TIPS FOR CONSISTENCY - Consistency will lay the groundwork for your portfolio. A portfolio that has consistent high quality artwork is ideal for getting your portfolio noticed!
1. It's important to stick to one profession. As an Environment Artist, your portfolio should consist primarily of the skills behind environment creation: modeling, texturing, world building and lighting. An Environment Artist in the games industry will generally be doing most, if not all, of these things. Adding things like characters or animation can be hurting you more than helping. By no means am I saying that you can’t be great at everything or excel in more than one position. What I am saying is the likelihood of getting your portfolio noticed for a specific position is much better when you stick to one profession.
2. Consistent Quality throughout your portfolio is a must. As an artist, sometimes it can be hard to let go of the work we do. But that environment piece you did 8 months into college can be hurting you instead of helping. Be sure to keep your portfolio up-to-date; don’t be afraid to get rid of work if it’s holding your portfolio back. If you are having trouble deciding it maybe best to ask a few fellow artists their opinion on your work as well. Quality is more important than Quantity. A great portfolio doesn’t always have a lot of content. 1 or 2 very well made environment pieces will be better than 6 mediocre pieces any time.
3. Consistent model and texture quality is also key - no Faceting or low-res textures! In games, we are always mindful of our use of geometry and textures. In your portfolio, however, it is okay to add extra geometry and texture resolution to make it look amazing. I get the question now and again of “What texture resolutions do I use? Or, what is acceptable?” I love to present my work with 2k or 4k textures. I will even render simple tiling texture presentations at 4k. This is completely okay for your portfolio; in fact I welcome the extra detail.
4. Completed work should be what your portfolio primarily consists of. Your “Work in Progress” shots should stay on art blogs, like Polycount or 10k hours on Facebook.
5. Catering your portfolio to the types of games you would like to work on will drastically increase your chances of landing an interview. Showing your flexibility is great, but try to focus on the style of art that the studio you would like to work at creates. Of course, that does not mean you cannot have other forms of art in your portfolio, just remember that the studio you are looking to work at will be looking for art similar to their own.
TIPS FOR ORIGINALITY - Give it your own touch instead of just copying a photo, or piece of concept art.
1. Be sure to focus on unique ideas for content creation. We have seen plenty of barrels, crates, and tileable red brick wall textures. Step outside the box and think of something interesting we haven’t seen!
2. Instead of one prop at a time, perhaps create a very small, simple environment with a few props in it. Let me give you an example to help explain this further. If I had a cool concept for an intricate antique phone to model and texture. I would start with the phone as my main object and focal point. I would create a small, late 19th century desk scene. My idea is to showcase the top of old dusty wooden desk. I’d include a few other simple props, such as a couple of books stacked interestingly, a candle or lamp, a pen or quill with an inkwell, and some old parchment with a paperweight. To add an element of interest, I would take the phone off the hook and set it on the desk, or spill the ink well. A simple lighting setup, taking a beauty shot and presenting this instead of just the phone would be very appealing to the eye. Of course this is just my simple example. Go crazy with it!
3. Out of courtesy, I like to give credit to any concepts I ask to use, any tutorials I use or just a shout out if I am inspired by someone else’s “style.”
4. Sometimes it can be very hard to come up with something original on our own. I can attest to this myself. I’ve found researching other artist's work, movies, games, as well as looking through real world reference generally gets me motivated. Originality is something that really puts the final touch on your art. Blow your audience away with your attention to detail!
TIPS FOR COMPOSITION - Composition is extremely important when building environments. In Video games knowing how to direct your player through your environments with some of the key elements of design is essential.
1. Aspects such as creating a compelling “Focal Point” to establish the main focus of your piece and guide the eye through a piece of artwork are wildly important for composition. Another guideline is“ The Rule of Thirds.” this is critical for creating a compelling composition by framing your focal point or points of interest in a pleasing way. Establishing a “foreground, mid ground and background” to lead the eye is another tip for adding interest. These key principals will greatly improve the delivery. If you haven’t already, take some time to research and study some of the Elements of Design and principals of photography to build your understanding and execution of your composition.
2. Use silhouettes. An interesting silhouette is key to helping your artwork feel more natural while taking it above and beyond to add that artistic touch. As environment artists, we can use simple tactics to break up edges, angles and lines of sight. Simple things like chipping away on a straight wall and placing props to eliminate long, straight lines of sight will make the silhouettes more interesting. Strong, easily identifiable shapes give the viewer a faster read on what you created. Depending on what kind of art you are creating (realistic, stylized, or a hybrid of both), be mindful of pushing the shape language as much as possible. With more stylized work, you have the opportunity to go wild with your shapes, whereas realistic should be more grounded. When world building, the way you group your assets and layer in your detail is also imperative to achieving an interesting silhouette. While working, I am constantly looking to improve my shape language and making it more interesting. This is a category that deserves some research as well. You can find some wonderful information and tutorials online that will take this even further.
4. Pay attention to proportions. Sometimes, when I am looking through a piece of art, I notice a prop, texture, or doorway that is way out of proportion to the assets around it. If one piece of your overall scene is out of sync with the rest, it will catch the viewer’s eye. Having scale reference in your scene while you are building is a must! Generally, a good scale reference would be a mock up average character size. You generally have the ability to push the proportions with stylized environments, whereas realistic has to stay more grounded to be believable.
Another good idea is to get your artwork into the game engine at an early stage and run around in game to check how everything reads together. Pay close attention to your texel density when uv’ing. Make sure your models, textures and materials read correctly throughout your whole scene. In games, proportions are not only important artistically but can also directly influence gameplay. Whether things are too large or too small, it could directly impede player progression. Always check your work to see if something feels a little off. Keeping all the assets in your artwork cohesive in scale and proportions is another key to a believable composition.
5. Lighting is another essential aspect to the composition of your piece of art. This is another area where I frequently see awesome artwork being hurt by a poorly lit scene/presentation. Lighting really does set the tone, mood and drive the eye through a piece of art. Don’t be the person who didn’t spend a little extra time to get your artwork lit beautifully for your final presentation! Some research into the theory and studio lighting can greatly push your skill and understanding of what is pleasing to the eye. There are many more, but some terms you should be familiar with are, “Key, Rim, and Fill lights“ Along with “Image based Lighting” or IBL. When you ‘re browsing through your favorite artists portfolios pay attention to what you like about their presentations. Draw from what you see, and what you like to strengthen your skills.
Let me give you some very simple tips:
- Lighting tip 1: Make sure your scene or render is bright enough. You want the viewer to see all the work you put in. I frequently see artwork that is just too dark. Make sure your shadows, low-lit areas and nighttime scenarios are still readable to the eye.
- Lighting tip 2: Check your monitor settings for optimal lighting! A correctly calibrated monitor will be best. I also like to check my work on a few different monitors to be sure everything looks great.
- Lighting tip 3: Don’t always stick to the first lighting setup. It can be helpful to try a few different scenarios (dawn, day, dusk, night) until you find what you like. This can be tricky and you may get caught up in hours of slightly changing settings until you are sick of looking at it. But don’t fret; it will be worth it in the end!
7. Presentation is wildly important when finalizing your beauty shots. A simple render, plain backdrop, your name and email off to the side in the corners does the trick. Be sure to keep your name small and off of the main piece of art. That goes for any additional things you add to your presentations (Name, email, logos of software, etc.).
8. Finally, don't forget the resolution and quality of your render. There isn’t necessarily a magic number for this but its safe to say to at least keep your images in HD - something like 1920 x 1080. I personally would recommend going larger for your final images - 3k and 4k are typically where I like to render to present my art.
TIPS FOR SHOWING WORKFLOW - Showing your process and workflow is great, and something to include in your portfolio. Giving the audience a look into how you think, breakdown a task and go about completing it can be very beneficial.
1. I like to do a camera fly-thru when the scene is large. In addition, a time-lapse of your environment from start to finish showing the steps to completion could be a nice touch as well. Be creative, but remember the point is to show the work.
2. Include modeling breakdowns, including wireframe breakdowns, and showing the asset kit you created. Similarly, add in texture breakdowns to showcase how you created them (Zbrush, Substance, Photoshop, etc.). Include some simple renders of your materials.
3. Add in renders of your Hi-Poly artwork and Zbrush sculpts.
4. Show your original designs or concepts if you created them. Simple sketches on paper or in Photoshop are a nice touch to a finished piece of artwork. Showing your original ideas and brainstorming attempts to create an environment is a welcome accessory to be presented. But make sure you present these after your finished artwork.
TIPS FOR BEING ACCESSIBLE - Finally a very accessible website is essential to a successful portfolio. Remember, it’s all about your artwork.
1. Put your best art first. Be eye-catching from the get go!
2. Sometimes, a very simple website design could be the best option. Simple, clean layouts, simple overlays, and clean fonts make it easy for people to get the information they need from your website.
3. A portfolio that is easy to navigate and loads quickly is essential. Being able to open up your portfolio and easily thumb through your best art quickly is a plus! Too many tabs, drop downs and slow loading pages can be annoying for people viewing your portfolio.
4. Have your contact info easily accessible on your portfolio as well!
Thanks, Everyone! I wanna give a shout out to David Budlong And Zak Oliver, as they were both responsible for the majority of the modeling in our Uncharted 4 screenshots. Here are some great examples of accessible sites that excel on the majority of the points I have made:
Anthony Vaccaro - Environment Artist at Naughty Dog
Clinton Crumpler - Senior Environment Artist at Microsoft - The Coalition
Dannie Carlone - Environment Artist at Crystal Dynamics
We want to extend an enormous thank you to Jared for his thorough breakdown and valuable insight. We hope this inspired your portfolio compilation - now go create!