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8 Steps to Creating an Epic Demo Reel

By Sara Wade

Your Demo Reel is the most important tool for landing a new gig...so let's make yours shine

That old saying “put your best foot forward” was talking about your demo reels. They are your number one tool for selling yourself as a Motion Designer. Think of it as the highlight reel for your animation career.
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Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry, we have some tips and tricks to help you create a kick ass demo reel. We talked to some of the best minds in the industry and asked what made a demo reel stand out. Then we dropped all that knowledge into a mechanical press until it was condensed into just 8 simple tips.
Now these aren't the end-all-be-all of tricks to help you refine your reel, but we are certain they will help you make a better video that highlights what makes you an incredible artist.
Your reel needs to:
Joakim Ekström's Reel.

Your Demo Reel Needs to Show Who You Are

Make it clear to anyone watching your reel what it is that you do. If I watch your reel I should be able to quickly fill in the blanks of “Joe Smith is a _______ who loves ______.”
Are you an Art Director? Character Animator? VFX Wizard? Make it obvious by the work you put on your reel.
It’s also a good idea to let your reel showcase a bit of your personality. If you have a sense of humor, let it show. If you love mid-century inspired geometry, show it off. You're a person not a robot. Unless you're a robot. Or maybe we're all robots?... beep borp.
Dorca Musseb is an incredibly versatile designer and animator
DRD alumni Taylor Coxis a skilled motion designer who loves working in 3D
On that note, include your contact info. You might have the best reel in the world, but if a hiring manager can't figure out how to get a hold of you, they aren't going to hire you. Put your contact info in the reel itself. This is as simple as adding your name and email or web address to the title card at the beginning and end of the reel for a few seconds.
If you show your reel on Vimeo or your own website, always add your contact info in the description as well. Make it easy for someone to contact you.  
Look at that self-branding. Suggs for the win.

Your Demo Reel Needs to Show What You Do

This one is really tough for a lot of motion designers. We tend to get excited about a whole lot of creative projects. We may even do a whole bunch of them well. However, When it comes to reels it’s tempting to want to show off everything you can do. This is a mistake.
Take the time to really look at your career, your passions, your goals to understand yourself as an artist. Who are you? Where do you want to take your career? Your demo reel communicates this to the world. It can be the vehicle to take your career to the next level, whatever that means for you. 
Guess what kind of clients Laura Porat likes to work with
Love character animation? Put a bunch of it on your reel. Like live action VFX work? 2D animation? 3D animation? Your reel should feature the type of work you are passionate about making.
It's ok to be a true generalist, but keep the reel focused on the type or style of work you are best at and enjoy doing the most. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Don’t put anything on your reel that you won’t want to be hired to do.
DRD alumni Thomas Collier’s reel has a clear focus on 3D sports work
Don’t put anything on your reel that you won’t want to be hired to do.
Kshitij Khanna Compositing Reel

Show Only Your Best Work in Your Demo Reel

As our very own Demo Reel Dash instructor Ryan Summers says: “All killer. No filler.”
Your reel needs to be your best work, period. Once you cut it down to your very best pieces, don’t save your number one piece for last. Put that killer project right up front.
DRD alumni DJ Summit catches (and keeps) our attention with this opener
You have very little time to catch the attention of the person viewing your reel. It’s pretty likely that they will watch the first few seconds of the reel and if it doesn’t catch their attention, they’ll move on to the next one. Hiring managers are brutal. There's just no time to mess around with lack-luster reels.
Don’t rely on music or sound design to get attention for you. While this is important, most hiring managers are going to watch your reel on mute. It just happens. So make sure that first piece on your reel is visually the very best you’ve got. Don’t have the right client project to start your reel off with a bang? Make something for yourself.
Caitlyn Cadieux Reel

Your Demo Reel Should be Short and Sweet

Most people tasked with watching reels have very little time. You might have a really great 8-minute short film, but very few people are going to spend a whole 8 minutes watching your stuff.
Aim to keep your reel between 20-60 seconds. Definitely not more than 2 minutes.
If you're having a hard time deciding what should make it in, that's the point…
Rosie Phillpot shows off her character skills in 59 seconds:
DRD alumni Alan Finch shows us all we need to know in 39 seconds
Talk about starting off with a bang...

Your Demo Reel Should Only Show Your Own Work

This goes without saying, but just in case you missed the memo: Only show work that you did.
If you worked on a team project and want to showcase it, then be sure to include clear indications of what work you did. For example, if you worked on a multiple character shot for which you animated a chicken, make sure that’s clearly communicated in your reel.
You might add text on screen that credits you as the “chicken animator.” You may also elect to include a breakdown sheet detailing what you did for each shot along with your reel.
A breakdown sheet looks something like the following. You may find you need more or less, depending on the content of your reel.
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Example of a Reel Breakdown
Also, if your personal work is just your take on an online class, you're not reaching high enough. Hiring managers usually have a pulse in the industry on what courses are out there. Everybody knows which shots are Video Copilot tutorials...

Your Demo Reel Should Drive the Music

Right up front, your reel needs music. Great music. A score that fits the mood of not only the work but the artist as well. DRD Alumna Katrina has a great reel, but the music takes it to the next level.
A common mistake artists make is to pick some great music and then let that music dictate the pace and cuts of their reel. While great music can take a reel to the next level, it cannot, and should not be the driving force. 
Jiwoo Park’s reel coordinates the message of the music with title cards
There are plenty of ways to get demo reel music without using the latest and greatest form your favorite band. Of course, if you can contact your favorite band and get written permission to use their music for your reel, great. Go for it! But Taylor Swift's record label isn't going to let you use her precious music. So you need to use a royalty free alternative.
A more likely successful approach is to use sites like PremiumBeat or Audio Jungle to purchase royalty free music. If you want something really great and custom, you can hire a sound designer or sound design studio like Sono Sanctus to score your reel.
Joyce N. Ho had a friend provide music for her reel
You can even learn how to do a bit of mixing and sound design yourself in Demo Reel Dash. The important thing is to let the work drive the reel. The music should elevate it, not dictate it. 
You can also reach out to Hans Zimmer to score your reel. I'm sure he has plenty of time.
Ben Buchanan Reel with music purchased from Premium Beat

Get Feedback on Your Demo Reel Before You Go Public

You probably stared at your shots for hours as you carefully cut together your reel matching everything perfectly to the beat. A side effect of that concentrated attention is that you can no longer see it objectively.
This is where your fellow Motion Designers come in. Seek out constructive criticism. Post your reel for feedback in any Motion Design community you are part of like Slack or the School of Motion alumni community. You can also ask a coworker to take a look, except for Terry, Terry has very poor judgment.
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Finally, step away from it for a day or two and come back to it with “fresh eyes.” Try to view it objectively, as a client might, and give yourself a good old fashioned critique. Once you have gathered some great feedback on your reel, sit down and implement it.
The best option? Get some accountability, critiques, and a complete body of demo reel knowledge distilled from Ryan Summers’ long successful career by taking Demo Reel Dash

Share Your Reel Far and Wide to Catch the Right Person's Eye

Finally finished that reel? Share it! 
The best reel in the world means nothing if no one can see it. You want your reel to be viewable online, all the time, and on as many different systems as possible. Don’t let Joe Producer skip over your name because he can’t see your video on his iPhone.
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You might be tempted to just throw up an MP4 on your website and call it a day. Don’t do it. 
Your best bet is to go with Vimeo and embed the Vimeo link on your website and anywhere else you want to share it. There are also demo reel groups available on Vimeo that will happily include submissions. You just have to ask. You'd be surprised at the number of people that'll share out your reel if you just ask.
Different phones, tablets, operating systems, and browsers all have their own picky requirements about video formats. To make a truly accessible online video you have to do a bunch of techie stuff behind the scenes. Or, you can just use Vimeo and let them do all that stuff for you.
Share it on social. Share it with your clients. Share it with your motion design friends. 
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Also, if you don't have a portfolio website, get on that right now. No excuses. Use Squarespace. It'll take like 2 hours. Adobe Portfolio comes free with your Creative Cloud subscription.
The School of Motion Jobs board is a great place to find your next Motion Design gig. When employers see applicants they will get to view three different videos that showcase your work in the industry. Once you get your shiny new reel done be sure to add it to your profile in your Dashboard. Alumni will have their School of Motion courses featured in their profile.
Want to learn more about how to create a killer reel with the help of deadlines, industry peers, and Ryan Summers? Check out Demo Reel Dash!