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Dear Polycount, roast my env art portfolio please!

So here's my artstation if you want to skip the sob story: https://www.artstation.com/serenah_art

I graduated from university in the UK in Sept 2017 with grand dreams of becoming an environment artist in the games industry. Unfortunately I had a long way to go before I was even close to industry standard, so I've spent the past 2 years working on my portfolio as best I can. In all that time I've had only two failed art tests and a handful of dead ends from recruiters. Not a single interview.

I would appreciate any criticism or tough love you can offer. I'd like to think my portfolio shows I have decent modelling and sculpting skills, that I can competently handle PBR workflows or traditional handpainted textures, that I'm comfortable with a game engine (UE4), and I understand the basics of lighting and building asset blueprints or materials. The most obvious thing I'm lacking is experience, but how can I get experience if I can't land a job? What else can I do? How do I improve?

Many of my peers from university have managed to get industry jobs, so I've been wondering if there's something beyond my portfolio that's letting me down, something I haven't considered? I'm 25 now, older than many graduates looking for entry level jobs, so is it my age that's the problem? Is it the fact I've been long term unemployed? Is it that I don't live near a major city where I can network? Is it my damn profile picture? Where am I going wrong??

To get a little personal, I have been really struggling to push myself forward recently. I am happier with the standard of my work now vs two years ago, but I think working on this long term investment for so many months with no results has badly affected my mental health, and I'm having trouble seeing any point in continuing to grind for no payoff. I'm starting to think I just don't have what it takes to "make it". Can anyone here help me figure out how to move forward or what to improve on?


  • defragger
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    defragger sublime tool
    It has nothing to do with age or any of that stuff you mentioned. It's solely about portfolio.

    Start a thread here on polycount where you showcase a new portfolio project and seek feedback while you work on that.

  • Carabiner
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    Carabiner greentooth
    Good advice above. For the SD materials, your thumbnails basically completely cover up the actual material with the "Substance Designer" text. Maybe put that below the thumbs so you can actually see them? I would also consolidate these into one "materials" project.
  • Alex_J
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    Alex_J high dynamic range
    there is an enviro artist with name @Taylor Brown  who was doing some mentorship course, I forgot the name, maybe Clint Crumpler? Anyway this scene he's been working on has improved dramatically since he started so maybe he can tell you about that course.

    You've been doing this for awhile so you  probably know your programs well enough, just need the expert guidance to help train your eye for quality I'd expect.

    To me, your materials are the weak link. They kind of straddle between realism and stylization, lacking the confidence to be either or. If its realism you want, you simply need to put more time into them, paying careful attention to reference. If its stylization, I think you have to do something like make many simple stylized props with hand painted textures until you become very confident in your strokes, so to speak -- so that you don't end up giving into the urge to make things a little muddy or indistinct where you weren't confident in what you were doing. Speaking from my own recent dive into stylized painted textures, I find that when I'm not confident in my textures I tend to muddy them up and tell myself, "its just a little realism."

    It may make sense to break your training into two areas : full scenes with simple geometry and materials to focus on composition and lighting, and then small props to focus on nailing the materials. This way you can get many projects done more quickly, and thus make more mistakes to learn from.

    Here's example of scenes with super simple geometry, but with good lighting, color theory, and composition, they can be quite beautiful:

    one caveat though about that scene - I bought it and it's nowhere near properly optimized for games. But it could be...

    Just idea's don't take it as any more than random help from a random stranger.

  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis high dynamic range
    Hey, don't lose hope, keep on truckin! Here's some ideas;

    1) Take out the Pilgrimage Pavilion. It's not up to professional quality. You need to learn how to make colours work together, how to lead the viewers eyes, scene composition. Right now the prop placement is a bit of a mess and I really have no idea where to look. The colours are all muddied, and that could be because of the lighting.

    2) The Gambit Bank looks cool, but once again you need to revisit composition. The render with a white background looks eons better than the render with the ice chunks(?) I've not played Destiny 2, and its made it so I have no idea what I'm looking at. Your texture maps should be condensed to one image, I don't want to see 3 different images of each map (you've combined the maps in a nice way in your material projects). This project has 18 separate images + a video. You should condense it down to 3.

    3) Take out Green Goo. Its an interesting render that would make for a cool wallpaper, but it's not helping your 3D portfolio.

    4) Countryside Gate: Some of your textures in here look really dope, like the mud grass and mud path. Your grass though is completely straight, the rock wall texture can use an upgrade. and the ground in front of the gate has white blotches that I'm having trouble reading. Once again, too many images.

    5) Cherry Blossom: Dope! Keep that in.

    6) Hand painted food looks cool, keep that in!

    Your Substance Designer/Sketchfab logos are covering and ruining the thumbnails and the first images of each project. Your ice looks interesting but if you didn't label it as so I wouldn't understand it. Your rubber floor tile is too simple to have in your portfolio, same with the marble. The shoe material is dope!

    Keep pushing forward, join a community to get feedback. Good luck!
  • Taylor Brown
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    Taylor Brown ngon master
    I've been summoned!

    I highly recommend Clinton Crumpler's UE4 Modular Environments course at CGMA. 10 weeks, $1,000 USD. I just wrapped up my scene the other day and I don't think I could've done it to that quality without his course but there is no hand holding. He's a great teacher and you'll be working alongside others, some of which might even be in the industry (that was the case in mine). If you're not totally up to that challenge, there are plenty of other quality CGMA courses with varying costs.

    I can't offer much in the way of crits that hasn't already been covered by folks above. For your realistic scenes, you need to work on your material definition. If I can't look at a texture and imagine what it would feel like to run my fingers across it, then it's not hitting the bar. Highly recommend starting an artstation collection of recently hired junior artists. Take a hard look at their work to determine what you can do to improve your own. Also, don't be afraid to use extra polys if it eliminates faceting. Smart use of geometry is more important than low use; modern hardware eats polygons like they're nothing.

    The grind is real and it is punishing. I only got my break recently in a rather unorthodox way after thousands of hours of effort (plus lots of time spent staring into a mirror questioning what the fuck i was thinking). If you want it, you can get it. But it's never going to be worth your mental health so make that priority #1!

    Read over this, it might give you some good pointers: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Rpcce7iIv3s7z8n3_UL1--08Htgb_m5umrfq2wg_XKY/edit#

    @PixelMasher also has some fantastic essays to help you out (his youtube is gold too!) - https://www.polygon-academy.com/
  • SerenaH_Art
    Thank you guys all for the great advice! Some really awesome pointers here. I'm a little wary of paid training courses as I feel I've learned more since leaving university than I was ever taught in the four years I spent in actual paid education - but that's a rant for another day. I will definitely give it some thought.
    So, first things first I'll clean up my portfolio and fix those thumbnails. As for my next project, I don't know if I have the energy to do another big Unreal environment just yet, I guess given the things you've all said here it'll either be a little handpainted prop or diorama, or something more realistic in Substance. Those seem to be the main areas I need to work on, I think my issue to date is I've been a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none type of artist, so I'll try something smaller and more focused to improve on a specific problem.

    Thank you again all for the help!
  • Taylor Brown
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    Taylor Brown ngon master
    I am with you as far as being wary of paid education. For profit schools just churn out folks with no reality checks along the way. I went for Clintons course because he is, in my opinion, one of the best enviro artists out there and is continuously pushing the envelope. All the CGMA instructors are working at AAA studios. A lot of Naughty Dog guys. He's just there to advise you and give feedback while teaching advanced techniques.

    Good idea on picking one style / area to lean into. One high quality prop will teach you more than a large mediocre scene.
  • Ashervisalis
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    Ashervisalis high dynamic range
    Work on creating pieces which match up to the style and quality of the studios that you want to (and are able to) work at. Check out the portfolios of junior (and senior) artists at this studio, and contact them via Polycount/Artstation/LinkedIn/etc asking them for feedback (after you've created some projects aimed at their art styles).

    I would for sure spend some more time learning Substance Designer as it seems you have a passion for that. There are so many free amazing tutorials for this on YouTube. Also, join the Greentooth Slack and get direction from us plebs in there!

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