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How to Build an Animation Portfolio: 3 Tips & Examples from an Accepted Sheridan Animation Student

Do you have a passion for animation and dream of getting accepted into the internationally renowned, highly competitive, animation program at Sheridan College? To increase your chances of success, you’ll need to submit an outstanding art school portfolio that showcases your animation skills and creativity.

In this blog, we'll explore 3 top tips and insights shared by Elina Nie, a successful 2nd-year animation student at Sheridan College in 2021. Her portfolio was not only accepted but also highly praised, so we'll break down her journey and offer valuable advice for prospective animation students who are currently working on their art portfolios.

Watch the full 30-minute video interview where Elina shares her artwork, sketchbook, and scoresheet for her accepted portfolio in an interview with Winged Canvas founder Fei Lu.

Jump ahead:

If Elina could give her past self some advice, below are the 3 portfolio tips she would share!

3 Animation Portfolio Prep Tips

1. Give Yourself Enough Time to Build Your Animation Portfolio

One of the most common mistakes students make is waiting until the last minute and rushing their art portfolio preparation. Before you begin working on your portfolio, it’ll take 1 to 2 years to develop specific skill sets such as figure drawing. After you review the application requirements, Elina recommends starting early and giving yourself 6 to 12 months to work on your art school portfolio.

Starting during the summer before the application period allows you to focus on your pieces, refine your work, and build a cohesive collection that truly represents your abilities. You’ll need time to step back and reflect on each piece to make more objective decisions. Remember quality over quantity! Dedicating ample time to each piece will make a significant difference in the final result.

💡 Tip: Becoming a good artist doesn’t happen overnight. Giving yourself plenty of time to prepare means you’ll see significant improvement in your work!

For all the procrastinators out there, Elina encourages you not to give up even if you've started late. Building your art portfolio is a valuable learning experience, and even if you don't get accepted, you'll be better prepared for the next round of applications. It may be helpful to take a gap year to focus on your portfolio, especially if you have a busy schedule.

2. Practice Life Drawing Frequently

Life drawing is a fundamental aspect of any animation program (and most art programs). Elina attended life drawing sessions 1-2 times a week while working on her portfolio. She recommends practising figure drawing at least once a week to build muscle memory and understanding of the human form.

If you’re unable to attend in-person figure drawing classes, you can incorporate life drawing into your daily sketchbook practice. Start by sketching people, places, and everyday objects that surround you. Try drawing in public places, like cafes or public transportation, which can provide valuable practice and help you improve your observation skills.

💡 Tip: To hide the fact that you’re awkwardly staring at people in public, you can wear a pair of dark sunglasses when you’re out practising life drawing.

Why Life Drawing is Crucial for Animation Portfolios

Looking at a photo automatically flattens your subject. Meanwhile, drawing from life helps you capture the essence of your subject, allowing you to even walk around your subject and look at it from different angles to understand its form. Being able to draw from real life is essential if you want to pursue animation because the goal of animation is to make things move realistically.

3. Seek Critique But Don’t Try To Implement All Of It

Be open to critique as you’ll be submitting your portfolio for people to judge. In addition to attending portfolio reviews (especially ones held by the school you wish to attend!), you can find other sources including teachers, mentors, and professional artists. Sometimes even non-artists like your friends and family might provide honest and objective feedback!

While getting input from others helps you identify your strengths and areas of improvement, don’t take all the advice to heart. You may end up overwhelmed and going in circles – as you’ll find conflicting advice from different people! Ultimately, it’s your portfolio and it’s up to you to decide which feedback is appropriate to implement.

Building an impressive art school portfolio for animation programs requires dedication, time, and authenticity. Draw inspiration from Elina's successful art journey and valuable tips to set yourself on the right path. Give yourself enough time to create your portfolio, practice life drawing A LOT, and utilize feedback selectively. By following these strategies, you'll increase your chances of acceptance into your dream animation program and take the first step toward a fulfilling career in the world of animation.

Accepted Sheridan Animation Portfolio

It's natural to look at other students' portfolios and examples for inspiration. However, Elina warns that it's easy for aspiring artists to get overwhelmed and stressed by the abundance of reference material. At a certain point, you must stop and remember that your portfolio should reflect your uniqueness and creative voice. Embrace your personal style, and use other artists’ works as references rather than templates. Originality and creativity will make your portfolio stand out from the rest!

Be diligent by reading and researching the requirements for the specific animation programs you’re applying to. These requirements may change annually, so double-check to ensure you meet all the guidelines. Elina applied to Sheridan Animation in 2020 and tailored her portfolio accordingly. Get familiar with the program's preferences (ex: the number and types of drawings needed for each section) so that your portfolio meets the school's expectations.

Note: Both digital and traditional work are accepted – there’s no preference for Sheridan Animation applications. Here are the pieces Elina included in her accepted animation portfolio.

Figure drawing: 2 long poses (5 - 10 minutes)

Figure drawing: 2 short poses (1 - 3 minutes)

Line drawings of a hand anticipating grabbing a doorknob and carrying out the action

💡 Tip: To prevent your hand drawings from looking flat, practice drawing your own hands from different angles and ensure you understand the structure underneath.

Grandmother cartoon character in 4 different views
Original granny witch character rotation sheet: front view, three-quarter front view, side view, three-quarter back view

💡 Tip: Take your time with the details such as checking for proper alignment to ensure your character looks consistent throughout the different views.

Animation of a juice box leaping forward and wobbling
Juice box short animation (24 - 48 frames)

4 panel comic of a possum in a pet store who encounters a cat
4-panel short story storyboard of a possum character design supplied by the school

💡 Tips: Show a variety of different shots and angles by choosing the best shot that will display the action. Shading was not required, but it helps to have some tones to give your storyboard more clarity.

Line drawing of a mad scientist using an eye dropper for jugs in a factory
Perspective line drawing of an interior landscape with a mad scientist in a factory

A man looks at across the island at a village from the mountain
Perspective line drawing of an exterior with a hiker discovering a hidden village

💡 Tip: For perspective drawings, animation programs want to see your line work. Use line weight and line variety to show depth and tell the story!

A collage of the baker character
Personal artwork #1: Visual development project on a baker with fire powers. Original character by Elina Nie

💡 Tips: Choose pieces that best represent you as an artist! Include your quick drawings as well as the finals to show your ideation process.

A busy bakery with lots of customers
Personal artwork #2: Watercolour painting of a bakery

💡 Tip: Notice how the two artworks above are related. Sometimes you can jampack your pieces with relevant content to show your creative process, but it can also be a good strategy to let a piece stand on its own so it can shine!

7 drawings of granny witch character showing different emotions
Personal artwork #3: Granny witch character exploration with colour palette, name, and poses. Original character design by Elina Nie

💡 Tip: Details can be fun but don’t forget the big picture. The silhouette included in the character exploration sheet above highlights the overall shape design.

Perspective drawing of a basement with a pool table and bar
Personal artwork #4: Perspective drawings of an indoor space from two different angles

Should I Include My Sketchbook in My Art Portfolio?

Sketchbook submissions are required for many art programs. While Sheridan did not ask for a sketchbook to be included in the application, Elina decided to scan the best pages in her sketchbook to be included in her application as a PDF.

Sketches of alligator, snake, wolves and other animals, some in colour
Sketchbook page 1: Toronto Zoo animal drawings in ink and watercolour

Sketches of leopard, fish, chimpanzees and other animals
Sketchbook page 2: Toronto Zoo animal drawings in ink and watercolour

9 self-portaits in different styles and drawings of a cafe and street
Sketchbook page 3: Self-portraits in various styles in pencil crayon and watercolour (left page), location studies in ink pen and watercolour (right page)

12 characters in various styles and colours
Sketchbook page 4: Character explorations in various styles

💡 Tip: Show the range of your abilities by including different styles in your artwork.

Rough sketches of people
Sketchbook page 5: Real-life cafe and subway sketches

Sketches of people and cafe interior plus exterior
Sketchbook page 6: Real-life cafe and subway sketches

💡 Tip: Including pops of colour and a variety of media can help your sketchbook stand out from the other black-and-white pencil drawings.

Alcohol pen drawings of store shelves and a girl writing in a cafe
Sketchbook page 7: Real-life cafe and subway sketches

A Successful Sheridan Animation Scoresheet

Not all schools have a scoresheet available, but Sheridan College shares them with their applicants. Elina's final score was 89% while the cutoff in 2020 was 85% (the cutoff varies from year to year).

7 section scoresheet to evaluate animation portfolios at Sheridan

Elina’s Art Journey

Before attending Sheridan College, Elina had little animation experience. Building her animation portfolio was a learning experience, but she figured it out by looking at art portfolio resources and consulting teachers and mentors. To prepare for her Sheridan College application in 2020, Elina worked on her portfolio in Art Mentorship with artist Fei Lu at Winged Canvas. Then in 2021, she returned to Winged Canvas as an art instructor!

Animation Portfolio Resources

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