There’s nothing worse than sending out your portfolio and getting zero response. And if you are trying to get a job in the game industry, this is going to happen. What can you do to improve your game industry portfolio to the point it gets responses?In the first post, I talked about the mechanics of the job search. This time I’m going to focus on your portfolio development.
You need a game industry portfolio, and it needs to stand out!
We already know the game industry is a high-demand job and that the employers have all leverage. The average art director is swamped with applications and has to wade through a ton of portfolios. For a rookie artist trying to break in, this is a difficult situation.
The good news for artists is that your resume generally doesn’t count as much as your portfolio. The bad news is that if you have a bad portfolio, you are out of luck!
You’ll note that I specifically call this a ‘game industry portfolio’. That means it should be targeted at the game industry – your art should be in game-engines like Unreal! And you should show that you know the general rules of game dev – reasonable polycounts, proper texture usage, good shader creation, etc., all in the game engine.
How does your portfolio affect your job search?
I’ve already talked about the actual search itself. Portfolio management is the second and equally important aspect of finding a job.
The biggest mistake people make is thinking that all they have to do is make a portfolio, and the job offers will come rolling in! This is obviously a joke – you need to be proactive to stand out among all the other candidates. So the search is very important.
But improving and revising your portfolio is just as important! So how do you do it?
First, read my previous post on portfolios to get up to speed:
- What goes into a game art portfolio?
- Quick portfolio site tips (about your website and presentation)
- Want to become a game artist? Specialize!
Second, RUTHLESSLY prune your portfolio
You need to get rid of all your bad work. A single bad piece drops the quality level of your portfolio immensely. One bad piece is enough to make the art director hesitate, and move on to the next candidate.
If I’m on the fence about an artist, and they have just one lousy piece of work, I will pass on them and move to the next candidate. That’s all it takes!
The biggest mistake students make here is trying to use their school work on their game industry portfolio. This doesn’t work! See here for an explanation of why.
And remember, this is specifically a game industry portfolio. Cut anything that doesn’t tie into that!
Like Faulkner said, you have to kill your darlings. But that is hard to do! It would be easier to get an outside perspective…
Third – get an objective critique
You need an outsiders perspective. The best feedback you can get is from professionals. I do offer private, professional critiques. This is a great way to get the feedback you need.
You can try getting feedback online, by posting on forums like polycount.com or zbrushcentral.com. This can be problematic though – if your work is amateurish enough, you will often be met with silence.
The other option is job fairs or recruiting days – some companies will go to schools or hold events, where you have a direct chance to get feedback from experienced professionals. This generally only happens in areas where a lot of companies are concentrated – so it isn’t an option if you’re living in the middle of nowhere.
But whatever the case – be ready for criticism. Don’t try to defend your work in the moment, just accept what is being said and process it later. There’s nothing more annoying than trying to give feedback to a rookie, only to have them push back and try to explain themselves!
Fourth – revise your portfolio
This is where the hard work is. You need to improve your game industry portfolio, which usually means creating new art. That is time consuming!
Ideally you identified your strengths in the previous step. Once you know what you’re good at, you can get rid of everything that doesn’t fit that niche, and you can double down on the things you do well.
This might mean cutting your portfolio down to all but one piece – or even zero pieces! But this is often what you need to do to make progress. Every new piece your create is generally better than your older work.
And one thing you need to focus on is just using what you know. Don’t try to learn new techniques or tools, and create good art at the same time! It is one or the other!
But what about fixing old pieces?
In some cases you may have a piece that just needs some love and polish to improve it to the quality level you need. That’s fine… but be careful here. It is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of trying to salvage bad work. Sometimes it is just easier to start completely over!
Iterate on this process
After you’ve added new work, that is ideally of a higher quality, re-evaluate your portfolio. Your newest work will likely be your best work, which means you may have to cut some of your older work.
How long does this take?
When I was first searching for a game industry job, I spent two years between portfolios. My first portfolio just didn’t make the cut. I learned the hard way, by making lots of applications and hearing nothing back.
But I had no feedback – no professionals to ask, no internet forums to turn to. I had to evaluate my own work and make my own advances. Relying on the advice of others can make this process go by a lot faster!
In the end it really comes down to you as the artist. Don’t feel rushed to get a new portfolio out in a week or a month or even six months. Take your time and get it right. If it takes five years for you, then it takes five years! Do it right!