OK, so I like to watch reels on this site and provide some feedback from time to time and I find myself saying the same things over and over and over again. So I thought I would compile some of the most common Jr reel issues in a single thread so up and coming artists can take a look when approaching a demo reel.
Lets start with something simple. What is a demo reel?
A demo reel is a tool used by artists that work in a motion medium to sell themselves to potential employers. It is the moving equivalent to a print artist's portfolio or "book". When you apply for a job in the visual effects industry the first thing anyone will do is look at your resume. If you claim to have the skills they require for the job they will watch your demo reel to see if you can actually back it up. This is the employers first impression of you. It would be a shame to spoil it before they even speak with you on the phone! So be sure to make it a good one!!
Here are some general guidelines that can help you make a great first impression.
90 Seconds or Less
The biggest complaint I have on nearly every student and Jr reel I have watched is length. Let me preface this by saying. I understand the desire to show off everything you have touched since you first got interested in visual effects. I really do. I did the same thing when I started. I still have some of my first reels...they are horrible!! A very common reaction to making a showreel is that you want to show as much work as possible to make it seem like you are more accomplished than you actually are. Well, like I said earlier, the first thing and employer looks at, is the resume....so they know how much professional experience you have...no need to pad the reel!
The general rule for a good demo reel is to keep it under 90 seconds, and this is if you have real experience, on paid projects...that people will recognize!! If you are just starting out, believe it or not, the closer you can get to 30 seconds, the more of a chance you will have to get a job! Most television commercials are 30 seconds long. A lot can be said in 30 seconds!
Put Your Best Foot Forward
My second biggest complaint is content! As I said earlier, padding is bad. Never add anything that is less than stellar to your reel. If you don't feel that you have anything stellar to show...then it's time to go create something stellar. Good enough will not cut it. Make sure you lead with the most impressive thing you have done and only show your absolute best work. No need to throw in that simulation of blood down the staircase (yup, I know you were thinking about including it!!!!), no need to have that video copilot tutorial that you totally rocked out better than Andrew Kramer ever could have....we have seen it all before and it doesn't impress anyone. Oh yeah and the Matrix bending spoon gag....you get the idea.
Leave the Tutorials in the Classroom
Next up is something we see a lot...and it is pretty annoying. Listen to this and may it ever stick in your Jr brain. NEVER HAVE TUTORIALS ON YOUR DEMO REEL!!!!!! If anyone else has ever done it before it has no place on your reel! Plain and simple. I see it time and again. Video Copilot tutorials. VFS tutorials. Over and over, the same footage doing the same thing. It gets old....really fast! Nobody cares that you can follow instructions to end up with the same result as an instructor. It is unprofessional and does not show what you can do. My mother could follow a tutorial and end up with the same result. This is an industry entirely reliant on problem solving. If you don't have any footage go shoot some! Come up with a concept....plan it out, and create something new! Even if you decide to use a technique you learned in a tutorial, at least it is showing your ability to retain knowledge, rather than just spew it out.
Breakdowns are for Your Family to Say Wow, Not a Potential Employer
This is another sore subject for me. I personally hate to see excessive breakdowns on a reel. It serves no purpose to show every single pass of a CG character. I have worked with enough CG to know the passes involved...I don't need to waste time watching yours. The best thing to do here is to make two separate reels. One that shows your work and another for breakdowns. Keep in mind, on most professional jobs you will not be able to get source plates. Half the time you have to rip the shots from the DVD in order to even have them! The only time I take exception to this is when you have an exceptionally complex comp shot that is done so well it is hard to tell if anything was done. Then it is helpful to see the process. But showing the diffuse, and spec and reflection and GI and AO and blah blah blah pass of a CG robot is just annoying and quite frankly....boring! It is the best way to get a recruiter to switch off. Keep it exciting...and excitement comes from seeing new and interesting work constantly...never stopping to smell the roses.
Is That The Propeller Heads?
Music. It is an interesting topic. Some will watch with it, some will watch muted. Some will say it has no bearing on anything, others will disagree, as music can potentially make your work seem better than it is (which is why some will watch your reel on mute!). Regardless of whether anyone actually listens to it, your selection can not only elevate your piece...it can also murder it! I started in this industry as an editor. So music is important to me. I always watch reels with it on. Timing can be critical in VFX and the way someone presents their reel not only shows how creative they can be with a presentation, but also how good their sense of timing can be. Some small tips.
Don't use the song that is super popular right now and everyone is sick of. When The Matrix came out everyone decided The Propeller Heads was the music to use on a demo reel. WRONG. It got seriously infuriating every time you started a reel and heard that rumble of the intro. I will admit it. I too was guilty of this crime! When I build a new reel, the first thing I do is audition music. I go to my iTunes library and I go to spottily. I listen to music I love, old and new. I listen to movie soundtracks. I listen to library music. I keep listening until I find that song that really feels right to me. I take it into a timeline and I cut it down to about 90 seconds. I end up with a 90 second version of a song that has a beginning, middle, and end. Sure, this is mostly for my own amusement. But I feel that if I am going to showcase my talents, it should't be of any less technique than anything I have worked on!
Be a Good Time Keeper
As a Jr artist, it is a very good idea to keep track of how long it takes for you to accomplish your shots. You could have the greatest looking roto shot in the world on there, but if it took three weeks to complete, it is useless. If it is taking a long time to complete a roto, do it over, and keep doing it until you can get it done in a day or two. This is actually very important. If you can have a seriously impressive roto project on your reel and confidently tell a recruiter that it only took 8 hours, you are in a much better position!
Proud to be a Jr
You are a Jr artist. I know it, and you know it. Please don't overstep your bounds. If you want a job, the best thing to show is Jr skills! Roto, Paint, Matte Painting, Keying....done well! This is very important. If you can show that you totally rock out at Jr tasks you will be hired and you will get more than just Jr tasks pretty quickly. Which in turn means you will have better work to show. Here is a PERFECT example of a Jr reel:
That is awesome! All practical work, 60 seconds long, shows off some excellent, real world skills. Simply perfect! I wish my Jr reel was this good!
We Get it, You Worked on it
Titles are my last and smallest complaint. First there is the opening. Honestly, you need nothing more than a card with your info on it. If you really feel ambitious and want to make something super cool and stylized, great...go for it...again, it adds to the overall package...but keep it under 300 frames! I have seen some reels that take 30 seconds to show an intro to the reel! At that point, I've already tuned out. 7-10 seconds is ample time to read the info and move on. A little trick I learned in editing. Text should be on screen long enough to read it 3 times. That way slow readers have a chance to get it too. No longer, or it gets redundant. At the end you only need a title card that says your name and contact info. You can choose to leave it up and fade it down, or just leave it up so it stays there. A long credit roll is just not needed. I know VFS required a 90 second credit roll at the end of a reel....but seriously? That is just silly! Once you graduate, erase that section, please! It just comes off as self indulgent.
There is also no reason to include logos of software you used. You were not sponsored by them, there is no need to advertise for them. Make sure you have what software you know on your resume and you are ok.
That's all I have time to write about now. I have to go to work. But I hope this is at least helpful. If you have anything to add, please do so. Also, don't be afraid to post your reel here. You may get torn to shreds...but take what is said to heart and use it to improve. I usually check in on the reels section monthly and will go on a critique spree. I can be harsh as hell...but it is only because I want you to get better. If you choose to be offended....well you probably won't be working too often. If you listen and use the advice given you will stand a chance! We are a forum of and for professionals. This is a great resource for new artists, if you choose to use it.
Have fun out there, and Happy Comping!