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Top 3 Reasons You Need Creature Animation on Your Demo Reel

by | May 20, 2019

Shawn Kelly Films

Just a few of the films on Shawn Kelly’s IMDb page

Shawn Kelly, Lead Animator at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Animation Mentor Co-Founder educates us on why you need more creature animation in your demo reel and reminds us that we are all animators. Sit back, read and then go make your demo reel better!

-The Animation Mentor Crew

  1. You want to get a job
  2. Right off the bat, I want to make it clear that no animation job is easy to get. Learning the quirks of creature animation is not going to automatically guarantee you a job, but it sure will give you a much better chance at one!

    Imagine you want to learn how to be a baker, but you’re only interested in baking birthday cakes. You go through all of your training focusing solely on birthday cakes, not bothering to learn about cupcakes or pastries because you just aren’t interested in that style of baking.

    Sure, other people may be happy with baking a cupcake, but that nonsense isn’t for you. YOU are a Birthday Cake Baker. That’s your dream, and that’s what you’re focusing on.

    There is nothing wrong with that as long as you know that you are severely limiting your job opportunities.

    For reasons I just don’t understand, many animation students are birthday cake bakers. They want to work in “features.” They aren’t mere animators, they are Feature Animators. Well, once again, there is nothing wrong with pursuing a dream, but they are cutting out a huge number of potential jobs by ignoring other styles of animation.

    Shawn Kelly Rango

    Shawn Kelly’s shot in the film Rango

    Studios are looking for variety
    If you add up all the studios doing visual effects, commercials, video games, and many TV animation studios – the number of studios hungry to see “animals & creatures” type of work on a reel is enormous.

    It has to be at least half of the jobs out there! In fact, when you consider how eager games studios are to see realistic quadruped and creature work on a reel, I think it’s safe to say that we are talking about far more than half of the animation jobs that exist.

    It is never easy to get a job as an animator, but you should arm yourself with the most well-rounded education you can get when it comes to animation styles if you want to maximize your chances. Cutting out half or more of the potential studios out there just seems bananas to me!

  3. Variety on a Demo Reel is Never a Bad Thing
  4. Creature animation is simply one more aspect of animation. It isn’t some “hobbyist” specialty or secondary art-form, and learning it doesn’t mean that you have decided that you are giving up your dream of working at Disney.

    Look at my two compatriots as good examples. Bobby Beck and Carlos Baena lived a dream that many of you hold by working on some terrific films at Pixar. But how did they get there? Did they graduate and miraculously go straight to Pixar? Of course not, that’s incredibly rare. They worked at a variety of studios on their way to Pixar, and both spent time in visual effects studios along the way. Bobby cut his teeth at Tippett Studio working on films like Virus and My Favorite Martian while Carlos worked at ILM on films like Men In Black II and Jurassic Park III.

    Their time spent learning and working in a visual-effects “animals & creatures” style did nothing other than round out their animation skills, build up their experience level, and better prepare them for their time at Pixar down the road.

    In other words, learning about cupcakes is not going to prevent you from baking birthday cakes, and that cupcake knowledge may be just the stepping stone you need in order to get your foot in the door of a bakery and work your way up to becoming the birthday cake specialist you always dreamt of being.

    Shawn Kelly’s shot from The Avengers

  5. There is no Creature Animator. There is no Feature Animator. There is only Animator.
  6. I realize that different studios are looking for slightly different demo reels from one another. Pixar may not leap at a demo reel that consists solely of hyper-realistic animation used in live-action movies. Weta may not be willing to take the gamble on a demo reel that features only stylized “cartoony” animation. But neither studio is going to discount a demo reel for featuring both styles, and in most cases, showing a variety of styles is going to be a big plus rather than a negative.

    You see, the only difference between being a “visual effects animator” (which I would define as someone working on films like Transformers or Planet of the Apes) and being a “feature film animator” (Pixar, Blue Sky, etc), is simply “style.”

    And “style” boils down mostly to exaggeration.

    Are they making subtle exaggerations to create a scene that is exciting and larger than life while still feeling as real as the live actors in the film? Are they strongly pushing the poses, timing, and acting choices as far as they possibly can in order to maximize the clarity, entertainment value, and comic/cartoony feel? Or are they working in a style that falls somewhere in between?

    No matter the answer, the artist crafting those performances is simply an animator working in whatever style that project demands. They are all animators using the exact same principles of animation in slightly different ways and exaggerating different ideas, poses, and timing in different amounts.

    Each style of animation is going to have it’s own tricks and techniques and workflows, but the art is essentially the same. There is a lot to learn about any specific style, but most of the core process is identical. In fact, very often the artist themselves are identical, as many animators have worked on both live action “visual effects” films and feature animated films!

    I completely reject the idea that any of us have to consider ourselves VFX Animators or Feature Animators or Games Animators or TV Animators or limit our education and aspirations to any other silly label.

    Shawn Kelly Films

    Films Shawn Worked On

    We are simply ANIMATORS.

    I am not a Creature Animator. I am an animator, an animator working in the style that my current job/project demands, and I am more than willing/excited to try other styles down the road when the opportunity arises.

    It’s just silly to pigeon-hole ourselves into any specific style while at the same time making a conscious decision to cut yourself out of half of the job market.

    Don’t limit yourself to being a “birthday cake baker.” Embrace your art! Be a baker!

    There is an amazing world out there of cupcakes and truffles and pies and cookies, and learning about those will only make you a better baker while opening up a lot more job opportunities!

    And you never know, you might just find that you love baking cookies even more than birthday cakes!

    Wow, I’ve never been so hungry after writing about animation! Check out our Creatures Workshops and get baking, I need to go get a snack!

    Want to animate epic creatures for animated or live-action movies?

    Learn how in our awesome Creature Animation Workshops! Work with professional Industrial Light & Magic and DreamWorks animators who’ve worked on Avenger’s: Endgame, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, His Dark Materials, and more!

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