It has now been almost a couple of years since the release of my Artstation Learning Courses. This has brought my profile to the eyes of many artists out there, who decide to ask about their portfolios seeking advice on how to present their work, as they most of the time don't understand why the quality of their work doesn't land them a job.
Let me clarify. I get portfolios from people that could very well substitute me in my job but can't land a job as a junior artist. This is 100% caused by how they decide to present their art.
What I am about to say has been said a million times already, but I figured I could unify those things into one single post and bring this conversation to the table once again.
With this article, I mean to give some basic guidelines to make a portfolio and its pieces incredibly attractive to an employer. We will cover some basic guidelines I follow when getting my work ready for showcasing and I'll try to provide a bit of advice on how to make sure you stand from the crowd.
For these, you need some strong modeling and texturing skills, but I won't cover that part here, as this article is meant to make your portfolio pop, not necessarily tell you what you should put in it. Let's start!
.01 - Lighting and Shading.
Lighting your scene with just an HDRI is not enough. I see many great pieces with a huge amount of potential that end up being ignored because of boring lighting.
Understanding the importance of great lighting in a presentation is crucial to selling your work to the viewers.
If you decide to completely skip this part and apply a predefined sky in Marmoset Toolbag 4 and turn on Raytracing, you are, in most cases, throwing away however much time it took you to model a piece.
In this field, reference is key. A simple google search containing "Dramatic Lighting on Still Life" will give you tons of ideas on how to present your piece.
Look at how interesting lighting can make an onion and some garlic.
Notice how there is a much richer material in the image below? Some directional lights added to the skybox with their color and rotation tweaked will achieve these results. Both are still onions and garlic, but our perception changes a lot when we introduce good lighting to our images.
Sometimes objects ask for a good background, not just a flying model in a black environment. This is up to the artist to decide. Take my crime scene piece for example, vs. the knife. Both are interesting, but they are rendered differently.
Showing this type of variety is also very important in a portfolio, as employers like to see how you function under different circumstances.
Look at this render I took for the knife I did for my Artstation course on fast workflows, for example.
I've got eight different lights coming from different directions to bring the silhouette and roughness of my model to life!
Don't be scared to play around with lighting, as it is by far one of the most efficient ways to catch someone's attention. Use as many as you need, but keep in mind the more elements you have in your scene, the more changes you'll have to make if you don't like something.
Thanks to these lights, I ended up with this result:
When compared with just the skybox, you can really see a difference in the interest between the two. The volume on the second one even makes the image pop!
It is extremely important to bring the shading on your model to life. That means, showing the different roughness and metallic values in action.
If you want to learn more about how I approach compositing and lighting props and scenes, check out this Artstation Learning Series!
.02 - Use the ACES Tonemapping.
A while ago, I wrote an article about how to work with this tone mapping profile. It just makes the image much richer in color.
Similar results can be achieved when playing with the contrast and saturation values. Still, when it comes to your portfolio, a consistent way to present your work is key, and nothing better than just switching to a different value in a drop-down menu to achieve this in the most simple of ways.
Here are the results between a Linear Tonemapping and ACES in Marmoset Toolbag.
You can't tell me this doesn't make a difference.
This is not about different technologies or proving that your renders use the latest techniques. It is about showing an effort for a good presentation. Investing time in every step of the process demonstrates passion and care throughout the development of a piece.
I see many great pieces that were rushed and presented with no care just to get them out there, which completely kills the purpose of making art.
.03 - A Balance Between Quality and Quantity.
When presenting your work, try to keep the page short enough so that the viewer can enjoy not only your artwork but also a breakdown of it.
If you bury your wireframe images in a huge load of renders, chances are your audience will most likely skip half of them or just think that there isn't much more to see other than a lot of different views of your object.
I make this mistake a lot. In fact, I doubt you will find a breakdown in my portfolio, not because I didn't want to add it in, but because I didn't know their importance until I started hiring people.
I love seeing nice beauty shots, but I also need to understand how tidy you are as an artist, and UVs plus wireframes are a great way to show these skills.
A single picture looking something like this will boost my curiosity for you as an artist quite significantly, and I'm sure this happens to other hirers too.
There are 3 things I can see in the image above:
- The artist cares for the silhouette in his work and uses geometry appropriately to achieve a good one.
- UV space is not wasted, and the model is cleanly unwrapped.
- There's a sense of care to show the behind-the-scenes of his work.
As silly as they might sound, these are essential statements that can be gathered from a simple image like this. You are showing there is nothing to hide with your models too.
If you used symmetry in your UVs, it is a good moment to state it as well. You can do this via small text in the image, alt text, or any way you see will be easy to read and understand.
If you are curious about my processes when creating game art, and the best practices I follow, make sure you check out this tutorial:
There are some obvious mistakes in the mesh, or a bit of a darker lighting on the crime scene renders, but no artist is perfect.
One question I get asked during interviews is, "what would you change within this model?" That is the perfect segway to explaining those errors to your employer, showing a good sense of self-criticism.
I am not extremely interested in seeing bakes or maps for this particular example. Those are good to see but aren't crucial to showing a clean model. This is where your judgment on quality vs. quantity comes to play. If you don't end up posting them, make sure they are ready to be shown if an employer asks for them in an interview tho!
.04 - Tutorial Work is Not a Portfolio.
I love seeing the results of tutorials in portfolios, but never exclusively.
Many artist's skill set is only proven to an employer via a portfolio full of assets made while following a tutorial.
As I said, I love to see how you can give someone else's work your personal touch, but at the end of the day, while following a tutorial, you are essentially copying what someone else is making.
I need to see work that came out of your mind, of your own inspiration, and that was tackled without someone else's continuous support.
Referring back to a tutorial is great, but when in a workplace, independence is crucial.
.05 - Be More Than an Art Only Profile.
With this one, I mean, don't just show art in your portfolio. Employers love to know a bit about you way before they think about interviewing you.
Writing articles, breakdowns of your work, or simply telling your story will help establish a great connection between your employer and you.
A while ago, I wrote an article about building an online presence, which is a super relevant topic for this point.
Helping others and getting help is a magnificent way to get your fellow artists to know you better, and who knows, it might even bring some work your way!
This is going to be completely shameless, by the way, but this blog you are reading right now is a great way to achieve this particular point. If you are willing to write an article, tell your story, and help others understand the human behind the art, you can start by joining our Discord Server and drop me a line!
In any case, thank you for reading, and have a great day! We'll see you around.