Eliott Lilly has been a concept artist in the video game industry for over a decade, and is credited on mega-franchise titles such as DOOM, F.E.A.R, and Black Ops. He currently works as a freelance artist, but he also finds time to mentor thousands of aspiring artists through his books and website.
All that coaching and question-answering has given him unique insight into three portfolio “traps” — fundamental problems that could be sabotaging your job hunt. In this guest post, Eliott discusses how to find and fix the most common art portfolio problems.
Trap #1: Lack of focus
Eliott Lilly: Remember when I mentioned that the industry has doubled down on hiring specialists over generalists? Well, you’ll know you’re a generalist if your portfolio contains too many unrelated works of art, with different styles or genres. Having too much variety in your portfolio is quickly becoming the mark of an amateur. Pick an area of interest, then crush it. Be a weapon expert, or vehicle guru, or badass character modeler. Whatever — just own it!
This can be a bit challenging because you’ll need to prover mastery of that subject matter. Not only will you have to study it inside and out, but you’ll have to do it better than the competition, before you can be considered the “go-to” person for the job.
Trap #2: Underwhelming… or forgettable
There’s nothing worse than a ho-hum portfolio. Art directors, hiring managers, and recruiters are people too. If they feel like they can do what you do, then they won’t see the value in hiring you. They will want to work with someone who can impress them and make them feel that they’re getting the most bang for their buck. You need to knock their socks off with a portfolio that oozes “oomph”. If they’re not asking: “Wow, how did you do that?!” then you haven’t hit the mark.
Finding the “cool” in the mundane is a skill that isn’t taught. You can find hundreds of tutorials on how to use a single piece of software, but creativity and problem solving are crucial skills that every video game artists will need, but rarely get covered in training videos. As a result, you can only rely on what you currently have stored in your reserves (this is generated from your life experiences, environment, etc). If you don’t have an abundance of creativity, then this might be the hardest thing to fix.
Trap #3: Below the competitive bar
“You’re just not good enough” sounds brutal, but the truth is, of all the reasons why you may not be getting hired, this one is the easiest to fix with a bit of time and money. It’s just a matter of humbling yourself to accept this truth, buckling down and going back to “school.” Take a few online courses, practice, and eventually, you’ll get better.
Iterate and improve
There may be other issues — those are just a few. If none of them apply to your circumstance, then my last piece of advice would be to give yourself an honest audit of your portfolio and career goals, then consider where you may be deficient. Does your portfolio align with your interests? Are you using the wrong software? Are you applying to the wrong companies? See where the discrepancies lie, then fix them.
You can connect with Eliott and find troves of additional advice for game artists at his website, BigBadWorldOfConceptArt.com