What's compelling to me is when I actually forget I'm watching a demo reel, and that I'm just being entertained.
An entertaining reel will be remembered and has a better chance of being re-watched. The recruiters 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.
FX demo reel example from CG Spectrum grad Ben Stanley (now working at Pixomondo)
2. Open and close with a bang
Put yourself in the shoes of the film or game 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, and make sure you close with a bang.
Animator and CG Spectrum co-founder Nick Fredin says it's 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
How long should your demo reel 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.
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 example by CG Spectrum grad Vanessa Rossi (who has since worked at Sony, Method, Bardel and MPC)
4. Be ruthless with your own work
VFX artist Greg Hird-Rutter says:
Find concise ways to explain your work process. 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 it 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. Tailor your demo reel 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.
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.
Although both Pixar and Dreamworks make animated films, they 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.
In another 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.
Do your research and create pieces that show off what you can do for the client or studio.
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! Our school 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!