Advice to students out there

This post comes from a conversation I had with my colleague Britt Snyder (You can see his portfolio here ) when he came to Montreal for MIGS and afterwards on Facebook. Britt teaches in a Interactive Media & Game Development program and we  concerned ourselves with the perception that some students have that all they had to do was to get their degrees and all the video game company doors would open for them. It is also a follow-up of my account of the MIGS career fair. I thought this might be of use to some of you out there on the world-wide web.


For a start, I thought I’d give a brief idea of where I’m coming from. I have never gotten a studio job by sending a resume cold turkey. My first job I got because  people from the company came to do interviews at the school where I was studying (NAD Center.) To be honest I was very lucky because it was long ago when there were less game schools and they were looking for 2D animators at a 3D school. I was hired because I was one of the few who knew how to draw before getting to that school. I also was one of the few who had a very cute demo with bright colors that might work for a kids game. I shouldn’t have gotten that job, I didn’t know the first thing about 2D animation! But it gave me contacts and experience and several published titles under my belt.

The other jobs I have had, people I knew who worked there referred me. Being vouched for by other people and having shipped titled and the names of big companies help a lot, but things still aren’t a breeze. Even with years of professional experience, you can’t expect to find a job just like that. There are many specialties in art and each position requires a different combo of skills. Have too many skills and someone thinks you are spread too thin. Have too few, you don’t fulfill your role. Add to that the styles of the game the company publishes and it’s even harder to find the right position. I thought that by getting my first job in a studio I had made it and everything would be easy after that. Finding that I had to keep working by myself and improve whatever the position I had reached was a rude awakening.

For freelance work, I have found that it’s all a question of having work in your portfolio that looks a lot like what the client wants. They don’t want to imagine what you could possibly do. For example, I’m unlikely to ever get a gig doing hard sci-fi, I have not a single robot or spaceship in my portfolio. A hefty client list also helps.

My take

While no one would expect a dental hygienist to clean teeth by herself on the weekend beyond the needs of their classes to make sure they have a job upon graduation, unfortunately the same is not true for artists. Everyone can see at a glance how good you are and the competition is fierce. Art is not a protected title, anyone can give it a try to make it with enough hard work. You can’t increase scarcity by restraining training and even if you did, more non-credited schools would pop up. I did some research into art education recently because I’m considering teaching and I have found out that the number of schools in the province of Québec that teach some variation of art or design is staggering. The access to these classes in the public establishment is often limited due to limited  positions available upon graduation but there are many many private schools that sell their services to students who think that what they need is a degree. Some of these programs are very intensive which means that the student gets their degree faster, but also that they have less time to practice on the side.

My advice

If you are in school, you need to get better than anyone else in your class at the thing it is you want to do. You probably won’t be better at everything but most programs teach a variety of skills. You need to find one that you are exceptionally good at. Also, compare what you do with what you see in the types of products you want to work on. No one is going to hire you to make their product look bad. Of course, art director’s will give you pointers and you will learn from your work mates, but you should be able to do SOMETHING that would fit in an existing product.

It’s not worth applying for jobs where you don’t have multiple samples of that particular specialty. I’ve seen that a lot. People with portfolios full of life drawings trying to get jobs in comics. People with portfolios of school work trying for senior jobs. It’s just a waste of everybody’s time.

You want to do concept art, you do several items that look like they belong on the same screen. You want to model, you need several models of different things. You want to animate you need several different animations. Not just walk cycles. And no 1 model, 1 animation, 1 button, 1 texture, 1 life drawing, 1 this, 1 that because that’s all homework. Everyone can tell if a portfolio is full of homework.

At the MIGS career fair there was an art show. There was no jury, as far as I could tell, if you paid, you were in. I was looking at some of the stuff asking myself what the person was thinking. It didn’t look like it belonged in a portfolio, even less on a wall at an industry event. It’s a good thing no one’s going to remember them so it won’t haunt them later, but it’s 25$ gone to waste because someone didn’t compare their work with industry level art. There is no use in promoting your work if it is sub par.

Promoting yourself is a different thing. Getting to know people before your work is of professional level might help you in the long run. Let people know that you are a nice person with a good attitude is a good thing. They might remember that when your art is better. (Note: this doesn’t mean you should stalk industry professionals, this is creepy.)

And since software and feedback is easier to come by in school it’s best to work your ass off when you are there. Because you will have to do it afterwards too, and the more you do it in school, the easier it will be after. It’s the 10 000 hours and all that.
In hope this helps!



  1. Ian

    Here’s the thing though about college. You don’t always have the time to focus on just certain things because you have to take a certain amount of classes and sometimes those classes are equally demanding, Sometimes you just don’t have the time and you are stretched too thin. After college, you’ll have time to focus on the things you want to focus on. When you are in college, you might want to do one thing and focus your time and energy on that but then you realize later down the road, you’d rather do something else and change your mind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s