CG Spectrum's Animation Department Head, Mark Pullyblank, provides some invaluable advice on what Animation Supervisors look for in a demo reel. He also gives some great tips on what to do and what NOT to do.
Making a demo reel is like catching a glimpse of yourself as you step out of the shower. Inherently disappointing. After more than 15 years working as an animator I still struggle with it, it’s almost worse now because I’m faced with the reality that after all this time I have surprisingly little to show for it. Or so it seems.
I’ve spent a great deal of time looking at reels to hire animators for various film projects, here’s what I’ve learned and what I wish I knew when I was desperate to land that first job with a crap reel.
1. You’re only as good as your worst piece.
You will be judged on your weakest work. And why shouldn’t you be? I watch a reel until it tells me not to. If I see a really solid piece followed by a less than solid piece, I strongly question your judgement and likely move on. The only time I watch an entire reel is if it’s really, really good, or really, really bad. I often hear young artists debate the order of their shots, “Put your strongest work first and last”, is a common thought. Nonsense! Put your strongest work and ONLY your strongest work in your reel PERIOD!
The only time I watch an entire reel is if it’s really, really good, or really, really bad.
Oh, and keep it short, shorter than you’d think.
Which brings me to...
2. Cut the fat. Size doesn’t matter.
Do not fall victim to insecurity about the length of your reel. There is no such thing as ‘filler’ and every frame counts. Ten seconds of amazing animation beats two minutes of mediocre animation every time!
I once looked at a reel with two shots. It was about 25 seconds long and it was absolutely perfect. I knew that level of skill had to have a mountain of work that came before it, but the artist had the confidence to submit only her very best. By the time I got her on the phone she was already hired.
3. Send it out.
A year after I graduated from art school I ran into a fellow graduate whose ability I had always envied. We started talking and he told me he was still working on his reel and that it’s not quite ready to be seen yet. I couldn’t believe it. A year after graduation I was starting work on my third film and he had yet to submit his reel. Big mistake.
I sent out 50 copies of my garbage reel, (vhs tapes in those days), straight out of school. I was desperate for a job and didn’t realize the unintended consequence of my actions. The day after I mailed them out I was struck by the idea that recruiters and animators were looking at this crap. It made me sick.
I sent out 50 copies of my garbage reel, (vhs tapes in those days), straight out of school. I was desperate for a job and didn’t realize the unintended consequence of my actions.
As it turns out, mailing out a terrible reel is a great motivational tool as I rushed out revision after revision. I had to let them know that I knew it was garbage and that I was doing something about it. .
By the time I landed my first job I had completely replaced all my school work, probably twice over. That activity also helped me build a small reputation in the industry. About a week after I started my first job, one of the artists approached me and told me that he had a friend at a game studio in town who would talk about how I would constantly submit updated reels. The head of HR at 'EA Games' would always laugh and greet me by name when I showed up to drop off an update.
Mark Pullyblank speaks to a student at a meet up
4. Don’t assume you’re not qualified.
This one is really important. Sure some studios seem impenetrable. They hold the coveted animation jobs and therefore receive every reel on the planet so why bother right? It’s true that some jobs are easier to land than others, but don’t assume you don’t belong.
Show only your best work and continue to make your best work better.
Often I would get tasked with hiring animators with varying skill levels. I would be told that we have a budget for 2 seniors, and 5 juniors. I would usually find the seniors through word of mouth, and the juniors would be new to the industry so I would dig through reels.
I would separate the reels into three groups:
YES - Tiny Group
MAYBE - Medium Group
NO - Big Group
So the moral of the story is yes, there are hundreds of grads out there vying for the same jobs, BUT most of them aren’t committed enough to push through. Show only your best work and continue to make your best work better.
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