Character Art for Game Production: Making the most out of your portfolio- This article assumes you have a basic understanding of game art terminology.
Recently, there was a Twitter discussion between a few senior and lead character artists about the "do's" and "don'ts" of putting work into a specialized character art portfolio. As a hiring manager for my department, this article elaborates on some of the views that I share with my peers. This article assumes you have a basic understanding of game art terminology.
The Essentials: Breakdown shots of your character.
Typically for a game art character, these include the following:
- A presentation shot that shows the character from different angles, usually perspective and side shots. If the piece in question is a personal piece, giving the character a solid pose is a great way to get our attention as it injects an additional element of personality. However with professional work, we know this isn't always feasible as this can involve large quantities of characters usually being released as part of an "art dump" (Which is why most of the Warhammer work has been released with characters in their T-Pose).
- A model breakdown shot that shows the wireframe of the character as well as some (not all) of the texture sheets used on the character. Its important for us to see how well you understand edge flow on your game asset topology as well as efficient UV unwrapping. Again, regarding professional work, we are aware that this additional breakdown isn't always possible due to non disclosure agreements but for personal work this is a must!
- A shot of the high poly asset. This is to see how clean and crisp your sculpts/high resolution assets are. This also allows us to gauge how much detail you put into your sculpts vs how much you allow a tool such as Substance Painter/Quixel Suite to determine your micro detail level.
- Additional shots (beauty shots that showcase your character in a dynamic pose, close up shots of the face, etc are always welcome!). You don't need to go overboard though, you can sell most of your character through those 3 basic shots!).
Navigation: Keep the structure of your website simple!
Flash sites, with fancy swooping graphics and loading screens. Unfortunately, I do see these and they are completely unnecessary. All I am interested in is the quality of your work, not how impressive your website is. The same goes for your website directory structure. Ideally, I want to be able to click on a gallery image and thats it....instant access to your work. An image gallery service such as Artstation or Behance makes this incredibly straightforward to set up.
Zbrush Sculpts Only: Well....you're half way there I guess.
When hiring, this is one of the biggest banes of my life.
I'll be honest, i'm not overly concerned with how much experience you have outlining your resume. If I only see sculpts on your portfolio, I'm going to instantly assume that you are only familiar with 50% of the workflow.
I appreciate this is unfair on my part, you might be fantastic at texturing/retopology/unwrapping/etc. However, I have hired people in the past with the exact above situation (fantastic resume but a sculpt only portfolio) and it rarely worked out well. Different companies have different expectations of what they want from their employees. There are a few places that hire artists to specifically sculpt assets and thats it. In our team, we expect our artists to handle a game ready character from blockout to asset completion (and everything in between). We don't have dedicated texture artists, hair artists or sculptors. We take ownership and accountability for each character we produce.
It's not just about seeing how well you can texture or create a game ready mesh. It's about seeing how well you handle fur/hair cards, it's about seeing how well you have adapted to physically based texturing, etc. Some artists with an amazing resume might have worked on some amazing titles from the PS2/early PS3 era, but that doesn't help me if you don't know how to use certain techniques are relevant now. There will always be another artist who might not have as much experience than you, but if they wow me instantly with their game art folio then as far as i'm concerned they have 100% better chance of getting an interview.
Marmoset Viewer and Sketchfab: Awesome way to showcase work...but....
Now, i'm not against the above at all. In fact I think you can do some cool stuff with it. But bear in mind that as a hiring manager, I am usually trying to get my own art done, being involved with meetings and other teams, giving feedback and direction to my own team and am generally very busy. So when looking through an applicants portfolio, I need to see results straight away (see the section on "Navigation" too :)) .
Still images allow me to get an impression of your work immediately. The above however take time to load, might not always load, might not be phone friendly, etc. Now assume i'm looking through 20 different character folios. Thats a lot of Marmoset Viewer loading time.
Please note, I have no objection to you putting this on your portfolio (I embrace it fully) but please make the still images a priority. (Ideally, have your stills at the top of your page and then have videos/viewer stuff at the bottom so I see the stills first).
Originality: Same old....same old.
If you're going to do Batman, put a twist on it.
If you're going to do Generic Soldier #102, think about how you can take that soldier and make it different.
If you're going to make Angkor Wat, how would something like that exist in a future where tech has helped rebuild it into a thriving metropolis?
Just because you want to get a job at "Netherrealm" or "Infinity Ward" doesn't mean you have to emulate what they do to a tee. At that point, you run the risk of getting lost in a crowd of clone art. Yes, the quality of work will vary greatly but there will always be someone who does something equally as good or even better (assume you are not the best artist in the world!). However, by introducing an interesting variable into the mix you will stand out a hell of a lot more against the crowd and even if its not technically the best piece it will certainly get my attention.
Focusing on one style: Diversity = Flexibility.
Some other hiring managers might disagree with this one but this is my view on it anyway. I don't want to see people who just make World War 2 soldiers, or just make fancy Spartans. Diversity means flexibility.
Just because you want to work for "Blizzard" and can hand paint the best "World of Warcraft" art doesn't mean you could still work for that company when WoW (god forbid) ever goes away and you have to make art for their up and coming realistic, gritty shooter (Though I doubt Overwatch 2 will take a drastic turn in that direction :)).
A bit of fantasy, a bit of sci-fi, a bit of realism, characters from both sexes, possibly some creature work and you have a folio that shows that you are adaptable to any situation. You can handle both hand painted art and current gen work with physically based texturing techniques. You can create super low poly art, as well as art that wouldn't look out of place in "Horizon: Zero Dawn". And again, this just makes for an interesting portfolio.
I hope this article helps people with their character art portfolios, and look forward to hopefully working with a few of you peeps in the future :D.
Lead Character Artist at Creative Assembly, TW: Warhammer.