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The Secret Portfolio Formula to Land you a Job as an Environment Artist

Jun 12, 2023

Ever wondered what you need in your portfolio to snag a job at a video game studio as an environment artist?

Are you in the dark about what you should include in your portfolio? 

Here's some surprising news - you need less than you think, and landing that job might be closer than you realize.

We're here at Game Arts Academy to clear up any confusion about creating a solid environment art portfolio. We want to make sure you don't waste time on stuff that doesn't help you get the job you want.

The advice I'm about to give isn't just guesswork. It comes from years of experience at Game Arts Academy helping students like you make awesome portfolios. This formula I'm about to share has helped lots of people get interviews and jobs at big and small game studios.

So, are you ready to hear some really helpful tips? Get ready to take notes - this stuff is gold. We're about to share some great info that could help you plan your portfolio and get that dream job in the video game industry.

So, sit tight and let's dive in. We're about to explore how to make a winning portfolio for a video game studio. We're here to help, every step of the way.

Let's go!

The Environment Art Portfolio


You might be surprised to learn that a winning environment art portfolio doesn't need dozens of pieces. In fact, you might be able to land your dream job with just 4-6 items in your portfolio. However, there's a catch: these pieces must be of extraordinarily high quality.

Let's delve into these essential elements of a successful environment art portfolio, taking inspiration from one of our students, Ian, who secured a rewarding career at Ubisoft with his streamlined portfolio.



The Flagship Environment


In naval terminology, a flagship is the most powerful and influential ship in a fleet. It's faster, stronger, and equipped with the best weapons. Your flagship environment in your portfolio is quite similar. It's the masterpiece where you showcase everything you've learned and the skills you've honed during your time at game art school or from online tutorials.

Before you dive into creating your flagship piece, it's crucial to have a solid foundation, perhaps from a college program or an online game art course. Unfortunately, your school projects alone may not meet industry standards for securing a job. So, prepare to dedicate 3 to 6 months to this piece, pouring your heart and soul into it.

Your flagship environment should tell a compelling story through its props alone. There should be no need for additional description; your choice and arrangement of props should convey the narrative. Spend lots of time developing this story throughout the creation process.


Rail car room


Size-wise, your flagship environment doesn't need to be massive. A small to medium-sized environment, like Ian's, is more than sufficient. You might even choose to focus on a single side of a room to limit the number of assets you need to create.

Each prop in your flagship environment should be of the highest quality possible. Ensure that textures are realistic, well done and include at least four layers of storytelling detail, like scratches, dirt, fingerprints, and edge wear etc.

Make sure your flagship environment uses current environment art workflows, like tillable textures for walls, ceilings, floors, and large objects. Demonstrating your knowledge of these techniques is vital to show your potential employer that you can hit the ground running if hired.

Don't underestimate the power of lighting. Refine and revisit it throughout the project frequently. One of our students confessed to doing over 100 lighting passes on his flagship piece. Don't hesitate to delete your lights and start from scratch; it might lead to big surprising improvements.

Your flagship piece should take the most of your time and effort, leading the way for the rest of your portfolio like a naval flagship. The other pieces are there to support and complement this key work.

Now, let's move on to the second crucial element of an environment art portfolio: the supportive environment.

The Supporting Environment


Moving on to the next crucial part of your portfolio: the supporting environment. As we continue looking at Ian's portfolio, you'll notice that the supporting environment serves to boost his main piece, the flagship environment. But, its role doesn't stop there.

Recruiters at game studios want to see more than one piece of quality work. Sometimes, an artist might get lucky with a particular lighting technique or camera angle, making a piece look better than it actually is. When examined more closely or from a different perspective, certain errors may be revealed.

That's where your supporting environment comes in. It's there to prove that your flagship piece wasn't a fluke. This secondary piece demonstrates your ability to deliver high-quality work consistently.

This supporting piece doesn't need to be as complex or as large as your flagship environment, but it should still uphold the same level of quality. You could simply focus on a small area of a room with a few props.

Take a look at Ian's supporting piece: the assets are believable and attractive, and they continue to tell a story about the room's occupant. Remember, the supporting piece shouldn't take as long to create as your flagship piece, and it should be planned to be smaller from the beginning.

Japanese Bedroom


2-3 Stand-Alone Props


You might be asking, "Why do I need to add separate props to my environment art portfolio? Aren't I applying as an environment artist? The answer is related to your first job tasks as a new hire and the important role props play in a game environment.

Often, one of the first tasks for a new environment artist in a game studio is creating props. Before you're handed the more significant task of directly working on game environments, the art director will want to test your reliability. They'll assess your skills and efficiency by observing how you handle the job of crafting the game's props.

So, it makes sense that studios want to see your skill in creating high-quality, separate props. It helps them understand how well you can add to their projects and build their game worlds.


Including 2-3 high-quality props in your portfolio serves two main purposes. It shows potential employers that you have the skills and detail-oriented mindset needed to create props that can improve an environment. It also shows them that you're ready to handle the kind of work a new environment artist usually gets.

Keep in mind, each prop should be made with the same care and attention to detail as your environments. This includes a thoughtful design, realistic textures, clean bakes and good UV's and an understanding of how the prop fits into a larger story.

Each part of your portfolio is a piece of a bigger picture that shows your abilities, with each prop being an important part of that picture.

Filler Pieces 


Now that we have some key portfolio pieces in place and you know their specific function and how they serve the portfolio, let's look at adding a little more to enhance your portfolio.

Filler pieces serve to supplement your portfolio with additional content, demonstrating other relevant skills associated with environment art like lighting and material creation.

Material ball studies serve as an excellent filler piece. They not only display your texture skills but also your ability to create realistic materials that respond well to different lighting conditions. This is your chance to illustrate your proficiency with tools such as Substance Designer for producing convincing textures and materials.

Sand and pebbles

Relights make another excellent filler piece. Relights involve taking a pre-existing environment, removing all the lights, and then replicating the lighting from a reference such as a game or a movie scene. These demonstrate your solid understanding of lighting principles.

Another valuable addition to your portfolio could be isolated mini-scenes, using props from your flagship environment. This is exactly what Ian has demonstrated in his portfolio. By taking props from his primary scene and repositioning them into independent, small-scale vignettes, he allows the viewer to appreciate the meticulous detail of each prop.

Rail car props (re-upload)

Reframing your props with closer camera angles accentuates your skills in prop modelling. This approach showcases the intricacy of your work without overwhelming your flagship environment presentation. Remember, early in your career at a studio, you'll likely start as a prop artist, so drawing attention to your capabilities in this area is crucial. These mini-scenes can serve as potent evidence of your readiness to excel in such roles.

One of the best aspects of filler pieces is their relatively short creation time. Usually, a material ball render or a relight can be completed over a weekend. This allows you to swiftly expand your portfolio with high-quality pieces without a massive time commitment.

Remember, every piece added to your portfolio should serve a purpose and reflect your skills. Filler pieces help paint a fuller picture of your capabilities, displaying your versatility and breadth of knowledge in environment art. Ultimately, every component of your portfolio is an opportunity to showcase your talents and stand out to potential employers.


Closing Thoughts


Creating a high-quality portfolio is no small task. It requires meticulous attention to detail, creativity, and a lot of hard work. But even more critical to your success is regular and professional feedback on your work. It's one thing to follow your own instincts and creativity, but the perspective of experienced professionals can shed light on areas for improvement that you might have overlooked. They can help you elevate your work from good to exceptional.

Remember, while a portfolio should have a limited number of pieces, each piece should exemplify the highest quality of work you're capable of. That's where the Game Arts Academy comes in. Our aim is to equip you with the tools, feedback, and community support you need to ensure that each portfolio piece is not only finished but meets or surpasses industry standards.

At Game Arts Academy, we understand the importance of maintaining the highest quality across all your portfolio pieces. That's why we offer live professional feedback as part of our package. Our package includes a robust set of high-quality environment art courses, live professional feedback, and access to our vibrant discord community. For only $49 USD per month, you'll gain access to an arsenal of resources to build your portfolio effectively and efficiently.

So, are you ready to take your portfolio to the next level and edge closer to landing that dream job at a video game studio?

Join us at Game Arts Academy, where we guide you step-by-step on this journey, turning your dream into reality. Let's start creating your winning portfolio today!

In the next blog post, we'll look at what you need in your portfolio if your goal is to become solely a prop artist and character artist. 

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