Build your visual effects (VFX) portfolio

If you want to get a creative role in the VFX industry, you need to be able to show admissions tutors and employers a collection of your best work.

VFX portfolios are usually in the form of a video showreel. This is a short video that shows a selection of clips from different projects on which you’ve worked. You might want to show a wider portfolio of work by hosting your showreel on your own website.

When you send your CV and covering letter to admissions tutors or employers, put in a link to your portfolio.  Your portfolio will show off what you can do and make you stand out from other applicants, so it’s important to put the time into getting it right.

What should a VFX portfolio have in it?

A showreel should be of your best work, not everything you’ve ever done. It should be two to three minutes long and needs to demonstrate high quality work, quickly.  As well as completed work, it’s important to show detailed shot breakdowns demonstrating how you produced your work and clearly explaining the processes and programmes you used.

  • Only include your best work. Put the very best first. An employer or admissions tutor is likely to have seen many portfolios already on the day they see yours. You need to grab their attention within the first 30 seconds. Don’t leave the best to last, as the employer may give up before they get to it
  • Have a flow. Imagine how it will look to someone else watching it. Make sure it starts and ends well and is engaging
  • Research the art style and genres of the VFX company you’re applying for. Match this to the work you show. It’s better to have a shorter portfolio of relevant work than a larger one that doesn’t reflect what they’re looking for
  • Match the work on your portfolio to the role. If the role is for a lighting artist, put that work upfront
  • If you’re showing group work, be clear about your contribution. This can be as simple as a line of text on the graphic, video or screenshot
  • The person looking at your portfolio may be looking at it without you, so use text to explain what tools or software you used
  • Don’t be tempted to put in work that isn’t yours
  • Don’t use inappropriate or distracting music. Employers are likely to turn the sound off anyway
  • Include your contact details
  • Ensure your portfolio works on a variety of screen sizes, devices and browsers. If you’ve made it on a desktop, check it still looks good on mobile. If you use Safari, don’t forget to test it in Chrome
  • Keep it up-to-date. Refresh it with new work and adapt it for each different job

Tips for creating a concept art portfolio

A concept art reel needs to do two things: First, it needs to show your creativity; second, it needs to be relevant to a studio or particular project.

Depending on your creative process, you might show the progression from pen and ink to 2D colour and 3D model renderings. Each step would show a development in detail of a character, artefact or environment. If you’ve used real-world reference, show how it has influenced your work. If your concept has been used in a finished project, include that too.

Next you need to tailor your reel to an audience. If you’re passionate about character conceptualisation, research studios and projects that have brought characters to life that you admire. Try ideas out to see if you can identify a studio’s style and work productively within it.

If you’re starting out and you’re drawn to more than one specialism, make more than one video reel for your portfolio. If you have tailored environment and character reels, you’ll be able to highlight the most appropriate work for a prospective employer.

Tips for creating a (computer-generated) CG art portfolio

Aspiring CG artists face a challenge – how to show off their knowledge and skills for a range of job roles, yet not appear to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. The entry-level roles often have overlapping skills, or happen alongside each other. In smaller studios, for instance, modelling and texturing are sometimes advertised as one job.

Having a demo reel that highlights either your best modelling and texturing work or environment and layout is fine. But if you’re applying for a matchmove job, you’ll need a reel that demonstrates the skills of creating a 3D camera or volume from 2D images and then incorporating a simple CG element into a scene. Research the jobs that you see advertised and tailor your reel accordingly.

Showing the real-world reference that has inspired your CG art is important. All VFX artists need an eye for detail, so highlighting fine detail in the real world you’ve recreated in CG will demonstrate that.

Tips for creating a technical portfolio

If you’re looking for an entry level role such as assistant technical director, creating a portfolio that includes a video might seem daunting at first. But one of the skills that employers will be looking for is an ability to communicate – and that’s where a technical reel can make you stand out from the crowd.

For example, if you’ve written a tool, a script or you’ve automated a task (like renaming files using command line), a short video of a screen recording of the code in operation with your voiceover (or picture in picture insert) explaining what you are doing will demonstrate both your competence and ability to communicate. As an alternative to a voiceover you can use captions as headers to help the viewer follow the process or tool that you are demonstrating.

Roles like rigger or creature technical directors can demonstrate details of rigging controls and simulations like fur or cloth. Think about examples to include where you’ve encountered a problem and solved it, or where you’ve responded to feedback and made iterations to your work.

A good technical portfolio will show competence (at beginner, intermediate or experienced levels) and communicate a process and a solution to a problem or brief.

Tips for creating a compositing portfolio

In a compositing portfolio, the breakdown demo reel, or 'show and tell', is how you can quickly communicate the breadth and depth of your skills. Obviously, a demo reel should only contain your best work and by that we mean photo-realistic images.

Once you’ve established yourself as a compositor, you’ll find it easy to select work for your demo reel. But when you’re starting out, you will need to highlight the most appropriate parts of your portfolio. You might be applying for roto-prep artist or junior compositor jobs. You can feature good-quality patching and cover-up work in its own one to two-minute reel when applying for roto-prep jobs.  If you’re applying for a junior compositor role, you’ll need to show keying (for example, green screen extractions), combining live action elements and, of course, integrating CG elements into live-action photography.

The standard way to show before and after on any shot is a simple wipe between synced original plate and final shot. That works fine if, for example, your work has been to key green screen elements over a live-action plate. But if you’ve been integrating multiple CG elements into live action, you’ll want to show more of the process. Don’t be afraid to tell the story of how a CG element is made up of a model, passes and textures. Some of the most effective reels utilise the 3D volume within a compositing software to show the viewer a different camera perspective on how the CG elements are assembled before compositing into 2D footage.

A VFX artist’s entire portfolio might contain examples of a range of creativity like illustration, 3D sculpting or photography. But short-length video reels containing work you’re proud of, with breakdowns that communicate well, will catch the eyes of recruiters.

Free VFX software

You can use the following software to start creating your own work to build up your portfolio. Depending on the kind of role in VFX you want, you might need to use a variety of these:

Compositing software:

Nuke
Operating system: All
Industry-used software with dynamic 3D compositing, 3D particle effect and tracking. 30-day free trial available. This is the most commonly used compositing software in VFX studios specialising in film.

Natron
Operating system: All
Easy-to-use node-based interface for 2D compositing, rotoscoping and 2D tracking.

Hitfilm Express
Operating system: Windows and macOS
2D and 3D compositing software with pre-set special effects, keying for green screen and online tutorials.

DaVinci Resolve
Operating system: All
Advanced node-based software for 2D and 3D compositing, rotoscoping, colour grading. Can be used for animation.

3D art software:

Blender
Operating system: All
Easy-to-use software to create 3D models, environments and animated films.

Maya
Operating System: All
3D animation, modelling, simulations and rendering software. It’s widely used by industry and there’s a one-month free trial available.

Synfig
Operating system: All
Vector-based 2D animation suite; use the tools to move to different drawings.

Three.Js
Operating System: Web-based
Create animated 3D computer graphics on a web browser using HTML.

Pixlr
Operating system: Web-based
Photo and graphics editor.

TinkerCad
Operating system: Web-based
Easy-to-use browser-based software for 3D design.

GIMP
Operating system: All
An alternative to Adobe Photoshop.

Where should I host my VFX portfolio?

You can build your portfolio website using the following free platforms:

Adobe Portfolio
Showcase your work in a full portfolio website or create a single-page website as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription plan.

ArtStation
Host your portfolio and showreel on the site, which also has a jobs listings board including from major games companies. Free to use.

Portfoliobox
A portfolio website for creatives. There’s a free version available, which offers the ability to host 30 images and 10 pages and has a 0% commission e-commerce.

Wordpress
There’s a free version with up to 3GB of storage space. Other paid plans are available.

You can host your showreel on the following sites:

Vimeo
A video hosting site and video player. Offers a free package called “Vimeo Basic”.

YouTube
Free video sharing platform. (Less of a professional sheen or reputation than Vimeo, but widely used).

How should I share my portfolio?

Link to your portfolio or showreel from your CV and covering letters to employers or admissions tutors.

Also include a link to your online portfolio in the bio of any social media accounts that you use strictly for professional purposes. Social media sites that you may use for professional purposes include LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, to name a few.