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What should I have in my portfolio – Fall 2009 edition

October 14, 2009

A collection of stuff that I’ve picked up from art and design people in the industry.

Basic Presentation

  • Dress = business casual (no ties).
  • DVD in plastic case with professional looking cover.
    • Links are easier to misplace than DVDs.
  • DVD should automatically start when inserted into drive – no data disks.
  • No flatbooks.
  • At the beginning of your reel, don’t use flying logos or text.
  • Open your reel or your website with a killer image, not your bio. They don’t care where you’re from or what you’re about (not yet, anyway). Include your basic identifying information.
  • Do not use Quicktime or anything else which requires frequent updates. This makes recruiters insane.
  • Only your best work. You are only as good as your weakest piece.
  • Proofread your resume, site and cover letter.
  • Be selective when including previous experience on your resume. Jobs at gas stations aren’t necessary to list.
  • On resume, state your objective, list your skills/abilities, separately list the software you can use, list awards.

Game Artists in General

  • Asset creation is based on and placed in current-generation game engines. It is suggested that students use either Epic’s Unreal3 or Valve’s Hammer editors and engines.
  • Show separate renders with a separate normal map, texture map and wire mesh.
  • If you show cars or motorcycles in your reel, make them creative expressions, not duplicate factory models (i.e. crazed ice cream truck vs. Chevy Impala).
  • Know if the company is a 2D or 3D house, and reflect that in the work you show.
  • Show how you might differentiate a single thing through a variety of different color palettes. Show color palette.

Character / Creature Artists

  • Study the existing work of the studio to understand what appeals to them.
  • For many game companies, the following applies:
    • Strong silhouettes.
    • Superhero proportions.
  • Vibrant colors.
  • Show things in different poses.
  • Note software used.
  • Note # of polys.

Texture Artists

  • Show hand-painted textures placed on material in a game engine.
  • Showing hand-painted textures on objects not in a game world is also okay, provided that you also show some in a game engine.


  • Animation sets created for games and placed in a game. Companies like to see game-themed animations. Showing a baby crying could be game-themed, but is probably not going to be. Not everything needs to be in a game engine, but some of your work should be in a game engine to show that you know how to integrate your work.
  • For presentation purposes, be sure to include Max or Maya renders for clarity’s sake.
  • Note software used.
  • Collections of walk cycles.
  • Great execution of the 12 principles.

Effects Artists

  • Effects should be placed in game and working as they would in a final, production game.
  • Provide an idea of how it’s constructed in Max, Maya or another software package. For instance, in the portfolio, each effect starts showing the Max viewport capture of animating bones/effects/etc., then another showing the effect in the game or fully rendered.
  • Note software used.

Level Designers / Environment Artists

  • Fully playable and complete level with props and with gameplay ready to go.
  • Map of level including all trigger points, spawn points, etc.
  • Props for use in levels.
  • Show environments that tell a logical story.
  • Note software used.

Game Designers

  • A blog is not enough, unless you already have a solid ludography.
  • Fully playable and FUN games, at least one but preferably two in a digital format.
  • Show articles written professionally.
  • Show photographs of game and possibly play sessions. Provide rule sets of non-digital games.
  • Link to design documentation sample.
  • Link to narrative content sample, if applicable.


  • A small sample of code which you consider to be your best work.  Make sure it does something interesting but not too complex.
  • Make sure it is well commented, formatted consistently and uses an industry standard naming scheme.  This shouldn’t be longer than 2-3 pages.
  • A copy of a working game that you programmed (or helped program) with description of how to play the game.  Be sure to specify what parts you worked on if it is not entirely yours.
  • Be prepared to provide additional code samples based on the specific needs of the hiring manager.  They will tell you what they need.  Listen to these instructions.  Don’t simply ignore them and give a piece of code which doesn’t fit their request.
  • Be prepared to take a programming test.  You can find sample tests online.

Bonus Info

  • Make sure you get social media and Facebook games.
  • If you’re hesitant about putting work in your portfolio because they ask for only a specific type of work, have a “backup” of work handy on your PSP, iPod or iPhone.
  • Be prepared for catastrophic internet failure. Have a copy of everything locally.
  • Don’t ask dumb questions that waste their time.
  • They don’t care how long you spent working on your portfolio, your favorite color or anything like that.

If any industry producers or audio people happen to read this, please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments. It would be much appreciated.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2009 9:52 pm

    Totally, totally!

    Thanks, Brenda. This just became required reading at the Art Institute of Atlanta.


  2. Dan Doherty permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:15 pm

    This is definitely going to be very useful to me in the future. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Matthew Findlater permalink
    October 15, 2009 8:11 am

    What exactly qualifies as a “killer image”?

  4. October 15, 2009 9:44 am

    This is an excellent list for not just Game devs but anyone looking to get into games, animation or vfx industries. Suggestion on reel format – what do you think of having it play on insert then dumping to menu? Where they can then view what just played and any extras – such as secondary skills that might normally be in a flatbook – like gesture drawing, or other skills such as modeling or texturing IF they are applying for say an animation position or vice versa.


  5. Sam Cole permalink
    October 15, 2009 9:45 pm

    Thanks for this list Professor. Can’t wait to meet you later this month, or see you at the Blizzard Campus Meeting next week.

  6. Brian Tate permalink
    October 16, 2009 7:59 am

    As someone who reviews game-art portfolios on a routine basis, I’ll chime in with what I consider to be another crucial tip: take credit for your own work, and give credit to others where due.

    It’s very common for game artists to show examples of collaborative work, in which teammates worked together on different aspects of a sample piece. And that’s good, because I’m always looking for good collaborators. For example, maybe the applicant did all the modeling and normal mapping for a piece of art, and one of her teammates did the other texture work. Or maybe she did all the layout, modeling, and texturing for an environment sample, but a teammate did the lighting and effects.

    But when complex art samples are included in a portfolio, and the applicant doesn’t specifically call out what her contribution was, experience has taught me to suspect that she is trying to take credit for the work of others. I’m instantly skeptical, and that’s not a good first impression. By contrast, when an artist gives credit to others, I have the immediate impression of someone who works well with teammates.

    It’s not necessary to give teammates’ names (that can be a sensitive issue), just to be clear about your contribution.

  7. Daniel Cazan permalink
    October 17, 2009 2:10 pm

    Hi Brenda, thank you for the great post! I will certainly be sharing it with my students – though I am curious as to the ‘no flatbook’ part you mentioned? Do you mean that as in ‘don’t show them when you already have your reel / website to show’ (ie. during the interview), or are you seeing them being completely phased out? I had always seen them as fairly effective con-fodder, to be carried around when you couldn’t keep setting up your laptop everywhere and wanted to catch someone’s attention (or get feedback) – or lure someone into holding still enough to break out the laptop. Also, what do you recommend for the autorun – straight to reel or some form of menu?

    By the way, your book is slowly phasing out most of the other ones we used to teach game design, thank you again!

    • October 17, 2009 2:18 pm

      Thanks, Daniel!

      Regarding the flatbook, if you have amazing stuff in it, that amazing stuff should also be on your reel. The reel should most certainly autorun. I recommend going to a menu so that if you’re doing it in person, you can click start and not have to restart it in the event they miss the first screen or something.


  1. 2. Game Designer, wer bist du? « Ludus Mechanicus
  2. Einführung « Ludus Mechanicus

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