Portfolio Tips for Game Artists

First tip: don’t listen to any advice by people who are not currently working in the industry (including me).

Listen primarily to established art directors in the game industry, they are the ones who hire.

Actual professionals are too busy to be on youtube and help people to break in the industry (although some ethically driven ones may volunteer to be mentors with the goal to diversifying the game industry).

Actual professionals share skills for exactly one week every year and it’s at the Game Developers Conference.

The conference is very expensive, but you can sign up to be a Conference Associate (staff), and then try to follow the game career seminar and try to get into the portfolio review sessions.

A lot of the sessions are published on youtube, they’ve been running these panels every year called “Killer Portfolio or Portfolio Killer” about game art specifically.
They are lead by professionals in AAA and mid sized companies. In the indie sphere, hiring and team creation happens more often informally, via personal network, and via direct recruiting.

Many points are repeated but every year there is something new to learn.

Here are some takeaways in plain text. Videos embeds below.

Top Portfolio Tips

Common issue: the portfolio doesn’t have a voice, no focus.

Common issue: the portfolio doesn’t stand out, generic pieces, no references and ideas outside of game cliches.

Big problem: Quantity over quality – people put too much stuff in it all the time.

“You’re only as good as your worst piece”.

“At Epic we hired people with only 3 amazing pieces”.

Important to know what you consider good, how you edit yourself, that’s an indication of taste.

Your best piece, not your most recent, should be the first.

The first work should be self-explanatory, it should represent who you are as an artist, what your focus is eg “sci-fi character designer”.

The following pieces can expand, explain and deepen. You can include process and detail, but within reason (quality over quantity).

Traditional art like figure drawing doesn’t matter, the foundation skills will come across from the digital work.

Creative work that is not directly applicable to the job shouldn’t be in the portfolio, you may even want to hide it from your sites.

Sculpt are portfolio killers “they make my blood boil”

The easy work is in Zbrush, the real job is the remaining 90% which is problem solving, how to you make your ideas work under limited parameters.

“I will never hire anybody that has no real time work”

Illustration portfolios are a hard no.

Illustration can masquerade as concept art, but they are different. Concept art solves problems.

Stolen art, traced concepts, plagiarism, ripping off a style are obviously a hard no.

Incomplete work is a hard no.

For 3D animation, only cinematics is not enough, you need pieces in context, in real time motion, pieces that consider where the camera is.

Character design in games is different than linear media, you must consider where the camera is.

Specialization vs breadth depends on the studio, generally specialization is good but it’s nice to have a second thing that you are also pretty good at which is related to your specialization.

Big studios look for specialization, small studio may be more interested in flexibility (jack of all trades)

Recruiters can smell the close-ended technical assignments from school. They are meant to teach you various aspects of the project, so find a focus early and cull your assignment pieces.

Tropes and genres are not bad per se but you need to put your twist on it, make it yours and make it unexpected.

If it’s a group project, be extremely clear on what you did.

This generation is not going to define itself around model fidelity, we’ve done that in the past decades. Motion graphics, effects, technical art, graphic design are more defining for this coming generation.

If you want to get a job forever get into effects, technical art, technical animation.

Don’t compare yourself to people on your class, look at what’s out there on artstation etc.

Fan art: you should be very careful about including it, and it should be secondary to your personal work,

If you are showing your personal take on a character you didn’t make, that can be compelling.

Fan art of art by the company you are applying to is risky because you are subjecting yourself to a higher scrutiny. People there have been staring at those characters for YEARS.

Big issue: looking at games, popular concept art, and tutorials as the only references, “many portfolios looking like Simon StÃ¥lenhag knockoffs”. Look at references outside the field, in the real world, history, art, etc.

People obsess over pieces showing technically proficiency but they are often presented out of context.
What’s missing is the feeling, the mood, the story you can tell with one image.

You are expected to know a material authoring workflow (today it’s primarily Substance) but it doesn’t matter what tool, it’s not about the buttons you click, but what you do with it, you can learn tools quickly.

A standalone portfolio site isn’t necessary if you have a page on artstation (just subscribe to pro)

Adopt the simplest presentation for your pieces, get the viewers to the content as soon as possible. Reduce all the friction to access your work, especially the first impression.

3D embedded models like sketchfab are better than video, use video reels only for animation, art directors hate video reels

You have to show your work in engine.

The modeling software you use doesn’t matter as long as you put it in engine and looks good.

It’s NOT ok to show your work inside of Substance Painter.

Keep the site updated and relevant, get rid of the old work.

The resume/CV doesn’t matter, only the portfolio matters.

Artstation, polycount, twitter are common recruiting pools. Art directors often look for artists on the internet for freelance work.

If you are using social media for sharing your work, separate your professional profile from your personal one.

Re-applying after a rejection is fine, especially once in a while and showing progress, showing new work.

Don’t get discouraged, in the art field, studios are often looking for specific styles on current undisclosed projects – you may not be a good fit at that particular time

Recruiters will look into your internet presence to make sure you are not an asshole

Don’t wait to be looking for a job to look for a job, show your work, make contacts before you are desperately looking for employment.

Execution time is not super important, the art test (assigned after you are shortlisted) will tell us how fast you are