Interview with Amy Smith (Head of Talent, Framestore)
In our second part of applying for the VFX, animation and games industry we have a look into the importance of showreels. Amy Smith joins us again to answer some of our burning questions. Amy and I originally met in 2016 during my Launchpad internship at Framestore in London. Amazingly she gives a great insight into the mind of a recruiter and how they process applications. Big thank you for that!
It is great to have you back for part two of our application journey, Amy.
Let us start with the most fundamental question:
What is a showreel and why do we need 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.
Could you summarize the purpose of the other steps in the application process? Why do we need a CV, cover letter or the interview if we have a showreel already?
CV: Your CV is a factual document - which companies have you worked for and how long, what software can you use, what other skills do you possess that might be of interest, what did you study etc.? None of that can easily be illustrated in your showreel.
Cover Letter: Is your opportunity to show us your personality. Who are you, what interests you, why do you want this job, what are your career ambitions? Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to really give us a sense of who you are specifically in a sea of applicants.
Interview: By the time we’ve invited you to interview we’ve already largely assessed that you have the base skills we need for the role we’re recruiting. The interview is a way to check that you are going to be a fit with the team (and also your opportunity to see if you like us!). At the interview we are assessing your team-working, communication and response to feedback skills most specifically which are all hard to illustrate effectively through a CV or reel.
You mentioned in our last interview (The perfect CV) that the Showreel is generally the first thing of the application you look at. Why is that?
As we receive a large volume of applications the most important thing to establish quickly is whether the person has the fundamental skills and experience we require for the role we are recruiting. The easiest way to assess that is to look at their reel and see whether they have worked on similar types of projects before and to what level/extent. So we will always start with the reel to see whether it is relevant to our current needs before moving on to the CV.
How important is it to have a specific showreel for the position you are applying for?
It really depends on the company you are applying to to be honest. There are companies out there that have generalist positions available. However, within Framestore we are, on the whole, looking for specialists and we therefore prefer people to apply with a specialist reel wherever possible. I think you need to read the job description carefully and if it suggests that other skill sets would be valuable (outside of the core specialism) then by all means include them on your reel. But if the job description is very narrow and specific then your showreel should be too. We shouldn’t have to spend ages deciding whether you might be a fit or not - it’s up to you to demonstrate to us WHY you are a fit for our current needs and that starts with your showreel being relevant.
Does it support the reel to show small parts of additional skills?
e.g. rigger shows animation, lighting artists shows surfacing
My preference would always be to have separate reels for separate skill sets. With most of the common platforms you are able to have a channel of reels and I much prefer that than a single reel that is trying to be everything to everybody. If I liked your initial reel then I am quite likely to go and watch some of the others anyway but at least I was first able to quickly and easily see whether you are a fit for the role that I currently have available.
Maybe we can make the world a better place:
What would be 3 things that enhance a showreel/you would love to see more in the future?
It’s edited to show a skill set and not edited to be a music video (e.g. if a shot is very short then it’s repeated a couple of times to allow us to really analyse the work)
What would be 3 things that degrade a showreel/you would love to see less in the future?
It’s not in a Dropbox, Google Drive or similar shared area
It’s a showreel and not a bunch of still images masquerading as a showreel
It’s not a compilation of every piece of work you have ever done but a compilation of your favorite pieces that you are most proud of or you feel reflect your best work
What do you expect from a student or junior reel who doesn't have a lot of material to work with?
It is absolutely fine for a student reel to be no more than 3 pieces assuming that they are executed to the best of your ability. Equally, if you have pieces that you have completed outside of your studies that you feel are good then including personal projects is completely acceptable too (that applies at all levels and not just juniors).
At a junior level we understand that sometimes you may have only worked on team/group projects and that therefore your reel is a bit more generalist in nature. However, focusing on the pieces that best demonstrate your target specialism (rather than just including everything) and editing your reel to give them priority really helps.
Also, please rest assured that we don’t expect a junior reel to demonstrate film level quality work necessarily. What we are looking for is potential. We’re looking for you to demonstrate that you have a really solid grasp of the principles of your chosen specialism; whether that’s weight and timing for animation or scale and perspective for environments.
How much do you hire for the current project (in terms of style)? What about applying with an animation feature reel for a VFX company?
Honestly there isn’t one answer to this question! It varies by department and by project. There are some departments where applying with a feature animation reel can be applicable (animation and rigging for example) but there are other departments (like lighting) where it’s not so applicable. Then there are projects where a VFX reel would be essential and others (like Tom and Jerry for example that we’re working on at the moment) where we might specifically be sourcing people with feature animation backgrounds. On the whole I advise you to keep your reel as focused to the studio you are applying to as possible but if you have the odd different style piece in there then that’s ok.
Can you guide us step by step through the whole application process?
I can only really speak for Framestore as I am sure that this will vary a little at other studios. However, here the first step of the process is ideally for you to apply online. We have a lot of recruiters based all over the world and by applying online you are ensuring that the right recruiter in the right location gets to your application as fast as possible. Once you’ve applied the first person to look at your details is the relevant recruiter. They will do a first pass screen to check that you have applied for the right role, that your reel is the appropriate level (junior, senior etc.) and that you meet the requirements to work in that particular location (that you meet immigration requirements etc.). They will then pass your application on to the relevant Head of Department (HOD) or manager to review. The HOD will assess whether they would like to meet you for an interview or not. After the interview the recruiter will follow up with you to either negotiate an offer with you or to let you know that you’re not the right fit this time around. So there are only really two people involved in the process - the recruiter and the HOD.
Does it make sense to put effort into making it interesting for HR? (more explanatory for non-experts)
Honestly there’s no need. We’ve probably seen more applications than any single HOD (as we typically work across multiple departments) so are probably better at triaging applications than they are in most cases! Obviously we don’t have the deep technical and creative knowledge that they have but we can certainly grasp enough of an overview of what you do to make an initial assessment.
Do you watch reels completely, multiple times or just partly? Any rules? (e.g. 30 second rule)
Unless I am seriously strapped for time I always do my best to watch a reel in its entirety as I feel I owe the applicant at least a couple of minutes of my time! Having said that, if your reel is 10 minutes long (that still happens!) then I am unlikely to invest that much time in it. I will sometimes watch a reel multiple times if either some of the shots are very short and I need to see them on repeat to really understand what you’ve done or because I am not sure whether the work is what we’re looking for right now and want to give it a second look to be sure.
I think the age old rule of putting your best work first has stuck around so long because obviously if the first thing on your reel is a bit ‘meh’ then I can understand a lot of people not being as invested in the rest of the work. So I think that’s the one rule that is probably worth abiding by!
Since we are already talking about the order. What do you think about the content rule:
Start with the best first, than great and ending with the 2nd best?
In principle I agree with this. Having said that, I know that there are some who say they only give a reel 30 seconds of their time so if your second best piece is at the end of a two minute reel then they may not see it. But certainly only having your absolute best work on your reel is essential, don’t feel the need to ‘pad’ a reel. Equally, if you are not sure about a piece of work then you can almost guarantee we won’t be sure either so always err on the side of caution when deciding what pieces you include.
Do you search for the projects shown in the reel to see more content (e.g. trailer)? Do you open other video links of the applicant?
I won’t typically search for more content on the projects shown as I have no way of knowing what the applicant did or did not work on within that show (other than what they’ve shown me on their reel). However, if an applicant has other videos on their Vimeo channel or other work on their website then I may go and look at that, particularly if I’ve been impressed with their initial showreel. This is especially helpful if you have more traditional artwork to show - photographs or drawings etc. as for some departments we really like to see that work if we thought your reel showed promise.
There is a current trend on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to show off your current reel.
How often do you find yourself picking posted reels for a potential applicant? Are you browsing for them?
We won’t necessarily be browsing for reels on LinkedIn but we will be browsing for profiles and if they have their reel available for us to view then so much the better! However, our HODs are quite often browsing sites like ArtStation or Vimeo to find reels that they like and that show potential so I always recommend having your reel available to public view wherever possible (I know sometimes you have to password protect for client confidentiality reasons).
How often do you remember older reels and see their development through time? Do you save candidates and look at them later?
Occasionally I will remember a reel because I particularly liked a piece of work or there was something really funny or interesting in there. But we see a lot of reels so I definitely don’t remember most of them over time! We will certainly save candidates whose reels we like though and keep them in mind for other jobs in the future if we didn’t feel that they were right for our immediate needs. We might even go so far as to send it to the HOD anyway so that they can also keep that person in mind for the future.
What is a good content breakdown? Do you need a breakdown.pdf describing the specific shots you have worked on?
Absolutely we need a breakdown! Particularly where you have worked on a team project or where you are only able to show us final shots from finished shows. It’s really important that we know exactly what YOU did on a particular shot/asset and that you are not taking credit for someone else’s work. It is always better if you can provide the breakdown as text or through graying out work that isn’t yours on your reel as it’s much easier to look at a shot with the breakdown right in front of you than to have a separate document that you keep having to refer back to.
We don’t need huge amounts of detail - ‘I modeled the truck’ or ‘I handled the rig paint out’ etc. If we want more detail about how long that took, how big the team was, what your technique was etc. then those are the details that we will talk to you about at the interview.
Do you need a technical breakdown? Showing step by step how you created your work or is just the end result enough?
Personally I don't think it's necessary to have a technical breakdown. We know how layers build up in CG or come together in comp and you showing us a really fast run through your 30 layers doesn't really tell us much. I would much rather talk about how you put shots or assets together at interview.
Do technical people have to apply with a showreel? (Pipeline Technical Director, Researcher, Production Engineer) What would be an equivalent for them?
We don’t require technical people to apply with a showreel anything more than a CV and cover letter is not necessary for technical roles. If they would like to or have a particular tool (generally shown through screen capture of it being used) that they wish to demonstrate then we’re happy to see that but it’s not a mandatory requirement for the role. Generally with these kinds of roles there will be some kind of technical questioning at interview or a technical test or questionnaire that companies will use to assess skill set rather than a reel.
What do applicants for a production or HR role submit instead of a showreel?
With production or support roles we are only looking for a CV and cover letter as their roles obviously don’t require the actual production of visual work. With these roles the interview becomes much more important and will be more focused on scenario based questioning to understand how they might perform in the workplace.
How much do you care about the editing, music, the style and animations surrounding the reel?
I don’t! Unless it’s really, really distracting and then I start to question the person’s aesthetic taste and whether the work on their reel is really theirs! 😂
But seriously, simple is always best. A simple text title card followed by a reel that is edited to display your work to its best is all we really need. Some people will listen to the sound (particularly on an animation reel) but a lot of people won’t so the music really doesn’t matter. Having said that, if you do decide to include music, be sensible about what you choose as you don’t know other people’s taste or beliefs and some lyrics may inadvertently cause offence . . . .
Do you have a favorite showreel platform? (YouTube, Vimeo, ...)
YouTube, Vimeo, ArtStation or your own website - any of those are good options that will typically work across platforms (Mac, PC and Linux) and stream instantly with minimal buffering issues.
Last but not least:
How do you feel about people writing you/HR emails or sending you messages on LinkedIn and asking questions about their (future) application? Any tips?
I don’t mind people writing to us to ask advice but there is a HUGE amount of information out there on the internet about what to include/not include in your showreel so my preference would be to start there. If you are not able to source the answer yourself then please feel free to message us. We unfortunately don’t have the time to answer hundreds of people asking us about their reels so using us as a last resort for information is preferable. Of course if we are at an event then we are there precisely TO answer your questions so that’s a really good forum to speak to us about these things. Equally, if you have applied for a role and not been successful then that’s another good time to ask whether there is anything you could have done differently with your reel that might have helped.
The other tip I have is that often artists working in our teams are more than happy to give you advice on your reel and, given that they are working here already (!), probably had a good reel themselves so rather than bombarding the recruitment team reach out to other artists working at companies you admire and ask for their feedback. You can also seek feedback generally via LinkedIn or other forums and it’s usually pretty forthcoming!
Thank you, Amy, for taking the time for our burning questions. There are so many great insides in this interview I would recommend to read it at least twice and compare it with your current showreel and application even if you are not applying for a job at the moment - you never know when you will need it in the future.
Checkout our previous interview: The perfect CV with Amy Smith
Personally I can recommend the Launchpad Internship. It was a great experience in which we had the chance to work on actual projects and also got introduced into the workflows of all the different departments. It is surely not easy to get into the program but it can launch your career into the stratosphere (maybe that is why it is called launchpad). It definitely helped me with future applications. Also I know that some of us were hired directly after the internship/finishing our studies.
[Launchpad Internship 2016. The Launchpad Gang]