Showreel, demoreel; call it what you will, but this is your first opportunity to get your best and strongest work out there and into the public domain. People frequently ask me what I look for in the perfect reel (is there even such a thing?!), so I thought it might be handy to collate a few of the hints and tips I’ve learned along the way.
In these days of job uncertainty, conversation regularly turns to showreels; most folk seem to be either working on – or more often than not – planning on working on their reels. Procrastination can be an absolute killer here; I know of people who’ve been in the preparatory stages for a year or more. Whilst taking time to plan and to get things right is commendable, it can get to the point where maybe you don’t need to play Plants vs. Zombies or catch up on four seasons of Breaking Bad right this minute. I know it can be daunting; whether you’re a seasoned industry veteran with reams of work to whittle down into a two minute snapshot of your career or a shiny new graduate looking for your first big break, it will all seem far less overwhelming once you get going. Go on, make a start RIGHT NOW! Okay, maybe finish reading this article first, but then begin your reel – make it your job for today.
Play to your Strengths
It sounds obvious, but open with your strongest pieces. It’s a cliché that potential employers must sift through hundreds of reels, but it really is true. Make sure yours stands out from the crowd – often it’s that first 30 seconds, which determines whether or not you’ll be a successful candidate. If employers don’t like what they see immediately, they aren’t going to sit through five minutes of dross in the unlikely event that there’s a hidden gem four minutes in. It also implies that you aren’t able to identify your best work – does a candidate who can’t even determine their own strengths really have enough knowledge to compete in an oversaturated market?
Planning & Editing
As your reel needs to have a great start, it also needs to finish on a high note. This is where planning comes in; try to tell a story or identify a theme – something to make the whole piece gel. Careful editing can pay dividends here – much better than a slapdash selection of clips hurled together with little care for structure or timing. Take the time to carefully lay out your shots – this is your opportunity to show who you are as an artist and as a creative individual. I can certainly tell the difference between reels produced by confident artists who are comfortable with their own style and those who are trying to learn by rote or who lack passion and enthusiasm. I will reiterate: your reel shines a spotlight on your personality and conveys so much more than just your animation/art/modelling skills to a potential employer.
The Long and the Short of it
Length: seriously keep it short and sweet. Much better to show two minutes of gold than five of mediocrity. When you initially plan your reel, just include all your strongest pieces – length doesn’t matter at this stage – and then edit, edit, edit. Remember to consider not just which clips you want to keep, but also how they relate to each other and the length of each. This helps to maintain the flow and keeps things interesting. When you’re done, your reel should be around two minutes maximum, definitely no longer than three – and that’s pushing it.
Sound and Vision
Music selection is another key area that’s so easy to get wrong. Not everybody likes to hear music, but I certainly do (providing it’s not irritating!). Selecting a great piece of music can provide a fantastic foundation to work from. What mood does it convey? What pace does it set? These are important aspects to consider – is it action packed and contemporary or more humorous and cartoony? Try and edit to the beat of the music – or identify key moments and time your clips so you have strong visuals that are highlighted and complemented by the right soundtrack. For instance, if your music builds to a crescendo then you want your visuals to follow suit – don’t waste an opportunity to wow your audience.
Working in cinematics, I find movie trailers an immense source of inspiration and take a narrative driven approach to my showreels. If your reel relates more towards character modelling or environment art, for example, then you’ll probably want to take a slightly different approach. For instance, the pace may be slower as you might opt for lingering shots to enable viewers to appreciate the details of your work. Either way, find an angle that suits your individual style and that’s imaginative and original. Once you’re happy with the general layout, music and length, take some time to refine and polish your work. If your showreel looks sloppy and hastily flung together, are employers really going to trust you to put maximum effort into your work?
My Top 5 Tips
1. Ensure you have a strong beginning and end (these are what most viewers will remember).
2. Length – keep it to around 2 minutes max.
3. Music – make sure it’s not irritating or distracting.
4. Edit, edit, edit.
5. Contact details – make sure we can get in touch easily.
Good luck! Loads of you have been sending me your own work to review – keep them coming! If you have any questions or would like some feedback on your reel then I’d love to hear from you – contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org
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