How to perfect your 3D animation portfolio

Your showreel is the key to getting a job in the industry. We asked AIE Screen teacher Kim Allen to share his expert knowledge on getting the most out of your portfolio...


When should students start thinking about their portfolio?

Students should be thinking about their portfolio's from the start of second year. They have the base skills they are trying to develop, and they should be tailoring their workload to get the most material that will show off their desired skill.

The worst thing that can happen is you want to be say, a shader artist, but you are good at modelling. You then spend the year in projects making models and become better at that, and get to the end of the year and find that you haven't spent enough time on shading to have any work to put on your reel for that aspect of the pipeline.

The biggest thing for the second year is to make work that you can put on your reel to show off the area you want to work in.


What is an employer typically looking for in a portfolio?

The typical employer will be looking for evidence that as a entry level artist you understand the basics well, and you can present your work well. If you put effort into the presentation of your work, an employer will have greater confidence in you as an artist being able to do the same high quality of work for them when they are paying you.

If you just butt a couple of clips together and put no effort into how enjoyable your reel is to watch, that is a reflection of how you as an artist approach your work.

How does AIE help students compile their portfolio?

There are a number of ways that AIE help students with their portfolios. First is with the projects we do throughout the year. There is a lot of material that if you put the effort into, you will have some great work to put onto your reel.

We also have a module directed at putting together a solid reel. This includes researching quality demo reels and what makes them stand out from the rest. We look at presentation formats and clip transitions and just how to show the skills you are trying to show off.

We look at the work that you have produced and help with the order you should put it into on your reel and even if it should be on the reel. It’s hard as an artist to be critical and cut something out that you have put a lot of work into, even if it isn't your best work, sometimes you just need another eye to give you feedback.


What are some of the common mistakes students make with their portfolios?

The first this is trying to put too much on your reel. When you research artists, and find the guys that stand out and you like, you will often find they have had years in the industry. As a consequence, they have worked on some great projects and have a lot of material to work with. Students often do not have the material to work with and will put on some sub-standard work they did in the first year while they were learning, just to make up some time.

Another big thing is that students forget to put any contact details on their reels. If an employer has watched your reel and wants to get hold of you, and you have left your contact details off of the reel, it is often too hard for them to dig through emails and correspondence from the bazillion other applicants they have to find your contact details.


How does a 3D animation portfolio differ from other portfolios, compared to game art and animation, for example?

The hardest thing for an animation portfolio is it’s limited to having be displayed in motion. While it is great to be able to study form and silhouettes, you need to have your reel easily accessible for viewing.

The rigs you use have an impact on the animation you do. If you are using a student rig that has issues, that will show in your animation, and it is really bad form to be telling a potential employer that you have bad animation because of someone else. Basically, you wouldn't get the interview.

While it is nice to have great effects and rendering to go along with your reel, it is not the key point of what you are trying to show off. It is possible to get good Viewport 2.0 playblasts that will show off your animation better than a badly lit Arnold render.


Any other advice you'd like to offer?

To standout from the rest of the class, and competition, you have to be working on personal projects, and work outside of college. Just doing the class exercises is enough to get you through the course, but often isn't enough to get the wow factor that will put you on top of the demo reel heap.


Image credit: "Dragonborn" by AIE student Perry Zielonka