If you go for consultancies, they want to see research skills, trend boards, fast/accurate/clean freehand drawing ability (I used to think I knew what that was), and illus+phots skills (for presentations), and good foam study models (accurate shapes, clean surfaces, “800grit / hold it to the light” stuff). And you have to be NICE!!! I’ve seen folks that do photoshop work that looks like Alias renderings, except they do them in a couple of hours (probably much faster than it would take to do a 3-d model, set up correct lights, and render).
Granted, there are a lot of places that are “one stop shops” where the designers do the 3-d modelling, etc. Consultancies I’ve lanced for generally have a couple of engineers on staff, so they take care of those things, you just have to give them good ortho lines to work off of (vellum, etc), makes their job easier. But then again, the time it takes to do a good set of orthos in a 2-d, if you know a 3-d well, it would probably take just about the same amount of time. Then you add in time getting the environment right for rendering, that’s the extra time expense.
You don’t want your designers doing that stuff, they should be on paper thinking, conceptualizing, and working out details, or in the shop with their hands on foam or whatever, not fumbling over a program. Ideally you could get a 3-d animator or illustrator to just do that type of stuff based off of your drawings and specs (when it’s JUST for presentation). I’ve heard of places that do that with models also. The keep inhouse modelmakers (who aren’t designers) to make the presentation models based off of designers sketches and renderings. The designer “looks over the shoulder” to ensure all “intent” and rules (draft, etc) are kept intact. In general, those guys are a lot less expensive than designers or engineers.
The main benefit of doing 3-d for presentations is if you know you’ll most likely be going to the next phase (engineering, etc). You’ll already have accurate lines to work off of, then the engineers just have to tweak and fill in the blanks. That streamlined workflow and the WOW factor at presentations (especially if you’re competing with other firms that do 3-d for presentations). But most of what consultancies do is conceptual. I’ve heard that close to 70% of the consultancy workload generally doesn’t go to manufacturing ie; their efforts on that project will end after concept presentations. So if your efforts will end after presentation, you didn’t need that time tweaking surfaces, or with techsupport trying to figure out the variable radius thing, etc. Especially if you could’ve gotten similar (visual) results with pshop in a quarter of the time.
On the other hand, I’ve also worked at corporations where the designers did everything including mech part design (the “not too risky” stuff we can do that doesn’t really need an engineer). But their workload was such that they could do those things. Projects werent’ in and out in 2 weeks like they are in consultancies. Also, they never had to do slick presentations or a gazillion concepts. When it’s inhouse, you’re not competing with other firms, you know whatever you come up with is most likely going to be made, so you try to get to the end goal as soon as possible. Do your quick sketch studies and foams (enough for the people you work with to understand), then get straight to orthos, engineering, sla’s etc. There’s no need for the slick presentations (alias w/ texturemaps, lights, etc).
I fell into the trap of looking at the corefolios and seeing the 3-d work and rushing to learn it so I could put things like that in so I could compete with all these new kids graduating. And most of what I heard interviewing was that it wasn’t necessary. Sketching and ideation is absolutely, THE most important if you want to be a designer, that’s what you’ll be doing 80% of the time at consultancies. It doesn’t hurt to be good at the 3-d stuff, dont’ get me wrong. I wish I was nice at it, as it would increase my freelance marketability (and my ability to pay rent). But I do know on those freelance jobs, that’s all I would be hired to do. If I’m not in on the brainstorm sessions for the pj, sketching on the wall, overhead projector, roll or whatever, or the product refinements, I don’t consider myself one of the designers (decision makers). I’ll be able to contribute, don’t get me wrong, and may refine things and add important details, etc, but I know I’m not the bold print 12pt guy in the product credits, I’ll be one of the sanserif 8pt guys.
I had a teacher tell me way back in school to be very careful about what you advertise in your skillsets or what you focus on in your portf. If you want to design, focus on your design skills and abilities (refined lines + forms, color, sense of proportion, functionality, innovation, etc), not on the “presentation” of your designs (alias, lens flares, overbearing graphics, etc). He told me you’ll quickly get typecast, and you’ll just get hired for that one thing you focus on and that they can easily see you’re good at. Show them slick 3-d, you’ll be the 3-d guy doing renderings of the other designers work. It’s an easy no risk hire because they already know you do that well, so you’ll get hired just to do that. Slick photoready foam models…you’ll be in the shop all day killing your lungs, making models of the other designers designs.
It’s all about delegating, having the best people for specific things, the most streams of focused energy. Fighting the fire with a good sprinkler system or a lot of fire hoses to nip it in the bud as opposed to one big fire hose to tackle the whole blaze. But different places have different endgames so they work under different models. Places where the designers do everything might be smaller and have lower budgets to work with so they can’t afford to hire seperate people for different disciplines. So the designers tackle everything, which we should be able to anyway, it just isn’t the most efficient way assuming you have the funds. Or they may know that their company is also going to tool the design, so then they’ll work under a slightly different set of rules. Or the type of work they do, they can get away with not having engineers (like my plastic soapdish with the living hinge, not too difficult to just spec out). I know of some 2-man type groups that shop everything out, bring in freelancers when they need fresh thought + concepts but shop out alias work for presentation to local cg companies, shop out photo ready models to the generic modelmakers in the area,etc…
Basically, if you don’t want to be a monkey at something, don’t focus on it in your portf or you will get typcast. Focus on your good brainstorming, design and problem solving ability if you want them to bring you in to design and be a “big baller / shot caller” instead of a “big bawler / collect caller”. When you’re green, you may just be brought in for some monkey work because it’s doubtful you’ll be able to hang in a brainstorm session with the 10-15 yr vets that can draw accurately like the www.drawthrough.com guys sketch portf with no rulers or ellipse guides under 10 min. Most of the designers work is done drawing, working through problems, so you have to make that your best, most effective tool and showcase that.
The other things are important too, they just come a little further down the line as ways of illustrating and presenting the design. Initial decision making (for the consultants) is done during the brainstorms, and further definition with the hand sketches / mockups. You want to sell that you can contribute during those phases if you want to be one of the decision-makers. Most of the other things that come after these phases can be delegated to non-designers and the fresh grads, with the designers buzzing around to keep the squad in check and make final decisions.
This is just what I’ve seen from some of my experience, I’m sure others have had different experiences.
The main thing I can say is to keep pushing your skills and know your competition. I constantly work on my portfolio, especially after every interview. If I get feedback that makes sense to me, I adopt it. I’ve completely redone my book 3 times in the past year, every new rendition is better than the last and I get better and more instant response from my teasers with each new evolution. I’ll usually get at least 1 enquiry from every 5 teasers I mail out now, don’t think that’s too bad for a coreguy. And without all of the slick 3-d, I only have one project that I could call a slick 3-d model. It’s more to show my aptitude for it, but I don’t want to be hired for that yet, not even for freelance. I’m not fluent enough with it to have someone depend on me and then I can’t deliver.
You have to be shamefully honest about your work also. And don’t be afraid to be humbled. If you need motivation help to keep pushing your skills, think about things this way:
There are plenty of guys/gals that your’e competing with that DON’T have corefolios. Why? They don’t need them. Those are the ones that go in and get hired on the spot, they don’t have any problem getting the type of freelance work they want or hired fulltime. I realized this freelancing at a place where all of the other designers were also my age, but none had corefolios or anything like that. After working with them, I can see why.
So don’t get too cocky when viewing the corefolios. They cover the range from disillusioned high school student (who wants to skip college and go straight to consulting because they’ve finished all of the form-z tutorials and know how to do a solar flare in pshop) to more experienced people.
I would assume (just to be safe and keep myself in check) that corefolios represents people that have a little trouble getting work. So look at the best portfolios in your area and assume those people have some difficulty (why they’re probably here) and judge your skills next to theres. Assume that the best corefolios you see represents the “average” candidates that would be realistically considered for the project (some lower ones possibly considered, and some higher ones that don’t even have to advertise definitely considered). Keep that in the back of your head to help push you. Even the best folios here have trouble, and there are people you’re up against that are better than what you see here. And you ARE also competing against that “invisible” group. So constantly strive to push those skills to the max, don’t be satisfied with any level you’re at or your portfolio until your phone rings off the hook and you have to keep turning down clients.
Good luck to you all. Once again, I hope I was a little helpful. Freelancing is definitely tough, you have to be ready to fight and be frustrated and have many a bread + water dinner to do what you want to. There’s no shame in taking some monkey work to fill in the gaps, it’s all part of the process. Just be careful about being typecast if you don’t want to do certain types of work. It’s harder because it’s easier for companies to outsource that work so it’s more available. Happy hunting.