as you have to really focus and avoid distractions. Without a proven history of work at the remote level, many places won't take the risk of hiring you. You may excel at it, but you are still a huge risk for them so your portfolio has to be that much better to balance out the risk factor.
How do you know you can't afford a place in Orlando? I survived the first year right out of school in Southern California on $38k a year. Yeah, it sucked but I got by as I built my skill level up. Roommates are also an option. You are young, you are a recent grad, most of us had to live with roommates to go where the jobs are. Unless you have a family to look after, there is nothing holding you back from going after work in Orlando. In office work is honestly the best for new grads because you can learn so much more from the people there than you can working remotely.
Your kitchen rendering is pretty good and honestly, could land you a job in arch viz. On average the bar for quality over in arch viz is somewhat lower than games and film. You may have to power though that for a while while you focus your skills.
As an aside, it can be difficult but try not to get sentimental about your portfolio work. Every time you post something you need to re-examine your portfolio as a whole and determine if there is a weak link.. something that will bring a negative question into a hiring manager's head. While you might have won awards in school... you're not competing for jobs with your classmates. You're competing against experienced professionals most of the time and no one hiring will likely care about what you did in school unless it's on par with someone already kicking ass in the industry.
When you're feeling financially safe and you're feeling more confident that you've gotten fundamentals locked in, I'd recommend Clinton Crumplers CGMA course, Modular Environments in UE4. Udemy and Youtube are pretty hit or miss, lots of garbage content, weak workflows or straight up misinfo to sift through. Gnomon Workshop's videos or CGMA courses are the way to go if you want a strong, consolidated and industry standard education, imo.
I recommend having a read through this - https://www.polygon-academy.com/10-insider-tips-for-artists-applying-to-game-studios/
I didn't quite see your character work, so you could pm me that if you like.
The general consensus you'll get on this site here is your portfolio is the single most important thing in getting a job.
Now while that isn't wrong, what constitutes a good portfolio really depends on where you're applying.
So while there is always room for improvement, you may be able to find a good fit in a studio where your portfolio is good enough for the job they have.
Now even on the job side there are a ton of variables.
Unless you consider freelance where you may have to work on every single aspect of a scene or character, in a AAA studio you usually always work on a portion of it as team.
Also the fact that every person there is incredibly skilled and the best for the job is a totally fallacy, primarly because of the nature of the work being as fluid as is.
Like I met an environment artist from a AAA company here that is moving into characters. He took the environment job through connections within the company, his portfolio wasn't good enough, not like the work in the company required that level of skill anyway.
In fact his character art isn't good enough either, but they had a internal vacancy and the job he's assigned is retopoing body scans.
So in that sense what he's doing, is following a script which is usually what you do in production art. Its like putting together sandwiches at subway.
Compared to what you're expected to demonstrate in your portfolio the actual work is very methodic than artistic in most cases.
So much art is outsourced, a good many of my environment artist friends who clearly have talent to do something original are fixing up what the company gets from china instead of actually making anything.
They hate it, and many of them have ditched their companies for exactly this reason. But there are many that like this fact and remain where they are since its money.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) artists get poached, leave companies, get laid off, whole studios liquidate and more often then not you won't get the project you want even at a new company you join with a raise.
Heck you may not even see what you worked on until the game goes gold in most case, with everything behind a wall of secrecy.
Is that a bad thing? Certainly not, however its the way a lot of AAA companies work since its profitable from a marketing perspective. Its the corporate machine at work.
And as far as you're concerned, your work experience gained working in this machine is what HR at other companies do jump onto, since its considered a safer bet. Not to say it works out that way with every candidate.
Heck even HR doesn't stay with the company that long, regardless of how much they preach that its the best company in the world when they are actually working there.
But you're looking for a first job, so instead of scrapping everything and burning yourself out trying to hit a ceiling that likely doesn't exist in the same perspective for every company, look at your progress as an opportunity to learn, and become aware of other industries that require 3D art (like architecture visualization) and would likely give you a better work life balance then games ever will.
Of course if you have a game company in mind that you want to work towards, you should try to hit their style as much as possible, while also showcasing how you got there.
And network, meaning approach artists working there to get some perspective on your work. Read glassdoor since most artists are terrified of speaking publicly about their experience/NDA's prevent them from doing so.
The game development industry is more entertainment industry then art industry, so it operates purely from a marketing perspective.
Some companies have demonstrated that they are above this limitation and really do push the bar on what they create, evolving the industry as a whole. And more importantly don't treat their employees like cattle.
So that is a good direction to grow in, if you have the inclination and ambition, not that its the only means towards happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction.
I'd say as an artist you ought to learn everything you can about the skill and then make your own niche.
All the artists, who are known for more than just which company they worked for, operate in this fashion (Vitaly Bulgarov comes to mind)
As far as moving to Orlando and living in a shoe box while attempting to get work, probably not the best idea but some people do it.
Really depends on the lifestyle your after, and the compromises you want to make.
If you live in an expensive city this is difficult, so I'm not sure if its worth it.
This forum thread elaborates on that quite well
Several of the ones at the top started when the industry was young and many of them really don't know better when it comes to current gen. And when it comes to improving working conditions it really is quite dismal.
This isn't the military, heck it doesn't even pay like it.
For some its never enough and a good many simply settle for a job and then bite their tongues about about the actual reality of what they've signed up for.
And the most interesting thing that strikes me is that several of the top companies endorse the very schools that pump out students with substandard portfolios and then make them fight it out for internships. Why isn't anyone talking about that?
So they probably made it but it isn't very clear how big a part the portfolio actually played, there were several variables.
Also I'm not too young myself, but takes all kinds atleast from my experience.
becca also has a good example post here with a ton of examples, not just environment: https://www.patreon.com/posts/entry-level-27248731
looking at your portfolio, your work is not at a high enough level yet, its getting there but you need to put out some new work and audit some of the older work from school from your portfolio.
some things to consider/feedback:
look at your princess leia ship scene and compare it to the same levels in battlefront 2 campaign with that white ship interior art set and see where you could push it closer in quality to that level. that is the PS4/current gen quality, and next gen is right around the corner where things are going to get even better looking, do whatever you can to close that gap.
the mortal kombat scene: this I think is your strongest piece, but the modeling on a lot of things is super basic. like the hole in the ceiling is just a straight cut out and extruded hole. there should be hanging rebar, a lot more polygons and chunks of concrete hanging etc. the level of detail is not up to current gen standards on a lot of your modeling, spend more time adding detail and form, don't be afraid to use polygons. one of the biggest junior mistakes I see is not using enough geometry because they are afraid of things being too highpoly. go look at some of the wireframes from uncharted on anthony vaccaros portfolio, lots of polys to use there. https://www.artstation.com/artwork/ZEDNX
overall you just need to keep making more environments and more importantly compare them to screenshots and footage of current games and try to close the quality gap. you could easily go back and re-vamp the star wars and MK scenes with some more polish and they would be in a good state. don't give up
You should start aiming for 3d artist jobs in the simulation industry in Orlando Research Parkway near UCF. This will help you with money. They have alot of jobs available for training and simulation work. The jobs pay better than entertainment and are alot safer in terms on layoffs. The hours are alot better also. They are 8 hour shifts. Some examples of companies that hire 3D artists are places such as Lockeed Martin, etc... the portfolio quality tobe hired is alot lower than entertainment industry also. While working there, if you still want to go to entertainment sector than you can work on your portfolio, make contacts, and safe money while getting some experience as an artist.
I worked a year in a simulation company before getting my first job in entertainment industry. It was worth it and it helped pay the bills when I was needing money. You can easily find alot of positions online.
You most likely won't find a job remote because you don't have enough experience and you are to big of a risk for companies. I work remote freelance as a 3D character artist and that is with companies/people who I have worked with in the past or people who know my work and are confident I can give them what they want. looking at your portfolio and work history, I don't see alot of remote work coming to you anytime soon.
If you can't get an apartment to stay than you have to get creative. There are alot of other options, Crash with a friend in Orlando, split an apartment with a bunch of people near the University, Pay for a dirt cheap room in someones house monthly, etc... I have done all these things to save money and get on my feet. I have even seen someone turned there van into a bedroom and get a $10 gym membership to take showers and get wifi. It you really want it, you'll find a way. You might just need to sacrifice a few things in terms of comfort.
sorry for the typos and sentence errors.
This is very true, game schools aren't good at preparing people for the industry. Awards that you get at school don't have any value most of the time, I made stuff at school that I got awards for as well but I would never put it in my portfolio because I know its not that good, its quite bad actually. Companies are aware of the fact that game/3d schools produce graduates with below average portfolios and they get a lot of portfolios on a daily basis.
What's interesting here is that even if their portfolio was say Horizon Zero Dawn quality, the work these studios actually gave them in studio wasn't even close to that quality or responsibility.
So in that sense, getting an accolade in the school helped I think, probably to stand out, though there were several other factors that applied that had nothing to do with portfolio or quality of work.
Even with a great portfolio unless they had prior work experience from another studio very rarely would they even get looked at, unless they knew someone on the inside.
The irony is that the actual work assigned to them on the job didn't really take into account their prior work experience particularly for game art, since literally their task was layout and clean up which continues to this day. Character artists were making boots and belts on a character team, or apologising body scans.
For environment artists it was selecting from an asset library and laying out to match a white box. All the textures were supplied for consistency, so very rarely is anything actually built from scratch.
Most of the props were either reused, modified or outsourced.
If outsourced they came with a fat lot of issues that required clean up.
Basically very little to nothing in the job description matched what was actually done in studio.
The one skillset that probably was more required than any other was versatility more than specialisation, something that a lot of juniors lacked severely, I mean how can they have it if they haven't explored different styles/processes.
Its why , while I understand that as an artist its always important to keep developing ones skill and eye, the reality of the job seems so disconnected from what is expected of a portfolio atleast for the majority of studios that are hiring juniors and interns.
It also affects employee retention since the artists that are actually good aren't getting to reach the full potential of what they are capable of.
Also as I said these schools were endorsed/supported by the very companies who I expect ought to be aware of their graduates producing below average portfolios?
Many of the teachers teaching at the school had jobs in the companies that endorsed the schools.
Some of the teachers even have side businesses to help graduating students with their porfolios after they graduate, which is fine aside from the fact that there is seriously something wrong when those same teachers cannot manage to have their students hit that quality bar while in school.
Quite bizarre really.
It's pretty straightforward, really - a studio doesn't hire a graduate because they can do the grown up jobs, they hire them because they think they'll be able to do the grown up jobs in the future.
Hard as it may be to countenance, polishing up outsourced assets is one of the fastest ways to gain real, practical experience in terms of preparing game assets - it's also precisely what is completely missing from any course you may have done.
You learn technical details, you learn to follow direction and you learn what not to do. A couple of years of that and you're on a whole different level.
I've looked after a lot of grads over the years and the ones that do best are the ones who embrace their role in the team and leave their egos back at college.
The best people I've seen have left their companies for exactly this reason since they have no room to grow beyond what they were assigned.
They never had the chance to do a grown up job especially in art since honestly there weren't any at the studio they were at to begin with.
In fact they were encouraged to gtfo and then come back for a better pay packet and more responsibility, if there is such a thing in the future.
Not an easy choice for everyone and honestly it doesn't need to be this way, look at IT jobs.
The issue here is that there is no consistency in this regard across all studios.
Like what is a menial job is vs a big job, how many of those jobs are outsourced because its cheaper, how regularly are these jobs available to the artists in studio.etc
By menial job do you mean like repetitive tasks with strict assignments, and with grown up jobs do you mean a consulting sort of process where your creative input takes priority.
Because with the latter, difficult to dismiss the potential of an artist simply because they are "graduates"
In my graduating class for instance, the best graduates interestingly did not get into AAA despite having the better portfolios, but that did not stop them from doing the best for themselves in the long term.
Wouldn't they have been more useful to a AAA company with the mindset that they could do the grown up jobs in the future?
Why were the hires graduates that were willing to do the dull repetitive tasks that hopefully might lead to something better and are willing to work themselves to death to prove themselves?
Why is their skill level now beholden to a levelling up system decided by the company which isn't transparent in its evaluation?
Doesn't it come down to the company and its management in this regard? What about profitability, budget and work place politics?
As artists, its important to understand your self worth, not just how much you're worth to a company that is short sighted.
And how many jobs actually exist. There clearly is more supply than demand and nothing stops the most incompetant artists with abysmal portfolios from flooding HR with applications.
How many the better artists are lost in this flood simply because of this aspect?
In that case does your portfolio even have an impact if no one has seen it?
One situation I am well aware of is, graduates with proven portfolios not getting the opportunity to do a big job and are leaving the studio as a result.
or people with proven track records being let go since the graduate is cheaper.
or the final product being full of mistakes regardless of who the hell is working on it, and QA having to bug it and send it back to get fixed by someone else entirely.
They don't tell you about any of this in game dev school. The actual skills you need are totally different from the ones you develop to make a "good" portfolio.
And to the point of polishing outsource assets, if that is really the best way to gain experience and I totally agree with that having done my fair share, why is that not the focus of a portfolio when starting out?
Why does the job description have a generic copy paste that isn't actually what you end up doing once you get the job?
It seems that recruiters/ leads/ art directors are all looking at totally different things and in many cases it really comes down to who you know/timing and dumb luck.
Not to say its pointless to keep improving your work, its just that there certainly is a lot of disparity in what actually gets someone hired in the first place. Its difficult to see the correlation across the board.
Unless of course you're convinced that the portfolio is all that matters, then there probably isn't a lot more to say.
In that sense its a different sort of ego where instead of being convinced that you are right and they are wrong, you've accepted that you are wrong and they are right when honestly no one actually knows what the hell is going on.
There are best practices sure, but I can see how it can be insanely confusing for people trying to get their first job when most of the advice here points straight to AAA as a benchmark.
That's because as a graduate you don't know shit yet - fortunately you have access to the opinions and thoughts of quite a lot of experienced people on here to help you through it.
Full scale games are not made by one person. They are made by a group of people working as a team and hard as it may be to hear the contribution of a single, average artist is a very. very small part of that.
The last game I shipped had over 3500 individual props in it (half the prop count of the last major FPS I worked on)
How many of those do you think you could make in an 18 month dev cycle? (I'll give you a clue - it's less than 2% and you had help )
On a big AAA production that individual % contribution drops dramatically.
If you're in this game for glory you're doing it wrong
As far as work quality goes,
Great portfolio work demonstrates your potential to produce great actual work -it doesn't guarantee you will be able to do it consistently or to spec - the people hiring you know this and will be using their experience to determine whether you're worth bringing on board or not.
Something I feel I should say is that really you're wasting your time over analysing the situation - until you are in a position to be making hiring decisions, you will not fully understand the decision making process.
If you read through all the related threads on here you'll see the same advice repeated over and over - a lot of this advice comes from people with experience you don't have and while some of it may be conflicting it's an accurate reflection of the environment you're trying to get into. Read, listen and use your judgement.
It's good wine this, apologies
There are many factors, as you listed that influence the hiring process, and in most cases you don't hear a studio pointing out that you fell short because of your portfolio.
I've seen my fair share of no reply, late reply, studio liquidation, artest and no feedback, disappearing positions.etc, all of which point to a serious problem on the management side of things which most artists generally accept is something they can't change.
Also I'm not a recent graduate, I've been doing 3D art for several years now following my career in healthcare.
Currently work wise I prefer having a wider range of responsibilities within smaller teams and I get more opportunities on the freelance side of things where I have more control.
I am more interested on working in AAA in some aspects of the pipeline where I can certainly contribute a lot, and the specialised nature of this should make the hiring process straightforward but it clearly isn't the case.
In that sense I am very aware of how things work on the hiring side of things for that environment and I have done my research in the matter before commenting here.
I've found that the usual trend here is to respond to a job question with "this is what you need to do to get into AAA" and while this advice is considered best practice, the vast disparity in who's hired for what and when makes it seem like we as artists are putting studios on a pedestal that they really do not deserve.
From what I know from my colleagues who work in AAA and are terrified to speak out, though each studio projects itself as the absolute best in the business (because of the marketing aspect of the entertainment industry) the reality for employees is pretty dismal.
I mean isn't that why you and many others remain anonymous here on this site. it certainly isn't a good sign if the industry has devolved to this level of paranoia.
And this is why its so unstable, and I understand why many have accepted this as the nature of the work, but it certainly doesn't need to be that way going forward.
Yes, people are being exploited and there is no reason anybody should work more than eight hours when there is no life threatening emergency. But also people are pathetically soft and it's kind of pitiful to hear all the whining too. Like, you all are complaining about the same shit. Do something!
Anyways won't be an easy ride but then again most endevours never are, if one thinks it's worthwhile investing ALOT of passion, perseverance, time and effort to begin with.
Lastly, just one more thing, keep a sense of humour, in other words bassically have fun with what you're doing, tends too iron flat those lumpy bits which will inevitably poke through the road as you progress toward an envisioned end goal.