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The Career Coach: Demo Reel DOs and DON'Ts

A demo reel is a vital marketing tool for animators. The purpose of the demo reel is to get you an interview with someone who can hire you. Prepare your demo reel with care and have someone else look at it and get feedback on it before you send it out. As a recruiter, I have seen many demo reels. Here's how to make sure yours does the job--to get you that job.

A demo reel is a vital marketing tool for animators. The purpose of the demo reel is to get you an interview with someone who can hire you. Prepare your demo reel with care and have someone else look at it and get feedback on it before you send it out.

As a recruiter, I have seen many demo reels. Here's how to make sure yours does the job--to get you that job.

DEMO REEL DOs

Emphasize your strengths. Make sure your demo reel is relevant to the job you want. If you want a job as a character animator, don't show only compositing work on your reel. Focus on your strengths. If you are not good at modeling, get stock models and concentrate on animation.

Keep your reel short--no longer than 3 minutes. Quality is what counts, not quantity. An animator was hired at a major studio on the merits of his 15 second reel. It had only one shot--but it was incredible. Make sure yours is amazing too.

U.S. companies want VHS reels in NTSC format. Everyone knows how to run a VHS cassette player. Many people don't have the latest and greatest computer so often they are not able to view CDRoms and other media. Not everyone has a DVD player or 3/4 inch machine. VHS in NTSC format is still the preferred format for everyone.

ALWAYS include a resume and a reel breakdown/credit list with your reel. A demo reel breakdown sheet is mandatory and should clearly spell out your involvement with each piece. The breakdown sheet should include a title/description of each shot, what the applicant was responsible for, software used, and any special extenuating circumstances. However, never include "works in progress." You will be judged based on the work on your reel, not what someone might conjecture you can be capable of. A demo reel breakdown is simple with a short sentence for each shot. For example, Shot 1: Project: Wizard of Oz feature film- Modeled melting witch with Maya. Animated witch melting using Softimage. If you did everything on the reel, enclose a note stating that. If you worked on a group project, be clear about your specific role on each shot.

Always include your name, phone # and an email address on your resume, reel and reel breakdown.Include a head and tail slate with your name and phone number and email address on the reel. Make sure your tail slate is at the end of the reel or people will eject it and not see the stuff behind the end slate.

Start with your best work. If you don't impress the viewers in the beginning, they will move on to the next tape.

Customize your reel to the job and company you are applying to, if possible.

Divide your reel into sections and label them with a brief slate: "Character Animation", "Modeling", "Logos", etc.

Include life drawing or other fine art work such as sculpture, painting or photography at the tail of your reel. (strong traditional art or photography, tending towards representational styles with an excellent understanding of 3d form, perspective and quality of light and texture is a plus)

Update your reel every six months and remove old work.

Don't expect to get your reel back.Never send your only copy to anyone.

DEMO REEL DON'Ts

Never send masters or originals.

Don't put your best stuff last. The viewer may never get to it.

Don't do a chronological work history. We don't care how you improved.

Don't include early tests or tutorials.

Don't include mediocre work.

Don't use loud, obnoxious music or elaborate sound. Many people turn off the sound when they view reels.

Minimize erotica, satanic and violent material. It limits the companies you can submit to.

Don't include live action film without animation or computer graphics.

Don't send work in progress.

Don't ask for feedback by phone.

Fancy packaging is unnecessary.

Don't shrink wrap your reel. Color bars are not necessary. Don't do countdowns between each shot. Don't repeat shots unless you are showing a "how to" (how elements were added to the shot)--there is a rewind button on the cassette player so don't repeat. I repeat. Don't repeat.

Don't ask prospective employers to view samples or a resume on a web site or email images. Don't send them a web address if you want them to see your resume. Don't make them do the work to give you a job. If you want them to see your resume, email it to them as a message rather than a download. Better yet, fax or mail it to them.

Don't expect your reel to be returned.

Don't send the exact same reel in 6 months later. We have very good visual memories.

Pamela Thompson is a recruiter and career coach. She is currently recruiting for Big Idea Productions and Stan Lee Media. She has seen many demo reels. She consults with schools on animation training programs and speaks to students about the job market.

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