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Building Your 3D Resume

Worried about not having enough experience? Confused as to how to land a job? Desperate to show the world your gorgeous 3D work (and maybe get a job)? Luke Ahearn offers excellent advice on constructing your 3D demo reel and what to do and not do when you approach companies.

Luke Ahearn, Blogger

July 16, 1999

12 Min Read

What makes a killer 3D resume package? Killer 3D, plain and simple.

In the past several years, I have looked at literally thousands of CD-ROMS, videotapes, web sites, slide shows, images, and AVIs - and that's only the 3D stuff. With such fierce competition, you need to stand out. Most of what I get (a full ninety-five percent) has no redeeming qualities. But in most cases it's the submitted material, not the individual's skill, that's of little value. If you work at it, you can make yourself and your work stand out.

Below is a list of items that, if addressed, will greatly increase your chances of being considered for and landing a job. These items are not hard and fast rules, rather they are guidelines you should be aware of when conducting your job search. There are tons of books and articles on the subject of resume writing, submission strategies, and all the common aspects of job hunting. You must tend to these aspects of your job search as well. This article will focus more specifically on the content and presentation of your 3D work.

Show, Don't Tell

I once received a five-page snail mail letter from a 2D artist raving about his own work with absolutely no images. He didn't even sign his name; it was printed (in dot matrix). He had no e-mail address, phone number, or URL. I guess I was supposed to write him back. I didn't waste my time.

On the other hand I once received an envelope with both the to and from address hand-lettered. There were several sheets of really talented artwork, and a note that said simply "I am sorry I have no e-mail address. My phone number is 555-5555. Please call collect if you wish to speak with me." I called (not collect) and hired the individual.

Let your work speak for itself. Don't describe it overly much. Listing what applications you used is great, but don't oversell yourself.


Since larger companies hire larger teams and more people with specialized jobs, focusing on a strength may help you get a job. Even a small developer will see your best work when it is focused and will be more impressed by it. Don't try to be a Jack-of-all-trades. Define your 3D strength and briefly discuss it. Are you an animator, a model builder (low resolution, high resolution, organic, mechanical), a texture artist, good at lighting, color composition, or what? This specialization will especially be helpful in a larger company.

Don't drown your cool model with crappy textures and poor lighting. Maybe a really cool model should be shown in wire frame and/or with a solid color on it. If your specialty is modeling, take out the cheesy music your friend wrote and ax the crappy textures you stole off the net. Show me the model.

Don't overload your demo tape, either. Okay, that chrome ball with the reflection map floating over that checkered floor was awesome when you rendered it two years ago, but leave it out of your demo tape. Your demo tape should be short and contain your best stuff. Do not stuff every flying logo you ever created in there. One or two is enough.

Do not show your work chronologically, oldest to newest. Your demo reel has to capture interest and dazzle immediately. Show your absolute best work first and consider ending it there. If I see chrome balls first, I may not stick around to your best and most recent stuff.

And although I don't write much about this aspect, I would consider this the most important advice I have to offer and the most often repeated mistake I see made.

Don't Mistake F/X for Content

Don't showcase features of your application. I know that combustion, volumetric fog, volumetric light, reflection, refraction, and particle systems are cool, but don't send me a tape of a spotlight in a sea of volumetric fog and expect me to be impressed. If you have an effect in your scene it should:
a) Not be the scene itself. F/X are made to enhance your scene, not be the scene.

b) Show signs that you have tweaked, played with, and can control the effect.

Default settings in most applications are crummy and it's obvious when they haven't been changed.

Don't Resubmit Material

You are wasting your time and money. If your work was good, it's on file. If it was thrown away the first time, it will be thrown away the second and third time as well. If you are sending updated material, indicate that and explain what you changed if it's not very obvious.

Credit Anything You Use

Chances are, if you found that model, texture, or tutorial, we did, too. It's okay to use a free model in your resume if you are not showcasing your modeling talent. But you had better mention where it came from. If you don't, it will simply make you look like you are trying to take credit for its creation.

When using free models, free textures, application standard materials, tutorials, anything not created by you, you should question what the impression will be from the other side. Will it look like you're trying to take credit for someone else's work? Will it look like you didn't tweak the scene? Will it look like you copied someone else's design? Even if you are modeling an asset based on a movie prop, go ahead and mention it. It is better to look like a good model-maker than to raise any doubt that you may be trying to pass off that prop as your own design.

Beware the Class Project

When fifty students at the Acme College of design do the same project and then all get the same hand out with the same companies listed on it for their job search - guess what happens? I get fifty copies of a chrome ball floating over a checkered field. I will not hire you. But it is not your fault; it's your instructor's fault.

If possible, try to do your own thing or ask the teacher if you can change the assignment in some meaningful way. I get at least 50 tapes from one Canadian school every year with the same thing on each tape. I don't watch tapes from that school anymore. As soon as the tape is queued up and I see that all too familiar opening scene, I push eject and move on. I attempted to talk to the instructor once. He seemed greatly disinterested in helping his students.

Beware the Tutorial

If you are going to do a tutorial and plan on putting it on your demo reel, then at least learn the lesson the tutorial is teaching and change up some stuff in the model or texture. Or better yet, apply the lessons you learned to your own original scene. And now that you know what to do and not to do, on to the pressing question . . .

Are You Experienced?

What is experience? It's not necessarily having had a 3D job, but rather the ability to produce samples of good 3D work. It is better to have done a few free 3D jobs that look good, than having had a paying job where all you did was the same boiler plate logo for two years.

Experience helps, but it is still your work that is judged. I don't care if you were Head Animator at Flying Cubes Inc. If all you have are flying cubes to show me, your experience doesn't mean that much. So, most of you (who don't have experience) should be heartened to know that you don't really need it to get a job. You just need to demonstrate talent through a good body of work.

So how do you get experience? You are the one responsible for getting that experience and building up that portfolio. For the most part, companies don't like hiring people to train them, unless they advertise up-front that that is their intention. But if you show signs of talent, you will be a safe bet. Some aspiring 3D artists start at the bottom of a company and work their way up. Some, on their own, make a demo reel that is killer. Some get involved with a project and volunteer their work in order to learn.

Know the Company

Never send a resume through an automated mailer, especially the ones that include the 200 other addresses your resume went to. At a minimum you should have the company name and contact name in your cover letter or e-mail. I always find it impressive when someone knows even the smallest bit of information about my company, or makes reference to anything that may indicate they thought before they sent their resume off.

You also need to determine who you should send your work to, in what format, what they are looking for, and other details. I prefer links. Personally, I would rather get an email saying, "Dear Sir, LOOK!" And then a link to a web site. I hate getting huge downloads. I hate sorting through all the ROMS, tapes, and disks. You should determine what the company prefers before sending anything. Which leads to the next item . . .

Be Honest with Yourself

Is your work really any good? This is a hard one and you have to be able to answer it accurately or you're doomed. Can you make a great texture? Can you make a killer model? When you look at your work next to other peoples' work, how does it compare? When you find work similar to yours, ask yourself where those people are in the 3D industry. Realize that this is probably your level, too.

Back up and look at what you are doing. Are you simply taking free models and sticking them in a scene with standard MAX textures? If so you are not a 3D artist.

Never Name your Salary

Period. Unless you have serious 3D-related work experience, in which case you may mention what you made at your last job. If, however, you're coming out of the Acme School for 3D Design and your previous employment was a manager at the Taco Bell, don't tell me your salary range, especially when it is in the low six figures.

Be Courteous

Finally, persistence pays off. But don't badger! A follow-up call or a simple "how ya doing" e-mail will do just fine, and helps you stand out.

The Power of the Internet

One of our greatest assets can be the Internet. Be active on it. Join forums, participate in discussions, post your work in online galleries. You have no idea when a perspective employer will be out scouting talent and the feedback you get can be useful. But beware the armchair types on the net. They lurk in the newsgroups and are full of bad advice, pessimism (understandably so) and love to write it out in really long posts.

Also, make sure that your work and ideas are protected. Think about what you are posting for the world to see.

A Home Page

A Home Page on the Internet with a gallery of your work is almost a must. When you update the gallery, post it in the newsgroups so people know it exists and is current. If you wait for a search engine to magically take someone to your site, you will be waiting for a very long time.

When you design your site make sure to put smaller thumbnails to bigger images and make navigation easy. If I am having a hard time getting around a page I usually drop it and move to the next. Don't overload it with graphics other than your art. Take your time on it and make it as nice as possible. Remember that more people are likely to see your web site than any printed materials you send out.

Luke Ahearn is owner of Goldtree Game Developers (www.goldtree.com) and has designed and produced six game titles. Luke has written two full length fiction novels in his spare time.

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About the Author(s)

Luke Ahearn


Luke Ahearn has over fourteen years of professional game development experience and has served in lead positions such as designer, producer, and art director on seven published game titles including Dead Reckoning and Americas' Army and worked as a background artist at EA. He has authored six books on game development and ran his own computer game company for ten years. Currently, he is the Art Director and partner of ICPU.

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