Tagged: portfolio

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!


Your website: build it or outsource it?

Your website: build it or outsource it?
You might want a website for your portfolio, for your company, to show off pictures or just to talk about your cats. It might be your first web page, or maybe you had one at a time but had bad experience with it. It any case, you want a new one and don’t know here to start.

There are a few questions to ask yourself first:

  • What kind of content will you need for your site? Interactive forms? E-commerce? Video or audio feeds?
  • Does the site have to look pro?
  • Do you change your mind every 2 days and like to change your website about as often?
  • How much time do you have to invest in your site?
  • How much money do you have to invest in your site?
  • Do you enjoy learning new technology? Can you learn fast?
  • When do you need your site?
  • How much updating and maintenance will your site need?
  • Do you want to build a page to LEARN how it’s done? (As a hobby or for future use)?

Yeah, that sounds like a lot of questions, but choosing to do your site yourself or to outsource is an important choice to make. There are other options that are a mix of the 2, like using a ready made template or hiring someone to build the site and teach you how to update it.
Personnal page option
If all you want is a personal space to put up pics and talk about personnal stuff, you don’t really need to build a site, you can just create an account on MySpace (just like I did) or on any blogging site. You can also create a www.photobucket.com account and put your pics there, from there you can link to your pics from any forums or blogging account. These services are free and ad-driven, but if you aren’t looking for pro-level webspace they are quite sufficient and easy to use and maintain. One thing to consider when choosing a free space is:”will your visitors have to login/create an account to see your stuff?” Having to create an account is a major turn off to a lot of people. I think MSN livespace is like that.

If you are interested in learning to build your page yourself for fun or to put that in your resume even if you only have personnal content, keep reading.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a programmer but I am fairly tech savvy. That said, I have been working with HTML since 1996 and had time to adapt to the newer technologies. My first book was Teach Yourself web publishing with HTML in a week by Laura Lemay. In 3 hours I had a pro-looking (for the time) website up and running, on my hard drive. That was back when websites were in black text on grey background and when you stumbled upon an image you were all excited. Nowadays it’s a little more complicated… But not that much.
DIY option
What does building your site involve? Well, a basic website nowadays isn’t much more complicated than it was circa 1995. Everything web is based on HTML just like it was back then. An HTML file is just a .txt file containing specific codes where you change the .txt extension to .htm or .html. HTML stands for HyperTextMarkupLanguage.

To see what it looks like, there is an option in most browser to view the HTML of the page you are currently looking at. Like in Opera it’s View>Source or CTRL+F3. The difference is now there are many other kinds of technologies that can be used to generate HTML or to be plugged in HTML to give more functionalities. CSS is one of the most used options, it allows you to separate the content of the page from it’s formating. So if your site has 10 pages (10 html files,) you can change 1 CSS file and the colors and layout of the entire site changes.

Other options are Java, Javascript, Flash, Shockwave. Means to generate HTML and scripts are PHP, Pearl, ASP etc.

Having a website also involves having a home for it, do you want to use a free hosting service, (maybe one is included in your ISP service) or do you want full service and your own domain like mywebsite.com. Hosting and domain registry are 2 different services but many providers have bundles with both services together for the same price. Paid for hosting can range from 25$ a year to thousands of dollars so you have to be careful and see what your needs are before choosing.

I will come back in a later post about advises on actually building pages but I will start with some links of interest:

How To Identify Effective Color Schemes
Online tools to choose a color scheme to your website, often a tricky topic.
The most complete online guide I have seen so far about the technologies used to put content online and their proper use. May seem a bit dry but a useful reference.
Fairly advanced site that shows the possibilities of CSS for layout while being compliant to proper web standards.

Outsourcing option
Maybe your want many different kinds of content to your page, like a shopping cart and video feed and you don’t want to go throught the trouble of learning it all. Some designers will build your site, manage your domains and host your site for a 1 time building fee and a monthly service fee. You have to be aware that they will take a profit from the hosting and managing but it may well be worth your time if you don’t want to bother with that stuff. Some will most likely build the thing and turn it over to you for maintenance and management. You have to be clear with them about what you want to handle and what your budget is.

Content with databases (like shopping carts, catalogs, forums, memberships) will most likely require regular maintenance. If you are tech savvy but artisticaly impaired you can hire a designer to build the look and feel of the site and do the maintenance yourself.

In any case, always ask for the source files of your site and keep it on back up yourself, .psd and .fla files are always useful for minor updates and you will hate yourself if you lose them or if your web designer leaves the project without giving them to you.

I’ll have an update with more details soon because I have bitten more than I can chew in a single post.

If you have any specific questions about this post or past post, don’t hesitate to ask!

Edited to fix a broken link for the color tools, the original resource has been removed but I found a new one.