Everyone talks about them. Everyone has them. But how do you make them?
First let us find out why we even need Showreels and what are their purpose. This will answer our question of how we should create them, their content and focus.
Your job application is usually build around 5 ingredients:
The first phase is about our general (online) application with our CV, showreel and cover letter. After that we move on to phase two of having an interview and finally in phase three negotiating the contract before we can finally work at our job.
Before we dive into their creation we have to answer the question: Why are Showreels so important? Amy Smith (Head of Talent, Framestore) gives us a great take on it:
"A showreel is your opportunity to show us what you’re capable of. Given that we work in a visual industry, your CV is only able to tell us so much about your skills and experience. Your showreel is the way to visually emphasis what you can do. [...] Typically we will look at the showreel first and then the CV second."
This is why showreels are powerful and important in this industry because they are the entry card for your application. Your reel is the reason why HR will bother to checkout your CV, cover letter or schedule an interview with you for an hour. You are actually hired for a specific (and kind of unique) skill so the first barrier is to see if you have the level the company is searching for. From all the parts and pieces that result in a hiring the showreel is the one that shows your skills the most.
Now that we established why we need a reel and what to focus on; lets see how to make one. We start with the first and last thing that we see:
Your intro is about who you are and what you will show next. Your intro card exists to create an expectation of what to come in the content part of the reel. The clearer your intro card introduces that the more the viewer is able to enjoy and analyse the content instead of trying to figure out what you want to show him.
Example: If the title card says "3D Animator" and afterwards you see 3D animation clips and playblasts it is obvious what the person has worked on (animation) and what you should look at (animation).
Sounds simple - oh boy - you don't believe how often this gets wrong. This also means that your position and your content should match while keeping the focus on these skills. The key points of your title card should be:
position (content of the showreel)
contact (email, telephone, website)
You can treat your intro and outro cards similar to business cards. They should include your most important business information. In general the intro and outro cards can be the same just make sure to keep them long enough on screen (intro: 5 seconds, outro: 10+ seconds) to give the viewer a chance to read them and to write down your contacts without rewinding.
Note: If you are not into motion graphics don't spent too much time on your intro/outro animations or effects. More often than not they start unfavorable since they are mostly not your specialty. Make sure your cards look simple, professional and clean (colors, font, alignment).
Exception: Here is a great example by Amaury d'Arcangues which works as a introduction into his animation reel.
After the title card we are finally ready to present our skills. But what should we show? Of course it depends very much on your position but this are my main rules for any reel:
Show for hire: Show only work that reflect your position skills.
If it doesn’t add to the position “but I can also …” - don’t show it.
Halo Bias: Keep every project you show on the same quality level.
Order: Best work first, then good, then great
Length: 45 seconds to 2 minutes
The music and editing should take a backseat in your reel since they are not your main protagonists (if you are not an editor or musician of course). A well edited and sounding reel is something great just keep in mind:
most watch without sound (except for animation or music related content)
use popular and non offensive music
the editing should serve the content (not a music video)
No one cares about your fancy transitions or music cuts.
After cutting together our first draft, watching it multiple times until we feel satisfied with the result we have to make sure the viewer understands what they are watching. For this we need to add a breakdown. Breakdowns generally explain the content of the scene. There are technical breakdowns which show the pieces that lead to the final image (I call them: "The passes marathon!") and there are project breakdowns that explain the projects and your involvement in them.
A project breakdown should include:
project name (+ project type: VR, VFX, animation, year)
software, renderer (Arnold, RenderMan, ...) and scripting (Python, MEL, ...)
Important is that the breakdown is clearly readable but doesn't distract from the video. You don't always need the full breakdown especially if you only show the role in the title card. Just make sure that it is clear without doubt what you did in the projects.
Tip: A well passed editing gives the viewer enough time to read the breakdown before he can immerse himself in the content.
That is basically it. Let us explore some reel types (with examples I personally like) and special cases to see how this steps look in practice.
Student reels are mostly a collection of smaller scenes, half baked ideas and solo projects - and that is fine. No one expects fantastic worlds, characters and full blown movie scenes. The biggest buzzword here is: Potential! Show great skills and a clear passion for the topic.
Tip: Something that can add to such a reel are (group) projects. It is great to show stunning skills but you are hired to show that skill in a shot, scene, film or game in a production.
Adrien Brooks was one of the winner of my free student application coaching.
Most professional reels don't bother with technical breakdowns or explanations. They just show the projects and their roles since you are sure they know what they are doing with the years of experiences they have. For them it is mostly important to show where they worked, on what projects and if the level matches with the company they are applying for.
Nicolas Leblanc is a Lead Modeler who worked at ILM, Framestore, MPC ...
Gael Kerchenbaum is an amazing artist focused on Modeling, Texturing and Look Dev.
An artistic showreel is a movie in itself and shows the skills in a more meta way. It is impressive and really cool for the public eye but often means a lot of work and can miss the mark of the showreel: To show your actual skills on a production level.
Aurelien Covas Rigging reel is an amazing short film (even if he forgets some of the point mentioned above).
Perfect Reel (Parodie)
This perfect reel shows you how you can overinflate some minor tasks while wondering that no one wants to hire you for that.
Dono is a CG Artist in 1D/2D/3D/4D/5D.
A showreel is your entry card into the application process so you should put your focus on the position you are applying for. This sounds simple enough until you end up browsing for hours for the right music, building flashy intros, fast editing, cool transitions while adding unnecessary or weak content to show more skills.
Be selective. As with all parts of your application you have more (life) experiences than is needed for this job - and most of them are not essential for your day to day tasks. It is extremely important to avoid noise and only to pick pieces that would support your position in the company.
Last but not least get professional feedback. We are too close to our own projects to see the forest from the trees. Professional feedback from friends, strangers on LinkedIn or coaches can help you to see if you show the right skills, on a constant level and how you can improve in your presentation and content to land the job you want in the future. Now is the time to make stunning Showreels!
Subscribe to my Newsletter for updates and because you're a cool person and check out the additional content:
The perfect Showreel (Interview Amy Smith)
Artist of the 21st Century
Animation Happy Hour
This podcast has a great interview with Guillermo Careaga (Dreamworks) of how to create an amazing Animation Showreel.
What job did you get with that Reel? Click here and find out!