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Top 6 Tips for Your VFX Reel

by | Jan 9, 2014

visual effects cg demo reel tips job career

You spotted a listing for your dream job, but you hesitate. Is my demo reel up to par for this studio? It is the question that plagues every CG artist at least once in their career. The hardest part is not answering the question — it is keeping your demo reel updated and constantly evaluating what belongs on it.

Do not let your demo reel hold you back from applying for that job. Instead, take a look at these six tips for putting together a kick ass demo reel. Ben Fischler is a long-time VFX pro, who most recently worked as a VFX Supervisor at LAIKA. Today, he shares the six criteria to use when crafting your visual effects reel.

-The Animation Mentor Crew

#1 Focus on your skills and strengths.

Many artists struggle with focus.  We all want to do too much.  Well, a lack of focus can seriously hamper your demo reel, as well as your chances with a studio.  

If it’s a smaller studio, and they are looking for a Generalist, only then should you consider communicating that you’re capable in multiple disciplines. If it’s a larger studio, stay laser focused on the position that they are hoping to hire for.  

If you are applying for a lighting, comp or look-dev related position, focus on shots or assets that YOU lit, comped or look-dev’d.  Don’t include shots you’ve also animated, set up sims etc.

You want to tailor that message to the specific audience.  If the position is for a Lighting TD, then adding a whole  bunch of notes about how you did the modeling, rigging, animating AND lighting is only going to confuse things, and it might get you pushed to the back of the line.  FOCUS.  

#2 Only show your best work, please.

This may seem obvious, and many people may have heard it before, but judging from the reels that are sent into studios every single day, many need to hear this again….  Only your best goes on your reel. Another way to think about this is simply: Don’t pad your reel! No filler.  

Recruiters and those who review reels at studios often have to screen a LOT of reels and they don’t want or need to sit through a 5 minute reel.  Or a 4 minute reel… Or a 3 minute reel.  Ok, I take that back, 3 minutes should really be your absolute maximum TRT (total running time) for your reel.  No joke.  Keep it tight and only your best.  If you’re on the fence about a certain shot…  CUT IT.  

#3 Leave the rave music at home.

Sure, I like EDM.  House music, jungle, all kinds of stuff.  I also like Kool Jazz, Classical and Hiphop. Whatever, it doesn’t matter what music you like, it’s probably better to leave it OFF your reel.  

Most recruiters are going to be turning the volume off anyway, unless they need to listen for lip sync on an animation reel.  For a VFX-centric reel, music can be a real distraction.  Distraction is the key word.  

You want them focused on your pretty pictures, NOT on the music! If that tune costs you a chance at a job then it’s not worth it, not matter how great it may sound.  It really can come down to that.  

If you’re intent on including music, keep it out of the way.  Don’t give your audience any reason to pass you over, music included.

#4 Include your work, not theirs.

Unfortunately, some people rip off others work.  Don’t be one of those people.  This industry is small, smaller than you think and you don’t want to be a rip-off artist.  Recruiters talk and share info all the time, and it will always come back to bite you.  If you’re including work on projects, always be sure you’ve got clearance to use it too!  

So…  Only put YOUR work on YOUR reel, and make sure you’ve got approval to use it.  Period.  If you didn’t do the work, don’t put it on your reel.  

#5 Give a breakdown of the details.

Visual effects is a team sport.  It’s collaborative.  You and many other artists may be working on a shot together.  It’s easy to think it’s MY shot, when really it’s the Team’s shot.  Does your shot have a big smoke simulation?  Did you create the sim?  Did you light it or comp it?  See, it can get confusing knowing who did what on a complex shot, and this is why it’s soooo critical to include a clear Breakdown.  

What’s a breakdown, or shot breakdown?  It’s basically an explanation of how the shot was created, including Who did What.  A good, descriptive breakdown can be done within the reel itself, typically by showing the elements of a comp coming together over time (finished FINAL shot then transition through the main elements for example), and it can also be done in written form, with detailed explanations of what you contributed to the shot.  

This is where your instinct to say “I did everything!” has to be kept in check.  Even if you DID do everything, if you’re submitting your shot for a Lighting position, don’t go into every single aspect of what you did on the shot, focus on the relevant details to the position you’re applying for.  And remember, if others worked on your shot too, be sure to give credit at the end of your reel.

#6 Be a professional.

A big part of working in VFX is professionalism.  Actually, that goes for any field really.  VFX is challenging and fun, but it’s also a Job, and respecting yourself and your co-workers is key.  So be a professional, even before you’ve got the job.  

Respect the recruiter’s time and don’t waste it!  When submitting a reel, always include a Cover Letter, a Shot Breakdown and Reel Outline, and of course your Resume.  Be sure to include software and operating systems you’ve used in production, but here again, don’t PAD IT.  

If you’ve only used SoftImage or Linux once, don’t say you “know it”.  Label all your materials clearly, and be sure any media you’re delivering will PLAY easily.  Include a backup link to your reel online.  I prefer Vimeo as they offer the best quality.

Good luck, and remember:  Hard Work + Kindness = Success!

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