[Art that shows direct relevance to games is so much more important than showcasing specific skills or personal preference when building a portfolio, says NinjaBee art director Brent Fox.]
Artists often ask me how they can improve their portfolios for the video game industry. While the best advice I could give would be tailored to each individual's work, I would like to give some general advice that I think could help most artists improve their portfolio.
It's easy to find a lot of useful advice about what to include in a portfolio so most artists already have a solid foundation. I assume that anyone reading this has some basic information and an understanding of the game industry. My goal is to take a step beyond the basics. Reading and understanding this advice is easy, but the real trick is to see how to apply this advice to your own portfolio. If you can't see the flaws in your own work, your artistic progress may be stifled.
A Chain's Weakest Link
Carefully choose what to include in your portfolio. Quantity is important to demonstrate you can keep a consistent level of quality and to show variety. However, quality is more important than quantity. You will be judged on your worst piece of art.
If you have nine great pieces and one bad, the bad one is assumed to represent the kind of work an employer can expect to see most of the time. If you have one bad piece, it also implies that the rest of your work is as bad or worse than that bad piece of art.
You're not competing with your high school buddies. You are competing with industry veterans. When putting together a portfolio look at the best artists in the industry for inspiration. Don't feel comfortable just because you were the best in a class you took in college, or at your last developer.
Make it Memorable
If your art looks like everything else in the game industry it may be easily forgotten. An art director should remember your art, even after spending a couple of hours browsing hundreds of blogs and portfolios. If a position crops up a week later and the art director remembers your work, you are much more likely to get a job.
Art First, Experience Later
If you can't create good art, your experience doesn't matter much. In fact, if you have a lot of experience and your art still isn't impressive, it is much worse than a beginner who shows potential. Experience is important, but only after you have caught an employer's attention with your art. Most art directors won't even look at a resume until they are impressed by the portfolio.
It is often easy to tell if an applicant has game experience just by looking at their portfolio. The art in a portfolio of an artist who is inexperienced in the game industry doesn't look like it was used for actual games.
Drawing orcs and spaceships isn't enough. It goes deeper than just the subject matter. It's about including art that would be used during the production of video games. Even if your portfolio pieces are from personal projects and have not been used professionally, that doesn't mean they can't appear to be "real". This can mean different things for each art role at a game developer. I will discuss some specifics when I go more in depth about the different art disciplines.
Each piece of art in a portfolio can serve to demonstrate a specific skill or ability. If you are planning to create new art to enhance your portfolio, you should start with a goal of highlighting a specific artistic skill.
Demonstrating technical ability is very important. However, even more important is also showing some traditional art ability along with the technical skills. Art that only shows technical skills will leave your portfolio flat and unimpressive. For example, you never want to put something in a portfolio just because it shows that you know how to use Zbrush. It also should show off your artistic ability.
Examples of basic art skills:
You can't fool me. Too often, artists put 3D models or concept art in a portfolio with a weird distorted monster or use a poorly executed version of a particular style, like anime, to justify bad proportions and poor anatomy. Typically, these artists choose this subject matter because they think it hides the fact that they don't have a good handle on human anatomy. Even if the artist actually is capable of producing correct anatomy, without proof, it will give the impression that they can't.