8 Portfolio Tips to Getting a 3D Modeling Job

After some years at Rhythm and Hues Studios, I became a senior and lead modeler there. As a senior modeler, one of my task was to review 3D modeling portofolio submissions. We would grade them, A to F, and put aside the A’s and B’s for possible future hires. Having seen so many portfolios, I am going to share with you what we looked for in a 3D modeling portfolio. Different studios have different portfolio review standards, but these are solid guidelines that I am sure will apply to most if not every game and visual effects studio out there.

8 Things You Need to Know Before Submitting Your 3D Modeling Portfolio


1. Organic, organic, organic. It is all about organic modeling. Organic modeling should be the core of your skill and portfolio. The average 3D modeler can build a hard-edged model, but only the advanced modelers can build great organic models. To showcase your organic modeling, show a human body(or parts) or some sort of creature. For human face models, faces with wrinkles and age are more complex and therefore more impressive to see. For creatures, make sure it’s anatomically sensible.

2. No military vehicles with hard edges. Don’t bother including anything like a tank, a missile launcher, or anything with super hard edges. Those models are composed of boxes and cylinders. Anyone picking up a 3D program for the first time will be able to build them. If you want to show your hard edge modeling skills, show a sports car with some complex curves with clean beveled edges. Just one of these will suffice.

3. You don’t need to dress up your submission. All the fancy eye-candy stuff like glossy folders and flashy DVD covers are not important. Your portfolio is ultimately viewed by seasoned professionals who are trying to determine your 3D modeling skill, not your presentation. So don’t spend too much effort on the fluff. Just keep it neat and clean. A simple cover letter with resume and DVD is perfect.

4. Your portfolio does not need sound. Again, we’re trying to determine your modeling skill. You don’t need to put the viewer into an emotional roller coaster ride.

5. Submit your portfolio by DVD. That’s the best way to do it. It’s simple for the viewer. We just pop it in and it’s there. Remember that reviewing portfolios takes time and the easier you make it for them to view, the better. Don’t include any additional videos or mesh files on separate CD/DVD. It’s a hassle and most of the time we’ll just skip it.

6. On your organic models, in addition to showing your high poly sub-divided version, show your low poly model with a wireframe overlay. If you work in Nurbs, then this doesn’t apply. But most studios use polygonal modeling, so box modeling should really be your primary skill. The low poly wireframe model is the key. Modelers can tell very quickly where your skill level is just by looking at the wireframe. If we see that your low poly wireframe is efficient with great edge control, then we know you are a great modeler. If you’ve got excessive polygons everywhere and your edges doesn’t flow with curve of the geometry, then you probably don’t have a good understand of modeling. If you got the goods, show the wireframe.

7. If your portfolio has images that are a result of a collaboration, make sure to provide a breakdown of your contributions.

8. Do not submit original materials on your portfolio as they are not returned to you.

When Should You Submit Your 3D Portfolio?

Most studios accept portfolios year round, regardless of their current hiring needs. They set aside good ones for future hires. If you have a portfolio ready, there is no better time to submit it then now.

Questions or Comments?

I hope you find this helpful. I wanted to give you these tips so that you can have a better understanding of what studios are looking for in your portfolio. Hopefully this will help you focus your efforts on the more important aspects of your modeling portfolio. Please contact me with any questions you might have. My email is weiho@dslextreme.com.

33 Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Hi there,

    I know it is a bit late, however I was wondering about the whole “submitting via DVD” thing. Would it not be more preferable or easier for you to review if it were online in HD?

    Thanks!

    Michael.

    • admin says:

      You can have your portfolio online too. But for reviewing portfolios, it’s a lot easier to just pop a DVD in and start playing, or skip to certain items. Your submission might go through several departments. It most likely lands in the HR department before actually going to the department heads that you’re applying to. So the easier it is for it to be passed around, the better. They get a lot of submissions daily.

      HD videos online, you have load time, and typing in urls. What a pain in the butt=). We did go online and check out some artist site, but that was AFTER we’ve seen their DVD portfolio submission and thought it was worth taking a more in-depth look at the artist. So having an online portfolio is a good idea. Almost all artist have a website these days.

      Just think “easy,” because they get a LOT of submissions.

      Hope that helps, -Wei

      • George Banks says:

        Hi,
        You have given some real good advice. I landed some freelance work because I learned how to to texture well and fast, but I never got any offers because of my environment work and hard surface modeling. Also I have modeled characters but I did not focus on them. Now I am seeing that I need to become a good character modeler, because environments are not that hard to do and there are a lot of artist who can do them well.

        • admin says:

          Hi George, I’m glad you’ve found it helpful. Yeah, hard surface is too easy to model, for the most part. Most people can model hard surface without much problem, but not everyone can make a good organic model. Organic modeling is not easy, but once you get good at it, you’ll find work much easier. It’s what companies are looking for.

          Good luck! -Wei

  2. Carl says:

    Thanks for the tips!

    I’ve just finished my modeling class with 3dsMax, and I’ll have an animation class next month.
    I enjoy reproducing real-life scene in 3D, but I’m not sure if these are any good to present to a professional. How many creations are “resonnable”? Thanks to your tips, I know I should pratice more with organic modeling – haven’t got the chance to do much of this – still have pratice to do while modeling caracthers.

    I’ve done this scene recently. A simple room is boring, for sure.. I did scanned nearly all the books on my shelf, to apply the real textures (…). My goal was to get a realistic scene, as much realistic as possible.
    But.. Is there any interest in presenting this (Also did interactives 3D panoramas)? I like it, but I know it’s not really original..
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/67605655/crender.jpg

    Also love this guitar, but maybe that’s.. too simple (Zebrahead, best band ever =D) .
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/67605655/grender.jpg

    How many 3D models should I show to the person? How much is a good number?

    Is this interesting to reproduce real-life scenes, focusing on realism, or great organic modeling skills are most essential?
    I sure have to focus on modeling characters for now. If you have any other advices, I really appreciate it.
    (I plan on recreating Time Square in 3D. That look.. tough, by looking at the pictures – pretty much overloaded. Or maybe Liberty Statue would be a more appropriated choice, since it’s organic, I don’t know.)

    Just for the laught, here’s my first 3D model ever, with Anim8or. I believe I made it in 2007, or so…
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/67605655/arender.png

    (“Lol”, I could say. XD The model was about 50MB, if I remember…)

    Thank you very much!

    • admin says:

      HI Carl, looks like you’re just starting out with 3D modeling. Well, get to know the 3DS Max better and learn to do box modeling. That means you start by using a simple box. That method forces you to understand shapes a lot better. So if you want to learn 3D modeling, do box modeling.

      In terms of your scene renders, they are not very useful for a portfolio. Unless you want to become a lighter or texture artist. For modeling, hard surface modeling is not as impressive as organic modeling. If you’re good with organic modeling, hard surface is very easy for you. But a hard surface modeler might have trouble with organic modeling. That’s why seeing hard surface models in a 3D portfolio leaves a lot of your skills out.

      I think you’re in the right track. Like all people just learning 3D, this is the stuff they start doing, rendering and making scenes. I’ve done that before, and it’s a lot of fun. And that’s important, have fun with it. I would recommend that you don’t spent too much time on details like getting exact textures or anything like that. You’re too early in the 3D learning process. Learn the software and see what it can do, then you’ll know what you want to concentrate on.

      Good luck on your animation class, that’s where the fun starts! =).

  3. Carl says:

    I’ve read that 8 to 10 quality models is a good number.
    Is it a good strategy to present a variety of models (Even thought we cannot be pros of every aspect of modeling)?
    Let’s say:
    1 realistic interior scene;
    1 realistic exterior scene;
    1 fantasy/fictional interior scene;
    1 realistic character (Human)?
    1 low-poly character/creature..

    Is that recommended ?

    Thanks again.

    • admin says:

      For a 3d modeling portfolio, the most important piece is the organic models. You can do an interior scene to show that you can be a generalist too, but for 3d modeling, it’s all about organic modeling. Most portfolio has a human model in it. That’s because we can all see if the model is accurate or not. If you do a creature model, sometimes it’s hard to tell if the shapes are intentional or just by sloppiness. But either way, show your wireframe on the model. From the wireframe, we can tell if you have good modeling skills. That’s why box modeling is so important.

      So I would concentrate on getting a good human model, then a creature model. And show the wireframe. As for the interior 3D scene, I would put that as the lowest priority.

      Hope this helps.

      Check out my beginner’s section on the tools. It’s not exciting stuff but it’s the core of modeling.

      • Carl says:

        Hi,

        Thank you very much for the quick reply.
        I started doing 3D since a while, 2009 (Anim8or/Terranim8or/Blender), but back then, my models/textures weren’t really impressive. I started to use 3dsMax only in february.

        Great advices!
        I sure need more pratice with organic models, and I’ll do this; I did Box modelling a few times to get smooth objects, but I agree I need more pratice with this – maybe doing a car.
        It’s also logical that if I decide to do a creature, I could do pretty much anything on the body, and it’ll be hard to tell if a shape was intentional or not.
        Also read that it’s good to present the models on a grey background – easier to see the wireframe and edge flow.

        I will check the tutorials, that’s a great way to progress;
        Thank you very much.

        (Allright, let’s make a car. Had an homework to do about modelling a vehicule/car, but I never managed to do it, so I created a plane – unfortunately, I was pretty much out of time, so…… XD I’ll try again.
        Don’t like organic modeling so much, but that’ll probably change, when I’ll get better. =) )

        • admin says:

          You can absolutely model cars with box modeling. All the cars I’ve built has been with polygons. The most intense hard surface model I did was the motorcycle in the Daredevil movie. Took me a month to model, crazy details that was never be seen on screen=). But that’s movie making.

          Sometimes people will use nurbs to model cars, which works quite well since smooth lines are more easily created. But I’ve always hated nurbs. With box modeling, you’ll be more of a complete modeller than just a nurbs expert. So given the two, master box modeling instead.

          Also, you might want to check out Maya. I believe Maya’s modeling process is superior than 3DS Max. I’ve started with Max way back when it was 3DS4, but once I started using Maya for modeling, I never went back. It’s just that much better.

          Anyhow, good luck!

      • Carl says:

        Well. Not sure if creating a car is a good idea with box modeling – we started for a simple plane, actually. Maybe try to modelise Hulk, or something… =P

        • admin says:

          Modeling the Hulk would be a good exercise. I worked on that movie (Edward Norton) adding muscles details with Mudbox. Fun stuff.

  4. Carl says:

    Thank you.
    Tried to modelise a human on my own (I followed a tutorial 2 days ago), and still have a lot of trouble.
    I did used Mudbox for a really short time, however. Really fun, and quite simple to use. Too bad, the software won’t launch on my laptop, I have an Intel card. My only option left is to use an “OK” PC with 4GB of RAM, and Mudbox get laggy…

    I also thought about checking Maya, it’s well known. I could get experience with a few more softwares, such as Sketchup or Autocad, maybe.

    • admin says:

      My advice, just stick with 3DS Max and Maya for now. You’re just starting out in this, don’t overwhelm yourself with too many different programs. 3DS Max and Maya is the standard, so just learn those well. Forget about Sketchup, it’s only good for certain things. Companies won’t hire you for Sketchup expertise, but they will for Maya and Max.

  5. Carl says:

    Good;
    I know how to use Blender as well – but when I first tried 3dsMax, I was just amazed by the range of options availible, such as “Array”, multiple-copies. I’ve forgot many stuff about Blender, now. :P I find it easier and more efficient to control my viewport with 3dsMax.

    Here’s what I did with a tutorial:
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/67605655/perso.png
    The non-smoothed version (Don’t know if I can really call it “Lowpoly”!):
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/67605655/lowpoly.png

    Well, still need lot of work in this area. :P
    At least, that’s a “progress”. My characters used to always look like LEGO characters…

    • admin says:

      I would suggest just concentrate on the face. The whole body is too complicated for you at this time.

      Check out my face modeling tutorial video. It’ll show you how to model a face from a box. Once you understand the concept, then modeling anything else, like a whole body, is trivial.

  6. Carl says:

    Cool, I’ll definitely have a look.
    Besides 3D, the classes I take are really covering a lot of stuff in computers;
    I can use Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver (Web design? NO. Not for me, absolutely not.), MS Access, Project, Adobe Premiere/AfterEffect (Video editing class: Fun with greenscreen!), Adobe Audition (Recording our own sounds in the studio was fun), programming in AS3 and PHP (No….. XD).. Also learned 2D animation with Flash. It was OK, even thought I wasn’t great, and it takes forever (Thankfully, and oddly, still better in 3D design than 2D.). Also done scenario class (Not sure of the English name). Awesome.

    Within all that, 3D modeling is what I want to focus on, later.
    I’m checking this tutorial!

  7. Chris Patton says:

    If you really want to do great organic models, ZBrush is an industry standard. The best thing about ZBrush is that you don’t have to pay for upgrades, at least not right now. It is a bit hard to learn at first, but it really lets you be a sculptor. There are a ton of shortcuts you can take to make yourself look like a hot shot real quick like. It can do a boat load of things as well, like hair, hard surface, rendering, 360 sample movies of your model. Getting your head in some anatomy books wouldn’t hurt either. MudBox is Okay but from what I understand you can’t make your own base mesh at least not right now.

    • admin says:

      Yeah, you’re right, ZBrush is the industry standard. The stuff I’ve seen people do on it is quite amazing. I’ll probably jump into ZBrush one day. But yeah, the interface on ZBrush is horrible if you’re used to other professional softwares. But that’s what I’ve heard too, that once you get into it, it’s very powerful. Mudbox seems okay if you just want to add minor details to your model. I did that when I working on the Hulk (Edward Norton) movie. All the striations of the muscles and smaller details like veins were sculpted in Mudbox for use a displacement map. Also used Mudbox to add details to the Abomination. So it seems to be very good at that. But ZBrush seems to a complete package.

      Thanks for your comment, -Wei

  8. Yes interface on Zbrush is truley awful. Which is why I have switched to mudbox. Very much like zbrush, but a much nicer interface.

    • admin says:

      ZBrush’s interface is fine if you’re completely new to any graphical program. But most people with knowledge of Photoshop, Maya, Max, etc, finds it painful to adjust to the interface.

      • Well I think it is more that it doesn’t follow the way most windows programs work. Normally you can switch between programs quite easily because they all follow the same rules. I have suspicions that zbrush must have been designed on the Mac LOL

        Don’t get me wrong I have both zbrush and mudbox installed, but I have come on in leaps and bounds with mudbox, wheras I don’t enjoy zbrush at all.

        The other thing I don’t like about zbrush is selecting more than one model in a scene. If you have one object and try to load another one in, it becomes impossible to select the first object. Then the graphics mess up and you have to clear the scene again.

        • admin says:

          Yeah, I think most people feel the same way about ZBrush’s interface. I was able to pick start using Mudbox after watching a couple of their 10 minute videos. One day, I’ll give ZBrush another try=).

  9. I have taken on board your comments about organic modelling, and I am striving to get there. I have a gallery to show off my 3ds max modelling skills, but I have always avoided organic modelling until now. For me mudbox is the way to go, but I am finding it slow learning. Wayne Robson is a god in mudbox and I have been watching hundreds of his tutorials recently. There are so many things to learn though. BTW did you get to meet Stan Lee on Hulk?

    • admin says:

      If you’re serious about getting employed as a modeler at a company, then your best bet is to learn box modeling, subD models. Mudbox or zBrush is great but not for the current production pipeline in game and VFX companies. One thing about modeling in a VFX company is that you need to be able to jump in and out of a model without disturbing any part that doesn’t need changed. You can’t just build a bad-assed mubdox model full of detail and expect it to work in the pipeline. It just doesn’t work that way. Most models are subD models. So if you want to get employed, learn box modeling. Mudbox and zBrush is great if you’re the only person that is going to work on it. People in the toy making industry uses zBrush. Just check out some of the action figures or statues, a lot of them are all zBrush. Neca and McFarlane toys comes to mind.

      Stan Lee, ha, working in VFX will only allow for the occasional peek through the window=). Most of the time is working in cubicles. Sometimes you’ll get to meet actors that for whatever reason decided to visit the studio. During the Hulk movie, I did get to see Edward Norton in the studio. They were going over shots with the director at the screening room.

      • Luckily I am pretty good at box modelling already. Not done any character work with it though, unless you can count a sheep I made heh heh. Although the normal pipeline with both mudbox and zbrush is to get the design finished, and then retopologise for animation. I do think the Edward Norton version of the Hulk was much better than the original Hulk movie. It looked a bit too cartoony in the Hulk movie, but looked a lot more realistic in the Edward Norton version. However I can understand that it is very difficult to make something large and green that looks real, because in your head you know it isn’t real. I presume they used Vray in the movie.

        • admin says:

          You can retop a zBrush or Mudbox model, but again, you need to make sure all the UVs and groupings are in the new retop model. It just creates a lot of problems. That’s why studios are not using zBrush or Mudbox extensively. For the Hulk movie, I used Mudbox to add in muscular details, like the strands and striations. The Mudbox model was never used, we just exported out displacement maps to be used on the base model.

          The Hulks was cool, but overall the movie wasn’t all that great. Norton is a great actor, but just didn’t to work as him being a Hulk.

  10. Norbert Slusher says:

    Thank you for all of this advice! I have only been doing 3d work now for around 6 months total. I took around 2 months in between off to clear my head and come back fresh, play some video games for inspiration, and also grabbed a Wacom tablet in that mid-time, as I was doing all of my sculpting previously with a mouse. This started from looking at Full Sail University and what programs they offered for 3d modeling. I decided I would probably be better off attending a better school, and set out to learn on my own on the interim. In the process I read reviews on each program I could use, and Zbrush was consistently right next to Maya, but I didn’t have the money to buy it, so I downloaded Sculptris from their website and started on that. As I had no training formally in sculpting, it was an uphill battle at first, but over time I had done a basic bust without any texturing, one with texturing, an attempt at a torso, etc. The tool is amazing, but wasn’t enough–or rather certain aspects weren’t as efficient as I liked, so in time I bought brush and have been working in that since. I keep seeing hard surface models and thinking how amazing they look, but where you say they are easy, all I apparently have done is organic modeling, starting from a sphere in dynamesh or by creating an armature in brush using spheres, creating an adaptive skin made of low polys and then adjusting the shape from there and subdividing, adjusting and subdividing, until I get the sculpture where i want it. Hard surface modeling for me actually at this point has been harder than trying to sculpt a hand that looks like a hand, although my proportions seem a bit stylized. I have been told to work on shapes more than textures at the moment by some members in the brush community, so that’s what I’ve done, but I know I have a very long way to go. I want to do character modeling for video games, are there any specific tips you could give me given what I’ve written above? Thank you again for all the advice, I stumbled on this site by chance.

    • admin says:

      Hi Norbert, thanks for your comment and question. Yes, I know what you need as I worked in games and films doing modeling and many other task in development. What companies use are mostly Maya and 3DSMax, and the method of modeling used is BOX MODELING. That’s the key. zBrush, Mudbox, or your modeling program has their specific uses, but it’s not use in most company pipelines. Your model, in the final form, is a polygonal model, that can be sub-divided to create a high res model for rendering. For games, it’s lower res but with game engines these days, it’s almost practically cinematic quality. So you need to be able to build a model from scratch and PLUS (a BIG plus), yoiu need to be able to take a polygonal model and do any fixes on it WITHOUT destroying data in the model. You see once the model goes into pipeline to be used by texturers, rigggers, and ligthers, they add data to the model. And that data needs to stay intact. That is why Box Modeling is used.

      So if you want to get employed, learn box modeling. That’s what this site is about, box modeling. I’ve been there so I know what companies are looking for.

      If you want to create models for yourself to use or to make sculptures and toys, then zBrush and Mudboz is great.

      Hope that helps. -Wei

      • Norbert Slusher says:

        Awesome. I think I started using box modeling in brush but I’m not sure, so if this sounds close please let me know: I would create an armature using zspheres, and then create an adaptive skin, which makes the armature into a low poly object with one subdivision that I can switch to, adapting the shape of the armature instead of having to create individual objects and append them to each other. From there I create the basic shape of the model, until it looks relatively like what I’m going for, then I go to the next subdivision and further work on details. And so on. It’s taking some getting used to whereas i started modeling using a sphere with adaptive topology to do everything, but i notice there’s a certain level of control i have now over the base mesh. I just don’t know how to mess with the wireframe specifically like i want to quite yet. adjusting so that everything “flows” like you were talking about. So that being said, I got Maya the other day and have yet to play with it. Considering I’m so used to brush at this point and not autodesk software, are there any further pointers as far as using Maya goes? I’m definitely a beginner in all of this, but learning fast in between breaks so I can retain everything. Thanks again for replying by the way :)

        • admin says:

          Definitely get a manual on Maya and start learning the modeling portion of it. If you look at how I model, there’s only a hand full of tools that I use, and that’s it. It’s the concepts and understanding edge-flow that matters. So don’t spend too much time on plugins and little tools that provide a very specific function.

          With box modeling, it’s just that, modeling from a primitive. So start with a box or plane and model from there. Since almost all models are symetrical, just model half.

          Re-toping something is fine for your own projects, but not useful in a real production pipeline.

          • Norbert Slusher says:

            Would it be safe to say maya will allow me to do all of this, then further down the line if I need would Zbrush be a good option for detailing and texturing? Specifically I’m learning to model, or want to rather, but I also want to be able to fit in whatever position I can in the CG world if asked in the future (given that will probably be a while). And also, would you be willing to give feedback on some of the things I have sculpted? Unfortunately I haven’t put up anything showing the wireframe, but I know I definitely need to work on that. They’re just works in progress to further what I’ve been learning, and the sculpture of the full body isn’t the latest one, I did more work on the forearm shape and the deltoid muscles since they’re a little deflated. http://www.zbrushcentral.com/showthread.php?182742-First-human-bust-WIP

            Also, pretty much everything I’ve sculpted so far is in zbrushcentral under my name, Norbert, it’s just hard to garner good feedback there unless your work is profound it seems like. Thank you again for the continued correspondence on this by the way, it’s very much appreciated!

          • admin says:

            Yes, learn Maya first if you want to get a job as a modeler. Learning to model is much more important than learning zBrush, unless you just want to concentrate on making statues and toys. Once you’ve learned 3D modeling in Maya or Max, you would have a very good knowledge base that you can carry to zBrush.

Leave a Reply