School of Motion

10 Demo Reel Tips & Tricks for Motion Designers

  • By Sara Wade
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Create an epic Motion Design demo reel with these quick tips. 

That old saying “put your best foot forward” was talking about your demo reels. Are your number one tool for selling yourself as a Motion Designer. Think of it as the highlight reel for your animation career. Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry, we have some tips and tricks to help you create a kick ass demo reel.   

Joakim Ekström Reel. Cool guys use roman numerals.

1. Make it Short

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 30-60 seconds. Definitely not more than 2 minutes. If you're having a hard time deciding what should make it in, that's the point...

Look at that self-branding. Suggs for the win.

2. Keep it Focused 

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. 

Pick the thing you are best at and want to get work doing, and focus your reel on that. Love character animation? Put a bunch of it on your reel. Like live action VFX work? 2D animation? 3D animation? Your reel should feature mostly this type of work. 

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.

Don’t put anything on your reel that you won’t want to be hired to do.
Kshitij Khanna Compositing Reel

3. 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 _______.” 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.

Caitlyn Cadieux Reel

4. Best Work First 

Don’t save the best for last. Put your very best number one project right up front. This goes back to that whole time thing. 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.

Talk about starting off with a bang...

5. 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 in the content of your reel. 

Hiring managers usually have a pulse in the industry on what tutorials are out there. Everybody knows which shots are Video Copilot tutorials...

Breakdown.png
Example of a Reel Breakdown

6. Get Rights to the Music 

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.

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

7. Get Feedback 

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 Facebook. You can also ask a coworker to take a look, except for Terry, Terry has very poor judgment.

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. 

Christina Moliterno Reel

8. Display your Reel the Right Way 

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. 

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. 

Answer Ejiasi Reel

9. Include your Contact Information 

You might have the best reel in the world, but if a hiring manager can't figure out how to get ahold 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 web site, always add your contact info in the description as well. Make it easy for someone to contact you.   

Also if you don't have a portfolio site get on that right now. No excuse. Use Squarespace. It'll take like 2 hours. 

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School of Motion job board for the win!

10. Add it to Your Free Student Account

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. 

Best of luck on your new Demo Reel. If you follow these instructions, and have killer content, you'll have no problem landing a MoGraph job. Just follow the example of our Motion Designer friend below.

This was made as a joke. I'm not really that mean.