tips for creating a demo reel that lands you a job


demo reel, more important than a diploma

When hunting for a job, the key element of the visual effects artist’s portfolio is the demo reel. I’ve sat through showreel review sessions on many occasions, and will give you some first-hand insight into what the person on the other end may be thinking while viewing your reel.

Below you will find my latest demo reel for the 2012 calendar year.  There are some issues which I will point out that make it less than optimal for applying to jobs, and I encourage you to critique as well.  I am not an expert and there are no hard fast rules to create the perfect reel, but thought I’d share my opinions through experiences encountered this far.

things to keep in mind

Admittedly, I’ve broken some of these ‘rules’ in the beta version of my reel.  You will find similar information posted elsewhere, but I added a few thoughts that sometimes get missed.

  • Display your best work
  • Display the work that you want to do (unless you are simply trying to get your foot in the door)
  • Sound is not important
  • Start with your best and end strong to keep the viewer wanting more
  • Be clear with what you created for the shot
  • If you’re portfolio is thick, don’t use shots with assets that ‘show up’ the assets you worked on
  • Breakdowns are great if you have them (make sure not slow and boring)
  • Don’t make it too long unless everything is amazing
  • Make contact info clear, beginning and end of reel
  • One project at a time (for clarity)
  • Include a detailed breakdown of what you created for each shot

through the eyes of the reviewer

Many of the recruiters, supervisors, artists…etc that review your demo reel have watched thousands of them and their patience can be thin depending on the day/circumstance.  Some people are pulled away from their current tasks to help review these reels, and minds can be on other things.  So it’s important to grab their attention fast and provide only your best work in the most clear and concise way possible.

Through my experience it goes something like this:

  1. Turn DVD on with sound OFF (websites probably viewed more nowadays)
  2. Watch demo reel
  3. If it’s good, check breakdown sheet to see what was created by the artist
  4. Browse resume for good measure
  5. If all checks out, watch it again to confirm thoughts
  6. Put portfolio in one of two piles (sometimes a third ‘maybe’ pile)

potential pitfalls of using sound

Sound can make a demo reel a dynamic fantastic showcase of art.  I love watching demo reels created by talented artists who incorporate and edit their work with upbeat music and sound effects. However,  there are some things you should know before spending much time on audio depending on the reel’s purpose.

  1. There’s chance the music will never be heard so make sure the work and message is still clear when the sound is muted
  2. Make sure audio is of great quality and not too loud
  3. The viewer might hate your song choice throwing an unnecessary strike against you
  4. Editing shots to music could potentially make the reel an unworkable mess.

This is an issue I’m running into with the current reel.  Found this song from “Last of the Mohicans” called Promentoy that I love (but others may not).  Cut the entire reel to the beats of the song.  After further obsessive compulsive viewing, I decide that certain shot(s) at the head of the reel are not working or are too long.  If I cut it, all subsequent clips will be thrown out of sync with the music.  So my options are to leave the shot, cut it, shoehorn another less successful shot(s) to fill the space, and/or recut the entire reel.

Ultimately, it’s your decision on what you do with sound.  There are multitudes of amazing demo reels which incorporate sound to make them more than just a job application, but a true work of digital art.  But in my opinion, cutting to music just seems less flexible and not very important if the primary goal is landing a gig.

Now, could a reel with incredible content cut to an amazing soundtrack add $$$ to your pocket given the right circumstance?  Probably so. If you do choose to use audio, would be good to nail your shot selection first and then attempt to match cuts to beats at the end of the process.  Also, I am not an expert editor by any stretch, so surely there are many pro tips out there I’m unaware of.

critique of the 2012 beta reel

Here’s what I don’t like about the current state of my 2012 vfx demo reel.  If I were going to apply for jobs, there are certainly some changes to be made.

  • Opening credits are kind of cool looking but doesn’t match the motif
  • Credits should contain more detailed contact info (but don’t want to release much on the internet for privacy issues)
  • There’s some fat that needs to be cut from the Green Lantern section
  • Some shots were cut too short for music accommodation
  • Might be a good idea to group per show texture, lookdev, and lighting shots for clarity
  • Music may be changed or nixed all together
  • Breakdown descriptions outside of title safe area, so that text will only display on computer monitors with real certainty

Please let me know in the comments below if I missed anything or if this was helpful to you.  Thanks for reading and watching!


visual effects demo reel 2012 beta 1.0

All content in this video is intended for show reel purposes only.

Green Lantern – Warner Bros Pictures
Knight and Day – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Marmaduke – Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Land of the Lost – Universal Pictures
Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor – Universal Pictures
Evan Almighty – Universal Pictures
The Amazing Spiderman – Columbia Pictures


wondering what i did for those shots?

These are the characters, environments, and props I texture painted.

sinestro toma-re and buildings{split}evil sinestrotoma-re, screen left slugapros (orange jellyfish)labcoat 1antenna 11antenna 1

These are the characters I lookdev’d and combed.

These are the shots I lit and/or composited.

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