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3D DIRECT • April 20, 2001

The Reel Deal

Self Promotion with Web Portfolios

by Pat Johnson

The Internet has given individuals a cost effective advertising advantage. that previously had been reserved only for corporations. Without spending a wad of cash, we can promote our ideas, experience, and vision through an easy-to-assemble Web site that can reach recruiters anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, easy Web page creation has the same pitfalls page layout programs first brought to publishing. Simply put, just because it's easy to do, doesn't make the person doing it an expert. Design issues associated with a building a Web site are complex—the traditional skills, such as, use of negative space, effective use of text, and creation of graphic elements are the first order of concern. However, the real challenge of Web design is in setting up smooth navigation from one section of a site to another. Navigation issues, coupled with the constraints of designing in the horizontal format of the computer screen, pose new challenges to anyone wanting to do self-promotion on the Web.

The first point to consider before building a Web site is whether you'll gain any advantage from maintaining a Web portfolio. Setting up a site and maintaining it takes time. Will an artist in the field of animation really benefit from taking this step? The answer to this question is, "Possibly, but not necessarily." The studio and placement services I interviewed were split about 65 percent For and 35 percent Against the value of maintaining a Web portfolio. The main reason given in favor of building a Web portfolio is quick access to artwork referenced in an online job application. However, studios and placement companies agree that ultimately no one is ever hired without review of a traditional demo reel. Some studios even go so far as to say that they never bother to access Web portfolios even if they are available. So, as handy as they may be, the Web portfolio will not replace the traditional reel in the near future.

Studios and placement services are quite clear regarding what they want to see in a Web portfolio. They are even more adamant about what they don't want to see. These do's and don'ts include:

  1. Design your site as a consistent, whole package.
  2. Make the home page simple and uncluttered.
  3. Use only a few categories and navigation buttons.
  4. Make each section visually compatible with the other sections.
  5. Don't spend a lot of time creating Macromedia Flash sequences. Recruiters say this just slows them down when they are trying to get to the meat of the site.
  6. Make the site very easy to navigate with clear labeling for each section, such as:
    • Resume and cover letter.
    • Still images.
    • Animated sequences.
    • Models, etc.
  7. Keep each type of work in a distinct section.
  8. Include a cover letter that explains your specific areas of interest and why you wish to enter a particular aspect of the industry.
  9. If you don't know what area of the industry interests you, such as, feature entertainment, broadcast, etc., do some research before you design your site.
  10. Include traditional drawings as well as finished concept art. Most studios agree that the well-trained traditional artist is the best candidate.
  11. Include storyboards, layouts, and other pre-visualization work.
  12. Use the standard file formats for animated sequences.
  13. Offer small-format previews of all images and sequences.
  14. Make it easy to access high resolution, large-format images for closer viewing.
  15. Include a walk cycle.
  16. List the tools used to create digital work, such as software, hardware, and textures.
  17. In the 3D portion of your site, show examples that clearly illustrate the specialty area that most interests you, such as modeling, animating, lighting, or texturing. The exception might be gaming, because some game companies still want people who are great at several skills.
  18. Include brief comments with each 3D sample explaining what specific capability the work illustrates and giving specifics of software and methods used.
  19. For team projects, always specify the area of the work that was your responsibility, such as, lighting, modeling, or animating.
  20. The most important piece of advice offered by everyone is, only include your best work.

There are many schools and online services that now teach web design. Some great tips and examples of effective Web designs have been assembled on the Artist Resource Site, a service for artists, created by Li Gardiner, artist and director of faculty at the Center for Electronic Arts in San Francisco. Because she was frustrated by a lack of information between artist's communities in the Bay Area, Li started sending electronic announcements about exhibits and workshops and eventually began a site of her own to feature information about the full range of digital and traditional issues. The Artist Resource site sponsors a Web site design competition. The winning sites are all available for viewing, and are a great source of inspiration for anyone contemplating the development a Web portfolio. The Artist Resources site also offers full course outlines on portfolio development and job listings in many fields.

If you develop a Web portfolio, your final concern will be finding an affordable host. Many Email service providers include Web site hosting to their subscribers, which is probably the easiest option for a new site. Hosting services requiring the inclusion of banner-ads are available for free, but often don't offer many extras like customizable CGI or email. Other services, with no banner ad requirements provide Web space for anything from $5 to $70 per month. Before signing up with a service, carefully plan out your portfolio and decide what you'll want to add. Every company has different offers, talk to friends, and if you can, call the company's tech support. It doesn't matter if you save $25, if your site crashes and tech support can't figure out how to turn on their computer. Not surprisingly, Artist Resources also offers Web hosting.

A final word of advice on building your online portfolio is that the best rule to follow is the KISS rule: "Keep It Simple Stupid." Imagine yourself as an over-worked recruiter, and design a site that would make your life easier. Save the Flashy glitz for your cat's home page.

Pat Johnson, formerly of Pratt Institute, is a CG consultant and educational advisor.