5 Ways to Make Your Visual FX Portfolio Stand Out From Others

industry Aug 07, 2022
5 Ways to Make Your Visual FX Portfolio Stand Out From Others - Featured

Interviewing with a game studio or trying to land a VFX job? Here are 5 tips for elevating your FX demo reel to truly show off your skills.


Jason Keyser has a passion for helping FX artists nurture their skills and find work in the gaming and animation industry. It's one of the key foundations of starting VFX Apprentice and making FX courses. Within the courses, students have a direct line for feedback and honest reviews. We've selected a few of our favorite student portfolio reviews, each packed with helpful nuggets on showing off your best work. 

Let’s take a look at five quick ways you can make your portfolio stand out to some of the biggest and best video game studios around.


1. Study Real World Elements 


One of the most complicated aspects of creating good effects for video games is walking the line between realism and fantasy. You want effects to be instantly recognizable, informing players exactly what’s happening and the purpose of the effect. To do this, you often have to think about the best way to replicate real world elements. Whether its an explosion of fire, water blast, or even a tornado, you have to find balance between a gamers understanding of how elements really work with an artistic expression that also has a function.

In this review of Steinar Hølland's work, the FX artist is challenged with creating a blend between a tornado and a portal. The challenge, as Jason notes, is the direction and design elements of the tornado are just slightly off and players can lose their sense of understanding of what is happening. With a few simple changes to the effect's elements and shape, you can regain the effects sense of purpose. Check out the timestamped feedback in this video. 



2. Don’t Leave Placeholders in Your Portfolio


You spent all your time creating an amazing effect, but you've used a placeholder object or temp character at the center of focus. There is nothing more boring than a sphere object in a portfolio reel, and it's something usually frowned upon from studios.  

If you don't have an environment, that's one thing. You can keep it blank. But for the focal point, try to have something in it's place. Take a look at this review with FX student Kees Klop. 



Even if you include a placeholder for a character or something that could be added in later, try to at least include some type of motion with the object or a neutral magic power that just sits in the middle and enhances the effect in any way. Avoid the temporary sphere!


3. Get Straight to the Point


As someone who spent years in the studio environment at Riot Games, Jason knows exactly what studios are looking for in a portfolio. Stripped down and straight to the point effects. Animators and FX artists often get caught up in camera movement or environment work and they often forget that studios are only looking to see your best FX work. While this might seem boring, studios want to be able to clearly judge the quality of your work.

Oftentimes it's best to have a neutral background or environment with a very clear presentation for the effects without a bunch of flare or fuss. If you’re showing off three blasts of different sizes, show them with a static camera in sequential order of size. So start small, then work your way up without any distractions. It's also important to use the presentation as a way to provide information about the scale of your effects. Sometimes if you’re dealing with explosions, be it magical or realistic, it helps to also have them to scale next to each other. 

Check out this portfolio review with Nicolas Marschall for some example and additional feedback.



4. Make Sure Every Element Has Motivation


This might seem like an obvious one, but the importance of elements having a clear motivation or origin is very important for the samples in your portfolio. If you’re demonstrating an explosion, try not to have objects and elements come out of nowhere.

In this review with Hun Young Ha, you'll see an attack with a spear being shot at an opponent. Jason notes that the spear should never just pop into existence from nothing. Creating some type of quick cloud burst or portal that the dagger comes out of is crucial for giving the overall effect a professional look. 



An attack always has to come from somewhere when it's conjured, so it's your job as the artist to create that birth for the attack. Every effect needs to have a beginning, middle, and end that tells a story.


5. Timing is Everything


One of the hardest areas to master with real-time FX is getting the timing right. It's one of the core 5 artistic principles of Visual FX. That's why we have so many lessons focused on timing in our FX courses

No matter the genre, style, or environment that you’re working in, timing will always be a challenge. Perhaps the most important piece of advice we can offer to an FX artist building a portfolio is to find the balance between too fast and too slow. You want a studio to see an effect long enough to understand what it looks and feels like, but you don’t want it to be unrealistically long. You also don’t want it to be so fast they can’t tell what just happened. 

So how do you work on good timing? This comes down to studying pre-existing effects in games to know how long an effect should be on screen. We’ve talked before about how listening to music when designing effects can in turn change the speed at which they move. Remember to turn off the music and distractions, and feel it out. Also, remember that if you’re bored, the player will be bored.


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