If you are asking “how many images I should have in my portfolio”, then you are asking the wrong question. Your portfolio or reel, and accompanying resume and cover letter, have two purposes: to tell the company what sort of work you want to be doing for them, and to demonstrate that you are capable of doing it. So the question you need to ask is “what do I need to include in my portfolio or reel to demonstrate that I am capable of doing what I want to be doing?”
There really are no rules other than that.
But I feel like I should fill up more space on the subject, so here are some additional unorganized rambles on the topic.
Having a web-page will make your life easier, because then you won’t have to assemble and mail physical portfolios.
But physical portfolios can be fun, too, and they don’t get lost in a busy art director’s e-mail. It took me two rounds of portfolios to get myself a job, and mine were of the physical variety. Sorry, I don’t have either of them on line, but I can tell you about what I did and didn’t do right.
The first portfolio was the dreamy product of my senior year of college. It was a hand-made book that folded open like an accordion, and every square inch that wasn’t taken up with color images was squashed full of drawings. It was beautiful; it was also extremely work-intensive to physically assemble, it couldn’t be expanded upon, and the images were all way, way too small. Some woman at Disney told me “that’s nice, now can we see your portfolio please?” But on the other hand, I made a limited edition of these as hand-made books complete with wooden covers and glossy prints. Two years later, someone found one of them in a drawer at a company where I would have given a limb to work at right out of college. They wanted to know if I was still looking for work. With a sigh I said no.
The second portfolio was strictly utilitarian. It consisted of multiple loose pages capable of being passed around a table easily. Each page contained one or two color images or drawings, and my contact information in case the pages got separated. I added content to this portfolio as the post-college months went on.
Reels. If you don’t have animation to show, a reel isn’t necessary. But, *shrug* if you feel happier spinning your models around instead of just showing screen-shots, it’s your call. See paragraph one.
Keep in mind that when reels are reviewed, it is the last thing the art director or team wants to be doing. There’s a pile of tapes. Most of what is on those tapes is painful to watch. The experience is like sitting down to deliberately watch commercials. So keep it brief – under a minute - and show only your best work.
Showing 3D work. Are your models so deliciously low-poly that an art director of games will drool? Show that. Are you skilled at laying out Uvs? Show that. Have you written a tutorial on laying out Uvs? Heck, show that too.
Do not hesitate to put text in your portfolio. And absolutely include text if you are showing work that is only partially yours. “This thinamjiggy was an extracurricular team project. I made the blah and textured the bloo.” This sort of brief and clear information is extremely helpful to whomever is hiring you.
Concept art. Show that you can do 2D images at every level from thumb-nail to polished painting. Show that you miraculously transmit any imagined idea into a drawing that clearly communicates your idea. When I am reviewing your portfolio, I am going to be thinking of what it will be like to make 3D art from your drawings. I want to see versatility and communication.
Since I know how many people there are here at conceptart.org who think copying photographs is good artistic exercise, let me alert you to something. We can tell the difference between traced photographs and original work. Unless you are as good as Norman Rockwell, then having traced work in your portfolio can hurt your chances of getting hired. This is because when you need to come up with sketches of a three-headed giant flying alien by four in the afternoon, there will not be a photograph in the world that can help you.
Ah. . . I have run out of steam on this topic. I can’t think of a catchy way to wrap this up, so instead go reread the first paragraph.
Go on, do it. And then relax a bit. It is that simple. You have the answers already.