Heading to CTN—or any other convention—this year with your demo reel in tow? First, read these pro tips on what to bring, how to get your reel reviewed, and more from some of our own mentors and reel reviewers who have seen it al!
The annual CTN animation expo in Burbank, California is one of the biggest animation conventions of the year and one that Animation Mentor always attends! There are lots of studios represented there, both large and small. We even hold our graduation ceremony in Los Angeles in the days leading up to the convention—it’s a big weekend for our community!
This year, we wanted to give some guidance for first-timers headed to any animation convention, starting with demo reels! Lots of animators bring their reels for feedback or when looking for job interviews with studios. If you’re planning to do that, here are some guidelines to help get you started.
What to Bring
For the reel itself, the best setup we’ve seen is to bring it on an iPad or similar device (or a small laptop) along with a pair of over-the-ear headphones—not earbuds. It’s always loud at CTN, so you’ll want headphones, but reviewers might not want to use someone else’s earbuds. They might have their own headphones too, but don’t count on that. Always be prepared!
In addition to your reel, which undoubtedly includes all your best shots, be sure to have the individual shots as separate files too. Reviewers will mainly just want to watch the reel, but if there’s a specific shot they want to discuss in-depth, it’s always nice to have it on its own so you don’t have to find it again within the reel.
Also, don’t rely on any convention’s overworked wifi to stream your reel! Always make sure it’s downloaded to your device. We’ve seen lots of students standing there panicking as their video is buffering and their limited time with the reviewer is running out.
Getting Your Reel Reviewed
One question a lot of students have is: How do I even get my reel reviewed? Unfortunately the answer isn’t super cut and dry.
Most of the studios at CTN will just have a line you get in at their booth, and you just have to wait to get your reel reviewed. Sometimes, though, they’ll have sign-up sheets, but for those you usually also have to wait in a line to sign up and then come back at a specific time later in the convention. If that’s the case, make sure you’re on time or they might give your spot to someone else.
If you have a specific studio you REALLY want to hit, head there first and find out how they do it. Those sign up sheets fill up fast. Also, keep an eye on studios’ social media channels leading up to CTN, as they might have more information.
Do’s and Don’ts
Our mentors often review reels at our booth but also at the booths of the studios where they work! We asked a few of them to share the most important piece of advice they have for animators getting their reels reviewed at conventions. Here’s what they had to say.
Shawn Kelly, Lead Animator at Industrial Light & Magic and Animation Mentor Co-founder
Credits Include: Avengers: Infinity War, Jurassic World, Pacific Rim, Rango
Aim for a variety of content that shows off your full skillset. If you’re doing a new shot for the reel, I’d encourage either a creature shot (still missing from most demo reels) or else a shot that incorporates both acting AND body mechanics. That way you’re spending your time on a shot that will show off both skills at once.
Bonus tip! Bring headphones! If you want to be able to show your reel at the drop of a hat in a loud environment, you’re going to want to have headphones to offer. Ideally, full ear-cup headphones are best, but earbuds work in a pinch (keep them clean, please!). It’s not a bad idea to also have some earbuds in your pocket even if you’re out at dinner or at a CTN party. Always be ready to show your stuff!
Boola Robello, Senior Animator at Moving Picture Company
Credits Include: Spider-man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Mulan, Supergirl
With demo reels, there really isn’t one piece of advice. CTN has students of various levels so it actually depends on if they are just looking for feedback or an actual animation job.
Here is what I seem to tell my students practically every term when it comes to getting that job. It is the truth that I think is extremely important to convey to them so they truly understand what they are up against.
If they want to get work, their demo reel must have a quality that appears like they already work at the studio they are applying to, or at least show the strong potential to be trained into that quality the studio is known for. Their animation work has to demonstrate that finesse, that spark, the illusion of life. It is not enough to just move characters around for the sake of tests and assignments to fill a reel.
They should show work that inspires others and gets the audience to feel an emotional response to their animation. Everything should be on point, from the 12 principles, to the body mechanics, to the acting. When all of this is considered and therefore clearly demonstrated in their work, the studio will consider an opportunity to be a part of their team.
Students also have to know how to communicate to get through the interview process. So many artists are shut-ins, not too social. Communication is, of course, super important in any occupation, and it seems animation students are not aware of that aspect. I also feel each generation of students are always looking for a golden answer. The reality is the answer to animation is never just one tip or trick, but an all-encompassing set of qualities that should be demonstrated in their work.
Mike Stern, Animator at Pixar Animation Studios
Credits Include: Finding Dory, Inside Out, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Kung Fu Panda
My one piece of advice would be this: Take on less and do more with it.
A lot of folks had shots on their reels that were over 300 frames long and marked as work-in-progress. I would much prefer to see a shot that is under 100 frames but complete.
Sean Sexton, Supervising Animator at DreamWorks Animation
Credits Include: How to Train Your Dragon series, Boss Baby, Kung Fu Panda 3
My one most important piece of advice is that students should always bring over-the-ear headphones, not earbuds. No one wants to put a strangers scuzzy earbuds in their ears 😉 Headphones are necessary, because it’s so loud and noisy at CTN that no one will be able to hear your reel without them.
My second biggest piece of advice is be prepared to get some conflicting critiques. Animation can be very subjective; someone from Blue Sky might love the first shot on your reel, but someone from DreamWorks may dislike it. Very often, it comes down to taste, style, and acting choices. If everyone dislikes a certain shot, that’s a sign you need to take it off your reel. Everyone will agree if the mechanics or storytelling aren’t working.
Bobby Beck, Animation Mentor CEO/Co-founder and Former Pixar Animator
Credits Include: The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Lily & Snout
Come to learn. Don’t expect an interview or a job. Come to get feedback to see where you’re at and what you can work on. That way, if you do get an interview, it’s a golden goodie—if not, you’re still leaving with something great!
Additional Demo Reel Resources
Working on getting your demo reel review-ready? Read through these other articles on putting your best foot forward with reviewers!
Shawn Kelly Answers 5 Burning Questions About Demo Reels
How to Create Your Game Animation Demo Reel
Is Your Demo Reel Ready for a Major Studio?
6 Animation Demo Reel Do’s and Don’ts
Top 3 Reasons You Want Creature Animation On Your Demo Reel
The 6 Common Mistakes with Creature Animation Demo Reels
6 Tips from Recruiters Who Look At Your Demo Reel
Be Brave: 7 Ways to Overcome Your Insecurities for Animators