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How to create an impressive demo reel

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Your demo reel is a handshake with your potential employer, a brief meeting to introduce your skills and convince them why you should work for them. What you show and how you show it makes all the difference in whether or not you’ll get the job you want. Here’s a few guidelines to help you in constructing an impressive reel.

Keep it short

Like a trailer for a film, your reel should be brief while providing enough information about what you can do. There's also a good chance your reel will be just one of dozens (or more) your potential employer has to watch in one sitting. Retain their attention by keeping the length around one to two minutes.

Open with your finest work (and finish with it, too)

The first 10 to 15 seconds of your reel is vital to keep your potential employer from starting up someone else’s reel. That doesn't mean you should fill the rest of the reel with something mediocre, though. If you don’t have anything that you consider suitable, don’t use it! It's better to make a good impression with fewer nicer words than a bad impression with a long dragging story.

Cater to your potential employer

Farhad Shamiev's character animation reel for games is a great example of a reel targeted to a specific job.

Your reel should reflect the type of work you’ll be doing for your potential employer. For example, if you’re trying to get a job as a modeler, it doesn’t make sense to send them a reel made up of 3D animation, no matter how good it is.

Tailoring your demo reel to the studio you’re applying for is also a big plus.

According to MaryAnn Knoke, the director of talent acquisition at Activision, ““If you’re interested in doing animation at a Call of Duty studio, it’s great to show us your animations with some soldier characters as opposed to cartoon characters because it aligns with what our work is. Not that we can’t look past that and see you’re able to do movement with other types of characters but it’s just great to be able to see it with our own characters.”

Only use your work

For many artists, this is just common sense but it happens enough to be worth mentioning. Plagiarizing or stealing someone else’s work for your reel will not only eliminate your chances of being hired but it’ll also make you liable for serious legal actions.

Even though the projects big studios work on are massive, the CG industry is a small community so if you’re stealing someone else’s work it’ll hurt your reputation. If you don’t have enough solid work for a minute-long reel, just use what you have or use that as an excuse to create more.

Pace your clip well

You can lose your audience’s attention by spending too much time on one project or by using slow-paced clip. The best way to test the pacing of your reel is to show it to someone else.

Find a friend or family member and ask them what areas they find to be slow. You can do the reverse, too, and ask them to explain what was happening in some of the faster-paced shots and if their answer isn’t what you intended, it might be going too fast.

Don’t overdo it with the transitions

Michael Raphaelovich’s reel uses transitions to show how trackers are utilized for effects in the sequences.

One exception to this guideline might be if you’re trying to showing off your motion design skills, or use custom transitions to add impact. Other than that, a fade in and out transition, although most common, is still considered best to use between clips. It’s not very obvious and keeps things flowing smoothly.

Add a concise description of your work

If you have any clips in your reel where you didn’t do everything, you should let them know your role. A brief but clear description of what you did while the clip is playing is sufficient.

For example, if you have an animated clip where all you did was create the character’s texture, you can put “Texture artist” to indicate what you did and what you didn’t do. In general, it’s a good idea to keep this text in the lower third or a corner with readable sans-serif font.

If you use music, make it appropriate

Joseph Adams’ compositing reel is a great example of using soundtrack effectively to add impact to the dramatic compositing changes.

Music can be an important part of some reels, for example if you’re using the music to show how you can edit with the beat. On the other hand, if you’re an artist focusing on visuals whether or not there’s music isn’t as important.

However, if you do decide to add music, make sure enhances the impact and matches the visual mood of the reel. For example, if your reel highlights zombies and deformed creatures, it probably wouldn’t make sense to use a happy sounding song.

Get permission before posting online

Sites like YouTube or Vimeo are a convenient way to post your reel online because you can send a link via email to a potential employer. However if your work is under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), make sure you have approval from the client or the owner of the work before putting it online.

It’s also a good idea to cite the permission of usage in your reel so that your potential employer doesn’t think you’re breaking your NDA, and consider you trustworthy.

Mailing DVDs

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An example of a DVD case and label by 3D artist Vaneese Smart.

While much of the world is moving away from physical DVDs, some studios still prefer a hard copy of your reel. Check the website of the studio or company you’re applying to see what reel format they prefer from applicants. If it’s a CD or DVD, assume it won’t stick with your resume at all times so add a label with important info, such as contact and what you’re wanting to do (e.g., character animator).

Contact information

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An example of contact info added to a DVD case by animator Parker Pierce.

Dedicate two or three seconds at the end of the reel to show your contact information in clear words. You probably don’t want your phone number splashed all over the internet, so an email will work perfectly.

 

If, despite all your efforts of producing an awesome reel, you still don’t get the job you want, don’t give up. Find the artists who are already working in the positions you want to learn what level of work is required and keep honing your craft and learning how to improve your work.

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