10 Portfolio Tips for Tech Artists
Updated: May 21, 2021
Hey there tech artists! It may not seem like much, but I learned a ton in my first year in the industry. For instance, there's a lot of info about portfolios that you were probably not taught in school. I initially posted this on my personal Facebook feed and got a lot of positive responses. Other tech artists wrote some useful additions which I also included here.
1) Don't neglect your skinning. Especially if you're applying for position where you'd be *ahem* making skins for characters.
"Great rig bad skinning = bad rig" - Chonlawat Thammawan, Animator/Rigger at Magnopus
2) Be mindful of what your peers are putting in their reels. If employers see the same octopus rig 30 times, your reel will seemingly drop in quality if your octopus is not as good as the others. Besides, employers get sick of seeing the same thing over and over again. If you put something different (and good quality) in your reel, it's more likely your reel will be remembered.
3) Showing how controls/features work is usually good, but don't take too long showing how your rig works. Try focusing on a few controls and/or speeding up the clip in a video editing software. If you can, try giving the rig to an animator to test it you. That way you can troubleshoot any problems you haven't encountered before, and you can fill your reel with better animations.
"While an experienced rigger/TA/TD can separate the animation from the rigging and judge the rig on its merits, most people that will see your reel won't be able to, especially the recruiters and HR people that tend to filter out what is sent to the hiring manager or Lead. Partnering with a good animator helps you both out." - Luke Steichen, Lead Technical Animator at Turn10 Studios
4) Always strive for industry quality work in your reel. After all, you might be competing with people who have been in the industry 10+ years. Strangely enough, they don't always have good reels, so don't let that discourage you! Opportunity is out there.
"TA/TD/Rigging work is HARD to show off well in a reel. Also, once you have been in the industry for a while (especially if you have been at the same studio for a while), it's easy to get out of the habit of keeping your reel up to date. Never let your reel be more than a year out of date, no matter how much you love your job and would never dream of leaving. Layoffs happen, it sucks, and having a stale reel only makes it suck more." - Luke Steichen
5) If you have the time, make stuff on your spare time. Experiments with mocap, rigging scripts, etc. It sucks when you're burned out (trust me, I've been there and it cost a lot of my mental health) but unfortunately that extra step is mostly what got me my first job.
"Side projects are key to a good portfolio and reel. Honestly, most student/recent grad portfolios and reels look very samey, so having that awesome rig/project/tool that you did on your own will be a major differentiator." - Luke Steichen
7) "NEVER STOP LEARNING. Ever. Invest in yourself. Take online classes from Rigging Dojo and other places. Learn how to write plugins. Learn about meta nodes." - Luke Steichen
8) If you’re currently employed under an NDA, make a "for later" folder of sorts; save at least one thing from your project every month to put in your portfolio when the project is released. (I got this advice from Luke Steichen himself!)
9) "I've learned that in games where you have a lot of characters, your scripting experience is heavily valued. In addition to rigs, stress any tools you have made that make your work faster. One comprehensive auto-rigger is better than 100 cool rigs."
- Rowan Tidwell, Technical Artist at Hardsuit Labs
10) Be nice! Everyone knows everyone in this industry. People absolutely remember who is nice and who isn't when they see familiar names pop up in applications.
That's a piece of advice you'll hear a lot, and I'd like to add a personal addendum to it:
Being nice does not mean accepting harassment.
If someone makes you feel uncomfortable in the workplace, you don't have to ignore it in order to "avoid burning bridges". If anything, the person or group making you uncomfortable are the ones burning it.
I hope these 10 tips were useful and I'm always open to feedback, questions and additions!
Special thanks for the wonderful additions:
Luke Steichen - Lead Technical Animator at Turn10 Studios
Rowan Tidwell - Technical Artist at Hardsuit Labs
Chonlawat Thammawan - Animator/Rigger at Magnopus