Building your portfolio

One of the best ways to start out in the screen industries is begin building a portfolio of work. Thanks to a wide range of accessible tools and software available for free online, you can  experiment and learn how to film, edit, mix music, animate, create visual effects (VFX), games and virtual reality (VR) projects from your own bedroom. 

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What's a portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of your own work which you can show to an employer or university or college admissions tutor as evidence of your skills and talents. It should reflect your interests and demonstrate your abilities in particular media, software and styles and be provided in addition to your CV.

It’s never too early to start creating a portfolio. Universities and colleges will be interested in your development so a portfolio can be used to show your creative journey. And of course you will learn lots from making it.

Top tips on building a portfolio

1) Keep it short. Don’t make your showreel or portfolio too long or put in too much information in. Most people who recruit in the screen industries are really busy and have limited time to look through something very long. You are presenting the very best of what you can do and not everything that you have done.

2) Focus on the opening. The first impression is really important and an employer who is looking through several portfolios or showreels will often have a quick look and then divide them into two – those they will look at again and those they won’t. You want to be in the first group so the first shot, picture or piece of work is really crucial.

3) Think about the audience. In any content you make, you need to think about who you are making it for. Do a bit of research and find out what kind of person will look at your work first. It might be a producer, an art director, a talent manager, or a more junior member of staff. You are making it for that person.

4) Check how it looks on the site. If you’re using a host site to display the work check what it looks like when it’s first opened as a link. It might be on a page with other content which can change the impression you give.

5) Ask a friend of a friend.  Get someone you don’t know very well to look at your showreel or portfolio and ask them for their first impressions. It’s good to know how you appear to a total stranger through the work you have put together.

6) Don’t be too clever. Sometimes a clever trick or edit doesn’t quite work in a portfolio or showreel and it can confuse people.

7) Keep it up to date.  Employers find it frustrating to be sent a link to something that’s out of date or broken.

There's no set path - you have to put your own work out there

Gavin Strange, senior designer at Aardman

Getting started

If you don't have access to a computer or laptop at home, some software can be used on a tablet or smartphone or why not talk to your school, local library or community centre about downloading one or more of them for you for free. 

There are some crossover skills between different parts of the screen industries and some differences. Read on for pointers to starting out in animation, film, games, television, visual effects (VFX) and immersive technology such as virtual or augmented reality. You can learn about different roles in the screen industries using our job profiles

Building your animation portfolio

If you are interested in becoming an animator, either in 2D, 3D or stop-motion, you will want a portfolio of your own work. This can include a showreel as well as illustrations and drawings to show off your artistic talent. Start this as early as you can and update it as you improve and get more experience. 

Useful software you can download or demo for free include:

  • Blender: a free 3D modelling animation tool
  • Autodesk: 30-day free trials of a suite of 3D tools including Maya, AutoCAD and 3DS Max
  • Pixar In A Box: behind-the-scenes videos and tutorials from Pixar artists
  • Synfig Studio: free vector-based 2D animation suites (also works on tablet)
  • Sketchup: free web-based 3D design software for layouts and architecture
  • Inkscape: free vector illustration software
  • TinkerCad: free web-based software for 3D design
  • Krita: a free illustration tool made for use with graphics tablets
  • GIMP: free open source Photoshop alternative
  • Scratch: tools for complete beginners to learn code and animation principles

Building your film portfolio

Get out and film something on your phone, camera or your school's equipment. Learn about story, framing and editing with free online software and tutorials, and then upload your film online for feedback.

Look at the credits of your favourite films to learn who made them, and read our job profiles for information on what each title means. Technology moves quickly in the film world so it is necessary to stay up-to-date. Try to attend industry workshops and seminars.

Useful film software you can download or demo for free include:

  • Celtx: 7-day free trial of a screenwriting and production management tool (also works on tablet and mobile)
  • Fountain: a free screenwriting mark-up language developed by Hollywood writers
  • Lightworks: free seven-day trial of a professional editing software
  • Kdenlive: free open-source (i.e. freely available) video editing software
  • Shotcut: free open-source video editing software
  • Audacity: free basic audio editor 
  • Mixxx: free DJ software for live and recorded mixes
  • Reaper: 60-day free trial of a digital audio workstation for recording and mixing
  • Let's make music: free open-source software for producing your own music on your computer
  • LightZone: free photo editing suite
  • GIMP: free open-source Photoshop alternative
  • Mozilla Webmaker: learn and teach web literacy skills for free.

Building your games portfolio

Games development is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK and artists, coders, modellers and animators are in demand. There are also non-creative roles in the games industry, including management, marketing and PR. This means there are opportunities for business students or graduates with an interest or knowledge of gaming. Investigate the companies behind the games you most enjoy and find out who designed, directed and programmed them. You can find out more about different job roles in the games industry using our job profiles.

Science, technology and engineering courses are often valued by employers in games. There are also specialist games courses. However, one of the best ways to learn is to experiment with different software and build your own portfolio to show to games companies. A portfolio demonstrating your use of software technology, character designs and artwork can show off your skill, imagination and passion as much as playable games. You can use the sortingh.at online tool to help you pick a games engine and coding language that suits you. 

Useful games software you can download or demo for free include:

  • Unity: an advanced games engine, used to make Kerbal Space Programme, Crossy Road and Grow Home, free for personal use by beginners and students
  • Unreal: advanced games engine, used to make Mortal Kombat and Bioshock Infinite. Free to access, Unreal takes a cut of profits if you make money from a game you made using it
  • presskit(): free tools to help games developers work with press and news outlets
  • Game Maker: game development platform with tutorials. The software is free to use unless you publish your game, at which point you would have to pay a licence to the software owner
  • Twine: free open-source tool for telling interactive, non-linear stories
  • PlayCanvas: a simple-to-use game engine for deploying to the web, free for public use
  • GIMP: free open-source alternative to Photoshop 
  • Mozilla Webmaker: learn and teach web literacy skills for free
  • Codeacademy: free bitesize lessons in web development and programming, including Python
  • Scratch: tools for complete beginners to learn code and animation principles
  • Python: open-source programming language for anyone interested in learning to code
  • Code Kingdoms: games for eight to 14-year-olds learning to use JavaScript
  • sortingh.at: a web-based tool to help you pick a games engine or programming language that suits you.

Go and experiment, it's not as difficult as it used to be

Gary Lightfoot, programmer at Radiant Worlds

Building your TV portfolio

The best way to learn more about TV is to, well, go and watch TV. Make notes on your favourite shows, the formats they use, who produced, directed and edited them, what genres they fit into (news, factual, drama, comedy or children's TV), what it is you like about then and what you would change.

Working in TV does not necessarily mean a creative role or being seen in front of the camera as an actor or presenter. A great deal of work is done behind the scenes and technical skills are highly valued. You don't necessarily need a degree to get into the industry, but it is one way to show you have knowledge and training. Another way is to build up a portfolio of work or create your own showreel by filming on your phone or learning to use editing software at home. Many people in TV start out as runners or researchers. 

Useful TV production software you can download or demo for free include:

  • Celtx: seven-day free trial of a screenwriting and production management tool (also works on tablet and phone)
  • Fountain: a free way of formatting text documents into screenplays, developed by Hollywood writers
  • Lightworks: free seven-day trial of a professional editing software
  • Kdenlive: free open-source  (freely available) video editing software
  • Shotcut: free open-source video editing software
  • Audacity: free basic audio editor 
  • Mixxx: free DJ software for live and recorded mixes
  • Reaper: 60-day free trial of a digital audio workstation for recording and mixing
  • Let's make music: free open-source software for producing your own music on your computer
  • Mozilla Webmaker: learn and teach web literacy skills for free.

Building your visual effects (VFX) portfolio

The visual effects (VFX) industry creates images and sequences for film, TV, animation and games that would be difficult or impossible for productions to film or create in real life such as alien landscapes and explosions.  Specialist companies have teams of artists and production staff. The bigger companies might specialise in modelling or compositing (combining visual images from different sources into a single image) or technical direction while smaller studios often tend to hire generalists. To find out more about different types of jobs in VFX take a look at our job profiles.

Teamwork and an understanding of the technology involved are important skills. To get started, try out common software such as Maya and Nuke. Attending workshops, seminars and following VFX blogs and YouTube channels is also a good way to keep up-to-date. 

Useful VFX software you can download or demo for free include:

  • Nuke: a free version of the industry-level production and creation software for personal use
  • Blender: a free 3D modelling animation tool
  • Autodesk: 30-day free trials of a suite of 3D tools including Maya, AutoCAD and 3DS Max
  • Pixologic Sculptris: free 3D sculpting tools (from the makers of ZBrush)
  • LightZone: free photo editing suite
  • GIMP: free alternative to Photoshop 
  • Mozilla Webmaker: learn and teach web literacy skills for free
  • Codeacademy: free bitesize lessons in web development and programming, including Python
  • Scratch: tools for complete beginners to learn code and animation principles
  • Python: open-source programming language for anyone interested in learning to code
  • Code Kingdoms: games for eight to 14-year-olds learning to use JavaScript.

Building your immersive media (VR and AR) portfolio

The virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) industries are still young but have the potential to touch all corners of the creative industries, as well as fields such as medicine and architecture. The industries are still evolving so there is no clear route in. Many people in immersive tech started in games or animation companies, so building a portfolio of animation or modelling work is a reasonable place to get experience. There are free online tools such as Unity and Blender that can get you started.

In order to learn how VR works, you should try different VR platforms, such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Google Cardboard. Since VR equipment is generally expensive, you should try to find VR experiences through demonstrations at film or games festivals, local meetings, where VR developers test their new projects, and even at art exhibitions and galleries. This will also keep you up-to-date with the latest technical advancements. 

Useful VR and AR software you can download or demo for free include:

  • Autodesk: 30-day free trials of a suite of 3D tools including Maya, AutoCAD and 3DS Max
  • Pixologic Sculptris: free 3D sculpting tools (from the makers of ZBrush)
  • LightZone: free photo editing suite
  • GIMP: free alternative to Photoshop 
  • Mozilla Webmaker: learn and teach web literacy skills for free
  • Codeacademy: free bitesize lessons in web development and programming, including Python
  • Scratch: tools for complete beginners to learn code and animation principles
  • Python: open-source programming language for anyone interested in learning to code
  • Code Kingdoms: games for eight to 14-year-olds learning to use JavaScript.

This page is specifically for information and tips for getting into the screen industries, but if you are curious about getting into other creative industries, here are some sites you might find helpful:

  • Creative and Cultural Skills (CCS): gives young people opportunities to work and learn in the creative industries, including providing career information, promoting apprenticeships and activities
  • CULT Cymru: A Welsh learning network supporting those in the creative industries
  • Roundhouse: a list of projects and courses for people between 18 and 25 to help develop new skills and creative passions
  • Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA): the professional body for practitioners in advertising and marketing communications
  • AdMission: advice on the advertising industry and entry-level routes

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