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12 Rules to Follow to Perfect Your Animation Demo Reel

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What goes into a great student demo reel? This is one of the most common questions that we get asked by our students at Escape Studios; and for a good reason. Putting together a great demo reel is the single most important factor in whether or not a student will get hired, as it is a showcase for your work.

So what goes into a great reel? Below are our 12 rules for success.

Rule 1: Start strong, and create a great first impression

Put your best work first and last. Most studios will likely invest about ten seconds into watching your reel. If they see weakness at the start, they won’t keep watching. So, start strong, and be sure to grab their attention.

Rule 2: Avoid mistakes

If in doubt… leave it out! If your demo reel has mistakes in it, the studio will notice, and they will weed out your reel. Why? Because they will assume one of two things: either you saw the mistake but could not fix it, or you didn’t see the mistake at all. Either way, your reel is in the bin.

Rule 3: Customise your reel for the job

Don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ demo reel. Re-edit your reel to suit the job you are applying for. If you’re applying for a job at Pixar, your reel should be very different to the one you submit to Framestore. Why? Because Pixar specialise in cartoony animation, whilst Framestore tends to do photorealistic creature work. Customise your reel to suit the studio. On your blog or website you should have a reel for character work and one for creature work. Don’t confuse the two.

Rule 4: Be online

DVDs and paper portfolios are history. Your reel should be easy to find; hosted at your blog or website. Nowadays, you also need to be on LinkedIn. Recruiters live on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to state on LinkedIn that you are available for work, and include a link to your reel.

Rule 5: Polish your work and learn Premiere or Final Cut

You are representing yourself to the studio. Presentation is important, so make sure that the edit looks nice. Learn Adobe Premiere so you can cut and re-cut your own reel.

Rule 6: Gather opinions from people you respect

Find people who understand the industry you are applying for to help you review and critique your own demo reel. They’ll likely spot things you may have missed, and be able to offer a fresh perspective.

Rule 7: Your friends may not be the best judge of your work

You’ve probably looked at your reel so many times that you replay it in your sleep. Your friends and family may say they like your reel because they like you and they do not wish to offend you. So get impartial advice from a pro – and apply their advice to improve your showreel! Tough love will help you in the long run.

Rule 8: Don’t sacrifice quality for quantity

A short reel with a few good shots is much better than a long reel with many weak ones. Remember that studios will not look at a long reel, at least not all the way through. Polish and perfect what you have, and discard the rest.

Rule 9: Show your name and contact details at the front and at the end

Don’t make it hard for people to find you. Include your full name, your website or blog, your email address and your telephone number. Make yourself easy to find. Email addresses should always be professional; avoid things like gr8lover@gmail.com.

Rule 10: Keep it short

Students should have a demo reel that is no more than a minute long. Remember, quality over quantity.

Rule 11: Include a reel breakdown list on the reel at the end

If there is anything on the reel that you didn’t do, make it clear at the end, and give full credit to the creator. Don’t ever take credit for work which is not your own. This is a small industry, and you will get found out. Watch out – don’t use other people’s work!

Rule 12: Don’t use copyrighted music on your reel

You will want to host your reel on YouTube and/or Vimeo. If you use music which is owned by someone else, your reel is likely to be deleted for copyright violations.

Alex Williams, has worked on films including The Lion King, The Iron Giant and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? He’s currently the Head of Animation at Escape Studios, a leading VFX, Animation, Games and Motion Graphics academy, based in central London.

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