How To Get Your Portfolio Noticed

get your portfolio noticed A portfolio is a critical element in pursuing a career in the animation industry. When we found Aron Shay’s detailed, insightful blog on how to get your portfolio noticed by companies and recruiters, we knew we had to share it with you! We hope you find some helpful tips that give you inspiration for your own portfolio. Enjoy!

Hi! To begin, I want to make note that I’m not a recruiter nor am I familiar with what each department is looking for exactly, as each area is bound to be different and I’m located in publishing.

What I can do however, is point you in the direction of some resources you might find helpful. I will also include things I learned/saw as I was going through school, and looking for work and what helped me get found as an artist.

To cut to the chase, here’s the application guidelines for Walt Disney Animation.

Now, their submissions page is pretty awesome because it’s very clear and concise. They outline what they want, how they want to see it, and even suggest what you should be submitting based on several types of jobs you might be applying to.

For example, to quote their application guidelines page:

“Reel and Portfolio Formats

Your submission should represent your skill set and representative process samples such as sketches, gray scale models and/or works in progress.

·        Modelers should include wire frames and turnarounds.

·        Riggers should display tool sets.

·        Animators should include a variety of physical movements and actions, but must include facial animation.

·        Look Development should include texture paints, maps and the final look, if applicable.

·        Story and Visual Development Artists should present sketchbook samples as well as finished compositions.

Life drawings are not required, but preferred for all submissions. We ask that you not show work currently in production and/or under confidential guidelines at other studios or companies. We understand that this may limit the showcase of your capabilities. If this is your situation, we recommend that your submission display only the work available to the public with an indication that a later submission will be provided once approved or released.”

I suggest heading over and reading the full page to get more info.

As for what to include in flat portfolios, that depends again on who you’re applying to, what job you’re applying for, and what they have asked to see.

Life drawings are common to include as they can show how you handle form and mass as well as weight and a line of motion/line of action. If you want to see some good examples of life drawing, a webpage called ‘The Unofficial Disney Animation Archive’ seems to have an older copy of the ‘Walt Disney Feature Animation Sample Portfolio for Animation Internships’ on their page.

I’ve been to two schools (one for a BFA in Animation and one for a MFA in Computer Animation), had different professors/instructors, and dealt with putting together portfolios (for job hunting) on many occasions. Different types of portfolios I’ve put together included flat work, character design, backgrounds, storyboards, and in some occasions demo reels for both animation, as well as modeling/texture work.

If you’re applying to a particular job, you should make the portfolio for that job posting (especially if they come right out and tell you what they are looking for).

Essentially and ultimately, you want a nice, professional portfolio. Something clean, easy to view, and showcases only your finest work. If you’re putting together your portfolio and you’re feeling iffy about a piece, ask for an opinion from another artist, or exclude the piece if you feel it’s not your best work. My best pal Kyle has seen my portfolio countless times over the years as I finished school and began applying for work. He never sugarcoated anything and readily told me when I should leave something out and what I might want to think about including. That was the most helpful for me, as it helped me make sure I was submitting only my best work. If you don’t think you know anyone who would be able to take a look at your portfolio, there are a lot of art forums, online clubs, and webpages where you can share your portfolio and get feedback. Excuses are for silly gooses and you rock, so go get em! 😀

Here are some things I’ve found that have been excessively helpful in making a portfolio and applying:

  • Read the application requirements for requirements (both of the format for submission, and for any requests on the content). Often, a studio or company will outline specifically what they want for a portfolio submitted. It could be just a demo reel (no flatbook), just a flatbook, both a reel and flatbook, or it could even be just digital files in a specific format. If they ask for something particular, you should give them what they ask for. The same goes for schools. They will often tell you what kind of examples they want to see. Same goes for what they don’t want to see. If they come right out and tell you “No Sci-Fi” or “No Superheroes” then don’t include that. A lot of simple mistakes can be avoided by reading their requirements.
  • Make each page identifiable. Put your name and your contact email on it. You can do this and still keep your portfolio looking good. Plus, if something happens and pages are separated or someone takes a page to show someone else (you never know!) having your information on there ensures they know whose work they’re looking at.
  • I’ve gone down the road of having portfolios printed out and bound. I found that frankly to be the biggest waste of time ever. You’re an artist. You’re always creating new work, and you’re doing yourself a huge disservice by locking yourself in to a set portfolio. Besides not being able to include your newest (and better) work, you can’t really fit the portfolio to the application. My recommendation would be to first see what kind of presentation they’re looking for and then putting something together using a book you can slip pages into. Now, this won’t always work as some places I’ve applied to have specifically requested “no portfolios made with the plastic pages that you slip the work into”, or “no binders”, but in most instances, that’s not the case. First and foremost, send them what they ask for. Just make sure you have a way to keep your portfolio UPDATE AND CURRENT. Like I said—you’re always making stuff. Make sure you show off how good you’re getting!
  • Proofread everything. Absolutely everything. Your resume, your portfolio (especially if you include descriptions on pages), your business card, and your portfolio webpage (if you have one). You would be surprised at how easy it is to make little mistakes and misspellings. You would also be surprised at how easy it is to avoid them. It never hurts to have a friend or relative read through it just to see what they think and to see if they catch any mistakes you might have missed.
  • Online portfolios. U GOT ONE? I hope so! I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an online portfolio especially in this day and age. There are so many wonderful freebies and low cost options out there, and you have a lot of resources to make a super excellent rad portfolio! There are a lot of pros to having an online portfolio:
  • It’s extremely easy to keep your work updated with your best material! Made something new? ROCK ON AND SHOW IT OFF!
  • It’s super fast and easy to submit work! Many companies now accept online portfolio links. It’s quick, and easy to send them your portfolio, and get the jump on a new job posting if they accept your work as a link (or even uploaded as a portfolio PDF and such).
  • You never know who might see your work. Omigosh! That’s a great thing because sometimes a job comes to you! How do I know? That’s how I got my dream job. My work was seen online, and I was hired as freelance. That led to my full time job with Disney. More of a reason to have yourself a nice portfolio online!

With online portfolios, if you’re into big fancy pages with special features and such (or that’s the job you’re angling to get work in!) then you can have that, but if you can’t make that—don’t worry!  A nice clean simple and concise portfolio can be just as powerful! Your work should do the talking. The same goes for an actual portfolio—don’t gotta go overboard with fancy frills to make a good impression 🙂

As for “How can one make their portfolio stand out?” That can depend. A fair bit of what I mentioned above is important. You will want to submit only your best work, and what you are most proud of. Your portfolio is a representation of what you do, and ultimately who you are. Are you serious about the work you do? Are you more lackadaisical about it? Your portfolio is a very important impression, both as an application sent off, as well as in person.

A lot can go into the production of portfolios and I’ve seen things all over the board concerning how they’re done. We would see portfolios all the time at school. Professors would show them to us as examples. We would see our classmates’ portfolios and we would see professional portfolios. All sorts of portfolios. I have also seen a lot of them when I visit conventions like Siggraph and CTNX. Walking around, I’d meet people and we would show each other our work. Walking around the job/talent fairs will also lead to you seeing a lot of different portfolios. They’re all different.

Standing out can be a double-edged sword. If you’re not careful, it might backfire.

The Art Career Project has some great tips on ‘How To Create The Best Art Portfolio’ and include things you should look into doing, as well as things you should avoid.

They make note of how things can work against you if you try too hard to stand out. I’ve seen a fair share of portfolios where people try too hard and get gimmicky and it works against them. Read up on their great suggestions and keep them in mind as you start selecting pieces for your portfolio.

As for your own work, Brenda Chapman posted on her blog about how you can make your portfolio stand out. She elaborates on some things you can include in your portfolio for work as well as makes note of standing out by showing them who you are through your work.

Ultimately, there’s a lot you can do with your portfolio and plenty of room for you to make it your own. Your work, presented well, can go a long way to stand out. The rest is up to you as you create your art and build up a body of work to include in the portfolio.

I hope this helps! Feel free to ask me anything if I might have left something out 😀

Update: It looks like Walt Disney Animation Studios updated their Application Guidelines page this week, and it looks like more information might have been added! Awesome!

aron j. shayAron J. Shay is an illustrator, designer, and storyboard artist in Burbank. She previously worked at Oddbot Inc. as a storyboard/animatic revisionist and she currently works for Disney as a Designer in Publishing. She also assists with backgrounds for the rad webcomic Frog Raccoon Strawberry at She’s on a mission to build a time machine and draw stuff (in the fuuuuuture!). You can see her work at

Image: dantaylr via Compfight cc

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