What goes into a great student demo reel? This is one of the most common questions we get asked by students – and for good reason. Putting together a great demo reel is the single most important thing a student can do in order to get hired. A great demo reel is a showcase for your best work, your virtual shopfront. At Bucks we spend a great deal of time working on our students' demo reels, because it is so important. So what goes into a great reel? We think that there are 12 rules for success.
Rule 1: Create a great first impression
Put your best work first, and last. Most studios will likely invest about 10 seconds into watching your reel. If they see weakness at the start, they will not keep watching.
Rule 2: A great demo reel should have no mistakes
If in doubt...leave it out. If your demo reel has any mistakes in it, the studio will notice, and they will weed out your reel. Why? Because they will assume one of two things: either you saw the mistake but could not fix it, or you did not see the mistake. Either way, your reel is in the bin.
Rule 3: Customize your reel for the job you are applying for
Don't have a "one size fits all" demo reel. Re-edit your reel to suit the job you are applying for. If you are applying for a job at Pixar, your reel will be very different to the one you show FrameStore. Why? Because Pixar specialise in cartoony animation, while FrameStore tends to do photorealistic creature work. Customise your reel to suit the studio. An animator might well have two basic reels - one for character work, one for creature work. If you are applying for a job on, say, The Hobbit, make sure you have plenty of dragons. Half the battle is figuring out what an employer of client might be looking for.
Rule 4. Submit your work digitally, and online
DVDs and paper portfolios went out with the pigeon post. Your reel should be easy to find; hosted at your blog or website.
Rule 5 - Polish your work and learn Premiere or Final Cut
You are representing yourself to the studio. Presentation is important, so make sure that the edit looks nice. Learn Premiere so you can cut and re-cut your own reel.
Rule 6 - Gather opinions from people you respect
Find people who understand the industry you are applying for to help you review and critique your own demo reel.
Rule 7 – Remember that you are probably not the best judge of your own work
Your friends may say they like your reel because they like you and they do not wish to offend. Get impartial advice from a pro – and take it. Tough love will help you in the long run.
Rule 8 - Quality beats quantity
A short reel with a few good shots is much better than a long reel with many weak ones. Remember that studios will not look at a long reel - they will switch off. Anything over two minutes is too long. Polish and perfect what you have, and discard the rest.
Rule 9 - Show your name and contact details at the front and the end
This will include your full name, your website or blog, your email address, and your telephone number. Make yourself easy to find. Email addresses should be professional (avoid things like firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rule 10 – Keep it short
Students should have a 1-2 minute demo reel. Remember, quality over quantity.
Rule 11 - Include a reel breakdown list on the reel at the end
If there is anything on the reel you did not do, make it clear at the end, and give full credit to the creator. Don’t ever take credit for work which is not your own. This is a small industry, and you will be found out.
Rule 12 – don’t use copyrighted music on your reel
You will want to host your reel at YouTube and/or Vimeo. If you use music which is owned by someone else, your reel will be deleted for copyright violations.
(Editor's Note: For more practical advice on demo reels and careers in animation and visual effects, read what Blue Zoo has to say about demo reels. See also advice from Disney, Sony Pictures Animation, and watch our video on how to create a great demo reel. Read about what our graduates had to say at the recent Graduate Panel. Check out this post on how to set up an small business. Also learn about your first client project, read out our post on Portfolio Careers, and read this piece on Survival as a Freelancer. Study the nuts and bolts of freelance life by reading our guide to invoicing clients, and our guide to freelancers and taxes. For more on careers in general, check out our guide to animation careers here, and also take a look at this map of digital studios - a great place to start your search for work in the business. Finally see our article on the jobs page at awn.com )