At all stages of your animation career, having an up-to-date demo reel to showcase your talents and experience can prove more valuable to potential studios and employers than your resumé. And while it’ll take some work to compile a stand-out demo reel, it will likely be the deciding factor to help you land your next job as an animator in the film and games industry.
Here’s what you need to know about creating your best animation demo reel.
What is a demo reel?
A demo reel is a compilation of your best or most relevant animation work—like a video version of a portfolio. It shows potential employers your skills rather than just telling them. Depending on your experience, you may consider having one generic demo reel and a few others to highlight other areas of expertise or animation styles.
Your demo reel can be uploaded to your website, YouTube or Vimeo, or a file-sharing platform so you can easily share links with prospective employers and collaborators (and your mentors for feedback and advice).
Features of a stand-out demo reel
In our experience, the best demo reels:
Are no more than 2-3 minutes long (1-2 minutes is ideal)
Include a title card at the beginning and end (with your contact information)
Show only your best work
Show your best-of-the-best work first (to grab their attention)
If you use music, ensure it doesn’t distract from your work
Use original animation voice-over and audio if possible
Present each piece individually, not in a collage style
Provide context for each piece of work to highlight your involvement, and include credits where applicable
Why you need an animation demo reel
Employers want to know more than if you took an animation course or two. They want to see your work and style, your understanding of the craft, and to see if it melds with their vision for the project or the animation style of their studio.
Mark Pullyblank is a mentor for CG Spectrum students and has hired animators in the past, so he has some great tips for creating animation reels. He mentions that for entry-level positions, he would browse through recently submitted animation reels to look for budding talent. This is why having a solid demo reel right out of school is crucial to breaking into this competitive industry.
2D animation clip by CGS student Rebecca Caldwell. This is something that she could add to her showreel.
9 Steps to make your animation demo reel
Aim to make your demo reel stand out (for the right reasons). You want to show off your best work and submit memorable demo reels to film and game studios.
Here are the nine steps to make a solid demo reel:
Step 1: What’s your message?
Why are you making this demo reel? If you’re making a reel for a specific job, ensure your message and theme reflect that. For example, if you’re applying for an animation job at a video game studio that produces 2D games, showcase 2D animated game-related clips more prevalently in your reel. If you apply to a film studio like Pixar or Disney, demonstrate more narrative-based animations.
Step 2: Gather your clips
Gather a mix of animation clips that showcase your best work. These can be 2D animation clips or 3D animation. Where possible, showcase published work, but if you’re new in the industry, use polished pieces from your animation course or personal projects.
Select examples of work you love and enjoy doing. If you include an animation style or genre you don’t like working on, you could get hired for it, so be mindful of your choices.
Step 3: Put your best pieces first
Only include your best work. Put the best of the best first, and your second best second, etc. The film or games studio hiring manager may not watch your whole reel, and unless they are impressed in the first 15 seconds, they’ll likely just move on to the next candidate. Remember, it's not just your reel they are watching—they probably have a lot of submissions to get through.
You don't want a reel that is over 1-2 minutes. Do not worry if your reel seems a bit short. Mark Pullybank has the following advice on reel length:
There is no such thing as ‘filler’, and every frame counts. Ten seconds of amazing animation beats two minutes of mediocre animation every time!
When it comes to your showreel, you should always focus on quality over quantity because the pros who review your work don't need long to be able to tell where your skills lie.
Step 5: Add sound, but don’t rely on it
If you’re adding sound or voice-overs to your demo reel, that's fine, but don’t rely on it to get your message across. Many hiring managers may not turn on the sound when viewing your reel, so ensure the visuals can stand alone if there is no soundtrack.
Step 6: Add title cards
It would be devastating for a studio to view your reel and not know how to contact you to hire you. Always start with an opening card that includes your name and areas of specialty. Then, your end title card should have your name and contact information again.
If you’re uploading your video to a site like YouTube or Vimeo, include your contact information and clip details in your written caption or description. Make it super easy for those in the hiring seat to find you.
Step 7: Get feedback
You may spend hours working on your reel and never notice spelling errors or other mistakes. One of our best tips for making an epic demo reel is to get feedback from others—a fresh pair of eyes to look over your work.
Ask a colleague, animation class peer, mentor, or friend with a detail-oriented artistic eye for constructive feedback on your reel. Not only might they notice things you missed, but they could also have some great ideas for how to best showcase your skills.
Step 8: Upload and distribute
Once you have a version you like and it's been quality-checked, upload it to YouTube, Vimeo, or an online file-sharing service so you can easily include a link to your reel in your animation job applications.
Include a link to your reel from your website (if you have one) and in the description of your professional social media profiles. Put it anywhere you think a prospective employer might look.
Step 9: Update your showreel often
Your showreel is like an ever-evolving project. As your work improves, it's important your reel reflects this. Keep your animation showreel up to date with your best and most recent clips and create additional reels to showcase specific skills or areas of expertise.
3 Awesome demo reel examples
Here are three awesome demo reel examples and what we like about them:
This showreel by CG Spectrum grad James Boyle is short and sweet (less than 60 seconds) but manages to showcase a good range of animations. It also indicates the software used for each scene and provides relevant credits for rigs and 3D models at the end.
It displays James' contact information as the thumbnail and at the end, so studios can find him easily. It’s an excellent example of showcasing different animation skills and techniques, even if you don’t have any “big” production experience to include.
This reel by Sykosan, Animation Director and Mentor of CG Spectrum's 2D animation courses, shows how you can play with editing to keep things interesting, splicing short clips from different projects (a mix of personal and client work) and returning to each one periodically throughout. Each clip is short but filled with Sykosan's best work—where he captures detailed action or poignant moments through his animation. For a 60-second reel, it packs a punch!
CG Spectrum Mentor of the 3D animation courses, Jon Vener's video game animation showreel is another great example. It's longer than the other two demo reels but is still well within the suggested time frame (and all the work is top quality). For each new clip, Jon has a detailed title card that includes the video game project and what type of animation he did on each character. It also integrates dialogue audio well in relevant scenes.
Now you know how to make a demo reel, study an animation course that will help you create quality work to include!
CG Spectrum's hands-on and industry-aligned animation courses, taught by professional animators, allow students to hone their skills while creating unique pieces of work to include in their animation showreel.
Peer and mentor feedback is an integral part of CG Spectrum’s animation courses and will help with ensuring only your most polished work makes it into your 2D and/or 3D animation demo reel. Our experienced Career Development Manager is also there to provide feedback on your reel and assist with your animation career progression.
Get started on a stand-out animation showreel and begin, or move up in, your animation career!