Creating An Art Portfolio To Get A Job Making Games

As a Lead Artist, I have reviewed hundreds of job applications and gone through the hiring process for a bunch of Artists and Animators, as such I know the process for hiring that most companies go through and as such can provide some useful information. More than anything else, potential employers will be looking at the applicant’s art portfolio when they apply for a job. Whilst other information such as job history is also very important, normally the first, and sometimes the last, thing a recruiter is going to look at when looking at an application.

Art Portfolios Are The Most Important Part

As recruiters in the games industry, we have to look through a lot of applications for each role that we put out there. As such we need a way to get through applications quickly which means picking out the ones that aren’t relevant. Whilst I encourage people to apply for jobs even when they think they might not match the criteria because you still might be the best candidate, it’s up to the recruiter to find the best ones out of the bunch as fast as possible. To do this, we’ll look at one of two things first, either the job history or more likely, especially for Junior level roles, we’ll go straight to your portfolio.

Art portfolios on Artstation

When looking at your application, we will look for a link to your portfolio, which should be highlighted and easy to see on your resume. Once there we’re most likely going to take a look at only a few of your art pieces, the ones most prominent, the ones that catch our eyes the most or the most recent ones to show what you’re capable of right now. And that leads us on to the next part.

Keep Art Portfolios Concise

As an artist, you are going to have years and years of artwork under your belt, some you will be proud of and others not so much. Although it can be tempting to show everything you have to offer as the more you have to show the more proof you have of your abilities and it shows how hardworking you are. However, this is the opposite of what you want to be doing. You will want to keep your art portfolio as small and concise as possible.

As we have limited time, as mentioned above, we want to see the very best you have to offer and that’s it. If you’re applying to be a Character Artist, we’d rather see one or two amazing characters rather than a portfolio of 100 not-so-great characters. Even if those same 2 great characters are in amongst that 100, it says to the recruiter that the work is inconsistent, or we might not even see the best ones as we glance over them all. As such, it goes without saying that you should only show your best work.

Specialize Your Art Portfolio

Another thing to think about when making your portfolio is specialization. In general, you should only show your relevant work. Again, if you are applying for a Character Artist position it might be tempting to throw some amazing environment work in there to show you are multi-talented. Whilst you can show other work, this sometimes suggests a lack of focus or commitment to a particular role, particularly if your portfolio is, say, 90% environments as you used to be an environment artist but want to switch to characters. In these instances, I suggest having multiple portfolios.

Whilst it might seem crazy to have multiple portfolios it can work for some people. Having a specialized work application portfolio that you use to apply for certain roles can help increase your chances, whilst having a more personal one allows you to show off all of your work to your peers and get feedback. Be warned though, in this situation if it is up to the recruiter to find your portfolio they may find the wrong one. So make sure it is clear in your application and resume and make sure to provide links. It’s not a problem if they like your work and go digging for more, as this means they have shown an interest in you and are more open to hiring you, it’s just that initial showcase that you need to nail.

How To Set Up Your Portfolio

Now that we have gone over some basic dos and don’ts of setting up your art portfolio when applying for a job in the games industry, let’s talk about the best way to set one up. In the past artists would usually host their own websites where they can showcase their art however they want. Some people still prefer to do this as you have complete control of how you show the work as well as who can see it. Whilst it can really make an application pop it requires a lot more work as well as money to host the site. The similar and easier way, which any games company will find acceptable. Artstation.

Art portfolios on Artstation

Artstation is a great website for artists for a great number of reasons, inspiration, and references among other things. But perhaps it’s most useful for artists is their portfolio option. Not only does this get your images in front of thousands of people where recruiters might find you and where people can give you constructive feedback or praise, but it also creates a portfolio that is neat and easy to view. Whilst not as showy as some custom portfolios, the fact that Artstation has become the industry standard means you won’t be marked down for just dropping your work in there and letting them do the work. On the other hand, while custom portfolios might look great, you risk making them too complicated or hard to understand or view properly which can work against you.

What To Show In Your Art Portfolio

Whilst I cannot tell you exactly what you need to put in any portfolio, I can provide some tips. However, I will preface this with the fact that I am a 3D Artist and have no real experience with 2D. My advice if you are applying to be a Concept Artist or something similar is to show variations of each concept. For a character as an example, turnarounds are pretty standard as well as possibly expression sheets and anything else that can help a 3D Artist to understand your concept and get as close to it as possible. For something like a Matte Painter or Key Art position it’s all about singular beautiful pieces, however, it would serve you well to also show some of your thinking behind it, whether the process you used to make it, how you worked out perspective or anything similar to that to show the depth of thought you put into the process.

For 3D art, you should always showcase your polycount (preferably in triangles) and have a turnaround or multiple shots from different angles as well as a wireframe overlay and the texture maps you have used. This is especially true for characters and key props, although it would be overkill for entire environments, so use you. By doing this you are showing that you have a keen understanding of the concepts involved with making a game asset as well as good working practices. Thankfully there’s another handy tool that you can use for this. Marmoset Toolbag allows you to create renders that allow the viewer to have a 360-degree view of the model, zoom in and out at will and see it with a wireframe or only certain texture maps. As a bonus, these can be plugged straight into Artstation! The downside is you do have to pay for it, and although it’s not as expensive as some other programs in 3D art, it’s not cheap.

Do Your Research

That’s it for all the generalized tips I have for applying for an art job in games development. It’s time to figure out for yourselves exactly which bits apply to you and add your own spice to it to really stand out from the crowd. One really useful thing to do is check out other people’s portfolios at different levels, from senior artists at big companies to people looking for their first job (Artstation is great for this as well). Just bear in mind the difference between the portfolio of someone who makes a living posting a lot of art for their paying audience and those who are using them to apply for a job, as the former will be huge back catalogs of all their work whereas the latter should be short and concise.

Good luck!

Looking for more information on entry-level jobs? Check this out. Or to see our complete guide to being a Game Artist you can find that here.