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.

3D Animation Production on a Budget – Time and Money saving Tips


Want to make your own 3D animated short movie on a budget? I wish to share some tips to help make it happen.  This is especially for those that are planning their first production.

First off to do a reality check.  Second see what happens if you don’t.  3rd thing I can give are these tips. I’ve touched on many of the following points before, but they are worth repeating.

The idea here is that time is money and while things like rendering can be speeded up with more computing power(=more money), you should first do everything you can to optimize your work – try make the project take less work and less render time.  There are some choises that can ease your way.  Having said that an animation production is always plenty of work – I’d lie if I said otherwise.

Story focus

If we take pointers from industry leaders, and we should, see how Pixar goes from success to success. They focus heavily on story. If you read interviews you know they really polish the story until it shines. Why not do the same?   Story, storyboards(and animatic) are by far the least expensive way to builda good a base for any movie.

Style choices

Second quite obvious Pixar-lesson is that even though their enviroments become ever more detailed and life-like, the characters stay cartoony. Why? Cartoon is highly expressive, gives all sorts of freedoms in anatomy and motion and allows using caricatyres. Also cartooony is design for sympathy and emotional impact. Set realistic character style against this and it loses big time.

Additionally we people know realistic humans, usually see many of them every day, and hence have an uncanny ability to notice if there is anything unreal about a realistic character on screen.  We can’t help but notice these things which brake the illusion and flow of the story, whereas cartoony figures don’t receive same scrutiny or critisism. And finally cartoony is easier and hence faster and cheaper to make.

Enviroments could have same stylistic approach or you could use photo-cutouts or paintings. Think about 2D-animations and how much they achieve with fairly static backgrounds and how much leeway these fictious works are given.  Almost anything goes because we don’t expect real world rules or logic apply to cartoons.

Modeling & Texturing choices

Again choosing cartoony helps here. Cartoony models don’t need much detail and you may not need to paint textures at all – you may not need to have 3D-painting or sculpting software at all.

Animation choices

Cartoony style gives leeway for animation too. It allow animations that are too fast to be real and that whisk from one dramatic pose. This is easier do than natural motion that can’t have as dynamic suddent starts and stops.

Also going very stylized characters, or having animated items for a characters such as Pixars Luxo Jr. lamp character, can reduce animation work.  Luxo-lamp there is no facial features or legs, it is like a body with a head jumping arond – less to animate.

If you choose to make a silent story(no dialog), you cut the workload.  No mouth is another way to save and so on it goes.  The animation however will not be any less effective -you will find the audience can sympathize with almost anything as long as it is well animated and has a good story. I’m not saying cut it all down to a simple shape – just keep in mind that you can simplify.

Filmography and Rendering choices

What do you need to show to tell the story? Taking cue from old masters of cinema, a horror not shown is often more effective than the one shown. Our brains are filling in the blanks all the time, anyway – you can tell stories with far less images than you may expect.

Real-world-ish lighting and rendering is easy to overdo or waste too much computing power on. You can achieve dramatic and functional lighting with just a few spotlights. Don’t go for GI(global illumination)-features straight away, for they mean longer rendering times, are more likely to cause flickering when rendered images are played together as a video.  And also GI does not replace hand-placed lights. Lighting specialist exist for a reason – lights are storytelling tools.

Render to series of images, not to video.  Rendering to image series’s make software crashes less troublesome and images give you far more options in post-production.  Also almost never render all things to one layer – instead render foreground, midground and background separately for futher editing and compositing possibilites.

If your images need enhancement or fixing, and they often do, push as much you can of that to post-processing(After Effects or similiar). Effects that often are toublesome to both setup and render may be a breeze to add as a post process.

You can check more tips for rendering here and some tips for modeling and animation here.

Hardware choices

As long as you optimize your work, the computer you work on doesn’t have to be an expensive beast.  With something like 1000 dollars you can have a fast enough computer. Just make sure you have a decent processor and enough work memory(ram). Graphics card can be anything middle range as middle range is, these days, very powerful already. You will need some storage space too, but that’s cheap and getting cheaper every day.

Software choices – some affordable options for animation production

This section is here to merely give ideas.  I know only some softwares and other and better combinations are possible. Also your selection of tools depends on what you need in addition to modeling and animation (sculpting, 3D-painting, post-processing or HD-video editing – or none of them). And of course  software features and pricing are subject to change, which is why I’m not trying to list any prices. Also note that I’m not listing 2D-image editing software here and don’t touch on music or sound at all – yet these are all important.

Goes from free to cheap and to affordable softwares

  1. Blender+some free video editing software(many available).  Blender does almost all, now even compositing I hear, and is free. Blender is also an invaluable addition to other combos for the excellent simulation (cloth, fluids, particles) and animation tools, and hence is included in every following combination.
  2. Wings 3D + Blender +Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum. Wings is a fine polygon modeler and free. Vegas(this particular version) does a lot for reasonalbe price. In this combo you would still animate, do dynamics and effects and render in Blender. Vegas is used for video editing and basic compositing and effects.
  3. Wings 3D + 3D Coat + Blender + Vegas. 3D coat adds sculpting and 3D-painting.  In this combo too most will be in Blender unless 3D Coat now includes a timeline for animation rendering.
  4. Silo (+ 3D Coat) + Blender + Vegas. Silo has modeling and sculpting.
  5. Silo (+3D Coat) + Messiah + Blender + Vegas.  Messiah is for animation and for rendering.
  6. Modo + Messiah + Blender + Vegas.  Modo has modeling, 3D-painting, sculpting and rendering.
  7. Modo + Messiah + Zbrush + Blender + Vegas.  Zbrush offers advanced sculpting and fine 3D-painting.
  8. Modo + Messiah + Zbrush + Blender + After Effects/Vegas Pro. Now we have advanced tools for all.   After Effects brings a whole new post production dimension to the mix – makes getting a fine look easier and moves many effects from 3D to post process(2D).  Vegas Pro is the cheaper alternative, is great for video editing and does ok for basic compositing and effects.

So, that was some optimizing tips for making a 3D animation short on a budget.  I hope it will help someone out there going into their first productions.  Drop a comment below to let me know what you think.

8 Animation Production Tips – Modeling and Animation

I wish to encourage lunacy that is Personal Animation Production.
This is Animation Production Tips collection 1.  These were born from problems I’ve faced, from the neurons burnt.  Read and save yourself a great deal of trouble.

Note that these are Tips.  Many could be expanded to full tutorials.  You may find futher info on some of these tips somewhere – maybe even here, later.  Important for now is to get the ideas across.

Tips for animation production

  1. Use each software to their strenghts.  Build a ‘pipeline’. May sound like a costly solution but doesn’t have to be(Wings for modeling+Blender for animation, effects and video&audio editing= all free).  You can build an affordable pipeline even with commercial software and have it all under the price of one Max or Maya licence.  One example of such a combo would be Silo, 3D Coat, Messiah and Vegas Pro.
  2. Model your characters for animation – use edgeloops to create surface flow that deforms well in animation.  See the above picture?  Your model has to be good to get that range of motion without problems.  This is crucial especially in the joint and face-areas.  In short your polygons should mimick the major muscle flows under the skin.  Surface flow is a major topic by itself.  If it is a new concept for you, I suggest you start from the following classic modeling document.  http://www.theminters.com/misc/articles/derived-surfaces/index.htm
  3. Don’t go super low-poly with your character models.  I’m very familiar with the obsession to optimize, but if you go exceedingly low in polys your character deformations become too large – no longer in your control.  A bit more polygons is better for displacement too – it displaces with more reliable results.
  4. Use displacement for detailing.  Sculpt or model the detail in a software that lets you bake it into a displacement-map.  In production use less detailed models and use displacement-maps to bring the detail out at rendertime.  Advantages are a lot lighter animated models and scenes meaning generally better animating conditions, faster manipulation and hopefully less crashes too.  Also you get faster overall rendering as detail is generated only where and when it is seen.  Most software should allow linking displacement to, say, camera distance.  Or you can set the amount of subdivision happening per pixel – meaning only the area that shows well in your current camera frame is subdivided for detail.
  5. Use as few bones in your rig as possible. Unless you’re creating the ultimate in realistic muscle deformation, you can get by with very few bones.  The less you have the smoother deformation created by them can be.  You know, organic.  In reverse the more bones you add the more you have to adjust bone influence or use muscle bones between them or corrective morphs or what have you – all to get rid of the too sharp deformations many bones bring.
  6. Transfer animation from one software to another with MDDs.  MDD is an universal way to transfer Mesh Deformation Data.  It transfers every deformation of the mesh in your animation software, even morphs, meaning all animation, to another software.  This way you can animate in animation specialized software and do the rest in whatever software you like. MDD-support should be common.
  7. Brake your animation into sequences.  Don’t try to animate all in one project-file and don’t try to export long animation mdds. The files can get corrupted and then you lose all at once. And long animations, especially with complex meshes, become huge as mdd-files.
  8. Set your character rig up so that you can do mesh or rig revisions with ease in production.  Lets say you find, right in the middle of production, that you have to change geometry in your characters shoulder area.  It will be an absolute pain if, to get the changed model moving again, you have to re-weight it and set the your mesh-based tricks(morphs and such) up again.  Instead use an animation software that gets by with bones and weight fields and such – so that all is in the rig and not tied to the mesh in any way.  Then you can change the mesh around the rig as much as you like, change to other characters even.  Messiah works like this.  Your software, if other, might not but may have some other way to save you from re-weighting-hassle.  Find it out and test it before you start animating.

Do you use these tricks in your productions?  What would you change?  What would you add?  What tip would you like to see expanded to a tutorial?