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Demo Reels are Key to Opening Doors to Employment

In the latest excerpt from Learning Maya 7 | Foundation, Marc-AndrGuindon and Cathy McGinnis finish mapping the orb.

A demo reel is essential for successful job hunting and should reflect the very best you can do. Keep it short  make them want to see more.

If you are an artist, it is essential that you have an outstanding demo reel and portfolio.

What Should You Show?

Before you create your reel, assess your strengths, skills and interests. There are many different jobs for artists. Make sure your demo reel and portfolio are relevant to the job you want. If you want a job as a character animator, your reel should emphasize acting and performance, not compositing. Your demo reel should reflect the very best you can do. Keep it short make them want to see more.

Many studios have the same basic requirements for submission: a résumé, a cover letter specifying your area of interest, a portfolio (samples of hand skills), a demo reel and a demo reel or shot breakdown.

The shot breakdown briefly describes your contribution to each shot and the tools used. Shot Breakdown Example: Shot 1: Witch Melting animated the witch melting using Maya; created the textures using Photoshop. If you did everything on your reel, say so. Never claim anyone elses work.

Everything you submit should be labeled clearly with your name, phone number and email address. Use a font where it is easy to distinguish a numeral 1 from the lower case letter l and in a large enough typeface to be easily read (at least 10 point).

What Format is Acceptable?

Check the companys website to see what formats are acceptable. For example, Hybride, a company in Canada, will accept reels in DVD format, VHS 1/2" NTSC or PAL. Hybride does not want to receive CD-ROMs or website addresses. Most companies will not open attachments. DreamWorks will not look at jpg files or website links. Check company websites to find out what the specific demo reel and portfolio requirements are for the areas that interest you.

How are reels usually reviewed? At a group meeting, artists review many reels. This means that you must catch their attention from the start so put your best work first. The weakest part of your reel will also get their attention. If you have five years experience in the industry, work you did as a student should not be on your reel or in your portfolio.

A portfolio showing your foundation in fine art and training in aesthetics is advantageous for any aspiring CG artist.

When Should I Submit?

Companies accept submissions year round. If you submit your materials to companies at SIGGRAPH or any other conference, it may be a few months before your work is reviewed as companies get swamped with submissions during this time. Its better to submit your reel three to four months before a conference. Be patient and keep working at improving your skills. Its okay to submit new work every six months, as your skills improve.

Quick Tips

For artists, a demo reel and portfolio are more important than a résumé.

Always include a résumé and a shot breakdown with your reel. Your shot breakdown should always include your name and contact info. Your shot breakdown is a written outline that describes each shot and what you did for that segment. You could slate each shot on the reel with this information instead.

Recruiters meet potential employees at conferences, like at fmx06, above. If you submit your materials to companies at a conference, wait patiently for a response. Courtesy of fmx.

Put the very best segment first.

Remember your audience sees lots of demo reels and portfolios. Keep it moving.

Demo reels will not be returned so never send your only copy to anyone.

Dont include color bars or shrink-wrap your reel.

A label with your name and contact info (phone and email address) and a screenshot of work from your reel helps it stand out from a sea of black video boxes or generic DVD cases. Remember to label the spine of your reel and portfolio as well.

Include slates on your reel or superimpose graphics with your name and contact information in case the label falls off. A recruiter at Animal Logic in Australia once bemoaned the fact that his office had piles of fabulous reels that he couldnt bear to part with even though there was no contact information on them. He had no idea how to find those talented artists.

A portfolio of life drawing, illustration, photography (if you are interested in lighting), sculpture (if you are interested in modeling), character design or color design is a big plus. A foundation in fine art and training in aesthetics is advantageous for any aspiring CG artist. List these skills or education and training on your resume and include samples of traditional work on the end of your reel.

Include an end slate on your reel with your name and contact info.

Your demo reel should:

  • Contain only your best work and be of high caliber.

  • Be representative of your recent work and show your skills and talent.

  • Be no longer than three minutes. It can be shorter. People have been hired on 15 seconds or less. Its better to be impressive than excessive so take out anything that is not top quality.

  • Be labeled with your name and phone number and email address.

  • Be a 1/2" VHS cassette in NTSC format unless the company accepts other formats. (This is the format almost all companies can deal with in the United States. If its a PAL tape, be sure the company has a way to view it.) Everyone has a VHS machine not everyone has a DVD, even today!

  • If you submit a DVD, keep the DVD menu simple to understand and easy to navigate. Test your DVD in several machines before you send it to ensure it will work.

Remember, the purpose of the résumé, portfolio and demo reel is to get you an interview with someone who can hire you. They are marketing materials prepare them with care. Have others take a look at them and give you feedback before you send them out.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is an animation recruiter and visual effects recruiter. She recently spoke at fmx in Germany and looks forward to presenting her course Resumes and Demo Reel If Yours Arent Working, Neither are You! at SIGGRAPH 06. She is also a career coach and writes a monthly column for AWN, Career Coach. She speaks regularly at colleges and conferences and also does personal demo reel and portfolio evaluations and career coaching consultations.

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