Preparing A Portfolio for Media Arts & Animation and Game Art & Design Students

By: The Art Institutes

December 26, 2018

By John Goldsack – Faculty, Game Art & Design , The Art Institute of Pittsburgh – Online Division

Using this basic guide, students can learn some of the best methods for planning and organizing their portfolio so they have more of a chance of getting the interest of the reviewer when submitting to companies. This is a good overview of how to streamline your portfolio so it has a better chance to meet position requirement guidelines. It will also go over some good places or events where students can go to looking to have a sit down portfolio review and good guidelines for what they might want to do under those circumstances.

Start out by doing some basic research.


Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

So you want to apply for your dream job. How do you plan and prepare your portfolio so you have the best chance? You won’t be the only one applying. There will be many students from many other schools and even sometimes some industry professionals applying for the same job.

So how do you make your portfolio stand out in crowd of many sent for review?

Start out by researching the companies you want to apply for. Even if you haven’t graduated yet, many of them are posting want ads somewhere. Go find them. Look at what they want in a candidate. If you know now, you can start planning ahead and prepare yourself and your portfolio to match the various requirements. If you plan now you will have more work that aligns with what your dream studios are looking for. Don’t wait till you have or are close to graduating to do this. Plan ahead now.

Most of these studios and many artists that work for them have web pages and blogs, find them see what they post. Can you make your own art as good or better? They may eventually be your competition for jobs. Can you get your own art up to this level? What do you need to do to improve your own art in comparison, in what areas are you lacking. Once you know, then you can work on improving those areas. Right now you have instructors and classmates who can help you and offer critiques and suggestions on how to improve. Use them while you still can. They won’t be available as easy after you graduate.

If the company you are looking for isn’t hiring right now, contact them, most will have a contact us e-mail. Ask them what they are looking for in a job candidate. What skills do they require? Basically gather as much information as you can.

Why is this research so important? Well if you are applying for a company like Disney or Pixar you don’t want to show off your South Park tribute animation. If you are applying to work at Bungie, you may not want to show off your Super Mario NES mod. So knowing who will review your portfolio and what they are looking for is very important.

Okay you’ve done the research. You have the information. Now how do you prepare to make your portfolio stand out?

“There is no one right way that works perfectly. Let’s face it, if there was everyone would do it. But here are some that may make you stand out.”

Only submit your best work and limit the amount you submit. Most reviewers only have a couple minutes per portfolio. Many will skim through them quickly. So you put your best work on the front and try to end as strong as possible. Keep it small if it’s all art no more than 10 to 15 pieces at the most and even 15 might be too much. If it’s a combination of both, use your best art to get attention, but keep it small so they will also look at your demo reel or character renders. That’s if you go the physical portfolio route.

These days reviewers don’t get these as often, most just get a resume or business card with a link to a website. So sending them a professional physical portfolio limited to your 5 best pieces with a link to your website and or a digital portfolio may be a way to get their attention.

If you do send a physical portfolio, don’t just print it out on your home printer. Take it to a print shop where they can print it out in high quality on a laser printer. You only get one chance to show off to reviewers so it needs to look it’s best and as professional as possible. The more professional you can present your art the more attention you may get from reviewers. I had one friend who bound his professionally like a mini magazine.

Digital Portfolio

Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

More or less the same a physical portfolio, but easier to make and change. Basically for every job you apply for you should make a digital portfolio tailored specifically for that job. This is easy to do with PDF making software. If you are including video samples you will want to put everything in a folder and zip it. Keep everything in as small a file size as possible if sending through e-mail.

These days you can also get small flash drives to put your portfolio on with your own name or company logo on them these days.

These are just a few companies, there are many more out there.


Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

Don’t have every piece of art you ever did on the website. It’s best to focus your website similar to your digital portfolio have only your best and most recent work as well. Be as original as possible. If you are showing off your animations make sure your characters have emotions and personalities. Have your characters be as alive as they can, otherwise it can look to reviewers like you are just moving lifeless dolls other objects around on the screen.

Keep your website well organized and the various techniques or skills in easy to follow separate pages with well labeled section buttons. It’s important to organize your work by type. An example for instance could be: CG Models, illustrations, storyboards, and so on. It’s often good to have a section for life drawing in many jobs you may be applying for.

If you have multiple areas you want to highlight again keep only the best things in each area. Limit it to 5 to 10 each area, if you think a piece of art looks even slightly iffy in comparison to other pieces don’t include it. Do your best to avoid padding your portfolio. Often you are only as good as your worst piece. If you have too many low quality pieces, the reviewers may lose interest and move on to the next portfolio.

Keep in mind these reviewers will have hundreds if not thousands of portfolios depending on the job and company. Often reviewing portfolios is just one part of their job, they will have other work that they need to get to. So they may only have two or three minutes per portfolio.

Adobe Portfolio

Explore: Adobe Portfolio, free with Creative Cloud.

If you don’t know how to build a website, there are many resources online that can help you build a website quickly. Adobe even has a Portfolio Website app.

While it’s good to get your art out on sites like YouTube, Vimeo, ArtStation, Deviant art and so on you want one dedicated site for you only where you can direct studios to review your portfolio. It looks more professional. It’s good to have your work on multiple sites even Linked in. You never know when someone may be browsing and find your art and want to get more information on you.

So it’s important to have your name, e-mail address, and even website address on every image. This can also somewhat prevent other artists from poaching your work and claiming it’s theirs.

On your demo reel or short animation don’t make it too long. I know I sound like a broken record but only have your best stuff. Keep in mind reviewers will often be in a hurry and may even fast forward through your work. If they don’t see something to get their attention after a quick period of time they may even turn it off and move on to the next portfolio in the list or pile. You want it as high resolution as you can get with the lowest possible file size.

If your showing things from a group project you always want to be honest about the parts you did in the project. If you aren’t and your employer finds out it can come back to haunt you later.

“While you will naturally have schoolwork in your portfolio, that shouldn’t be all that’s in your portfolio. You want to be working on original pieces in your spare time and practicing what you have learned in your spare time.”

If possible when presenting your portfolio to a company, you should have one new piece showing that you understand what the job is looking for and what the company is about. This can even be a piece of fan art. But while it’s good to show companies you can draw their characters, you don’t want the entire portfolio to be fan art, and should keep the amount of fan art as minimal as possible.

For extra assistance, check out the Career Resources page found under Student Services in the Campus Common. You will find some helpful portfolio resources there!

Places you can go to get a portfolio review: Game Design

Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

Here are some places you can go to get your portfolio reviewed by professionals and in some cases even get interviewed.

PAX , there are a few different PAX each year across various parts of the country so there are more opportunities and places to go than some of the other conventions, you’re more likely to find one closer to you.

The Game Developers Conference . This is one of the big ones where most of the developers go every year. There are learning opportunities, exhibitions, independent game competitions, and award ceremonies

East Coast Game Conference . The focus of the conference is to provide video game developers an engaging program and opportunities for networking and collaboration.

E3 For any 3D artist even slightly interested in gaming, the E3 conference is a good place to go. Thousands of game enthusiasts gather discuss and showcase the latest in the world of computer and video games.

Places you can go to get a portfolio review: Animation

Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

Siggraph , is one of the largest conventions.

It’s a five-day immersion into the latest innovations in CG, Animation, VR, Games, Digital Art, Mixed Reality and Emerging Technologies.

They have a large Job Fair there. The Job Fair is the best place at SIGGRAPH for employers to meet with thousands of job seekers from around the globe.

Job Fair Exhibitors post their jobs on the and ACM SIGGRAPH job boards one month prior to the conference. This allows SIGGRAPH attendees to connect with employers before the conference

MIA Animation . Focusing on animation, VFX, gaming and motion graphics as well as hosting world-famous speakers, various universities and artists from some of the world’s top studios

CTN Animation expo is another good place where you can get portfolio reviews by professionals.

Conventions are good for artists, animators and illustrators

Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

San Diego Comic-Con. This con has all the major studios, most of the big toy companies, all the comic companies and even various game studios showing off product. It can be very hard to get tickets though. If you can avoid the temptation of going to the panels, there is an area in the registration room where they have portfolio reviews from many of the major companies every day. You basically walk up, put your name on a list and wait to be called. DC and Marvel also have booths in the dealers room where you can drop off a physical portfolio and if they like it, they will call you in for a portfolio review. There are specific guidelines though, so it may help to check the web to see what the rules were the previous year. Other companies may also have similar reviews, and you can get professional artists to look at your portfolio and get tips from them in the dealer’s room.

Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation programNew York Comic Con . Similar situation to San Diego, but less companies and less review opportunities, but the major comic companies will also be there. Many of the Toy companies and some of the studios will be there as well. It’s like a slightly light version of San Diego, not quite as big, but still many opportunities.

Heroes Con . This is a smaller con and more of an artist’s convention, but if you’re into comics, this is a good con to go to for a portfolio review from professionals.

Now many of these conventions can be expensive to go to. Ticket prices usually don’t include hotel fees and so on. But most sites have links to good hotels nearby.

At some of the conventions you can get a student discount if you look into it. I know SIGGRAPH offers them, which can be really good for students as their tickets are expensive. Other conventions may let you attend if you offer to do volunteer work. This will mean that you will be working for part of the convention this may limit your ability to go to some interviews/events.

Volunteering is another good way to get to know a studio you may want to work for. Many of them may attend conventions or expos and if you look on their websites may be looking for help at the booth. It’s a way to get to know people from the company personally and you may be able to get them to look at your portfolio between shifts.

Getting Your Foot in the Door

Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

You should also always be checking your favorite studio’s web page every few months to see if they are looking for interns. Then you should apply, even if you don’t think your portfolio is ready yet, you may get feedback from them that will help you get it ready.

I could go on and on about internships, but there is probably enough information for another one of these calls. But you should always be on the lookout for these because they are an excellent opportunity to get your foot in the door.

We host a monthly webinar on the opportunity to take an internship for credit that students can sign up for through the event calendar on the Campus Common homepage!

Another good way to get your foot in the door is art contests. Getting professionally published, no matter how, usually looks good to studios on your resume. If you can say I was published in this magazine, or my art was used in this advertisement campaign, studios tend to look closer at your work. But don’t claim this if you haven’t been published, as this type of thing is usually very easy to check with a web search or phone call.

Don’t limit yourself in the places you apply to. We all have our favorite companies we’d love to be hired by, but there is a lot of competition for those jobs. Often it’s better to get your foot in the door somewhere else and develop a job history before applying to the big ones. This doesn’t mean don’t apply, but it means don’t overlook an opportunity because it’s a smaller company.

I went to school with several other students who wanted to work for big companies, but most who got there had to work for smaller companies first. Two of my friends worked for small comic companies before they ended up doing some work for Marvel and DC. One of them even did some work on some Batman comics. I know some people who wanted to do 3D modeling for one industry and ended up working for another. There are other industries that need 3D modelers. I know some people who went to work for big toy companies and even one that did some models of human muscle anatomy. So keep an eye out and don’t be afraid to look for opportunities outside your comfort zone.

Things To Do During and Interview

Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

Most of the time interviews are pretty quick, the reviewer will quickly look over your portfolio, and decide if they have any interest right then.

1. Be willing to listen to feed back.

After quickly looking over your portfolio, they may offer some advice for improvement. It’s good to have a notebook to take notes on the feedback. These are areas you can improve if there is ever a next time. Ask permission to takes notes first though. No matter what they say do not get angry and don’t take it personally. You may want to apply again, so you don’t want to leave the reviewer with a negative impression they could write down in their notes or files.

2. Try and get their contact Info.

Most professionals have a business card, see if you can get one, you should also have a card of your own ready with your website on it. These are very important to have at job fairs and conventions.

3. Be prepared to be rejected, it will likely happen a lot.

While most will be courteous about it, most reviewers have a lot more reviews to do and if you don’t make their cut will be quick to move on.

4. Follow up

You may never hear back after an interview, so it’s good to send a follow up e-mail or letter thanking them for their time and reminding them of your interest in the company. Even if you don’t get the job this time, they often tend to remember things like that. It can help a lot if you apply again in the future.

“You may never hear back after an interview, so it’s good to send a follow up e-mail or letter thanking them for their time and reminding them of your interest in the company.”


Portfolio in the Media Arts & Animation program

This guide is a good starting point for preparing your portfolio, and planning places to go for interviews. But it doesn’t cover everything and every possibility. For that you will need to do your own research based on the companies you are interested in. While it is good to apply to the big studios don’t be afraid to apply to smaller companies as well. It’s best to apply to anywhere you think you might qualify for. At worst that way you will get multiple offers and have to choose. Then you can pick one and develop a reputation and job experience. Having that you can then re-apply to the bigger studios, with the reputation and experience, they may be more interested in you than just someone recently graduated from college. But it’s best starting out not to think any job is below you.

The information and opinions expressed herein represent the independent opinions and ideas of the faculty and/or staff and do not represent the opinions or ideas of The Art institute of Pittsburgh-Online Division.

Learn more about our programs.

Get Brochure

By: The Art Institutes

December 26, 2018