View Full Version : Portfolio for College application

03 March 2010, 09:58 PM
Hey everyone!

I didn't post too much around here, I was more of a silent spectator in this forum.
Still I was doing alot of personal work to prepare myself for the Game Design Class at the ZHDK (College in Zurich, Switzerland). After I finished Senior Highscool in 2008 and was working over a Year now to get my finances straight I applied for this class in February. I even took 3 weeks off to have enough Time on my hands to create my Portfolio.

Today I received note, that my application was declined. No word about any reasons that lead to this decision. I already wrote an email to the leading professor for Game Desing at the ZHDK to ask if he could get me any answers. But I would realy like to hear what you guys have to say about my portfolio.

If you want to see the whole thing you can download it as a .pdf from my server: (33.2 mb)

Unfortunately it is all in german, if there is a request i could translate it.
This was Printed out in good quality to make a good impression so I thought.

Here are just the 5 final shots of the Projects I did if you don't want to see the whole thing:


Eutha Nasie:


Untoten Altar:

Evil Painter:

I intentionaly did put in different kinds of Projects so "Spit Fire" and "Athugirel" are to show my Realtime Character building ability. "Eutha Nasie" was intended to show a more technical, yet simple aproach to visualise an idea. "Untoten Altar" and "Evil Painter" where more about a scene, not just one part, like a character but a whole setup that could be used for a game or a movie.

I realise that I could have gone more in the direction of games only or to show more level design stuff etc.

I would be grateful if you'd say what you think about my work and if you have any idea why such a portfolio should be declined for a Game Design Class.

If you want to know what the students of this school do as projects you might want to look at the bachelor exam projects of 2009:

Greetings Peter

03 March 2010, 03:07 AM
sorry to hear this.

you should of been able to get your foot in the door with these.

hopefully a response from your email will shed some light.

is there another school you can apply to?

03 March 2010, 03:09 AM
Well your work is decent, but not great. In my opinion it is probably more than good enough to get into an art school that has the goal of teaching you enough to get a job. But it just depends on the school, the number of openings they have, and the competition to get into said school. Not sure anyone can really said why you were turned down except for the school itself.

If they only have 30 openings, and there were 30 portfolios that were better than yours, thats all it takes.

Personally I dislike the whole idea of an art test to get into an art school, especially a game art course. If I had to pass an art test I would never have gotten into a school, but once I got in I worked my ass off and became a good artist and got an environment artist position in the industry. Thats just me though.

03 March 2010, 03:15 AM
i agree with PredatorGSR.

art test = shit idea

03 March 2010, 06:43 AM
@gonkdroid: Unfortunatly there aren't as many schools around here to learn Game Design or related stuff than there are in the states, Canada or the UK.
There is one in Berlin which is in Germany but yet again its very expensive and I'd have to move to Germany.

@PredatorGSR: What specificly do you think I should add/remove to change my Portfolio from decent to Great? Or is it the general Quality of the work itself?

03 March 2010, 07:00 PM
I think it is just the general level of your skill right now. The texturing specifically seems pretty weak, the textures are all very bland and don't take advantage of spec maps or good lighting. The spec and lighting are making all of your materials feel very dull. But I mean that is the kind of thing you learn in school, all the little techniques that make your models really shine, when I started school I didn't even know how to texture.

Displaying your work in the free marmoset engine would make them look much better as well.

If you want specific feedback on your work I would suggest posting it up on polycount, you'll get a lot more responses and feedback from established artists.

03 March 2010, 04:48 PM
Hi Peter,

I've looked through your PDF, (I'm British, so languages other than English inherently bring me out in some kind of rash :P - my apologies if you address any of this in your text ).

It seems to me that you're caught between kinds of artwork you clearly enjoy doing, Artwork that is appropriate for the course you're applying to, beginner techniques and the industry's apparent golden bullets - as far as software techniques go. It's my view, that any digital artwork, shouldn't betray the software with which it's produced. Z-brush artwork has to be really exceptional, because so many people are using it and you can invariably spot it a mile away.

For me, the most apparent issue that you have to tackle, is that the ideas that you're trying to express are either quite clichéd anyway, or you're attempting to emulate what's currently popular in game-art (rather than producing "Artwork", that happens to conform to, and consider, the technical limitations of interactive, real-time rendering. Any respectable school with a games course takes that into account, just as much as your technical ability; for example, no graphic design school would take on someone with a folio of only 6 items, displaying an awareness of industry cliches and bandwagons..

You will be (should be) judged, not only on how/if you can use software, but what you use it for - and how your artwork relates to where the industry's at - this is what makes you appealing: what YOU can bring to THEM. I think that's the important attitude you should have: what can YOU do for the SCHOOL, rather than just what the school can do for you. Having said that, schools really ought to have an academic responsibility to the industry they intend to release you to, as well as a vocational responsibility. (You need to be able to contribute usefully in a creative way, as well as a technical way . New games, for the most part, are sold on how they innovate visually, and studios should look for trainees and graduates who can contribute far more than just as asset-monkeys).

I personally think that entry-tests can be a very useful thing; a mark of a school or company that has an agenda to keep to. It's no use for a School to take on people of varying technical abilities, when the curriculum or syllabus is measured and planned around. a 3-month module of modelling might be not nearly enough for some, and not really necessary for others, IF the entry-standard hasn't been established already. Likewise - many studios have tight head-counts, and need people, that can contribute effectively from day 1, rather than investing time and money into training.

I think for your folio, you should be thinking about having many more pieces to show. As far as subject matter goes, you should be working on 1/3 to 1/2 of your folio on real-world props, vehicles, characters, items etc.. this should be a vocational display that you can usefully and accurately model assets. Displaying your work in an engine is useful, no doubt - but any awareness you can show of polygon budget, texture budget, shader budget will be extremely helpful for you.
If you have to design your own stuff follow the "form follows function" rule, and your artwork will pretty much design itself.

'Form follows Function', means that the overall appearance of an object, character or vehicle, is based on what that thing has to do. For example - before you think about what a character should look like, think about what it has to do, where it has to live, and how it evolved into being. This is fairly straightforward for Human or real-world characters.. but for other-world characters, think about their home-planet perhaps.. what the gravity's like, what the air is made of, what they will eat, how this environment has shaped their evolution. Then think of clothing and tools - what animals or technology would be available to make these things with...

If you apply this kind of thought to your projects you will get detailed models, that are uniquely yours.. and they will impress, and be understood, visually, without a page of writing for each one.

I think it really is just about thought process and the subject of your material.

For generally industry-specific guidelines, you shouldn't really mix Real-time artwork with High-poly artwork. The person enrolling you, or employing you needs to know for sure that you're focussed on the task. Having high-polygon artwork in a folio of game-art, that doesn't relate to any of the Low-poly stuff, will make them question whether you're able to follow polygon budgets. You want to leave them in no doubt that you can.

you should be super-honest about your assets (models) too.. Display wireframes, polycounts, UVunwraps, shader structures.. render your assets in simple white scenes, with big light sources - subtle shadows (if shadows are even necessary..) .
I saw you'd rendered "Spitfire" as a statue on a base. This style of presenting characters is getting very popular, now - it's my opinion, that the base/statue presentation, is a very quick, lazy replacement for a keenly considered background environment. It's also turning into a bit of an industry cliché on its own - like throwing 12 lens-flares over a photoshop document, or rendering a chrome ball over a chess-board. If 'Spitfire' can't be seen in an appropriate setting.. just render a really dynamic pose on a plain, flat white environment.

A great academic art folio never appears to conform to anything around it - yet takes the established Rights and Wrongs into account all the way.

Any portfolio is only as good as its weakest piece.

I hope some of this helps.. lol -


I really am gonna earn a reputation if I keep writing posts like this :P

03 March 2010, 09:39 PM
Hey Nick

Thanks for your Input!

I forgot to mention that there was a max of 5 projects that I could put into the portfolio. To Each Project I had to write down a text to describe and explain it.

I would have had alot more different models to show if there wouldn't have been this limit. So I decided to show a variety of the work I do which does not only involve Lowpoly Modeling. In fact Highpoly Modeling is a very important part of a game pipline too.

The Idea was:

Athugirel: Game Character
Eutha Nasie: Technical Modeling
Spitfire: Game Character
Untoten Altar: Concept of a Scene that could be used in a Game
Spitfire: Concept of a Scene that could be used in a Game

But there is more to those projects than you'll see from the first glance.
Eutha Nasie for example was a Artproject in my Visual Arts Class in Senior Highscool. The Goal was to creat a placard that had a impact on its viewer, to make him think in different ways that he used to. To fully understand the project as it is you'd have to understand the german language: Euthanasie = euthanasia (engl.) = medically assisted suicide.

The Project was to create an advertisement/illusion of a fictional product (a simple nose sparay) which would be for sale everywhere which would couse instant death to its user. I created multiple placards with different slogans, a web page and the real product in order to create this project.

The viewer should be shocked by the fact that a nosespray that aids suicidals is used as a comercial product and form a reaction, wether good or bad, from that. It would make him think. It should increase the debate about those themes which are mostly kept silent in our society (expecialy in switherland which has the 2nd highest suicidal statistics world wide).

So is the evil painter more a visualisation of a philosophical experiment than just a simple arangement of unimportance.

In the text that I wrote to the side of each project I tried to show those ideas in order to prove that I am also reflecting what I'm doing.

Untoten Altar was part of a contest for Pyranha Bytes (German Game Studio, Gothic 1-3, Risen) to develope a unique looking altar for a game scene they where doing for Risen. The wining entry was put in the game, unfortunately it wasn't mine.

(Arthus of Kap Dun won the Contest in the end.)

I agree with you that I as a student would have to offer a school something, yet there should still be something the school can teach me. If they where to expect me to have a Portfolio as you describe it, there wouldn't be a need for me to go to said college. I could just apply to a studio right away and get a job in the industry.

My point is that of course I have to have some skills that I can work with. (If I have an idea, i know how to create a fully functional realtime Model out of it)
That I can and should always get better is a fact. I do think that even if there are weak parts in my Portfolio I still should have showed that I can learn and that I already am able to produce good looking assets.

If you compare my work to the work of 3rd year Students, I leave the judgement to you:

I knew from the start that I wouldn't go to this school in order to learn how to make my work look better. I would have to do that mostly on my own during the Time I was there. But to learn the principles of Game design, to learn about the whole process involved to create a Game from scratch.

Well I'll have to wait and see if I get a answer from those responsible for the decission.

03 March 2010, 09:54 PM
IMO Learning the process of game design is not a good reason to choose a certain school. Game design isn't as complicated as it might seem. There are different people with different skills all coming together with a few managers who know the entire process and how it all links together. Study for a few months on your own force yourself to do work under deadlines find some team projects, you will know what it's like to work in a game studio.
Looking at that third year work I would start looking for a different school ;D. haha jk remember you can always get a traditional art degree and easily use it to gain a strong foundation in game art stronger than the ones who jump right into the 3d stuff with no traditional art.

03 March 2010, 09:59 PM
Looking at that third year work I would start looking for a different school ;D. haha jk remember you can always get a traditional art degree and easily use it to gain a strong foundation in game art stronger than the ones who jump right into the 3d stuff with no traditional art.

Agreed - no joke - search for a better school, if that's what they're prepared to allow 3rd years to leave with.. dear lord..

and Agreed about the traditional art quals, too -

Peter, Was the 5-projects maxium something defined by the university you applied to?

it sounds like the portfolio submission guidelines are really not like those I experienced for my university place.. !!!

03 March 2010, 10:52 PM
@nick Yes they where defined by the university, the guidlines where rather strict.

The thing is that in Switzerland there isn't any Game Industry yet and so there are very few Schools around here to learn or to get a degree from. The alternatives would be extremly expensive but I will take a closer look at those. Might even take relocation into consideration. Are there any good Schools you could recomend?

Anyway I have to rethink what I'll do now so I might also take traditional Art as an option. Don't want to spend the rest of my life working fulltime in a computer store :D

03 March 2010, 08:01 AM
hi mann,
doof dasses nicht geklappt hat.
i am doing a game studies myself right now (in the netherlands).
I think your works show that you are interested in 3d and willing to work on it, but i think you chose the wrong subjects/fields to show off in an aplication portfolio.
what my teachers are interested in (and after about 9 months here i now know why)
is your observation skills, nothing else. they want to see that you are able to check measurements, look for overall shapes but also for details and that you can think of ways to represent theem in your works. i think the best way to show this off is in drawings. just do a lot of drawings, portraits, landscape, technical drawing (boring but very very useful). less on the concept art side but more academic studies really.
if you want to show 3d work, you should not go for complete renders but show CLEAN modeling, meaning the least amount of polygons necessary to convincingly show the shape of your subject (also show a wire frame so they see what u did). this of course is all based on what i know and how i got into my school, so it might vary for your applications. maybe you can talk to students who are already accepted and see what they handed in.

so if youre going to try again, good luck and success. hope my tips can come in handy

CGTalk Moderation
03 March 2010, 08:01 AM
This thread has been automatically closed as it remained inactive for 12 months. If you wish to continue the discussion, please create a new thread in the appropriate forum.