Homage to Just A Geek

Homage to Just a Geek, headline image
A few months ago I read Wil Wheaton’s ‘Just a Geek’ and enjoyed it tremendously. Wil gave an unflincingly honest and humorous look into his life. It made me reflect on mine. This is my little homage to Wil’s book.

An autumn morning a few days ago

Merciless clock and a light breakfast get me going and out of the door before 8am. Often that’s before my wife and 2 year old boy or wife get up, but this morning they do.
I’m at the door when Eino, my little guy comes up to me and says (in Finnish).
– Daddy goes to work.
– Yes, daddy goes to work.
– Daddy drives fast (grabbing my leg)
– Daddy tries.
Then he asks for a hug and kiss, wife too, and our cat begs a nose-kiss, and I’m on my way.

The morning is quite beautiful, crispy. I drive the beach road in Helsinki area with the sea warmer than air whisking up a pale fog. Morning sun turns it to a wall of white, hiding the ocean, where nearby islets show only as silhouettes. Aware that soon enough sun will do the northern trick and stay down most of the day I just enjoy the glare. Gravel crunches under tires of my rather creaky 20+ year old bicycle as I speed up and feel mighty fine.

Just under 10 kilometers away, in Helsinki center, awaits my workplace, an old an respected game company. I have the pleasure of leading art production for a game. We have a great little team. I enjoy it like no job before. But I must say none of this, what I have in my life now, came easy to me.

An autumn morning 9 years ago

I wake up slowly in my singles flat past 11 am. It was another long night of single-player gaming and reading. Since it is late I start the day with lunch, a packet of spinach lettuces with jam which I figure is healthy not realizing how little spinach there is or protein or anything else positive for that matter. Then few meters to my desk and I’m at work, 60 minutes and I’m done. The too rare and random web design and illustration jobs I have are like that. I get by with them, unemployment support and dreaming of winning the lottery.

Soon I’m out of the door. The apartment building I live in is a good lonely distance from Tampere center and offers forest trails right from the front door. I run a lot, it keeps me reasonably sane and unappealingly skinny. The forest is beautiful, dark evergreen with rays of sunshine slipping through the trees and touching ground at pleasant angles. I have an eye for beauty but am not feeling it now – what I feel is discontent.

I’m 27 years old but have no proper profession. I have almost a degree in Cultural Anthropology which I am in no hurry to finish or interested in as a job. I have had a graphic design business of my own for 5 years, on the side of studies, but have no contact network, no success worth mentioning or real interest to continue.

What I do enjoy and think I can do is multimedia/games/movies/animation, mainly the artwork and animation side of it. Still despite my projects and studies(I focused on Multimedia clearly more than my major) I’ve only done some random jobs of the type.

The issue in brief is lack of contacts(most jobs go to people people know), the lack of valid degree and especially(and this is in hindsight) not having that important first trainee position which I never apply for because I think I won’t be valued if they don’t pay me from day one. (Very poor thinking right there)

I moved to Tampere to escape getting stuck in my studies at Jyväskylä University and to do Animation Production diploma course. However the program taught me nothing new and I also failed my personal one-man animation production attempt – was stumped by technical issues and lost the momentum realizing how huge project I had undertaken and how slowly it progressed.

I am restless, disillusioned and worried my life is going nowhere. I have moved 2 times within one year from one shared flat to another, looking for something not knowing what, and finally to border of Tampere to be in peace and alone. Same applies to relationships, pretty much.

In stark contrast my friends are doing so well in their studies, professional lives and relationships that there is no comparison with their lives and mine.

I return from the run with a mild high from endorphins and for some time I can forget all that crap and can think. Standing sweaty and energized in the spartan apartment I feel a need for new approach. I will build an animation production in small steps and make a learning material out of it and will apply for a grant to do it all. And I will forget graphic design and develop my 3D skills with more diligence, especially the hardest part, characters.

Autumn morning in 2010

I walk my wife to the door, kiss her and wish her a good day at work. I put tea on boil, power up my computer and move our pre-teen feline beast off my keyboard. It goes with a flick of a tail and disapproving purr. I check where I was with work last night and it is looking good. I almost forget the tea, going to shop or even cooking for my wife as I delve deep into a project I am optimistic about.

In many a regard things have not changed. I’m still energized by ideas and projects. I’m still more unemployed than not and now officially so as I have recently closed down my company. I’m a partner in another company, we make movies, but that isn’t helping my lack of income. I have a resume worth showing, including 5 years of game work for a high rated (freeware) game, and have made a demoreel and a personal animated short movie. In many ways last 6 years have been a lot better than the low point of 2004.

But things have come to a head. I’m married and we’re been planning on having a baby. This isn’t about me, self development and making just enough to get by anymore. It is about family and responsibility. I feel a pressing need to succeed and have been burning midnight oil for 2 years now.. I pretty much pass out once a week from lack of sleep. We’ve talked I should get a job at supermarket or something, anything.

It is not as if I hadn’t tried. Lately there has been a major Recession which may have stumped my serious attempt with a proper demoreel in 2009. Then again I have found the reel broke a few basic rules, so maybe it was me. Yet I know I am good at what I do. This year I got into GamePro recruitment program and was, in their words, their first and foremost offer to game companies for Art. However all companies initially looking for a 3D artist backed away from the program before it could start.

Regardless of all his my latest venture has me excited and optimistic, once again. I’ve been writing a computer graphics blog on and off for 8 months and it has gathered some momentum. With recent tutorial competition wins I’ve been inspired to create a commercial tutorial about 3D Animation Character Creation. I feel very confident I can make a good product. Hell, I’ve been fiddling project like this since 2004.

Sometime in the afternoon our little catmonster does an inspired rip-a-rip on our sofa and gets me off the computer for a while, chasing her. After the cat is satisfied I still remember her, apparently not caring what type of attention it is, it leaves the furniture alone. Unable to focus I do my customary open positions-check. There’s an UI artist inquiry from an unknown company called Supercell. I do not specialize in UI but what the heck, a quick application can’t hurt.

Next day I have an interview and sign a contract a day later. Work starts in December. Turned out they needed an animator and a 3D artist and I fit both bills. And almost on the same day that I start the work my wife gets a positive on pregnancy test.

I am my choices. (I am not Jack’s colon. I don’t get cancer and kill Jack.)

Even though it was a lucky change that had me meet the right people at right moment, I believe my choices got me here. I chose my focus in 2004. I have done 3D since 1999 but choosing it over other things gave momentum. I chose not do work I don’t have passion for – I rather did projects(often unpaid) that helped me improve. In the end, especially as I was a complete dumbass and never thought about applying for a trainee position, it was my choice to live many years as a starving artist. And in the end it was worth it.

What kept me going was some unfounded belief in myself. Had you told me 9 years ago where I would be now, I would have believed you and said ‘Good, that’s sounds about right’.

So there you go. This is the truth and for me putting it out here it is scary. Like most people who write I also try to show only my good side. But in a way it is a facade even when it is true.

If there’s anything I hope you take home from this is that it is never too late to start anew. And if you are young, say around 27, and don’t yet have a career or are unhappy with what you do now.. if so then please shut up and do something about it.

Thanks for reading and I believe I can take your feedback(with only a little dread) should you choose to give it. Please do. And for a more personal, entertaining and interesting story go read Wil Wheaton’s book. It kicks ass.

Be an Expert

Be an Expert, image
What makes an expert? Why do companies want experts? These are examples and thoughts of a 3D artist working in games.

Lately I’ve been happy to see game industry growing with the expansion of consumer base which has lead to more jobs. This very clear locally here in Finland – the games industry is blooming. There’s a Finland-special in Edge magazine 04/2013 that touches on the bloom. Another even more entertaining read, though not as recent, is this VG247 article which is available online for free: http://www.vg247.com/2012/02/03/scandimania-adventures-in-finnish-games-part-one/

There is demand for artists, programmers (especially server-specialized) and more, and one thing always looked for, and often found lacking, is expertise.

What makes an Expert?

Common definition for an expert is deep knowledge and experience of a topic. 10000 hour rule is often mentioned for mastering a subject. 25000 hour rule also comes up since these days. Have you noticed how many people ‘graduate’ as Doctors these days? Lucky for us working in games and in other creative fields the important bit is actual experience.

Experience and knowledge makes it easier to solve problems and to do it creatively, and more so it gives base for coming up with new solutions and identifying problems that others haven’t noticed or anticipated – even solving problems that have no pre-existing solutions to look up. This is why, in games industry, anything beyond a junior position requires solid working experience. Hobby projects do count – it is a matter of showing you have done the work.

Experts can also communicate. An expert understands the idea well enough to tell others about it and has some social skill to deliver it. The other skilled people, ‘backroom pros’ do still have a place in the games industry, but a social and communication skills make a difference and create leaders.

Finally and I think most importantly experts are good students before anything else. People become experts only because they study, try, work, learn and teach. And a person who is so invested in learning a subject does more than learn to do it – she finds the core information, brakes it down to base parts – gets to the system within. Knowing a thing so well helps her use it effectively and improve it.

In the end it is a matter of curiosity and love for the subject – the things that make you put in the required hours and thinking. I don’t believe in shortcuts.

What about Natural Talent?

I’m not getting into subject of talent or how it would help. Superb Radiolab does it so much better. Listen to Secrets of Success. http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2010/jul/26/secrets-of-success/

Personally I don’t think I have any particular talent for art. I just like creating things and work at learning it.

Why companies want experts?

Experts are people who know their craft exceedingly well and can work together. Working with such people is good. Sure they make mistakes but those are rarely spectacular. And because experts are such great students they can also teach, help others get there. And being students the experts also know that they can’t know everything and don’t pretend otherwise.

There you go, my take on experts. I have the pleasure of working with them 🙂
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Future of 3D modeling looks organic – why care about polygons?

Future of 3D modeling looks organic, image
3D Modeling programs and devices advance in leaps and bounds. New tools make sculpting accessible and ever more organic. Can artist skip learning the ‘oldschool’ skills and just embrace the new?

3D Tools of the Future are here

Coming up is Motion-based creation with a new device, Leap Motion, think Kinect on stereoids. The developers say it was originally developed with 3D modeling in mind. See some collected videos on the tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQkKyOOyLSs&list=PL867A53645EDDD94C

Playstation 4 developers are showcasing motion-based solution offering freedom for modeling, amongst other applications. See here from 1:50. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KI4nn9uDFGE

Another new device takes the user in to 3D, Virtual Reality that is. Oculus Rift is a revolution in VR-headset-space and built with games in mind. While not meant for 3D modeling I can’t help thinking how it would be to work in a blank, Tron-esque virtual space that you could populate with whatever references or other stuff you need. Combine that with a motion sensor like Leap Motion and wow. http://www.oculusvr.com/

3D scanners are also coming to home users, in time. Surely there would be no approach more organic than the original, clay? Gnomon School blog speculates on those possibilities.
And you don’t have to wait for the dedicated scanners. You can scan objects with Kinect controller. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=of6d7C_ZWwc

All in all technology barrier is getting lower and lower. Which is great.

So if sculpting gets so easy and fun..

Why care about polygons or polygon modeling anymore?

If you do sculpture then you don’t need to.
But otherwise the issues areas are:

  1. Scanned/Sculpted Model is not readily usable for anything else than a sculpture.
  2. Many types of 3D models are best realized with polygon modeling tools.
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1. Sculpture or scanned model is good for a sculpture only – unless you apply modeling skills

sculpt detail
A scanned or sculpted 3D model, by default, does not have construction that makes sense for anything other that what it is – a sculpture. For animation, game or any other practical use the sculpture is too dense and has no useful topology aka directed polygon surface flow. (One COULD pose a sculpted figure in a sculpting program, and sculpt to fix the issues in the new pose, or do all same steps in real clay and scan each pose in to 3D, and then render those poses for stop motion-like animation, but that would be painstaking.)

Too dense model consist of too many polygons and is simply too heavy for game or animation use. Fortunately there are tools to slim it down like Zbrush’s Decimation Master. However it does not fix the topology.

No uv-map means the model is not mapped for texturing. Software like Zbrush allow texturing without an uv-map but it works only in the said software. Zbrush also has great auto-uv-mapping but it is not the same as a map planned and made by a person. Games in particular can demand very creative tricks in this area. And the hook here it is that a person can’t reasonably uv-map something that doesn’t have a decent topology.

It comes down to (good) topology – without it a model..

  1. deforms badly in animation or posing
  2. shades oddly
  3. displaces less well
  4. can’t be sensibly uv-mapped
  5. and is pretty much in every way more difficult to read and work with

For more on some of the above points, please see Why Surface Flow Matters, Modeling For Animation and Testing Models for Animation.

To make good topology one has to understand polygon modeling. And if it is characters than required is some knowledge of anatomy. It is also beneficial to understand how models are rigged and what happens when they animate.

What about automatic topology?
Ideal would be fully automatic and perfect topology creation tool so that artist could focus only on the fun parts, shaping and painting.

There are tools that help a lot. 3D Coat and Zbrush for example offer auto-topology-tools. This 3D Coat video shows the idea well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEnwxnNMPk4
However the video sticks to larger elements for a reason. In areas of detail like the face the tools need a lot more guidelines to produce something usable. Again the user needs to understand polygon modeling. Also the ‘automatic’ tools are by definition not as precise as modeling tools (after all the idea is Not to work with polygons). Hence polygon or two out of place may become a pain to remove. Well, until the retopology-tools advance to a level resembling artificial intelligence.

2. Many 3D model purposes and styles are best realized with polygon modeling

Second major defence for polygon modeling is that many platforms require low-polygon models which are impossible or too much work to do with the organic future tools. Sculpting can’t compete in low-poly with polygon modeling simply because that is what polygon modeling tools were made for (in the beginning all modeling was low-poly).

Low-poly modeling is also a skill and style(s) of its own and is used in great variety of platforms and media, including many types of games, multimedia, web and visualization to name a few.

Future of 3D is bright

CGmascot head sculpted
While I want to remind people that new tools don’t change modeling altogether, I am still excited by them. The progress is wonderful and very welcome! The work becomes ever more fun. I for one can’t wait to play and create with some of these tools.

BTW I didn’t mention alternatives to polygons in this article, like voxels, as I don’t think they are yet solid enough to compete with polygons in everyday use.
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Artist Demoreel in Games industry

This is just me showing my recent reels and the idea behind them.

Autumn 2012 I decided to look for new job in game industry. I already had such a job, good one too, but I needed a change and a new challenge to improve. For that end I made a couple of reels.

Here’s a good collection of Demoreel Tips for a good reel: http://www.digitaltutors.com/11/demoreel.php#tipsfrompros

Gnomon Workshop’s blog also has a nice list of Demoreel Do’s and Don’ts: http://www.thegnomonworkshop.com/news/2013/03/the-dos-and-donts-of-creating-your-demo-reel

What then if you are a generalist? Tips say make focused reels, several if need be. I didn’t have the time. I was thinking I need to show how many different projects and tasks I have done and also how varied work I can do – and as briefly as possible.

Gamereel

What I did goes somewhat against the common advice: a collage-style reel simply listing the games I’ve worked on and the main areas I worked in. I’m leaning on the fact that when you’re in games industry the game credits count a lot. And the listing does help to get across the point that I can do many things. I felt that reason enough for a reel like this.

Niko Mäkelä Gamereel 2012 at Vimeo

I need to mention that in pretty much every application case the gamereel was not enough; People wanted to see examples of single tasks or assets – all very understandable and expected. Having separate reel on modeling and texturing would have been convenient.

Animation reel

I made a separate animation reel because animation has played a large role in my work in past years. This reel is more in-line with common reel-tips. I find it easier to watch.

Niko Mäkelä Animation Reel 2012 at Vimeo

Doing extra helps

It is very competitive out there. Besides reels and resume I believe that if you want a job in games you need something extra. Maybe it is that perfectly tailored-for-job-application and good references, maybe it is a hobby. I have this blog, for one. Whatever the sum of things was, I got a job I like.

Low-poly Tips 3 – Game Art Asset optimization

These are 3D art asset modeling, rigging, uv-mapping and texturing tips. And not only for low-poly though it is where they are needed the most. See also other tip collections, the first and second set.

Minimize number of Draw Calls the Asset generates

Draw Calls are for game engine the number of separate objects, materials and textures that are loaded.  The less draw calls the better the game can run. Here are some ways to lower the number:
Multi-object texture optimizing art assets

  • Have each character as one single mesh. Characters that are made from pieces in-game cost in draw calls.
  • Combine separate static meshes to one. If you can have a collection of objects as one object, one file(the meshes can be unconnected), it is better than as several files.  But don’t combine a whole village to one object as the whole thing would get loaded to memory even though you may not need it. This trick is best for moderate collection of objects, say all items inside a shop interior.
  • Use only one material and texture per object. Or even..
  • Have several objects all use same texture and material. This means each has the same uv-map but uses only a portion of the whole – uv-map collects all textures together. See picture. Even though not shown in picture(for clarity) the sections different objects use can well overlap.
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Optimize character rig, use 2 rigs – one for animation and one for export

The less bones your character has the lighter it is to run.  And less resources used for one character means more to use elsewhere – maybe even allowing more characters.

But very few bones makes animating difficult and prevents many motions. Of course we rather animate with the optimum amount – and with control objects as well to make work easier. Sure you can have control object in your game rig and just make sure not to export them to game, but having bones in a rig that you don’t export, like between one bone and another? That is asking for trouble.

Solution is two rigs, one for animation and one for exporting to game. Game-rig is linked to follow animation rig – you animate only with animation-rig and export only with the game-rig.
[clearboth] Character Rig optimization
[clearboth] [one_half]Animation Rig is the rig you build first. It has the bones and control objects you want to animate with. The rig can even have details, like fingers, which you can animate and later decide to use or not(via the game rig). Build your animation rig and then consider what parts of it are essential for moving the character. Every bone in a character only supporting other bones and not really affecting the mesh itself is a bone the game character does not need. So, do you really need the neck-bone if head and chest bone playing together can offer the same result or close enough?

[/one_half] [one_half_last]Game Rig is collection of helper objects(any type, also called nulls), one per every important part of character. The reason to use nulls instead of bones is that creating bones is intended to build hierarcies you don’t need and should not have, here. Create these objects, then align and parent them to follow the relevant bones of Animation Rig. They should relocate to pivot-points of the animation-rig-bones. Then skin your character mesh to these helper objects(nulls). In the end you animate with Animation Rig and the Game Rig follows and deforms the mesh.[/one_half_last] [clearboth]

That was the 3rd set of little tips for improving 3D (game) art assets. Cheers!

Low-poly Tips 2 – Game Art Asset Optimization


These modeling, uv-mapping and texturing tips apply to 3D art asset work for games and similiar media. While they are best matched with low-poly 3D, they are definitely not limited to it. See also the previous collection here and the 3rd one here.

Middle edgeloop optimization & UV-mapping a character

It is common to model an edgeloop running around the middle of a character. It allows mirror copying the torso – you uv-map and texture only half and duplicate to get both halves with same detail (see Low-poly Tips vol. 1 for futher explanation). However there are number of reasons why full middle loop and mirroring everything is often not the best choice.

Mirror-uv-mapping everything on a character mirrored makes it look more generic. For visual interest you want variation in at least the texture if not the shape and for this you can’t mirror everything. In a humanoid figure the places seen the most are where you want variation, usually top half of character torso, shoulders and face.

A middle cut running all through your character model means more polygons. There are places where you have to have it, namely the crotch/hips area for humanoids because this area receives lot of stretching – you need to separate the legs. But there are also many places where you don’t need it. See the image for example of middle edgeloop use.

For four (or more)-legged characters like dogs you can often forgo the middle loop at hips, too. Sure the area will bend and break in animation, but if it doesn’t show then does it matter?

Fake roundness with just 4 polygons – optimize asset polycount

A square can be made to look rounded in game. The trick is to use one smoothing group and turn a square so that polygons are not aligned to world axis, rather angular to them. This places the corners closer to where round objects would be and away from where square objects corners were. That and the smoothing group fools your eye. It is mostly the smoothing group – I don’t know the technicalities of this. Just that it works. See same tricks also with character legs.

Of course this only applies to the sides, the 4 polygons we are talking about. Looking at the top and bottom the objects square nature shows, but when you hide them it is another story.

Fake complex shapes with bitmap and alpha channel – optimize polycount

Any object with a mostly flat top, especially shapes like barrel and similiar where top is equally proportioned or larger than parts below it, can have a faked top: a single polygon and the shape of the top mapped on it with bitmap and alpha channel. This can save numerous polygons. However the top with alpha does take space from your UV-map since it needs some size to have enough detail to not blur and reveal its faked nature. So judge for yourself which one is more important with your object: texture/uv-space or lower number of polygons.

Texturing with seamless textures – re-using textures

Re-using textures is a core part of low-poly work. Characters don’t allow that too much, but props such as houses do. Say for a medieval building you might just have a texture with 1/4 stone, 1/4 wood, 1/4 roof, 1/4 window – see image used to texture a well, the idea is the same.

The trick is to place almost every polygon in your uv-map separately so that they grab the maximum texture area – AND also change polygon sizes, rotation and mirroring to add variation to the way it is displayed on your model.

Unlike ‘standard’ uv-mapping, where you map first and texture after, for this you better do the reverse. Make the texture – lay out the different material areas(preferably each tileable). Think what you need and what shapes you need, like longer varied strips of material, and add those bits to your texture. Then uv-map polygon by polygon, or few at a time, to get all you can out of it.

Texturing by re-using textures does become a balancing act: Do you use more uv-space for one particular area or more polygons? Say you have a long continuous wall. To cover it all with a single unique texture would take a large amount of uv-space. On the other hand repeating one seamless texture over and over would require more polygons. So you weight the pros and cons and perhaps go middle way. Usually my take is that few polygons does less harm than needing to use larger textures or more textures.

Remember MipMapping and Antialiasing when texturing – stop texture bleed

When the game creates a MipMap from your texture, or when the texture gets antialiased, it gets blurred. This is a problem at edges of the uv-island in your uv-map. Either the background color of your texture bleeds in or the alpha channel does(usually as black colour). As result the uv-edges become visible on your model in game.
To prevent texture bleeding problem, push the textures themselves well over the uv-seams. Then, when the blurring happens, you still have the correct colors at uv-seams.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mipmapping

Acknowledge uv-area repeating – optimize texturing

If a part of your uv-map goes over the uv-area, it will come out at the opposite end. This is not displayed visually in your program(not in Max or Modo at least), but knowing it you can use it to texture uv-parts that do not fit in your uv-space. Mind you this works only with seamless texture.

Have less seams in UV-map

Models that have their UV-map slipt to numerous parts count as having more vertexes as far as game engine is concerned – each split means more vertexes and so heavier to load. To minimize vertex count you should have your uv-map as continuous as possible – say a character skin could be one big open pelt like an animal skin. Of course uv-mapping and texturing poly-by-poly, like written above on seamless texturing, does the exact opposite.
Do note that going for less UV-seams is a fine-tuning type of optimizing – it is best used in addition to other tricks, where possible, and not to replace them.

Make textures details to fit size displayed in-game – optimize textures

The size that the objects appear in game, be it because of optimum camera distance or whatever, defines maximum texture detail you need. Say you have a character face that is 85×85 pixels on screen in game. You need no more than that for it in the texture map. Of course if your game offers free camera, modifiable resolutions and such tools for player, things get more complicated. But even in free camera games there has to an optimum to aim for – what is the size of texture detail at camera distance where the game is Designed to be played at?

This ends second collection of art asset tips, especially useful when working with low-poly 3D assets. I hope some of these come handy in your projects.

Blog and Portfolio Setup for Artists


You’re and artist with a need of a blog or an online portfolio. Where to start? Here are some ideas with positives and downsides – just a little something to help someone get started. You can find links to the resources at the end.

Build a Portfolio Site

There are several options to choose from. I organize them by the level of difficulty. First is easiest and has my recommendation for those starting out.

Easiest portfolio setup

Use a portfolio portal such as Carbonmade or deviantART. You can get your portfolio started right away and you will be part of a community. Then you can purchase a proper artist domain name like yourawesomename.com and have it redirect to your portal address. Redirection-only domain names are inexpensive.

If possible I suggest choosing a portal that suits your art, like CGsociety’s CGportfolio for CG artists, so that you can get crique and connections from alike minds.

When expanding a portfolio service may get too limited or expensive. Or maybe not, you do get a nice portfolio setup for the money. Of course nothing stops you from building a personal site later – you already bought the domain name, right?

Middle way portfolio setup

Get and a hosted blog on a site like Blogger, which is free, and then customize the blog into a portfolio with a free theme. Then purchase a proper domain name like yourname.com and have it redirect to your blog address.

Expanding doesn’t cost if you use free tools and do the work yourself, but it is work. Also hosted blog is not as customizable as blog in your webspace. You can however move the content to your own domain later if the need arises – how easy or hard it is depends on blog platform.

I see this option taken quite often but too often without any effort put into making the blog easy to use or easy for eyes. Don’t leave it at that – a great number of visitors leave at first glance of an unprofessional looking site.

All the Way Portfolio Setup

Going your way all the way is to buy web domain and hosting and build your site there in HTML and/or Flash or using a blog platform with a paid / free portfolio theme. This is work enough especially if you are an optimizing nut like me, but can also be dead easy if you pay somebody to do it for you. If you go for a blog setup and want to do it yourself, good theme can also ease your way a lot like Striking does for me.

End result is full control over everything and a unique look if you put some work or money in it.
Remember if you just want your images and videos on a nice looking personal site, HTML is a valid choice. HTML pages are a light load for the server – considerably faster to access than PHP pages running on a database(=meaning any blog system). Static pages are also quite secure unlike blogs – read my experience.

Attention for your Portfolio / Blog

Portfolios on a portfolio/art portal like CGsociety get exposure simply by existing AND showing good work – or would if there were not a ton of other good work already. To stand out you almost have to get featured, meaning get your work selected to special gallery and hence featured on front page and elsewhere on the site. So submit your very best. Competitions are also a place to shine.

Portals like Behance and CGsociety are also talent archives for companies browsing for possible employees. So while you may build for your very own site, do put few of your best images on a portal as well and link to your domain. It can’t hurt.

A good idea is to partake in art forums and link back to your blog/portfolio. Say you could start a sketch thread on a forum and link to your gallery where people may go to see more. If you receive comments, be it critique or praise, be nice and return the favor. Networking is your friend.

Your own domain gets no exposure by just existing(like portfolios at portals do). You need to get the word(=link) out and submit your to search engines. For real tactics see Problogger-links below at Recourses.

Of course you can never expect just having a portfolio online bringing work to your door. If I look for work, I actively reply work posts and send my resume out. Actually many recruiters prefer having sample images with the resume instead of links. But still having the portfolio can be crucial since that’s where people go to see and read more.

Build an Art Blog (with a Portfolio)

Easiest choice for a blog

Pick from blog portals like Blogger, Typepad and WordPress.com – get a Hosted Blog. There is very little setup work involved to get started, most hosted options are free, and you can use themes or their equivalents to style your site. However tweaking site look and usability is where you spend some time if you want to stand out.

Buy also a domain name like coolname.com and have it direct readers to your hosted blog address (like yourblog.blogger.com).

Upside of hosted blog is that just having your blog in a portal like Googles Blogger helps its ranking in search engines.
Downsides of hosted blogs are different limits they set: limit to customizing style or code (unless you pay), limit to what you are allowed to have on your site(like no advertising at wordpress.com) and other little things that may or may not bother you. Remember if your blogging takes off you can migrate the site to your own webspace. If you wonder about that already, better google in advance how much work it is.

Bloggers choice

This is a blog installed on a web space and domain you purchase(well, rent on yearly basis). You choose a blog platform from many options. Initial setup should be quite fast with most but prepare spending time making the site secure, choosing plugins and the like and learning about what to do to have your blog rank well in search engines.

Or you can pay someone to do all aforementioned for you.

Choosing a theme can be difficult especially when you want a good presentable blog but also want a portfolio. I recommend a theme that allows customizing front page and offers a mix of settings for both blog and folio use. In my experience (with Worpdress at least) these more flexible themes are often found under ‘magazine’ category.

Blog at your own webspace and domain gives full control but means more work to keep up to date and requires understanding of HTML and CSS IF you really want to tweak things. Also you need initial promoting to make your site found – after all it is a single site in the great sea of internet without any connections, not likely to be found unless you get the word out there.

My Blog Setup

Example: How my needs made my site building choices for me.

I need a fully customizable blog at a unique domain address and no limits on web traffic.  I want to build the look for it without writing code.
A blog runs on a database and that drops away HTML and other static web pages building methods.
Fully customizable and hosting on unique domain makes me skip hosted blog systems such as WordPress.com or Blogger.com and turns me towards Joomla, WordPress.org and other blog platforms that you install in your webspace. I choose WordPress for its popularity.
No web traffic limits and unique domain means buying a domain address and a web hosting service good enough that promises unlimited traffic.
I want to build the look for it without writing code.
Styling in WordPress is done mainly with Themes. I have previously used free themes which I had to customize ‘by hand’ to some extent, that is by editing some html and stylesheets(css), to fine-tune the look. After several versions done like that I purchased a commercial theme: Striking by Kaptinlin which suited my needs – I could do everything via menus. Since then I have moved back to free themes that need more manual labor.

ADDITION:  After one year with above theme went back to free and far simpler and less customizable WordPress themes for optimization (lightweight, faster loading) purposes.

Portfolio and Blog Setup Resources

These are links to find the places, info and inspiration to setup your blog and/or portfolio.

Portfolio Portals

http://cargocollective.com/
http://www.carbonmade.com/
http://www.coroflot.com/
http://shownd.com/
http://www.behance.net/
http://www.deviantart.com/
http://www.flickr.com/
http://portfolio.cgsociety.org/

Choosing a blog platform

Darren Rowse has a extensive article on blog platforms – what I wrote above on blogs is not even a scratch on the surface: Problogger – Choosing a Blog Platform
Also OnBlastBlog has a nice infographic of different platforms available with Pros and Cons.

Hosted blog Platforms

“Five best Bloggin Platforms” by Lifehacker (2010).

Blog Software

Top Ten Reviews has a comparison between blog softwares (2011).

Bloggers Must Read

Problogger- 29 Starting Blogging Tips, great collection.

Firstsitequide – A very nice and free guide for Starting a Blog.

Quality Blog and Portfolio Themes for WordPress

Woothemes offer professional built themes – some good ones are free, too. I really liked MorningAfter and Premium News seems good, too.

Themeforest has a rather extensive collection of themes and more.

CGmascot.com got hacked – keep your blog safe

It will not happen to me, right? Wrong. This blog got hacked and the traffic was directed elsewhere. It took me a while to notice since having older cookies on my computer I was not re-directed, I saw my site and thought everything was a-ok. When I finally found out, I had to take the site down and it took me 3 weeks of after hours work to build CGmascot anew.

CGmascot is currently still being re-built. Some things like portfolio is missing but coming later.

CGmascot hack found and resolved

August 2011 I had trouble logging in to my Worpress. Having had connection troubles from home before I wasn’t worried especially considering my site was working fine. But then I tried logging again some days later, failed again, and got directed to some russian site I shan’t name here (they will not get anything from me ever again, not even mention of a name). A few nights of research later the results were these: I had wiped my webspace clean and only after, with a tip from a pro, tracked the issue to .htaccess-file. It was hacked, edited by adding extra lines of code hidden hundreds of empty lines below the regular content so I would not find it unless I knew where to look. The file directed CGmascot web traffic elsewhere, to well know sites popular sites like Yahoo, and I imagine brought some cash to the hackers who, again I imagine, are in business of selling web traffic.

How did the hacking happen? I suspect TimThumb plugin vulnerability that has caused pain to numerous Worpress users recently. TimThumb is a plugin that offers very handy automatic image thumbnails and more from your site and also from outside, and stores the files on the server. It is included in numerous Worpress themes like the one I was using. I’m not the right person to explain this, but a loophole in this allowed malicious code to get into your site and then lead to problems. I think whatever got onto my CGmascot accessed .htaccess-file and so re-directed the web traffic.

Naturally Timthumb has been fixed by the author since then.

Got to say I take this all very personally – after all CGmascot is a personal blog, my venue for writing and more. What’s worrying is that this can happen again. Worpress is a very fine platform, but like any such a system built on lots of code, database and use of plugins, it is bound to develop holes. Makes me miss old times: I used to make sites by hand, pure HTML, which is hard to crack as then the hackers have to brake in to the server the site is on, not just send some robot software snooping around for WordPress holes and abuse them in masses.

Steps you can take to secure your Worpress blog

I’m no WordPress expert so I will rely on links here for most part. What I can recommend though, is

  • Keep your WordPress install up to date
  • Make backups of your database and the folder your site is in.
  • Make backups of your plugin settings and your theme settings so getting them up again becomes easy.
  • Consider plugins you install for security, don’t just go nuts with them. Less plugins running means a faster site, too.
  • Read about .htaccess, what it is and how to secure it. My approach for now is to make it unwritable – nobody but me can access it and even I have to edit it by hand from server side.

Following links should be of more help.

What’s next for CGmascot?

CGmascot is back and intends to stay. Sure content updates are less frequent than they used to be, but I do what I can. And now the site is all new. I hope you like the upgraded CGmascot 🙂

Blogging time out


An update has lately been a rare thing. I feel I should tell you why.

What’s up with CGmascot?

When CGmascot begun yours truly was a freelancer with time to write about my interest; tutorial-like articles and little researchy pieces. The blog was my hobby(still is). I had at least one article per week at start, but things changed quite radically with a steady day job in game industry and lately with a new addition to my little family. Hence the time I have for the blog, or for hobbies in general, is very close to zero.

Also it doesn’t help that before getting employed I took on an extensive tutorial project that is still ongoing. Tutorial takes away what little blog time I have. But rest assured in the end the blog will benefit from the tutorial. As it is rather massive in scope, I can pick things from it to share here at CGmascot. Little sharing also helps the tutorial become known.

Long story short: I will still add do the blog occasionally. Please check back sometime. Better yet, subscribe to the RSS feed or Email Updates – then you will be notified when new content is up. And have no worries about subscribing – I don’t do spam.

Cool stuff

To lighten things up here’s a few things I’ve enjoyed lately.

  • Supercell (as in the company I work at) storm cloud, impressive pictures.
  • Game Development History – All Your History Are Belong to Us, a very good documentary series about game companies and their games
  • Indie Game Revolution – Gametrailers Bonus Round talks with great indie developers about creating games today
  • TED – brilliant talks on various topics – like this one and the follow up

Comments are always welcome.a href=”http://www.cgmascot.com/design/surface-flow-matters/”

Game Industry change


Game Industry changes. How, Why and What it means for game developers? Leaning on resources and personal experience I tell it how I see it. This comes from a more traditional gamer and developer who is fascinated about the change.

What has changed?

Lots of things, some main points in short:

  1. First is old news but worth repeating: Game industry moves more money than films.
  2. New and possibly now most popular game types draw from games of the past – Arcadeish casual aka quick-to-play games are doing incredibly well.
  3. Gaming is more social hobby than before with a new and growing audience.
  4. Games and game platforms are more readily available. Now everyone with a modern smart phone/pad or a cheap personal computer and internet-connection has a solid gaming platform and access to a portable game library.

Why the change?

The following is info compressed from several sources. I will follow it with my take.

My take on the change-statistics

I don’t see any type of gaming to be more innovative than some other, nor do I see social and/or casual games replacing others. Also I don’t think rising PC will kill off any consoles. I believe the change is simply that there are lots of new gamers and new ways to play games which allows ever wider variety of games and platforms to flourish. That doesn’t mean traditional game types, platforms or players are going anywhere.

What does the industry change mean for game developers?

  • New options are available for delivery(Steam, Xbox Live, online marketplaces, Appstore…) removing or reducing the costs of getting the game out and selling it.
  • New game creation software lower the barrier of entry both in price and time invested in learning and ease developing for several platforms at once(check out Unity).
  • Older established game creation softwares also lower prices or otherwise do their best to compete with newcomers.
  • Range of topics found profitable is wider than ever.
  • Small ‘bitesize’ games are (again) a very valid recipe.
  • All of the above mean indie developers(individuals and small companies) have better changes to succeed.
  • Due to the above large companies too are creating small flexible teams and targeting new markets.

How to get a position in New game industry

Mostly requirements are the same; To get into creating games you need to be very good at what you do, to know the right people and to be persistent. Also likely you will need to work as a trainee in a game company or on indie/non-profit game releases to get experience and recognition. Other route is of course raise enough capital to start your own or shared business.

Difference is in that generalists may now have more work than narrow specialists. Specialist jobs are not going anywhere but are hard to land since only big companies can hire a specialist long-term. Smaller companies now blooming hire people that can wear many hats – for mass production of any one thing they usually outsource (just like the big firms). Also since small companies make small team productions, that is games for online/mobile, it means optimization in everything, art stylization and carefully managed resources. If you aim for this area better make sure you know what is expected, like relevant coding languages or art style.

That’s my take on the change. Agree, disagree?

Sources

I link to many articles above but refer to 2 following more than anything else. I’m also adding others that may be of interest to you.