Expert Guest: Art Director Randy Briley on Building Your Online Art Portfolio

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Art Director Randy Briley

Artist and Writer Randy Briley,
Raven Mad Studios

As the art director in charge of hiring for a large 12-team game studio, Randy Briley has reviewed hundreds of online art portfolios and interviewed dozens of artists. We’re talking with him today to get some tips and advice for artists who are starting out their careers and trying to break into the game industry.

As the Art Director at a video game studio, you’ve interviewed a huge number of artists. What are the most important things you look for in an artist that’s trying to land their first job in games?

Skill level, originality and the x-factor.

I’ll explain. Skill level is easy. I can tell in two seconds when looking at any kind of asset where the artist is at in terms of execution. For example, If it’s a 2D artist I look at lighting, composition, material definition, style, line treatment, anatomy, character and environment design, painting method, use of color, etc. And this takes little time to evaluate. This gives me an idea where they rank in regards to others in my department.

Originality, is a bit harder. It requires that I keep up to date with current films, games, book illustration, websites and popular artists to make sure that I am not seeing just a simple regurgitation of someone else’s creative work.

Lastly, is the x-factor. This is more subtle. Is there a spark within the given work that defines the artist’s personality? A particular “voice” that is unique to them? Once identified, the question becomes: Does that voice fit the particular project? Does it fill a hole in the artistic strengths that currently make up the art department? Success in these three areas gets someone in the door and then the interview determines personality, work ethic, and technical fit.

I didn’t realize you can get so much insight into an artist’s skill and talent just by looking at their online art portfolio!

“Your portfolio is your gateway to success. The work itself is the most important part.”

Your portfolio is your gateway to success. The work itself is the most important part. It doesn’t need to be flashy. Let the work speak for you. Keep personal items off your site. (I don’t care how awesome your cat is, I don’t want to see pictures of it!) Also, I look through dozens and dozens of portfolios each day. If you don’t grab my attention with a high-quality piece of work in the first few seconds then I’ll close your portfolio and move on. I have little time to explore your whole site. If I have to dig to find anything then you’ll miss out.

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Can you offer some advice on what should go into an online art portfolio?

In general, professional-looking work. Your work should look like it came from a current-gen game or film. If it doesn’t, then don’t put it up. You’ll be judged by your worst piece, so try not to have any stinkers on your site. A few high-end pieces are better than many pages of mediocre work.

Some game studios only hire artists that can work in a style that “fits the company.” What’s a good approach for an artist to take when targeting one of those studios?

Research. If you want a job at a company with a set style then your work needs to fit that style. If you want to work at Bungie then your work needs to look like it could live in the Halo universe. Simple as that.

Should artists build different online portfolios depending on which studios they’re applying to?

One is usually fine, but if you are targeting a specific house with a well-established style then you should tool your portfolio website for that company.

A lot of artists are stressed out about showing their work to people in the industry. Do you have any advice to help them move past their fears and build more confidence?

Just do it! And do it often! Getting feedback about our work is the most important tool we have as visual artists to drive improvement. The critique process has been the cornerstone of art development for centuries and those that are shy about it will not get better as quickly as those that get feedback often.

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I recommend this: Submit your work. If nothing happens, then try to get feedback. If you don’t get feedback from the employer then enlist friends and other artists, or get feedback from strangers on your blog.  Then change your work based on the feedback. Submit again. Rinse and repeat until you get hired.

If you’ve been thinking about going to school for art, just type your zip below to get free info on the top art schools near you.

Randy Briley has worked in the computer game industry for over 15 years as an Art Lead and Studio Art Director. He specializes in art direction, character modeling, and concept art. Randy can be reached at Raven Mad Studios.

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  1. […] think about what the portfolio says about the applicant. Because it speaks directly to the potential employer. An image speaks a thousand words, is very true. What the portfolio says […]

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