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6 Animation Demo Reel Dos and Don’ts

by | Apr 28, 2015

Don Kim Demo Reel Tips and Tricks

Hello Animation Job Seekers! We have an awesome and informative first-time blog post from veteran mentor and Nelvana’s Animation Director, Don Kim. As an Animation Director he sifts through hundreds of reels after the recruiters screen it and came up with this handy demo reel dos and don’ts list. Read, pay attention, and go make that demo reel better!

– The Animation Mentor Crew


Hi all!

Getting your first job in the animation industry can be quite intimidating and a challenge. Networking and checking out job boards will get you started, but it’s your demo reel and portfolio which will be the deciding factor if you move to the next stage of the hiring process. In most cases, the person(s) reviewing your reel has an immense amount of material to review and make judgments on. There is no time to think too long or hard about the degree of someone’s talent and skill set before moving on to the next demo reel. That’s why it is so important to make as strong an impact/first impression of your work as you can to potential employers.

Being a Director and having worked as an Animation Supervisor, I have reviewed many many demo reels (actually too many :)). What I can tell you is, after a while, mediocre work begins to blend together and you find yourself skipping through reels or only watching a few seconds of the start of the reel because of the quality of the work. You want to always put your best work forward to give that ‘WOW FACTOR’. This will grab the attention of the person reviewing your reel and make them want to watch more.

Below are a few do’s and don’ts regarding putting together an effective demo reel.

DO : Only include your best work! You might have some sentimental attachment to particular shots in your past work, but you need to be brutally honest when reviewing for you demo reel. It’s also a good idea to have a colleague review your work to give you more of an objective point of view. But, bottom line, your demo reel should ONLY include your BEST work.

DON’T : Please do not have a 5 to 10 min demo reel, this is way too long. Again, those individuals reviewing your work have a limited amount of time to review a vast number of reels. Keep your reel between 1-2 mins tops. Less is more, and only putting in your best work should cut down the length of your reel.

DO : Begin and end you reel with your killer shots. You want to ‘wow’ them right off the start to keep them engaged and wanting to see more. Then end with another amazing shot, this is what you are going to leave them with so they remember you. Obviously, the animation in between is also very important, but typically it’s a good idea to start and end with your strongest work.

Alumnus, Philip To’s 2010 Animation Mentor Demo Reel. Don Kim was his mentor for Advanced Acting back in 2007. Philip won an Annie Award in 2010 for his work in Monsters vs Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space. He currently works at DreamWorks Animation.

DON’T : Don’t muddy your reel with over the top titles, transitions and underscore. Clarity is very important, you want to highlight your animation and make those moments read as best as possible. Where there are acting shots with dialogue, I would personally not include any underscore that is not present in the original scene, where you have a bunch of action shots edited together, a bit of subtle music might be nice to string the shots together.

DO : Be mindful of what shots you edit together and how each shot relates to the shot before and after, in terms of performance (acting vs action) and also timing (fast vs slow). Obviously, you are not telling a story through the sequence of shots in your demo reel, but it can still have a sense of rhythm and highs and lows. For example you could have a few action heavy shots in a row then go into a slower acting driven scene to create contrast and break up your reel, creating rhythm and variety in the beats. This can potentially make your reel feel more engaging / interesting to the viewer because of the changes in rhythm.

Alumnus, Wira Winata’s 2014 Demo Reel. Don Kim was his mentor for Animation Basics and now he’s rocking it at Blue Sky Studios!

DO : A lot of studios, welcome a portfolio in addition to your demo reel. Including creative work outside of actual animation, for example, life drawing, colour studies (keys), a short film, storyboards, animatics, etc. This will help to show you as a more well-rounded artist that possesses versatility and could potentially be used in other areas of production.

Think that’s it and again always submit work you are most proud of, if you don’t have work up to those standards then wait until you do. Making a strong first impression is very important and you want to them to remember you amongst the flood of reels that frequent recruiters.

Best of luck!


Don Kim Animation Mentor Body Mechanics

Want to learn from Don Kim?

Don Kim has been a mentor at Animation Mentor since 2005. He mentored hundreds of students that have gone on to work at studios like Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky. Don taught Animation Basics and currently teaches Body Mechanics. If you want to register for his class, see if you are eligible for Advanced Placement.

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