Winning a job in the tough arena of animation is a challenge, even for the most talented artists. We’ve made it a little easier for you by explaining the best ways to present your skills, and make sure your application won’t be overlooked – starting with the creation of a killer showreel.
To Start – Deliver Quality Visuals & Eye Candy
The key to a great showreel is quality visuals and eye candy. If your animation or modeling is ‘adequate’ or ‘Ok’, then work on making it better than just average. The more you can impress people with your artwork, the more likely they’ll consider you, no matter what you list on your CV. It’s important to know what skills a person has but lots of extensive techy software ability won’t get you a job if your animation/modeling is not up to scratch.
It is shockingly common to see a CV that lists ‘x years experience with [insert 3D app of choice]‘ and then a showreel that only goes to demonstrate amateur CG skills. You also sometimes see great looking artwork, then appalling animation skills, or cool animation skills and bad modeling or visuals.
Does your Modelling Suck?
If your modeling sucks, but your animation rocks – get some generic characters and use them in your showreel to demonstrate your animation skills. Avoid using shonky or badly modeled objects if they just serve to make ugly looking animation.
If your animation sucks, but your modeling rocks – don’t animate. Instead pose up any characters, do some stills and turntables (that’s the 360 degree turn around), or get an animator to animate it for you (always mention who did what) Best not apply for a job where it’s quickly going to show up that you really can’t animate/model…
It’s VERY easy to spot those people who try sneaking into a job by using other people’s work, as it shows up quickly when someone can’t do something they said they could. Usually that’s why a lot of studios will give you an initial trial of 1-3 months.
In reality - it’s what you can show and not what you know that will most likely get you a job. Sometimes it’s who you know too.
Don’t Waste Time on Fancy Titles
Here’s a great piece of advice made by an industry visitor who reviewed some student work recently.
“It’s nice animation, but I’d rather they spent the time making ‘nice’ into ‘awesome’, than spending time adding more ‘bits’ to make it longer”
This is great advice that I figured worth commenting on…when creating your show reel, don’t waste time creating fancy titles, or credits, or making as much ‘work’ as you can to fill a show reel. Take that time to review your existing work, and polish it to become something truly slick! A show reel doesn’t HAVE to last 2-3 minutes. If you don’t have 3 minutes of GOOD work, don’t try to fill the time with ‘stuff’, or long credit sequences (often people won’t bother watching those anyway).
A show reel should serve to give people a teaser of the very best work you have. It should do what any good trailer does – make you want to see more!
This is a good time to bring up some more words of wisdom for those wanting to make reels to apply for jobs:
Use Running Order for Maximum Impact
While I’m on it, people should also take care of the running order of their work on their reel to get best impact. In this case, I use what I call the American Idol formula…
- Best work first
- Great work in middle
- More ‘Best’ work last
- Mundane work – NOT on the reel!
The idea is to get the viewer to be drawn into your reel right at the start. Go ‘Wow! What’s next?!’.
If you have good work that’s not exactly ‘wow’ but still impressive, put it in the middle somewhere. If it’s less than good, don’t even consider placing it on the reel.
At the end, you want the viewer to finish thinking ‘wow’, so slap a few good pieces at the end to make sure they don’t leave with that ‘Started out ok… Pity‘ feeling. Hook them at the start with a great piece of work. Leave them with a ‘I want to see more, that was cool’ at the end.
Also be wary that not all studios watch entire reels – sometimes, it’s the first 30 seconds which start the reel that inspire them to decide whether the artist is worth hiring. So keep it slick, exciting and as polished as possible.
Pacing is Critical
Pacing is also critical – don’t dwell on a shot, don’t show an entire animation (unless it’s extremely cool and enjoyable to watch). If you have long animations, choose the best shots from it and edit those into your reel. Keep the reel ‘flowing’ – as soon as you get too slow, people start to get bored and they’ll lose interest. You need your reel to be fast and snappy, but not too fast as to confuse the viewer with ‘What was that? It was too fast’
Movement with Still Images Makes a Huge Difference
If you have still images you want to use for your showreel, consider using Ken Burns effects (panning, zooming) to keep the images moving – static shots that simply cross-fade or transition start to bore. Movement, even with still images, makes a HUGE difference.
I see still images used a lot for showing off modeling projects – for models, try and use turntable animations to show off models (that 360 degree rotation) rather than static shots if possible – otherwise consider Ken Burns effects to transition and keep the reel ‘moving’.
Take Care When Applying a Sound Track
Choose music that’s appropriate, and make sure the showreel has some kind of synch with it (it doesn’t have to match beat-by-beat, as long as it flows at the same pace as the beat of the music). Also make sure you don’t choose some slow, quiet cello piece that starts to make people doze off or a repetitive acoustic guitar riff that starts to irritate after the first 2 seconds. Looping audio is cool, but take care you choose some kind of un-irritating piece. You can also embellish looped tracks with some sound effects (perhaps a sound that kicks in when you cut to a different video, or add sound effects to the video).
Avoid weird, offensive or anything over the top that you might like – but could just irritate the viewer. Remember, not everybody has the same tastes, and some people have certain beliefs and values that might not appreciate hearing your favourite death metal track on your reel. (And lose you that job opportunity).
Some studios don’t listen to audio when watching reels. Some do. Some people I’ve known to dump reels in a box if the first thing that annoys them is the ‘damn music’. So take care when applying a sound track.
Simple – start with your name and contact details. End with your name and contact details. You can place the software used in the reel if you wish, but often you’ll include a CV with your show reel so it’s not always necessary.
If you didn’t work on all the material in your reel (ie. a group project) then make sure you type up and supply a ‘shot breakdown’ with your reel explaining your roles in each shot you were involved in. A lot of people now expect this, given that professionals will often not be the only people who work on a shot on their reel if they came from a studio. The same should apply to you.
The biggest tip for credits is this – Who are YOU?
If you are applying for jobs as an employee somewhere, DO NOT try and be clever on your reel by saying the work was done by ‘<yourname> studios’ – This indicates you are a business, not an individual. A company doesn’t want to hire your company, they want to hire you, the individual.
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t serve to make you appear more professional. In the end, market yourself, not your dream company.
Submitting your Showreel for an Animation Job
First and foremost – if it’s for an animation/modelling job, you need a video based showreel. Unless the job is asking for Flash or Web skills, DON’T include examples of work that has nothing to do with the job you’re applying for. I’ve seen showreel ‘Interactive CDs’ that showcase a broad range of skills, but if you’re applying for an animation or modeling position, you need to show LOTS of examples of JUST THAT AREA and avoid a ‘sampler’ of things irrelevant. It’s very hard to judge someone’s 3D skills on 2 rendered images and a quicktime VR, with half a dozen flash-based websites…
How Not to Submit a Showreel
You can send out video files on disk for your show reel, and it is often the case for students who decide to post out their details to potential employers. However, whatever you do please AVOID sending out uncompressed videos on a CD or DVD.
Nothing irritates employers more than not being able to play back video in real time cause its uncompressed and needs to be copied to the hard drive just to play it (and when its like 600Mb of hard disk space, hmmm). This is scarily common, and usually comes from students or artists who feel compression ruins the quality of their reel – the truth is, compression is designed to allow video files to be small, but also to play back more efficiently then uncompressed video.
Another thing – avoid those obscure video codecs that may require people to download something to play them, and no, including the codec on a CD/DVD means installing software which most people just won’t bother with (and you’ll possibly have to include both PC and Mac variants of codecs (if they exist)). People won’t care if it’s the best codec, you should be using it!. Standard video codecs, standard video formats. And make sure you NOTE somewhere what format/codec was used.
When working at a studio, I would see quite a few reels that wouldn’t play at all. Turned out we needed to download some opensource Mpeg4 variant they had found and decided was the best thing they’d tried. But that’s asking to see your showreel dumped in a box.
Quicktime is a good option here – It has all of it’s compression codecs included, though it pays to also be wary that not all companies will have the latest Quicktime installed (so watch out for new codecs added by Apple that were not in the previous versions).
TIP : If you’re not sure what to send, ASK the company or studio what format they prefer their reels submitted in.
The Proper Way to Present a Showreel
If you must post it physically, then consider avoiding supplying it as a video file (with potential to be an issue if it’s in a format an employer doesn’t use or like) and generate it on a DVD (VHS tape is how it used to be done – with the advent of DVD, VHS has almost vanished so with that in mind, I would probably avoid the tape approach.)
DVD tools are a-plenty and there are many freely available tools online (such as DVDFlick) that can be downloaded and used to make your show reel disk. It’s generally good advice to consider testing your DVD’s on real DVD players and not just on computers. The benefit of DVD is that it is based on a set of standards that are consistant across most of the DVD playing software and hardware. You are guaranteed that there is a high-likelihood of your show reel being viewable by most…
Putting your show reel on the web. A great idea, given the amount of broadband usage around the globe vs. dial-up. Obviously the compressed data should be as small as possible, but there’s a lot of ways you can distribute your show reel online…
Bandwidth and Hosting
Hosting your show reel can be a financial killer if you’re paying for website hosting. Large files and billions of users online can drain bandwidth resources for a hosting service, and cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars (depending on how popular your reel is). Lucky we have video servers everywhere for free. You can consider uploading and sharing your video on one of many of these. A couple of popular ones include:
And there’s more if you look around… These are free, and won’t cost you anything. Quality can often get dropped, however, so it’s worth reviewing the features of any online service to see whether it’s going to affect the quality of your work.
File size considerations
You’ve got the showreel, you’ve got the compression sorted… But do you really want to post a super-high res 150Mb reel online? The web is becoming more and more a hi-def download zone, but for the sake of making life easier of your viewing audience, consider creating low-res versions of your showreels for those potential employers that pay for bandwidth and don’t care about downloading something so large just to preview your work.
Offering low-res versions for mobile devices is also not such a bad concept either (iPod, PSP, phone, etc). A tool such as 3GP converter or WinFF can quickly shrink and recompress your movie for playback on pretty much anything (PC, Mac or portable device) and often with very small file sizes.
If you feel you need to show your fantastic work in all it’s glory, provide various sizes for download so that your online audience has a choice of quality and size to choose from.
Should I send Anything Else?
There are about 3 types of document you might want to also include when sending a reel. The first obviously is an introduction letter that acts as a selling point as to your self-belief in your skills and just why you feel you should be employed as an artist.
The second is your curriculum vitae, or resume. This is the overview and summary of your skills, experience, personal details. However… Here’s a few snippets of advice in relation to include in this document.
Things to Avoid in Your CV
In terms of supplying a resume or curriculum vitae with your reel, you should avoid creating long, detailed documents. A resume/cv should ideally be around 2 pages in total, summarising your core information and skills. For additional information, consider placing these in separate files available to employers on request, or just bringing these with you during an interview (that’s if the employer asks for it).
Things that you should not place in a resume/cv, based on feedback from various management and human resource departments:
- Age and Health related information – These details are subject to privacy acts, and are not something that needs to be included on documentation. An employer may request this information later on, but as far as making this available on paper, it’s not required (and can actually be of a disadvantage to your application (ie. this person sounds like they are too young, probably not very experienced))
- Marital and relationship status – also subject to privacy.
- The fact that you are a student who has just finished a course – This can be detrimental to your success in landing the job, or to what you get offered. Some large studios in the USA have been known to leverage this to lower salaries for their new employees for the privilege to work in their studio. You can place your education info into your resume, but you should write up your details as though you are a CG artist (and not a recently-graduated student)
The third document that is often a requirement by many studios is a break-down of the contents of the reel. This is a necessity for many studios, specially when viewing reels from people who’ve worked in the industry. Studios know that most professional work is almost never done entirely by one person (of course, there are exceptions to that rule). Some studios will plain refuse to watch a reel without a break down document.
This document should say what the shot was, and what tasks you performed in the shot.
Drink Milk TVC:
Secondary character animator, Light TD.
Animated the background characters. Set up lighting and rendering passes for scene.
This would usually suffice as a description. You can also credit the other work to team members (e.g. rigging, modeling and set dressing by other team members), but keeping it simple and clear should be fine. Often using a screen shot from the reel will also help make the shot break down easier to follow.
Will I be Good Enough to Work for an Animation Company?
This is also a common question I get asked. The simple answer is to look at what company xxx produces (look at their Website, or Film/TV work). Then ask yourself whether you feel that your work is anywhere near as good. Look at the level of quality, style, and work out if you have the skills necessary to create that type of material.
How can I really become kick-a$$ during my time studying?
This is where the key to making the most out of your time at Natcoll is to apply yourself beyond what you are taught in class (you will get out only what you are prepared to put in). I can’t recommend that highly enough – and many students just don’t take that comment on board.
Try and make it a passion, strive to expand your skills, do your own stuff on the side and use the Internet to learn and inspire your creative side from online resources (rather than download MP3′s and play flash games).
Never assume doing some exercises will get you a job (and trust me, I’ve seen plenty of people try using their ‘exercise’ work as a showreel – bad idea to think showing basic walk cycles or bouncy balls on a reel is a great way to demonstrate your skills.) There are some small studios that will bluntly tell you to ‘get lost and don’t waste our time with this rubbish’ to your face if you try applying for jobs at any of them. Most studios receive a lot of bad reels, and often they will find themselves in the position of having to explain to someone the reason why they won’t hire them. The result is a form of tough-love, and it can be hurtful, yet it’s a reality you should be prepared to face if you don’t apply yourself and still expect to work in ’3D’.
Showreel Tools & Resources
The following websites are great resources when developing your showreel or portfolio.
- CG Gig has loads of advice on preparing yourself for getting that job in the industry.
- CG Critic is a site that is all about critiquing work. A good place to get feedback on your showreel before you start to show it to the rest of the world.
- CGReels is a great place to share and view show reels from all over the world.
Here are just a few links to some of the tools I’ve used that are both free and also useful for creating your show reels.
- DVDFlick (Windows) – A free DVD generator. It imports and converts 40+ different video formats and creates standard DVD’s (with menus if so desired)
- TrakAx (Windows) – A free media production tool, designed for multi-track audio compositions as well as video and image-based media. An amazing Windows-only tool for free!
- VirtualDub (Windows) – A free, yet powerful video compression and processing application which has hundreds of excellent video processing plugins. Its not really an editor per-se, but its essential for working with video. Add to this AVISynth, a frame-server for Windows, and you have a powerful video processing toolset.
- WAX (Windows) – A free video editing and compositing application, much like an AfterEffects-type tool for Windows. Has both 2D and 3D compositing and effects as well. Nice application for the price.
- Audacity (Windows/OSX) – A free audio-editing tool for manipulating audio for that show reel.
That’s my Reel advice for this article, I hope you find something useful here and good luck applying for those jobs.
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