Making an Animation Demo Reel

  • On April 9, 2024 ·
  • By ·

So you’re an animator looking to show what you can do. Maybe you’re looking for work, applying to get into an exclusive program, or for some other reason you need to introduce yourself and demonstrate your skill level. There are plenty of guides, tips & tricks, and advice articles out there.

What Goes Into a Reel?

The Demo Reel Formula via Ron Doucet
The Demo Reel Formula via Ron Doucet

Consider the purpose behind making your reel. If you’re a student highlighting what you learned in a course, you’ll want to show clips of your best exercises. Studios want to see examples that match the job listing and the type of material they produce. (There’s the off chance of starting a totally different project, or maybe a recruiter will like your random submission, but it’s a safer bet of staying within their wheelhouse) Freelancers will probably have more general reels, showcasing their range. It’s a good idea to personalize for specific use cases. Somebody looking for a lighting specialist isn’t going to get much our of a reel full of whiteboard videos.

Examples of the types of jobs in the animation industry, including some for non-artists:

Animation Jobs Explained by Laura Price
35 Types of Jobs in Animation by mewTripled
Non-Artist Jobs in Animation: Production & Post-Production (Part 1) by Eric Bravo

Do I Treat It as a Short Film or a Clip Show?

“You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Donald Rumsfeld

You won’t often see me quoting Rumsfeld but he made a point. If you don’t have much to show and time is short, spend it practicing exercises instead of crafting a narrative. This is where I share my own weaknesses with you. It’s very tempting to always be chipping away at a project, wanting to make it perfect, just taking a little more time. Eventually you look up from your work and realize years have passed.

The Animators Who’ve Spent 40 Years on a Single Film by Atrocity Guide

I don’t say this to scare but to encourage recognizing reality. Your reel should serve a goal of getting you somewhere, wherever that may be. Consider Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. There’s a time for everything. Your demo reel shouldn’t be your master work. It should be the thing you use to get the opportunity to make that next masterpiece.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Slap your name and contact info at the beginning and end of your reel. Don’t make it harder for people to get ahold of you than it needs to be. Nobody wants to miss out on a job because they didn’t include an email address. Don’t expect others to track you down when you’ve already got their attention.

Follow directions. You’d be surprised how many folks forget to check requirements. It’s easy to accidentally miss details. Other times it’s a matter of thinking rules don’t/shouldn’t apply to you. If you’re asked to include a resume or shot breakdown for your reel then do so. If asked for links, send links. If asked to send physical media, send physical media. (Just not originals!) Some advise nothing more than a bare bones title and contact screen. As an artist I feel this is a chance to show a little personality and stand out. That said, be careful not to shoot yourself in the foot.

Use clear, legible, properly sized fonts and lettering. Nothing should be difficult to read or hard on the eyes. Don’t waste time with complicated title sequences, they’ll annoy anybody waiting through them to get to your actual footage. Music should be minimal unless it’s important to the animation. If you’ve been online long enough you’ve probably seen videos and unmuted only to wonder why somebody put something totally out of place behind it. Imagine the poor soul going through the stack of submissions who has to deal with a bunch of those to get to you.