How do you stand out as a new 3D lighting artist? You might ask yourself, “there are so many talented artists out there. How can I possibly compete with them?”
It all starts with a killer 3D animation demo reel.
But it’s a challenge to create a demo reel when you don’t know what to put into it, how to style it, or where to start. That’s why we’ve created a guide that will help you create a winning demo reel. These are strategies we’ve used to help hundreds of students start their careers as 3D lighting artists.
Want to learn more? Read on.
Why do you need a stand-out 3D animation demo reel?
Simply put, a demo reel is a video portfolio of your best work. Demo reels give a sense of your abilities as a 3D lighting artist or an animator.
Here’s the thing: hiring managers spend hours watching demo reels from candidates. Most times, they’ll only watch a couple of shots before moving on to other demo reels. You need to present your work in the best way possible to stand out.
The most important reasons you need a demo reel
To be noticed by hiring managers: Hiring managers go through hundreds of demo reels; yours should stand out! Your chances of bagging your dream job as a lighting artist or a 3D animator are higher if you’re getting a lot of attention from hiring managers.
To create a killer portfolio: Think of your demo reel as your visual resume because it is. Regardless if you’re just starting out or you’ve already been in the business for a while, you need a portfolio that you’d be proud to show off on your website, your social media, and your LinkedIn profile.
To stay competitive: The competition between artists in the animation industry is cutthroat. A killer demo reel is one way to ensure that you’re staying competitive. With a standout 3D animation demo reel, you’ll receive positive feedback from prospective clients, work your way up, and inspire other artists.
Demo reel success stories
We (Jasmine and Michael) have worked as senior light directors for Blue Sky Studios and we’ve been in the animation industry for over a decade. We know what works and what doesn’t — we can definitely teach you a thing or two about creating a successful demo reel. That’s why we started Academy of Animated Art- to help new 3D lighting artists quickly build their skills and land great jobs.
Our system was developed specifically for training new lighting artists. During the past couple of years, we’ve trained hundreds of artists from around the world.
And our students have ended up bagging jobs at top animation studios, including Dreamworks Animation, Sony Pictures, Blue Sky Studios, Reel FX, Giant Animation, just to name a few.
And a big part of their success were their demo reels.
For example, our students Shane Sternstein and Nicholas Balliett went through our programs, trained themselves as lighting artists, and created amazing demo reels.
Shane worked at Dreamworks. You can see his demo reel here:
And Nicholas is now at Disney. Here’s his demo reel:
Want to use the same strategies that Nicholas and Shane used to land these jobs?
We’ve created a FREE guide so you can make an impressive demo reel, which you can download here. In this guide, we are revealing the top 3 secrets to a successful demo reel.
Next: What should your demo reel look like?
What does an animation demo reel look like?
How do you create a standout 3D animation demo reel? What are the factors that you need to know before piecing together a demo reel? According to Pixar, applying for a job in a studio requires five parts. These are:
- Cover Letter
- Demo Reel
- Demo Reel Breakdown
- Online Application
Keep your cover letter brief and straightforward. In your resume, outline the companies you’ve worked for, your body of work, the courses you took, and the tools, systems, and languages you know.
As for the demo reel itself, it should contain the following:
- Your contact details
- Your best work
- Demo Reel breakdown (DRB)
Your contact information
A demo reel should start and end with your name, address, phone, email, and the platform you are using to showcase your work, such as Instagram, Vimeo, YouTube, and so forth.
Your contact information should appear for a few seconds before the presentation, but the title card should be presented longer after the presentation. This way, the hiring managers don’t have to hit the pause button to check your contact information. For the text, use a clear font that’s easy to read.
Your best work
Your work is the main presentation. Make every second count because most hiring managers would only check at two to three pieces before moving to the next demo reel.
And that’s why it’s important that you never save the best for last. Instead, start the presentation with your strongest work to grab hiring managers’ attention. Keep the video length to 2 minutes or less.
Do not repeat the same footage because this gives the impression that you don’t have much work. If you don’t have much to show, just keep the video short instead of showing the same scenes several times.
Demo Reel Breakdown (DRB)
A demo reel breakdown or DRB consists of short descriptions that convey the specific roles you played in every piece. It helps get a sense of your abilities or skills as a light artist or animator. Use a simple, easy-to-read font style, so the descriptions are easy to read and non-distracting.
Be sure to outline your involvement in every piece but keep the description short and straightforward. If you’ve worked with another artist in one scene, mention only the work you did and give credit when credit is due. If you are an animator who did the modeling for a specific shot, describe what you did to create the image, the software you used, the tools you used, and so forth at the corner of the frame.
What to include in your demo reel
Wonder what you should include in your demo reel? Here are the most important elements.
Video clips and still images
You want to showcase a variety of your skills as a CG light artist or an animator, so present a nice mix of video clips and still images. If you’ve invested in our Lighting Asset Library, then you can add all the assets that you’ve worked on in your demo reel!
Your demo reel should highlight the specific skill or job function that you’re trying to get. If you’re applying for a lighting job, be sure that the pieces you show highlight your lighting skills. A more focused demo reel is always best given the limited amount of time to present your work.
3 to 5 pieces of your best work
Do not put an entire collection of your work into your demo reel. You need to show a strong performance, so you should cut down the presentation to about 3 to 5 of your best work.
Sequence: Your best work goes first. If you are not sure if a certain shot is worth showing, don’t use it. Avoid time fillers at all cost.
Length: Keep it under 3 minutes. Hiring managers are looking for outstanding talents to hire. A 30-second demo reel that features fantastic work will get more attention than a 3-minute long demo reel that only features mediocre animation.
When it comes to creating a demo reel, size does not matter. Just show your best work and keep updating your demo reel every chance you get.
Make your demo reel stand out by using original artwork. Lighting or animating the same thing won’t make much of an impression on hiring managers. Walk cycles, bouncing balls, lifting something heavy, etc. these are old ideas that have been done and re-done all the time. If you can put out something unique, do it.
Here at the Academy of Animated Art, we have a library full of assets that you can put in your demo reel. By signing up for our Lighting Asset library, you’ll get instant access to high-quality, ready-to-light scenes and characters. We’re always adding new assets to our library, so there’s always something to look forward to!
The membership consists of professional lighting critiques to ensure that you’re only putting impressive work in your demo reel as well as a chance to join our monthly lighting challenge.
Segmented Scenes or Collage?
Demo reels often feature a collage of scenes, segmented scenes or sample clips, so which style should you choose? It depends on the kind of job you’re applying for. Collage reels will do better for short-form work, while scene reels are best for highlighting narratives in a story.
Whatever style you choose, be sure that every image or video clip highlights your ability as a light artist or animator. Give each shot its own moment!
Upload your demo reel on YouTube or Vimeo so that hiring managers could access your work online. Be sure that all the links are working before sending your demo reel.
Some artists add music to their demo reels; others don’t. If you want to highlight the visuals, there’s no need to add music. But if you’d like to add music to enhance the emotional connection between the scene and the viewers, use royalty-free music.
Be sure that the audio is not, in any way, distracting the hiring managers from your work. Also, don’t focus too much on the music because hiring managers will review the visuals, not your taste in music. If you’re adding music to the presentation, don’t just slap it under a video track. Cut to the music to make your demo reel look polished and professionally made.
An error-free demo reel shows careful attention to detail, a trait that hiring managers are looking for. Your demo reel could use a lot of refinement to look as polished as possible.
Check for grammatical errors by proofreading the text. Check the audio and video clips for noise, glitches. Update your demo reel with new pieces as often as you can. Once you’re done with the quality control, round up a couple of your artist friends and show the demo reel to them, just to make sure the video is error-free.
Before submitting your work, make sure that all links are leading to the correct pages. Hiring managers are very busy folks, and they won’t bother calling you if one of your links does not work. You can create your own YouTube or Vimeo channel so your work can be viewed online.
Want an example of what 3D lighting artwork can look like? Take a look at this short video of some of our students’ lighting work:
Over to you!
Hiring managers are busy; they only have a few minutes to check out a demo reel. To stand out from the rest, you need to create an impressive demo reel. And we can help you with that! Learn how to create a successful demo reel with our free guide and start achieving your dream of working on animated films.
If you don’t have much work to show, we suggest signing up for our Lighting Asset library. We offer a full archive of high-quality characters and environments that you can practice on and add to your 3D animation demo reel. These assets are 100% unique and ready to light. With all these tips + our asset library, you can create a demo reel that won’t fail to impress.