[Proletariat Inc. senior animator Sterling Reames offers a set of hints for artists looking to set themselves apart from the crowd with a memorable demo reel.]
In most professions, a resume is the most important piece for displaying how much we know to complete strangers. For artists, our demo reels are what set us apart from one another. Just like a resume, how we choose to convey our skills to others matters a lot. In an artist's reel, bad editing or glaring aesthetic mistakes are equal to typos and improper formatting in a resume. There certainly is no formula to create the perfect demo reel, but I do find myself repeating the same advice over and over to aspiring artists of all kinds. If you're having trouble getting your foot in the door, landing a more enjoyable job, or just looking for a way to improve the way you display your work to others, I'd like to take a moment to share some tactics for constructing and distributing demo reels I've learned over the years.
Get to the point
An artist has about ten seconds before an art director or lead has formed an opinion on the reel and either moved on, or decided to keep on watching (sad, but very true). This may not seem fair, but if you think about all the critiques, meetings, emails, and god forbid, actual artwork a professional in a lead role has to juggle in a given day; there really isn't much time left over to sift through dozens of full length demo reels. Padding a reel with a drawn out intro or starting off with anything other than your best pieces might mean that sweet animation or creature you slaved over for weeks is getting completely overlooked. Keep your intro short and sweet, simply display your name and contact info and dive right into the meat of your work.
Don't be a jack of all trades
The artist's/animator's reel should reflect the position they are applying for. Sending a generalist reel in for a cinematic animator position is like trying to wield a samurai sword while simultaneously firing off a Beretta and a rocket launcher...in other words, it's hard to compete with those who choose to specialize in a given field. Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic to be an animator and have modeling, texturing, and rigging experience, but try to leave that extra information to the resume, and use it as something to pull out of the back pocket during an interview. If it's too difficult to decide on which pillar of CG to master, reach out to peers and online communities like cgscosiety.org and 11secondclub.com to get a second opinion on the matter.
Ask for help. Early and often
Even animators and artists who have been honing their craft for many years need a fresh eye to catch glaring mistakes. Again, because we are so close to our creations it's easy for us to overlook imperfections. Our minds tune out, and suddenly something that was just "ok", is now "pretty good" in our minds; yet we still can't seem to figure what the real problem is. This is the moment where any creative professional should get someone who hasn't been staring at a piece of work for hours on end to offer a critique. The best part is, we don't even have to get another artist's opinion - anyone will do! Nothing will humble an artist faster than someone who's not even an artist pointing out an obvious problem almost immediately upon viewing a piece of work.
Nothing is too sacred
Throwing our work away sounds counterproductive right? As professionals we need to be brutally honest with ourselves; often packing a reel with lesser quality work just to satisfy time requirements will do more harm than good. With a job that requires such an immense amount of passion, it's easy to get attached to the projects we create. Remember that quality is always number one (I have yet to see art director impressed by the quantity of work displayed before them). As a rule of thumb, try to keep the reel to two minutes in length at most. If there are worries that the length is too short, rest assured this isn't the end of the world. Almost every lead would take a minute long reel with all great work over a two minute long reel with some great work.