A DEMO REEL PRIMER
Written by Zero Dean
What is a demo reel for?
A demo reel is essentially a sales tool. You are selling yourself and proving, to an extent, what sort of positive addition you will be to a company. If you can prove you've got oodles of talent and a creative way of thinking about things, your demo reel will get you noticed. If it is exceptionally good, it's your doorway into the industry.
Who is your audience?
Your audience, obviously, is comprised of those people you want to work for. The thing is, you're not alone. Many, many people want and have tried to get the same job you are applying for. These demo watchers have seen countless reels and guess what, they're tired of seeing the same things over and over again. If you think your 3 minute flying logo is going to win you a job, you better consider it very carefully before putting it on your reel. These people are not obligated to watch your entire reel. If they're dissatisfied, they will hit EJECT and move on, possibly missing your Oscar(tm) worthy animation later in the reel.
What to put on a demo reel SECTION A (general):
Only your best, most amazing work ever. This stuff has to be the best thing since pizza. If you can do it all (model, render, and animate), do it all! You'll earn points for this. Companies are looking for people who can wear many hats and accept many responsibilities. You need to capture their attention and show them you're more than up to the challenge of working in a creative (and crazy) environment like theirs. You want to not only show them you're up to it, you want to show them it'll be a breeze for you.
What to put on a demo reel SECTION B (specific):
You need to get as many strong points across to your audience visually, in as little time as possible. You need to capture their attention, draw them in, and make them forget for an instant that they are watching a demo reel. This can be quite difficult unless you a great deal of vision and a really good story to tell. Currently a lot of business are looking for excellent character animators. You need to bring an object to life, give it a voice, an attitude, "CHARACTER", and have it tell a story. Be fresh, creative, and original (I can't stress that enough). Also, there is a demand for artists who are good at creating low polygon count models. If you have specific skills you want to show off and can, such as adding actual paintings you've created in the real world into a 3d environment, then do it. You are trying to earn as many points as possible. A well rounded artist is always appreciated.
What not to put on a demo reel SECTION A:
Probably whatever you are most likely to think about putting on your demo reel first, is the sort of thing you want to stay away from at all costs. You may think you're being original, but believe it or not, everyone else thinks their name or company logo looks cool flying around the screen too. How about spaceships? They're cool, to be sure...but if you're a demo watcher and that's all you see day in and day out, you're probably dying to see something else. Also, with whatever objects you include in your animation, make sure they are decorated (textured) in the best way possible. Most things in the real world are not shiny and new. Instead they are dented, beat up, scratched, or flawed in some unusual way. Prove your texturing skills by creating your own complex custom textures and make your models even more interesting to look at.
Realize that your audience has seen just about every basic transition and effect out there. These are the things that are only one click away in whatever program you're using. You need to be different and your effects need to be hard won. If it can be done from a simple pull down menu, it's probably not doing to impress them. You need to stand out from the rest of the pack.
What not to put on a demo reel SECTION B (exceptions):
Of course there are exceptions to everything in the computer graphics and animation industry. If the job you are applying for is going to require specific skills, such as flying logos or spaceship battles, then by all means gear your demo reel in that direction. However, if you are going to be applying to a wide variety of jobs, it is best to have something that will appeal and look absolutely amazing to everyone.
How do I create a good demo reel?
Sit, plan, make-up, cross out, plan some more, think, cross out, make up, and then get to work. A good method is to think about what your strengths are and then think about the most effective and entertaining way possible to get those strengths across on screen. Then sit and think about every aspect of what you want to do and storyboard it out. Understand what every scene is going to involve, how long it's going to take, what sort of resources you'll need to accomplish it, and if everything you want to do is really possible. And if it's not possible, how you're going to look that obstacle in the eyes and say "up yours, I'm doing it anyway".
What does a good demo reel look like?
Many companies have their own reels which you could probably arrange to get a hold of. Contact these places and see if they will send you one. If these are places you would like to work for, then pay close attention to the sort of things they do. Otherwise, I suggest checking out many cool animation tapes currently on the market. Look for "The Mind's Eye" series by SMV or "Computer Animation Festival" series also by SMV. Watch the tapes, be inspired, and then think about how you could have done it better...and then do something else, since what you're thinking about doing has already been done. Remember, be original. If you want to do something that's been done before, do it differently (if that makes sense).
Things to remember!
Put your best stuff first. You want to grab your audience's attention as soon as possible. Give credit where credit is due. If you didn't do something, say so. Also, specify the tools you used to create your demo reel.
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