What new artists need in a C.V. and portfolio

It’s summer 2011, and lots of students will be finishing their degrees and will be applying for jobs. Dare to be Digital is just around the corner, and I often meet artists there who are asking for advice on how to prepare their portfolio and CV, so I thought I should take this opportunity to pull together a few thoughts that might be useful.

The C.V./Resume
The biggest mistake I see on a C.V. or covering letter for an artist is the lack of a link to a portfolio. I’d guess that about 25% of junior artist applications that I’ve seen do not have a portfolio link in their C.V. or cover letter. Your portfolio link should be part of your contact details.

  • No portfolio that people can easily see? This is pretty much an automatic rejection.
  • Check your spelling and grammar! Now, as anyone who has read this site frequently, has worked with me or has talked to me on instant messanger, you’ll know that I’ve got no reason to talk, but I’d spell check my C.V. twice.
  • With word-processing software you have to try pretty hard to get a spelling mistake into a document unless you are good at ignoring squiggly red lines, so there really is no excuse. Proof read your documents several times, and get someone else to read them if you can.
  • Employers can tolerate a spelling mistake or two, but that’s a black mark. If you don’t have the ability to check and polish your CV and covering letter, are you going to be the same person on the job?
  • You shouldn’t attach a photo to your C.V.

So what should you actually have in your C.V., and how long should it be?

You need your contact details, your employment history and your academic qualifications, any other relevant experience, and I’d say that the entire document should run to no more than 2 pages. As someone just starting you won’t have much in the way of employment history that is relevant to the video games industry, but I’d still list your previous employment. That being said, you don’t need to list all your duties – if you worked in a bar you don’t need to list that you sold drinks, collected glasses and washed glasses.

Finally, a matter that is ofter overlooked is the visual style – keep it classic. Your C.V. should be dark text on a white background, with no more than a few fonts. Georgia and Ariel are good, Comic Sans is not.

The Portfolio
Having an online portfolio is vital for an artist, and there is no excuse not to have one. You portfolio websites sole purpose is to showcase you as an artist to hopefully get you a job, and as such there are a few very simple things to keep in mind.

  • You don’t need to learn HTML or CSS, and you don’t need to learn a new authoring package just to create websites, just grab a free site from WordPress, Tumbler or Carbonmade and get images uploaded.
  • Add some contact details, spellcheck everything and get some other people to have a look at it.
  • I’d recommend 6-10 good pieces of work, with several images for each including texture flats and wireframe overlays so that a prospective employer can get an idea of your both your artistic and technical abilities.
  • Every image should have your name and/or website address on it, but don’t obscure the image with huge watermarks.
  • The content of your portfolio should reflect the kind of art that interests you since a wide mix of art can be confusing to a potential employer – “Does this person want to make World of Warcraft characters or GTA environments?”

My next suggestion can be controversial – the content of your portfolio should not be your coursework from your university course (certainly not the earlier years), unless that work is really good. The work you produce at college is often homework, or a collaborative project and as such the goal of that work was to teach techniques. By all mean, use those techniques to create new work, or revisit older work, but the first pass of a dumpster you created in 2 days for a deadline generally isn’t going to be good for a portfolio – spend a week reworking and polishing that asset. Creating a dumpster in 2 days for a deadline is what you’d be doing when you get a job.

A final point – lots of students measure themselves against other students rather than against artists who are working in the games industry, and this is a mistake. There are no shortage of assets available online on various game art forums for you to compare your work against and to learn from.

Images or a video – the importance of a showreel
Some artists get caught up on producing a video for employers to download, this isn’t applicable to all artists.

  • Character and Environment artists – you probably don’t need a reel. A good selection of images trumps a video.
  • Animators – you need a video reel. Screengrabs are useless.
  • Riggers – you need a reel, and ideally you’ll be providing some scripts for downloading.

Other useful skills
Knowledge of a game engine pipeline – exporting models and getting them running in an actual game will give you a better understanding of the job.

The are plenty of games engines out there, all with pros and cons, but I’d recommend the Unreal engine due to the amount of support for it. Go to http://udk.com/download, download the Unreal Development Kit and read some tutorials.

Good luck!

4 Responses to “What new artists need in a C.V. and portfolio”

  1. Seth Gibson Says:

    Great post! I completely agree with the “controversial” statement at the end, in fact I recommend to most students that after they graduate, they take three months off and rebuild everything from the ground up. Sounds like quite a bit of work, but hey, it worked for me:)

  2. Cezar Says:

    Good read!
    I recently listened to reanimators podcast who talked about breaking into the business and one tip he gave to animators were that have screen grabs on your shotlist. That way it’s easier for the interviewer and interviewy to refer to certain shots in the showreel.

  3. Stewart Says:

    A good read. Having had my first taste on the opposite side of the job application process I’ve got to agree with most this and it’s great that this kind of advice is out there for people.

  4. Wase Says:

    I read this post. Then I read every post on your blog. I just want to say…Thank you.

Thoughts on this?