One of most essential tools for every VFX artist to land a new job is a strong demoreel. It is not only a required part of the recruitment process, but often it’s your only chance during an application to show a company what you bring to the table. So using it to make a great impression is crucial to stand out. This is even more important early on in your career and especially for students trying to break into the industry.
How to build a successful reel is also one of the most frequent questions we get here at VFXbootcamp. Without further ado, here are our: 11 easy rules for a better demo and how to avoid common mistakes.
LENGTH: KEEP IT SHORT
01 / 11
The single most important purpose of your demoreel is to market you and your skills through showcasing your work. So the worst thing it can do is to bore people, witch is very easily achieved by having it run for too long. Quality over quantity is the name of the game. You will be judged by the weakest shots in the reel, therefore make sure to only include your best work. It’s very easy to diminish a great impression with just 1 mediocre shot. Be your own worst critic and cut it down rigorously.
A common strategy is to start with you strongest shot (to grab the viewer’s attention right away) and finish with your 2nd best. Try to keep it entertaining and at a reasonably fast pace. A good rule of thumb is to aim for a 2 minute run time (or less if you are early in your career). If you lose people’s attention, they are more likely to turn your demo off before even seeing everything you wanted to show. Better wow them with just a couple epic shots in 90 seconds and leave them with only two options: hit replay, or get in touch with you for more.
FOCUS: ON ONE DISCIPLINE
02 / 11
Most of the work in our industry is made by teams of specialists that fill a very precise role in the pipeline. Since you probably made the demo to fill one of those roles: focus on showing the relevant skills necessary for the particular area you are trying to get into. That means: don’t apply for a compositing job by showing your modelling prowess, or an animation position with a reel demonstrating your abilities in shader writing. It’s awesome that you have those skills, but they are not at the core for the job at hand and therefore merely a bonus.
See this fact as an advantage: you don’t have to worry about other tasks and can concentrate on whats really important. Coming back to our animation reel example: a well made walk-cycle is showcased equally good, if not better, when presented on a gray-shaded turntable versus one with suboptimal lighting or overwhelming FX simulations.
If you want to show off different skill-sets: you can of course consider making a generalist reel covering various disciplines. But keep in mind that specialized positions outweigh generalist jobs by far, especially in larger companies. There is nothing wrong with having multiple reels for exactly this reason.
CONTACT DETAILS: INCLUDE THEM
03 / 11
“That’s awesome, but who made this?” This question is to be avoided at all cost. Make sure your viewers know that you made this awesome demo and how to get in touch. It would be quite disappointing to miss out on a great job, just because it was not clear enough how to contact you. This should probably be rule #1!
It’s easy enough to do: just open your reel with your name and close it out with a card at the end stating your name, email as well as website (some people like to additionally add their phone number). Make it clear to read and you are ready to go. Also it’s a good idea to include your department/position to supply additional context for reviewing your work.
TASKS: WHAT DID YOU DO?
04 / 11
By now it should be no secret that making movies is a huge team effort. It’s not rare that single shots or assets get shared between multiple artists for a variety of reasons. Be it the increasing complexity vs. shrinking production schedules, load balancing, or simply people getting sick and their work has to be picked up and continued. There is nothing wrong with showing work that was not entirely done by you. It even shows off the fact that you are a good team player. But it’s also the reason why it’s important to clearly state your contribution.
The common way is to include a short text with each shot, often at the bottom of frame, outlining what you did. If something is unclear, people will pause, so don’t worry about the time it takes to read it on shorter shots. Just makes sure it’s easy to read. The hard part here is to strike a balance between being too generic (aka the frequent ‘everything’ description) and overly detailed (redundant explanation of workflows or tasks).
MUSIC: IS NOT IMPORTANT
05 / 11
We all know that a demo witch is perfectly timed to a song is great fun to watch. But as long as you are not in music / sound / motion-design (if you are, you can skip this rule entirely), it’s not the part that gets you the job. It is most likely that people, who are in charge of evaluating your demo, have the music turned off anyway. Either they want to discuss it’s contents with you or others, are sorting through a large amount of demos while listening to their own music, or it’s a conference where it’s too loud to begin with.
This is not saying that you should not have music at all. It helps a lot with the flow, mood and overall entertainment factors, but that’s mostly for people watching it out of curiosity or purely for fun. So please focus on what is important. Furthermore keep in mind that music is highly subjective. Choose something that is likely not to freak people out. Also remember to credit the song at the end.
You made it almost half way, time for a coffee break!
BREAKDOWNS: ARE A BONUS
06 / 11
If you have breakdowns for your shots, awesome! Make sure you include them, but only if it makes sense. It’s a great way to show off how you achieved a specific effect or the amount of work that went into creating them in general. But nobody wants to see basic workflows and elements that are obvious from watching the final. That would just stretch out the reel and therefore defeat rule #01!
For bigger productions it’s often only a fraction of the shots that get selected to receive breakdowns and only a part of them will eventually be released publicly. So they are definitely not a requirement for a great demo, but a welcome addition if used sparingly and in the right way.
AVAILABILITY: HAVE IT ONLINE
07 / 11
You are making your demo so people can see it, right? To make that as straightforward as possible for you and the viewers: simply have it available online. Once required by a lot of companies, the days of physical demo-reel copies are long gone. The preferred method now is to supply an easily shareable link to an online viewer (please don’t link directly to a file or download). Most commonly used in the industry are Vimeo.com and YouTube.com, which are simple to use and essentially free. (Other platforms and hosting it yourself are of course valid solutions as well – just make sure it’s easily playable in a browser across all operating systems.)
To be even more prepared it’s a good idea to also have your demo offline and with you on your phone, tablet or device of choice. Who knows who you bump into? Especially if you are attending a conference, don’t expect spare laptops to be available just to showcase your work.
HONESTY: YOUR WORK ONLY
08 / 11
This is obvious and should be needless to say, but: don’t present other people’s work as your own! Simply only show shots you directly contributed to and state what you did. Stolen and mislabeled work will be found and it puts an immediate end to your career.
There is one exception though (most applicable to animation reels): continuity. If you want to show how well your work flows with the surrounding shots, it’s ok to include some overlap. This should be kept to a minimum and must be stated very clearly. Most commonly these shots are desaturated and include an info text.
SECRECY: PASSWORD IF YOU MUST
09 / 11
Nobody likes spoilers. It’s a well known fact that the media industry is very protective especially with unreleased content. That’s why you will most likely not be able to share all your cool work with everyone right away (if at all). Only show, what you are allowed to show, no matter if secured or not.
Both aforementioned online video platforms have various security settings. While Vimeo makes password protection super easy, YouTube allows you to ‘not list’ your video publicly – but everyone with the link can still watch it without entering a password.
Companies and recruiters are used to secrecy, so it won’t be an issue or frowned upon (except your password contains 99 special characters). But to not defeat rule #07, just restrict your demo access if you really have to.
UPDATES: KEEP IT FRESH
10 / 11
Being prepared is never a bad thing. If the perfect opportunity comes along and you don’t have to scramble to quickly update your 5 year old demo – even better! Your demoreel should always represent your current skills, yourself and where you are in your career. Keeping it reasonably up to date is definitely recommended. Obviously this gets a lot more important when you are looking for a job (which, due to the element of uncertainty in our industry, could come unexpected.)
It’s a good habit to request and store your demoreel material as soon as it becomes available and use the downtime between big projects (or between jobs at the very latest) to update you’re reel. A freshly updated demo is also great justification to contact the recruiter of your favorite company to check out your newest work.
AGAIN: KEEP IT SHORT!
11 / 11
This can’t be stressed enough. As discussed under point #01: really try to make it as short and to the point as possible. A short run time combined with quality shots is the best way to provoke a replay, which is essentially what you want: get people interested and come back to you for more. Consider it your personal teaser trailer.
Have very similar shots? Cut all except one. Are you padding the reel to fit the song? Don’t. Have a long shot that’s only interesting at the end? Trim it. Got a long intro? Shave a few seconds off. Included a black dramatic pause in the middle? Hell no! You get the idea.