Following up on our recent ‘festival etiquette’ blog post, where we shared our tips on how to impress potential employers at their recruitment stand, now it's the turn of the showreel.
It’s such an important snapshot of your ability, skills, judgment, potential, personality and more; all wrapped up within a minute (or two, or 30 seconds - more on that to come). Simply put, getting your showreel right will determine whether or not you get that job.
So once again team AnimDojo and a few friends put together an extremely helpful podcast discussing the do’s and definitely do not’s when it comes to producing a showreel. Here we distill all that great advice into our ‘Top ten tips for creating a great showreel’.
Big thanks to Tom and Bader, and special guests Leanne Loughran, talent recruiter at Aardman; Jorge Montiel, Creative Director at The Mill; Chloe Deneuve, Character Animator at Blue Zoo, and Matt Tea, Series Director at Blue Zoo.
1. Less is more
This is a message that reoccurs throughout the podcast. Fight the urge to include everything you’ve ever worked on - even if you feel attached to certain pieces of work. With a showreel it’s all about quality rather than quantity (especially when you’re starting out).
“You’re only as good as the worse thing on that reel”. Leanne
Ask your friends for feedback! They’ll see the work with a fresh perspective when you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Jorge made an important point about focussing on the skills you’re trying to sell, rather than simply including nice shots. If you’re applying for a job in animation, showing nice rendering or lighting isn’t showcasing your animation skills. Prove you know the fundamentals before anything else.
Chloe’s advice when choosing what to include was to pick shots you enjoyed working on as it usually reflects in the work.
2. No frills
By frills, we mean title cards. Often the title card (essentially the contact details) is long and unnecessarily embellished, usually in a last-ditch attempt to impress. Bear in mind it’s the first thing we see.
“The amount of times I see a showreel and I turn it off straight away because I see a terrible title card that they’ve tried to do something cool with, but haven’t, and I’m like 'no you’ve already told me you can’t animate!'”. Matt
3. Don't let music get in the way
More than often recruiters don’t watch showreels with the music on - fact. It’s a distraction from the showreel and doesn’t serve a purpose.
“I always get really distracted by the music. And then I start thinking ‘oh that person likes this kind of music’, and then i’m not interested in what’s happening in the showreel”. Chloe
“Your shots should dictate the editing, not cutting to the beat of the music”. Tom
Wise words from Bader too. If you do insist on including music, choose wisely, maybe not ACDC.
4. Tailor your reel
Aardman, The Mill and Blue Zoo are all looking for different skill sets when they watch a showreel - and this will be the same for other studios. Every studio is unique in the type of work it produces therefore it’s imperative you do your research, decide where you want to work and why, and tailor your reel accordingly.
For Matt who directs fast-turnaround children’s TV series, he needs to see evidence that the animator will bring something new to the table and isn’t there to simply follow instructions. However The Mill work on polished, high-end car commercials so will be looking for technical ability over ideas (for example).
“I will take a brilliant idea that’s animated maybe not quite so well over the most amazing piece of animation that hasn’t really got any great ideas in it”. Matt
It’s perfectly acceptable to contact the studio you hope to work for and ask them what they expect to see in a showreel.
5. Critique your work
We asked our experts what makes the alarm bells ring when they’re watching a showreel, and poor decision making was one of them. If there’s good and bad work together in a showreel, it suggests others may have had a hand in it. As Leanne says, “you can’t cheat”, so make sure the work is your own and you’re transparent about your role in group projects.
If the work is purely yours, but there’s a patchy mix of good and bad, it suggests you’re unable to critique your own work - an essential skill in the industry. Going back to our first tip ‘less is more’, if in doubt leave it out. The length of the showreel isn’t as important as the content.
6. Choose wisely where you host your reel
A controversial subject it may be, but there’s a general understanding in the industry that Vimeo is a more suitable platform to host your showreel, with better resolution and overall viewing experience. Choosing to host your showreel on YouTube, with advert interruptions and its association with music videos and pop culture, may not show the professionalism you’re hoping to achieve.
7. Stand out from the crowd
Treat your showreel like you would a project, dedicate enough time to it and don’t be afraid to do something different. If it represents your interests it’s likely to be successful as you’ll be fully engaged with it and it will reflect a little bit about you. Bader reminisced on his first ever showreel that included ninjas, fighting and stand up comedy!
“Do something different. There are so many reels out there. The first thing we want to see should jump out and show us that you can think outside the box and do something different”. Matt
8. Communicate well
Make our lives easy by being transparent. Within your showreel tell us about your role in group work - we don’t have time to go back and ask. And if something was produced quickly, but demonstrates a certain skill you wish to include, tell us why it’s there (so we don’t assume it’s just rushed work). The clearer the better.
9. Focus on where you want to be
“Focus your showreel on where you want to go, not where you’ve been”. Tom
As you’d tailor your reel depending on where you want to work, also tailor your reel depending on what role you want so you don’t get pigeonholed. Make sure the skills demonstrated in your showreel are relevant to what you’re applying for.
Our panel discussed the pros and cons of becoming a generalist vs a specialist. There’s no right or wrong here, and it depends on the studio and what they’re looking for. Leanne, for example, recruits for the commercials team so likes to see variety on a showreel so she knows that applicant can tackle different tasks. Matt, however, would prefer to see skills honed in one discipline.
“I personally prefer to see a mixture of skills within the animation discipline, rather than someone who can animate and light and comp and everything else”. Matt
Bader acknowledged that it’s becoming commonplace to expect animators to be able to work in different styles, and the chances are they can but won’t want to. As Leanne said, “if you’re going to do one thing, do it well”. Tom warns, if you choose to go down the generalist route there’s the “risk of becoming a master of none”.
10. Don’t fear rejection
In relation to the above, it’s fine to change your mind, try out different things, change direction. People switch careers a lot more readily now, and this should empower you when making that first reel.
“It’s ok to make the wrong career choice - lots of people move sideways”. Tom
“Just because you’ve applied once, doesn’t mean you can’t apply again”. Bader
To watch the whole podcast visit here.