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Demo Reels, Portfolios and Interviewing

Libby Reed delves into the pages of The Art of Robots to see if the book captures the visual awe of the film.

Searching for a job doesnt have to be a mysterious process. Learn what the pitfalls are and avoid them.

Whether you are new to the industry or an experienced veteran, this article will give you tips on portfolios, demo reels, and interviewing, as well as how to research a company using the Internet.

Both new grads and seasoned pros seeking employment must submit work for review. Prospective employers view portfolios, reels, and résumés to determine whom they want to interview. For artists, a demo reel and portfolio are more important than a résumé. Prepare these materials carefully and get feedback before you send them out.

Contact employers before submitting your work to find out what format they accept. Some companies view demo reels only on VHS tape while others are open to portfolios on DVDs or websites. On line portfolios should load quickly, be easy to navigate and show effective visual layout.

The portfolio and demo reel shows how your mind works. Express your personality. Dont copy other peoples work. Show you are creative and original.

Demo Reels

Your demo reel and portfolio should be relevant to the job you want. If you want a job as a character animator, emphasize character performance on your reel. A standout demo reel generally shows an understanding of animation basics, such as timing and weight, with strong storytelling skills.

If you are a generalist (a person who has many skills), you could design your reel to highlight different skills in different segments (i.e. modeling, lighting, effects animation). Slates work well to identify the sections. If shots you select show multiple skills, include a breakdown, which indicates what you did on each shot. This could be written on a separate sheet or displayed as slates preceding each scene. For example: Wizard of Oz, melted witch, effects animation and compositing, used Software A and B.


Portfolios should include life drawing that shows expression and line style, as well as examples of the kind of work you are interested in such as conceptual design or storyboards. If you are interested in lighting, a portfolio of photography is a plus. Modeling applicants should include a portfolio of sculpture. Divide your portfolio into different sections emphasizing your various skills (i.e., character design, background design, storyboards).

Your portfolio should contain drawings that express a sense of weight, character, and attitude. Gesture drawings should communicate three-dimensional solidity, and more importantly, expressions of emotions through posture and pose. Let your animal drawings convey some personality and imagination. Why not have a rhino mow the lawn? Or a dog walk a frog? Include pieces that might make a reviewer laugh.

Do you have an expressive line? Put something to make the reviewer think, Thats a beautiful line. Expressive communicative design is key to a good portfolio.

The artwork you present in a portfolio and demo reel should express your personality. Put your best work first and show you are creative and original.

Portfolio and Demo Reel Tips

Never send your only copy to anyone. Your reel wont be returned.

  • Put your best material first.

  • Always include a résumé and breakdown.

  • Label your portfolio and demo reel with your name, current phone number with area code, and email address.

  • Include slates with your name and contact info on your reel in case your label falls off.

  • Put several copies of your résumé inside the first page of your portfolio and label every page in your portfolio with your name and contact info.

  • Your portfolio and reel should represent your recent and best work.

  • A portfolio should include a variety of styles.

  • Industry newcomers can include studio tests and should show versatility in their portfolio.

  • Dont wait until a convention to submit your work. At a show like SIGGRAPH employers are inundated with reels from all over the world. Submit your reel, portfolio and résumé several months before a show, so they can be viewed under the best possible conditions.

Use the Internet to research potential employers or companies interested in interviewing you. Company websites often feature portfolio and submission requirements.

How to Research Companies via the Internet and Other Tools

The Internet can help identify potential employers, or provide research on a company interested in interviewing you. There are scores of useful websites that list animation and visual effects companies. One of the best is You can search the site by company name, location, or use shortcuts such as visual effects companies or animation specialty. For example, selecting visual effects companies gives you a list of countries. Clicking on the United Kingdom brings up a list of companies. Choose Framestore and you will see their phone number. Clicking on the Framestore name shows you a link to the company website. The jobs category on Framestores website indicates that they accept portfolios on DVDs and that they are always looking for runners.

Besides job openings, company websites often feature portfolio requirements. Disneys website has information on both traditional and CG portfolio requirements. Many companies have similar submission requirements.

Researching specific companies on the Internet is easy. Some worthwhile search engines include Google and Dogpile. Just type in what you are looking for such as Company Name and click to search. You can search anything, including peoples names.

If a company is public, the annual shareholders report is a good source of information. Companies are also listed in a myriad of directories. Ask a reference librarian at your local library to help you in your research.

Congratulations: You Have an Interview

After weeding through a stack of résumé and portfolios and many candidates, the employer has decided he wants to meet you. Getting an interview means you are a finalist. To confirm their already positive impression of you, you must:

Do your homework. Know what the company is doing and how you can contribute to its efforts.

Make yourself irresistible. Tell them something that is not on your résumé to enhance their view of you. Give them something extra.

Avoid doing anything stupid.

On interview day, be confident, on time and dont do anything stupid.

Before the Day of the Interview (Do Your Homework)

Brush up on information about the company and the particular position you are being interviewed for. Prepare questions to ask about the company and the job.

Decide what you want the employer to know about you. Prepare a pitch of your five most marketable skills or accomplishments.

If possible, drive to the location of your interview to find out how long it will take you to get there. Allow for traffic.

Try to determine what the dress code is at the company and dress accordingly. Make sure the outfit you plan to wear is clean, pressed and still fits.

Its Interview Day (Confirm Their Positive Impression and Make Yourself Irresistible)

Arrive a few minutes early. Greet the receptionist or security person cordially. Employers look for how well you deal with others. Be pleasant and professional to everyone. The art director you meet with might ask the receptionist or security guard about your interactions with them. Your interview starts the moment you enter the companys grounds.

While it may be true that your life history is in your résumé and your work is in your reel and portfolio, the reason someone wants to meet with you is to learn whats not on your résumé, and answer three basic questions: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? And will you fit in? The last question is the most important and your homework and research will help you know how to convince them you are the perfect choice. If youve done your homework, you know how you can contribute to what they are doing. Prepare in advance to tell the interviewer how your skills can enhance the companys work on a specific project. Show them you are a problem solver, can take initiative and are a team player. Use we or our team when talking about group accomplishments.

Be confident and competent but not arrogant. Demonstrate a positive attitude and show enthusiasm. Be prepared to explain your work. Be honest and stick with facts.

Explain why you want to work for their company what makes their company so special to you. Establish a connection with the company, a specific project, or the type of material they deal with.

Thank the interviewer for his or her time and leave a card with your contact information.

Interviewers want to know how you will fit into their company. Be ready to explain how your skills can enhance their team.

After the Interview

In the thank you letter, include any information your forgot to relay at the interview. Let the interviewer know you are open to more questions and look forward to hearing from him or her. Include your phone number and to sign the letter.

Interview Pitfalls (Avoid Doing Anything Stupid)

Dont wait until the end of the interview to make your strongest points. The first 30 seconds of the interview are the most crucial; when the interviewer decides hes going to listen to you. Use that research youve done to establish that you fit in by demonstrating your knowledge of the company or person. If you know about a project your interviewer has worked on, or that the company has done, bring it up.

Dont assume your résumé will get you the job. You have to sell your skills throughout the entire interview. Assume the interviewer hasnt read your résumé. Throughout the interview demonstrate your skills and abilities, with examples of work youve done in the past.

Dont assume the person with the best education, skills, talent or experience will get the job. A person who has a cooperative attitude, someone you want to work with day after day is the person who will be hired.

Dont assume the interviewer is an expert. Its up to you to guide the interview to effectively make your points. Clearly tell the employer the skills you will bring to the job. Be specific, detailed and concise in your answers.

Dont appear desperate. The employer will think that you want any job, not their particular job.

Dont provide a reference who says negative things about you. Choose references carefully and ask a friend to call a reference and find out if what they say is positive.

Dont denigrate former or current employers or co-workers. Dont complain about former or current work conditions.

With these tips on demo reels, portfolios, interviewing and Internet research youll soon find a job thats a good match for your skills and abilities.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter/hiring strategist and career coach. Her most recent recruiting clients include Paramounts feature film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Toybox, a Canadian visual effects company. She speaks regularly on career issues at colleges and universities.