Demo Reel Tips…Part 2!

First of all, let me apologize for my lack of posting, mostly to my fellow Doctors. I’ve got a lot to say, it just takes the time to put the words down. Now that Cars is wrapped for me I’ll hopefully find the time to pay attention to this blog.

Okay, I’m done feeling guilty now.

Last semester one of my students asked for tips on how to put together a good reel. I had actually started to write down some tips for a reel when Dr. Gordon, our most prolific Splinedoctor, beat me to the post. However, I still feel I might have a unique “inside” opinion on this topic, being that I’ve had to sit through my fair share of reel reviews (and hundreds of mediocre-to-bad reels!). So here I go: I’m going to give you some tips from my perspective as a Supervising Animator at Pixar for things to consider when putting a reel together to send to a studio. Some of this will overlap some of what Dr. Gordon already said:

1) Research the Company Your Applying To . Do you think that animation departments at companies like Pixar, ILM, and Electronic Arts are looking for the same types of reels? Would you send the same exact reel to each of these studios? Well, my first piece of advice is to tailor each submission specifically to the type of work that studio does or is looking for. Pixar does traditional character animation, specifically for features. ILM animators tend to do special effects animation for live action movies (usually monsters, aliens, spaceships, etc). Electronic Arts probably needs animators that can get across a good sense of physics and action since they are a video game company, but mostly cycles for the game itself. No matter how great your dinosaur fighting a space alien animation is, it ain’t gonna get you in Pixar’s door unless it’s complemented by some great character pieces that show original acting choices. If you send a hand drawn, stylized student film to Electronic Arts, they may not be interested either as they need people with computer experience. if you’re missing the work needed for a specific studio it’s time to go back to the drawing board to do more work to round out your reel.

2) Most reels are too long. I’d rather see 30 seconds of superbly executed character animation than 3 minutes of mediocrity. Keep your reel short and sweet. If the work isn’t good, we won’t make it to the end; we’ll take the tape out and move on to the next reel. And that happens more than you wanna know. . .

3) Cut the fat. We don’t need to see your entire development through every animation class you’ve ever gone through. Put your best work on your reel and cut the rest. Yeah, we’ve all done the bouncing ball and a walk cycle, but I don’t need to see it. Let’s move on to the good stuff, shall we?

4) Good pacing is important. But isn’t it a good idea to start off with your earlier stuff to really “wow” us with your advancement? Think again. What if we get bored with your Animation 1 class work and eject your tape, only to miss some gem you animated in a later class? Start your reel off with something strong to hook us. A good rule of thumb would be to begin and end with your two strongest pieces and to fill the middle with your other best work.

5) Clean sound and a good picture please. If you’ve got a dialogue test and we can’t understand it, that’s a problem. Make sure the sound is clean and clear. And maybe make sure you pick a track that is that way BEFORE you animate to it anyway. Makes perfect sense, huh? And good picture means exactly that. If it’s a pencil test, make sure there is enough contrast to see it. If it’s computer animation, be sure to render it in a way that is clear.

6) Please don’t loop shots more than once. If we want to see it again, trust me, we’ll PLAY it again. It’s really easy to do with the rewind button.

7) Be honest and clear about which work is yours. I cannot express how extremely important this is. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked at a reel that has a LOT of animation on it, obviously done by more than one person and I’ve got some complex description I’ve got to cross reference to figure out who did what. Or even worse, the person applying for the job wants me to assume they did all the work on the reel. This is extremely unprofessional. My recommendation: find a clear way to visually show only the work you did. If your shot falls in between other people’s work, edit it together so your work shows up in color and the other work is in black and white. Or. Only. Show. Work. That. Is. Yours. Comprende?

8) The Good, Bad, n’ Ugly About Student Films. I’m going to be extremely frank for a moment: most student films aren’t that good (but then again, most Hollywood movies aren’t that good). I am not going to watch a 6 minute turkey. Sorry. However, there are rare cases where I’m drawn in because the quality is so high. How do you know if it’s good enough? Well, that leads me to. . .

9) Be Honest With Yourself. One of the hardest things about being an artist, but the most useful, is the ability to take a step back from the work; to step “outside of oneself” and give an honest self critique. That is how the best work is created; it is built up, destroyed, and built up again in a lively, plastic, ever-changing process. If you’re not sure if you’re work is appealing, you may simply not be cut out to do the job. And of course usually the best artists have other friends with similar eyes to bounce their work off of, so if you can’t always be honest with yourself, don’t be stupid and ignore the wisdom of others!

10) Sometime You Just Need to Try Again. Maybe you’re really good, but the studio just ain’t hiring at that time. Well, buckle down Bucko and keep doing better work for your reel. And submit it again when they’ve posted positions. Just don’t stalk us. Like everyone else we really don’t respond well to that.

11) It’s the Animation Stoopid. We don’t care if it’s rendered, you’re a good modeler, or if you know how to use every animation program. This seems obvious, but it’s about who you are, what you’ve got to say, and the amazing work you do. Show me the animation! I don’t give a squirrel’s butt if you’re an expert at Softimage. AND ALSO: I’m writing this blog submission as an ANIMATOR looking at ANIMATION REELS. I could just as well be saying, “It’s the Drawings Stoopid” or “It’s the Programming Experience Stoopid”. If you’re interested in applying for Story, Layout, Art, Technical Director Positions, etc. you’re reading the wrong post (well, some of this advice is general enough to help I hope). See Tip #1 about researching the company; you also want to research the positions they’re looking for!

12) Be kind, rewind that VHS & keep your DVD simple. This may sound ridiculously simple, but please have your tape cued so we can pop it in and watch it. It’s really annoying to wait five minutes only to find we’ve rewinded the worst reel we’ve ever seen. I’m also very partial to the DVD reel now. It’s kinder on the environment and I know I’m not gonna have to rewind it. But be careful! Don’t make me navigate through some complex DVD menu. If you can just make it automatically play when it’s put in that’s great. Or give me ONE option that is clear (HIT PLAY).

13) No gimmicks please; your work speaks for itself. We don’t need any disclaimers. We don’t need fancy packaging. While we’re always amused when we get a reel that looks like a submission for Survivor, it won’t get you anywhere near an interview. A resume and cover letter are always important and appropriate, but are never noticed unless the reel is extraordinary. All this being said, there are still a lot of people that will send their insane reels anyway. And I’m glad, because we’ll have fun watching them and laughing and moving on to hire you, the great animator who sent us what we wanted in the first place.

14) Do Great Animation. This is the hardest part. If you’re a great animator, we’re interested. If you don’t think your reel is up for the scrutiny, keep working on you animation chops. Simple advice huh?

Well, that’s it. I’m sure I could think of even more stuff, but I’ve crammed as much as I can into this. Good Luck!