Design principles for building your ArchViz portfolio

Design principles for building your ArchViz portfolio

Going pro

In VR, ArchViz, and Robots, we concluded with architectural visualization as an art. (Sounds flighty, I know: since when did art start paying the bills?) But before we get into the meat of designing your portfolio, let’s unpack this a bit.

Technology is a crucial element in this line of work. The industry’s booming because the technology improves at a remarkable rate and rarely makes detours. Yet, running alongside the promise of its progress is the looming threat that what makes work marketable now will become run-of-the-mill later. That’s not to say high-fidelity renderings would fade into irrelevance, just that the initial allure will settle.

Those kinds of worries aren’t wished away overnight once you appoint ArchViz into art status. But it does better prepare you for the long haul: the gruelling nights, crippling self-doubt, surfeit amounts of coffee… you know how it goes. It connects you to a fairer picture of what the job is. A hardware upgrade or software add-on can get you far, but it’s not the same as how cars replaced horses or whatever science was like before splitting the atom.

It’s easy to fold into the two-step formula of “photorealism then money” we hear so much of in shoptalk; it’s the logic behind every clickbait, article, and YouTube tutorial.

Can you spot Icarus? Artwork by Pieter Bruegel

Though mediums change throughout history, the pitfalls and triumphs of art remain the same. Persistence. Fear. Humility. As Marco, DJ, and Andrew are so keen to point out — they, working artists themselves — technical skill is all well and good, but it’s the mental approach that coordinates, coheres, and unifies the basic visual factors that preordain success.

Employers know this, above all. The good ones, at least, are out looking for people who are driven, disciplined, and with a real passion for the practice. CG is a craft, not a trade. Keep that in mind and the prevailing artistic attitude will come to bear. Individual expression, creativity, style, yes, but also temperament, self-examination… the critical signatures of the craftsman, not the machine, that outlasts any industry trend and undergirds them all.

So, what does all this have to do with your portfolio?

The first best time was ten years ago

Discouraging, I know. That doesn’t mean you should have gotten into 3D roughly around the time this was happening:

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010), from Giphy

But you may have gotten into 3D thinking it was new ground where you would have to start from the bottom up. That’s true, in a sense; in the same way your portfolio ten years ago could have easily been that couple of drawings you kept sacred starting out, or the first models you had tucked away in the only neat folder in your desktop.

Your portfolio is the measure of who you are. Keeping to that metric gives you that much-needed avenue to critically examine yourself. It charts your development. So, if you haven’t made a portfolio yet, pore through the volumes of your works. Quiet the slanderous inner critic, breathe, and pick out not just the best ones, but also the ones you intuitively connect to. For each one you choose, ask yourself what makes it great for you. Ask, also, what about it that’s lacking. Figure out what it is you’re going for; what makes your art “tick.” The first best time to do this was ten years ago. The next best time is now.

Platforms, presence, criticism

Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Artstation, Ronenbekerman, Behance. There’s no shortage of platforms for you to get some exposure. Given that you know what you want and the style you’re going for, aka the purpose of your portfolio, critiques from others would help nudge you in the right direction. Receiving criticism isn’t bad. In many ways, it’s a labor of love. Not love for you, particularly, but for the craft. (Unless you’re just that handsome.) The best critics know that; they’re the ones you should listen to.

Flight of the Conchords S1E03, “Mugged,” brought to us by Giphy

It’s also the type of critic you should aspire to be. By helping people out in forums, etc. you practice critical engagement with the work and encourage others to do the same. It’s a healthy way to double back and reassess your own works, too. Additionally, (though this shouldn’t be the primary reason why) employers keep tabs on CG forums and note the users involved in the community.

This is also the case for competitions. Aside from encouraging you to stay at the top of your game, applying is a great way to break out of your shell with an ample amount of pressure. Winning one would be great, sure, but it’s more important to try. I assure you, there will be a thrill to your days leading up to your submission. There’s nothing like a deadline that gets the juices flowing, urging you to keep each choice purposeful.

Best expression

Image creds to Nick Taylor of Golden Mean Calipers

You need to communicate who you are as concisely as possible. To whom, exactly, depends on what you consider yourself as. No one will assume that you do anything more than what your portfolio showcases, but that doesn’t mean people would be willing to scroll pages and pages of work.

In most cases, DJ, Andrew, and Marco agree that your portfolio should have no less than five. If you want ArchViz jobs, then showcase exclusively your ArchViz portfolio. The first in your reel should be your best work and the last should be your second-best. Everything in between is up to you; consistency is key. The worst one should be a statement that your quality will not go any lower than that. If you intend to include different shots of the same scene, ensure that it’s done to prove a different facet of your skill. Each work must be able to stand on its own, with the best resolution and rendering you can afford.

If you send out your portfolio to a client who would just buy your visualizations, it’s best only to show your final output.

On the other hand, if you’re marketing to an architectural firm with inhouse CG artists, for example, you may want to show your workflow to say something about your work ethic. Because they can assess your skill with their expert criteria, you may want to show clay sculpts, renders, and so on to demonstrate competency. Don’t add works you did based on a template or tutorial and, of course, practice restraint with how much you put in. When in doubt, ask:

  • Do these added elements/features help convey my message? Does my portfolio faithfully portray my skill set?
  • Is it pertinent for the recruiter to know I can do this?
  • Am I putting these here as a disclaimer or as an excuse?
  • Do these show that I can see a job through from start to finish?

Above all, do the research of the company you want to work for. You want a job that can help you grow, but that is a very specific environment. Find out what software they use and learn it if you must. What are they known for? What do they need? What can you give them?

Aim for where you’re going. It’s your job to know that. As a freelancer or generalist, this is especially important. Communicate the type of work you want to get.

Practice practice practice

There are tons of ways to practice and a multitude of platforms to upload your works to boost your presence. You can even practice on our Archviz render farm. You don’t need to build every asset from scratch. We put up 3DBee for that. You can have a series of case studies of existing historical structures — maybe add your own spin to Gaudi’s Casa Battló. You can also challenge yourself by uploading an entire walkthrough of building your scene from start to finish.

Making your portfolio takes time. But, again, you’ve been at it the second you drew your first scribble as a child. Way before you knew CG existed. Technique and skill are there for you to articulate your vision as precisely as you need it to be. At the foundation of all of that is your understanding of the core fundamentals of art: Form. How light bounces. How these building blocks shape a composition. Mood.

While computer graphics may indeed be the future, classical mediums were what staked out the path. You can achieve so much with paper and a pen. Or some acrylics. Even oils. Whatever it takes to harness and train the eye into observation.

Thanks for reading and best of luck! Don’t forget to include your email in the portfolio (trust us, it happens).

Further readings:

Curious to know more? If you enjoy listening to discussions like this as well as reading them, check out our podcasts on this topic and more, over at any of these platforms:





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