What a great and helpful guide you've written. Respect.
Just updated it!
Why didn't you share the URL to sign up in the article
Tim Simpson allowed us to repost his awesome article with tips on getting into the industry. Study the tricks and go get yourself a job!
So you want to be a video game artist…
The goal of this article is to be an evergreen resource that’s updated to be relevant and useful to anyone regardless of if they went to school, are self-taught or are already in the industry. Hopefully you can take these tactics and apply them to your situation, hopefully, there might be a few more of those “I JUST GOT MY FIRST JOB!!!11!!” threads being posted. Success is always something that should be celebrated. Let’s crack the tips!
I really wish it was as simple as just tightening up the graphics on level 3…
1. Your game art portfolio should contain actual game art…
Piles of ZBrush only sculpts and half-finished character busts. Galleries filled with insanely detailed high poly vehicles or weapons, rendered to perfection in KeyShot. Row upon row of awesome looking substance shader balls with displacement settings cranked through the roof. And not a single piece of realtime art to be found.
If you are going to be working at a game studio, indie or AAA, you need to clearly demonstrate a thorough understanding of the entire workflow in your chosen field. This means getting to the end product. Show you can take an environment from blockout, modular breakdown, and asset production to a final layout that looks great as a whole. Show you can build a character from high-poly to a nice clean baked down TEXTURED game asset that is going to be friendly for the technical/animation teams to use. Show you understand how textures and materials work on in-game geometry, utilize vertex blending, show you know how to use trim sheets and UV objects correctly if you want to be a texture artist. If you think you can just turn on real-time displacement and call it a day…think again.
If you are going to be working in a studio environment, you need to be working with the final product in mind. While there might be a rare job opportunity for a high poly creature sculpting artist popping up, those are likely to be snapped up by super senior talent with years of experience. With so many presentation options like Unreal and Unity available for free, there is really no excuse not to be presenting your work as a real-time, finished product. It will show you understand the game art workflow and that you have skills that are actually relevant to the open position. It’s a big part of the equation!
2. Context is king
The more relevant information you can give to the people looking to fill the open position the better. Give them all the pieces of the puzzle they are trying to fill in. Are you applying for an environment artist position but your portfolio only consists of a collection of props and no fully fleshed out scenes? Applying to somewhere like Blizzard with a portfolio filled with gritty photo-real assets leaves a lot of questions unanswered for whoever is looking at your portfolio. Or perhaps applying to work on Call of Duty with a portfolio filled with hand-painted work, no matter how high quality it is. Quality is a huge factor up to a point, but without context, it can only get you so far.
No doubt the person might be able to see you are a great artist, but their more immediate concern is finding someone who can clearly demonstrate they can produce work that fits the studio/project art style. They want to hire someone who needs a little training and time to ramp up as possible. A lot of the time, hiring comes during the heat of production and there isn’t time to hope that a good artist can quickly learn or adapt to a specific art style.
3. Radio silence is a form of feedback.
It’s impossible for studios to reply to every applicant, some get hundreds per day ranging from “Joe the ideas guy” to people with zero relevant experience or even a portfolio to show. If they spent time replying to everyone, they would never be able to do their actual jobs.
If you are not hearing back from a studio, take it as a no and that you didn’t make the cut this time. I am shocked by the number of posts I see where people are questioning this and asking for feedback on the layout of their portfolio website as if a simple formatting issue is a thing holding them back from their dream job. Or perhaps their application got lost in the system?! It’s 2018…email systems work, applications don’t fall through the cracks. Thinking like that is like printing out an email, faxing it to a friend and then calling them to make sure they got it. And then sending a carrier pigeon to follow up.
The lack of response is not a personal attack, it simply means you need to re-focus and improve your skillset. When your work is great, it will cut through the noise of the hundred daily applications and grab their attention. Once you have their attention, you will start to get replies. Until then, keep pumping those art muscles and make you some gains!
4. Just because you finished an art school program and technically tick all the boxes doesn’t guarantee you a job.
That’s pretty appalling and can certainly lead to a sense of entitlement from some students, expecting to be ready to work in the industry as soon as they graduate. They brag about their 4.0 GPA on their “about me” section of their resume, while their portfolio is…lacking.
Then, 20 applications later, they are bashed against the jagged rocks of reality. For game art positions no one gives a single f*ck about your grades (your parents don’t count). This is the real world baby…time to adapt. The number of people I’ve worked with who failed high school but are killer artists outweighs the Johnny/Sally GPA’s with a lukewarm portfolio at a ratio of roughly 1000:1
Just because a job posting says you need to be familiar with the high poly to low poly workflow, what they really mean is you need to be experienced and have done this many times over and are producing high quality work consistently. Having baked out one sci-fi wall panel or humanoid character using that workflow in a school project doesn’t necessarily meet expectations. Remember, as mentioned above, its all about what you can SHOW you can do. Which leads to the next point.
5. With so much competition out there, your work needs to be AAA quality.
If your work is amazing, then those junior artist jobs asking for 1-2 years worth of experience could well be within your reach. If you are putting out work that is consistently hitting that AAA level, people will notice. Great art grabs the viewers attention, and once you have that, you are well on your way to getting hired.
This might mean going back and revisiting your student portfolio work for a re-texturing pass, or re-doing the lighting on a scene that is 80% of the way there. I am often blown away by how students disregard critiques and move onto the next project when investing just a few more hours and extra effort could easily elevate their existing work to a new quality bar.
Depending on how much work you produced at school or during a self-teaching period, this could be as extreme as throwing away all the old work that is actually an anchor dragging you down, and starting fresh with your current skill set. Posting your work on forums will help give you an indication and net you feedback from industry pros in the process. There is even a thread on Polycount specifically showcasing the portfolios of people who recently got hired. Check it out and see how your portfolio stacks up against the competition.
With so much media available online, you should easily be able to find screenshots or let’s plays of the studio’s last/current project. Hold your work up next to it and ask yourself honestly how big the gap is. Pivot accordingly, back to your home studio for some revisions or smash that apply button with confidence. Aim for quality over quantity, and cut any old work you are unsure of. Be brutal, and subjective. Don’t be romantic about your work, because the people looking to hire you won’t be. 3 amazing pieces give you a better chance of winning than 6 “ok” pieces that feel like they are there to simply fill out the portfolio.
6. If you were rejected 6 months ago, don’t re-apply with a small update to your portfolio.
Chances are there are one or two pieces that stick out in rejected applicants portfolios and seeing those again when the person re-applies brings back negative memories of why they didn’t make the cut the first time. This usually applies to people still using their portfolio created while in art school. Seeing the same work that didn’t make the cut the first time with maybe one new portfolio piece is going to hurt you more than help. 6 months is a long time, and if you are consistently producing new art, you should be auditing your old work out of your portfolio. You are only as strong as your weakest piece and sometimes less is more as mentioned above.
Come back fresh and hit hard, over deliver rather than show minor signs of improvement. There have been several artists in the past where their portfolio improvement over 6 months to a year has been night and day, which is extremely refreshing and shows dedication and passion for your craft, which will more than likely get you an interview if your portfolio is a good fit (context + quality).
7. When possible, attack from the side!
8. If you are a digital artist, your portfolio should live on ArtStation.
9. Even if you are “in talks” with a studio, keep producing new work and applying elsewhere.
10. A little patience goes a long way
First off, thanks for taking the time to power through that novel of a post! I really hope you got some form of value out of it that you can use to help achieve your goals/dream job. These thoughts are just my own opinions based on the last 10 crazy years of bouncing around the industry. I have been fortunate to work with some really talented people and had some amazing mentors over the course of my career, so I am trying to do what I can to reach back and help others avoid some of the pitfalls and setbacks I encountered along the way.
It can be a frustrating process when you are first starting out but stick with it and I can tell you from experience it’s definitely worth it!
Tim Simpson, 3D Artist
The article was originally published on Polygon Academy.