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How to Make a Demo Reel or Portfolio That Stands Out

6 minute read


Want to impress employers with your portfolio or demo reel? Listen up!

So you've finally got enough high quality work to make a demo reel or portfolio and you're ready to start applying for jobs. Great!

Before you create a 20-minute opus, read these tips from our mentors at CG Spectrum on how to make a demo reel or portfolio that knocks employers' socks off!

As industry experts, they know exactly what studios are looking for in a folio or demo reel, and have often been the ones hiring budding artists like yourself.

CG Spectrum grad Glenn Dawick's showreel is a great combination of work done in during the Houdini FX course, plus personal and client work.

1. Make Your Demo Reel or Portfolio Entertaining

This industry is ALL about entertainment. Make sure your folio or demo reel shows off just how entertaining your work is.

With over 15 years of experience in the animation industry, Animation mentor Mark Pullyblank has seen his fair share of reels and folios.

"What's compelling to me is when I actually forget I'm watching a demo reel, that I'm just being entertained."

An entertaining reel will be remembered and has a better chance of being re-watched. Those watching might even be compelled to show it off to their friends and colleagues.

Take a minute to look at your reel or folio objectively (or ask someone you trust to be honest with you). Is it entertaining? Does it have a personality? Is it memorable? If not, have some fun with it and make it your own.

Example of FX Reel by CG Spectrum Alumni Ben Stanley (now working at Pixomondo)

2. Open and close with a bang

Put yourself in the shoes of the studio you're applying to. They are looking for an artist who not only has the required skills but also suits the studio. After advertising the job for a couple of weeks, they have a mountain of applications and a list a mile long of artist's sites to sift through in the hopes of finding the right person.

It's a huge time-consuming job. If the person watching your reel isn't immediately impressed by your work, they will move on to the next.

"Show your best work first." Says animation mentor and Co-Founder at CG Spectrum Nick Fredin. "And make sure you close with a bang."

It is incredibly important to grab the viewer's attention as early as possible with what you think is your best piece and then leave them with a lasting memory to close.

3. Keep it short and sweet

Wondering how long your demo reel should be? Under 2 minutes! A demo reel or folio that is concise and only filled with high-quality content stands a better chance to be appreciated by the viewer.

Animation mentor Simon Warwick told us how important it is to keep the viewer in mind when putting together your demo reel or folio for a job application.

"Think about the person watching your reel. They might only have a short amount of time to get through all the reels, and then they have to make a decision. So keep it tight and concentrated. You don't want a single dry moment."

Don't show off every piece of work you've ever done. Cut it back and only show your best work.

Which brings us to tip number four...

Animation reel by CG Spectrum grad Vanessa Rossi (who has since worked at Sony, Method, Bardel and MPC)

4. Be ruthless with your own work

"Find concise ways to explain your work process." Says VFX Mentor Greg Hird-Rutter "Don't be afraid to trim your reel. The best reels are always short and sweet."

It always pays to look at your work objectively. Does that piece make sense for this job? Is that piece as good as it possibly can be?

Don't let sentimentality get in the way of having the best demo reel or folio you can possibly create. Sometimes you have to cut away pieces that might not apply to the position you're going for, are out of context or just might not be good enough. Keep it short but dense with high-quality work.

One to two minutes is more than long enough for the studio to get a good idea of what you are capable of.

5. Make sure it's applicable to the position or studio

Different studios and developers have completely different styles. When they are hiring they will be looking for artists that can slot straight into the studio and understand what their work is all about. It is up to you to do your research to see just what they are looking for.

Concept Art Mentor Brandon Reimchen believes it's all about making it clear you can have an immediate impact on the studio.

"Make sure the artwork you're showing relates to the studio or product you're applying for. Show the art director that you can slot straight into the team."


For example 343 Industries and Bungie develop games that are mainly sci-fi, first-person shooters. Whereas game studios like Bioware and CD Projekt tend to focus more on third-person, open-world role-playing games.

Although both make animated films, Pixar and Dreamworks have completely different art styles from one another. Video Game studios are the same. Although both Bethesda and Gearbox make open world first-person shooters, they have incredibly distinctive art styles.

Do your research and create pieces that show off what you can do for the client. One way of customizing your reel/folio based on the job you're applying for is to have multiple versions of your reel/folio with private URLs only for that employer to see.

6. Show your work process

In some instances, studios and clients might ask to see how you go about creating your work. They might want to see that you have mastered the basics or that you are using techniques that they can work with.

Modeling mentor Katerina Dzolganovski believes that this is especially important if you are new to the industry. "Make sure, as a junior, you show the wire framework. They will want to make sure you're modelling cleanly."

Need more high-quality work for your demo reel or portfolio?

Enroll at CG Spectrum!

CG Spectrum offers specialized beginner and advanced online courses in Animation, VFX, 3D Modeling, Digital Painting and Game Design. Build the job skills and technical expertise needed to succeed in the film and games industry, and fill your demo reel or portfolio with original work as you learn! 

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