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Showreel 101 for Visual Effects

Let's talk about the secret sauce for landing your dream job in the industry - Showreels! I'll guide you through the steps of creating a killer showreel and sprinkle in some tips along the way.



The Showreel


Your job application is usually build around 3 ingredients:

  1. Showreel (this)


Let's start by understanding the importance of showreels. In every job application your CV can only tell so much about you being the right candidate for the position. A showreel is a perfect way to showcase your skills and abilities. 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 especially in our industry because they're the entry card for your application. Your showreel is the reason why HR will bother to checkout your CV, cover letter and schedule an interview with you. You're actually hired for a specific (and kind of unique) skill so the first barrier is to see if you've the skill level the company is looking 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 showreel and what to focus on; lets see how to make one. We start with the first and last element that we see:



Title Card


Your title card is about who you are and what you will show next. The clearer your title card introduces the content the more the viewer is able to enjoy and analyze 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's 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 are:

  • your name

  • position (content of the showreel)

  • contact (email, telephone, website)

  • (software used)

Treat your intro and outro cards like business cards - simple, professional, and clean. 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.


Exception: Here is a great example by Amaury d'Arcangues which works as a introduction into his animation reel (though it misses his contact data).



Projects


Now, let's dive into the main course - the projects. Here are my golden rules for any reel:

  • Show for hire: Only include work that reflect your position skills.

  • Halo Bias: Maintain consistent quality across all projects.

  • Order: Start with your best work, followed by good, and end with great.

  • Length: Keep it between 45 seconds and 2 minutes.


Your editing and music should complement your work, not overshadow it:

  • most watch without sound (except for animation or music related content)

  • music copyrights

  • use popular and non offensive music

  • editing should serve the content (not a music video)


No one cares about your fancy transitions or music cuts.


Projects Breakdown


Once you have your draft, add a breakdown to help viewers understand what they're watching. This should include project name, type, company, position(s), software, renderer, scripting, and awards. Make sure it's readable, but doesn't distract from the video. A full breakdown isn't always needed 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 to immerse themselves into the content.


Breakdown of Doctor Strange (Framestore) by Nicolas Leblanc
Breakdown of Doctor Strange (Framestore) by Nicolas Leblanc

A project breakdown should include:

  • project name (+ project type: VR, VFX, animation, year)

  • company (logo)

  • position(s)

  • software, renderer (Arnold, RenderMan, ...) and scripting (Python, MEL, ...)

  • awards




Showreel Types


Let us explore some showreel types (with examples I personally like) and special cases to see how this steps look in practice.



Student/Junior Reel


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: It's always better to use final team projects like snippets from films or games versus solo projects.


Adrien Brooks was one of the winner of my free student application coaching.



Professional Reel


Most professional showreels don't really bother with technical breakdowns or explanations. They focus on the projects and their roles in them. For them it's mostly important to show where they worked, on what projects and if the level matches with the company they're 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.



Artistic Reel


An artistic showreel is a movie in itself and shows the skills in a more meta way. It's impressive and really cool to watch but often means a lot of work. Also it 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 showreel depicts how we can overinflate some minor tasks while wondering why no one wants to hire us for that tahs.


Dono is a CG Artist in 1D/2D/3D/4D/5D.



Conclusion


A showreel is your entry card into the application process. Be selective, focused, and avoid unnecessary noise. 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. It's essential to avoid the noise and only to pick pieces that would support your position in the studio.


Difference between show all and show selectively

Last but not least get professional feedback. We're 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.


Happy Showreel creating,

Alex


 

About the Author



I'm Alexander, an Award-Winning Technical Director & Coach in Visual Effects, Animation and Games. My skills are solving technical problems, simplifying workflows and mentoring career goals.


For more check out my podcast the 21 Artist Show and YouTube channel.

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