This is the second instalment of a three part blog aimed at graduates and junior artists applying for a job in the Games Industry. In part one (available here) we covered CV and covering letters, this week we will be looking at Portfolio and Showreel, concluding next week with Web Presence and Social Media.
Portfolio & Showreel
As I am sure you are aware your portfolio is arguably the most in important aspect of any application to a creative industry. All too often however I am sent portfolios which are nothing more than an assorted collection of every scribble and/or mediocre flash animation the applicant has ever made since they first opened an Adobe package. Ultimately this comes down to experience, to this day I look back at my first few portfolios and cringe. It is in your interest to curate your viewers experience as much as you possibly can. People enjoy structure and it is in their nature to a follow a path whenever presented with one. I understand that this can be somewhat challenging and people may not necessarily always follow it exactly the way you intended, nonetheless if you build your portfolio with your viewers journey in mind, ultimately you will end up providing them a far greater experience which will ultimately work in your favour.
Back when I was first trying to break into the design industry, I would include every single project I had done since my second year at university, with each piece in chronological order with the notion that I was demonstrating my progression. This was ill conceived on my part as in reality employers are not really interested in how bad you were, they want to know how good you are now. Ultimately what I had done in my naivety was immediately turn off potential employers by starting my portfolio with my weakest piece. It was not until I spoke to a more experienced designer that I was made aware of my mistake. The way he explained it to me was to imagine I was a musician putting together an album. Would the very first track on that album be your worst song? It is the job of the first track to get your audience hooked and retain their attention for as long as you desire. Ever since then I have always tried to keep that comparison in mind when creating portfolios. On top of this it is important to only present your best work. Quality over quantity is a rule which can be quite hard to abide by when creating your portfolio, but if you can be strict with yourself then ultimately you will end up with a far more successful outcome.
Another common mistake I often see, although thankfully somewhat less these days however I still feel it is important to include, is people only showing final renders, paintings and animations, with nothing more. If you have gone through any sort of art training, whether it be through education or self taught, and you are applying for a professional position it is wholly expected of you to be able to produce a good looking final piece of work. Your potential employer however does not only want to see your final outcome but the journey you took in the creation of that piece. What we are looking for is whether you can follow an iterative creative process from conception to final asset creation, as this is what you will be doing 5 days a week if you get the job. In addition to this we need you to provide us with all of the technical information necessary to accurately judge your work. This means; polycount, topology, texture types and sizes, shaders used or created, number of frames in animation cycles and possible time stamps so that we can get an idea of how quickly you work. A quick Google search throws up lots of creative techniques to provide all of this information to your viewer and very often not only does it do just that, but it is actually far more interesting to look at for people who are interested in the creation art than merely showing final pieces is.
The showreel can be your most powerful, and at the same time most damaging aspect to your portfolio. It will very often be the first thing people opt to view and can therefore sway their opinion before they have even looked into the rest of your work in any depth. If you intend on creating a showreel take some time to learn, at very least, the basics of video editing. Even more so than with your portfolio, you really can curate your viewers experience so be sure to take advantage of that. Maintain a reasonable length, no one wants to sit through anything over 5 minutes, which itself is actually far too high. If possible try to keep it below the 3 minute mark. Finally all of the technical information in your main portfolio is still expected here. If you are struggling for ways to successfully include this my suggestion is to look at a few VFX breakdowns. VFX artists are incredible and due to the fact that they work with video for a living their breakdowns and showreels very often offer a lot to learn from. As a final rule of thumb, a bad showreel is far more damaging than no showreel at all, so bear this in mind and don’t be afraid to liberally cut aspects.
During the process of applying for jobs it’s always good practice to be continuously adding to your portfolio. Firstly, you don’t want to fall out of practice. Art is like a muscle; the more you use it the stronger it gets, with extended periods of neglect being detrimental. Not only this, but if the most recent piece of work you have created is 6 months old it does not make a great impression to your potential employer. You are trying to enter a highly skilled industry full of passionate people who live and breathe their craft, and you are expected to be no different.
– Matt (CCO)