The biggest concern facing aspiring VFX students is how they can translate their education and portfolio work into a career at the company of their dreams. Central to your success, no matter what role you’re applying for, is your portfolio, since this is the best chance you have to showcase to your potential future employers the kind of work you’re capable of doing.
At Autodesk, we’ve regularly hosted portfolio review sessions, whereby artists submit their portfolios to a group of industry professionals for 30-45 minutes of free, one-on-one review, to help give artists a chance to see how their work might be evaluated. From our experience doing these, we’ve noticed some common mistakes applicants make, as well as generated some useful advice to help them maximize their chances of finding work in the company of their dreams.
Follow our 8 helpful tips to help you perfect your portfolio below.
1. Tailor your portfolio to the role you’re applying for
If you’re applying for a generalist position, by all means keep your portfolio as wide-ranging as possible, but if you have a particular aspiration – to be an environment artist, for example – then you need to make sure your portfolio showcases your skills in that specific area. Likewise, aspiring character artists shouldn’t dilute their portfolios with excess information. Show your future employer not only what you can do, but what you want to do!
2. Present your work in static, non-video format
A lot of applicants present their portfolios in the format of a video montage, often uploaded to YouTube. It makes sense, in a way: you can fit a lot more work into a compressed time period. But unless you’re specifically creating an animation portfolio, we strongly urge you not to present your demo reel as a video. Industry reviewers want to be able to see static images in detail, and inspect them at their own leisure. Sketchfab and Marmoset Viewer are better options to showcase your work.
3. Take advantage of showcasing services
Don’t feel ashamed to use pre-existing services like AREA or ArtStation. They help you arrange your work, and also do all of the heavy lifting in terms of making it compatible across various browsers, including mobile browsing. Remember: the idea is to make it as easy as possible for your reviewer to see and appreciate your work.
4. Only show your best work – and don’t overdo it
As a general rule, quality is always better than quantity. First drafts and early student work might be a great illustration of how far you’ve come, but your employer wants to see what you’re currently capable of, not where you started. Or, as one reviewer put it: “A portfolio is only as good as its weakest piece.”
“A portfolio is only as good as its weakest piece.”
5. Make your work stand out at a glance
Think of this as an addendum to the last piece of advice. You need to wow your reviewer right away, rather than make them do a deep dive through your work before they come across your best and most intricate creations.
“A good portfolio is about catching the reviewer’s attention right away,” one reviewer told us. “When I was at a studio and a part of the hiring process, we got a lot of applicants, but we didn’t always have time to review them thoroughly; often we were reviewing during a short break or while standing in line for coffee. If an application didn’t catch our eyes in the first 30 seconds, we often moved right on to the next one.”
This isn’t the time to be modest. Put your best foot forward and lead with your best stuff. It could make all the difference.
6. Don’t obsess over your credentials – your work should speak for itself
One of the great things about this industry is that credentials can only get you so far. Too many students are concerned with what their application says on paper, when the truth is, nothing will matter more to a reviewer than your work itself.
"Too many students are concerned with what their application says on paper, when the truth is, nothing will matter more to a reviewer than your work itself."
If you really feel like you’re missing some key skill, one reviewer suggested, simply seek out a peer or mentor figure to help point you in the right direction. There’s very much an ethos of comradery and a willingness to help, and the willingness to seek that out can be just as important as a formal credential.
7. Offer a short write-up of your most important work
If you have one particular project that you’re proud of, or that you worked very hard on, or that involved some creative approach to problem-solving, feel free to write a short (no more than one paragraph) description. “I loved it when the applicant was able to provide a short write-up about the work, to provide some additional context,” one reviewer shared with us, “especially since in reality I would not be able to sit down with them and ask them about their work.”
8. Participate in online communities for valuable feedback
A common complaint among reviewers was that many of the design standards used in schools were out of date in the industry itself, often extremely so. “There is no lookdev going on in the 3D DCCs, because the students were all taught to go into Unreal,” one reviewer griped. “There are some bad and inefficient habits that are coming out of the schools, as they push students into real-time as a means to get a job.”
The solution, as many reviewers pointed out, is to submit your portfolio for review somewhere online, or to ask for feedback on one of the many online forums.
“I prompt students to participate in online communities as a way to network and gain experience,” one reviewer told us. “Polycount, CGSociety and other software forums are a great place to get feedback and gain in knowledge, as well as possibly make industry connections.”
Submitting your work for review can be one of the scariest aspects of working in this industry, but it can also work in your favor if you know how to present yourself and your work in the best possible light.