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Getting Real About Reels with Laura Porat
If you're struggling with your demo reel, we're here with a little hope
Demo reels aren’t just a reflection of your past—they’re also a signpost to your future. The work you show can directly connect to the jobs you'll land...which adds all sorts of pressure to an already stressful task. That's why we talked with an artist that has a bit of experience projecting toward the future with a sharp reel...Laura Porat.
Laura Porat is a Los Angeles-based freelance Motion Designer. She graduated from Emerson College with a BA in Animation and Motion Media, and quickly found use for skills out in the world. While she's worked for a number of major entertainment companies such as Disney, Netflix, Apple Music, NBC Universal, and Snapchat, her most impressive clients were in a different line of work.
Laura uses her reels to not just show off where she's been, but to manifest where she can go from here. When a client watches that reel, they're inspired by the possibilities. When we say demo reels are important for your career, this is what we mean.
While there isn't one "right" way to tell your story, there is a secret sauce for reels that a number of freelancers have learned along the way. Laura has an excellent journey to share, so grab a deep-fried sushiritto and let's get real.
Getting Real About Reels with Laura Porat
Ryan Summers: So we've talked to each other before I know in the past, and I know your work has always been excellent, but there's something about this demo reel that a) you must have been cutting this demo reel while you were making the work because I've never seen someone put a reel together so quickly after their ... Let's say campaign finished. Were you cutting your demo reel while you were going, or was this just something that you put together, like in a fury?
Laura Porat: Yeah, so before I joined the Biden campaign, I was part of the Elizabeth Warren campaign and when her campaign ended in March I was sort of ... Just collecting the work that I did for her campaign and I put it on the website and this happened like a few days after she dropped out and then I just posted the link to my website on Twitter and it got like a great response. I had people ... I got job interviews because of that Twitter link to my work. So I knew I should do something similar for the Biden campaign because the campaign was ending. It was like the perfect time to drop a reel around the time where everyone's talking about Joe Biden and it would get me the most amount of views. So towards when the campaign was ending, I was collecting all of my work, but I didn't actually start editing the reel until the day after the election.
Ryan Summers: That's still pretty fast. That's pretty amazing. So you had a hint that this could kind of have a lot of eyes on it if you had just the right setup at the right time. I mean I can't think of many other events that had that many people just keyed into something positive around a campaign or a person like that was super, super smart on your part. How did you get involved in working on campaigns versus working in ... I think when we talked before, back when I think I was at Digital Kitchen, your work was more kind of that standard motion design, the work that we all kind of do day to day. How did you make the leap into doing this type of work?
Laura Porat: Yeah, that's a great question. So yeah, I was back in L.A. I was working in the entertainment industry, you know, was just doing trailers and kinetic typography and that sort of thing, and then I saw a listing on the School of Motion job board actually for the Elizabeth Warren campaign, and I was following along with the Democratic primaries. I was pretty interested in them and I really liked Elizabeth Warren. So I reached out to her campaign and a few months later they ended up hiring me. So I moved to Boston and I worked on her campaign. So it's really thanks to School of MOtion.
Ryan Summers: That's amazing. I mean, that's amazing ... So you actually picked up from L.A. and went to Boston. That's unbelievable. That's a lot of commitment.
Laura Porat: Yeah. I mean, I was growing kind of bored with doing the entertainment work and I wanted to do something that sort of had a positive impact on the world. We all saw how 2016 went down, so I was curious if I could use my motion graphics skills for something good. Because I mean, I'm not really good at anything besides motion graphics so I figure I could lend my skills to a political campaign and it just happened that the Elizabeth Warren campaign was also looking for a motion designer and the Joe Biden campaign needed a bunch of motion help, the coronavirus pandemic [inaudible] the need for motion graphics, because people weren't filming things, people weren't going to in-person events, so it was really like the perfect time to be a motion designer in politics this year.
Ryan Summers: Absolutely. I mean that shows such great commitment. I feel like I have the exact same emotion, but I was never able to figure out what can I do that can actually take all this work and specialization and studying and kind of struggle to get better and then get confident and actually do something worthwhile with it. I mean I feel exactly the same way for the longest time in my career that I can't think of many things where people work so hard, but then their work is like ephemeral. It goes away almost faster than it took them the time to make it. That's such an awesome thing. Do you have any insight or any kind of goals on how to take that energy that you've kind of created with working for a campaign and a hugely successful campaign? Like how do you take that and find new work? Do you have an idea of like what this reel, which has gotten tons of eyes on it and tons of reaction, how are you going to use that to take your next step?
Laura Porat: Yeah, I mean I'm still figuring out my next steps, what my life will be post-campaign because I really loved working for two political campaigns this year and it's made me realize that this is the kind of work that I want to do in the future. I would love to keep working for progressive voices, maybe help the next AOC or whoever's coming up. So I don't think I'll be working for a campaign anytime soon. I mean, campaigns aren't really happening until like 2022 anyways, but I definitely am looking for work in political base agencies and I know people who are volunteering their skills for ... Such as the Sunrise Movement, so maybe also doing something more activist-based, but yeah, I'm still figuring out my next steps.
Ryan Summers: I think that that's probably ... I think there's probably a lot of people in the same boat as you, but you've taken the first steps towards that. I feel like there's a growing need for more studios or companies that almost dedicate themselves exclusively to those types of work and just trying to find ways to make it profitable enough to be able to have a good quality of life and a work-life balance but I think in this world where we're dealing with COVID, we're dealing with all the politics, everyone's struggling with the idea of working from home, but still doing commercial entertainment type work. I think you've found the first steps into a whole new area for motion design where not only do you feel good because you're making good money or you feel good because there's some high profile work, but you feel good because you're actually making change. I'm super excited to see where you go and where your next steps actually lie. I'd love to ask you what the experience actually was like working on a campaign because I think there's a lot of people that have no idea what it was like day to day for you, but are really, really interested in trying to find themselves in a similar position. How did it compare to your kind of day-to-day life working in L.A. and the entertainment industry?
Laura Porat: Yeah, I think politics and motion graphics I feel are like very separate industries, but once you break into that, the political side of things, you'll find that there's a lot demand for motion graphics help and they're always needing video editors and that sort of thing so it's kind of weird how they're like two separate worlds, but once you break into it, you realize like, "Oh, hey, it was here all along actually." I don't think it's just advertised that well. Yeah, working for a campaign is definitely intense. It's crazy. I mean, people in the entertainment side of things, they complain about like crunch time and long hours and in politics it's like that's every single day you work.
Ryan Summers: Right.
Laura Porat: You work every day, you work weekends. I mean it's definitely not ... It's not an easy job to balance like if you are a parent or if you want to have a life outside of work. I mean I'm not saying that every single day is like that, but it's like that a lot of the time, especially working for a presidential campaign. I mean, like towards the end of the campaign, it was ... I mean, I was working seven days a week, you know?
Ryan Summers: Wow. Yeah, it feels actually more like ... Like the grind that you can get into when you work at a VFX company, than kind of even the day to day motion graphics where there is a hard deadline like that election is not going to change days. Like the deadlines for when people can actually register to vote, like those are hard and fast. Did the nature of the work help you kind of get through some of those deadlines, knowing that it was for something like ... I know on my end, we've put a lot of time into work that even when you start, you know it's not really going to do anything. Like it might look cool and it might end up being like a really great two seconds on your demo reel but at the end of the day, another trailer for a movie that you know is probably not going to be that great or a product that you know no one's really going use. Like it makes it hard to kind of face a seven day week. Does that make a difference for you, knowing that a) that there was probably going to be an end in sight, but b) it could actually make some real change in the world?
Laura Porat: Yeah, definitely. I mean, the good thing when I joined the job is I knew that there was going to be an ending date and so I knew when my job would end so I knew I only had to like endure it for a few months. So that definitely helped. And then, yeah, just seeing my work go online and seeing people's reactions to it I think made it a lot more bearable to handle. I mean, don't get me wrong. I definitely had my dark moments.
Ryan Summers: I bet.
Laura Porat: You definitely don't want to overwork yourself.
Ryan Summers: Can you talk about just the range of work that you got to do? Because I think maybe people have a false sense of if you did work for a campaign or you did work in this type of world that the work may be a little ... I don't know the right way to say it, not boring, but very unchallenging. Because when I look at your reel, the range of work that's on this reel for this campaign, it's pretty crazy how far. Like you're working on videos, you're working on AR/VR filters. You're working on some quick turnaround stuff, but you're also doing visual effects type work. I see there's compositing, there's tracking. It seemed like the range of work that you got to touch. I mean, even talking about things like illustration, it was pretty amazing how fully featured that work actually was that you were asked to do.
Laura Porat: Yeah. I mean, I was really lucky that the Joe Biden campaign was very open to letting us carve out what we wanted to do, so I knew I wanted to touch on as many different aspects of videos as I could and I mean I have the technical skills to do camera tracking, but then also do like Instagram stories or like AR filters, and I didn't know how to make AR filters before I joined the campaign so it was something I taught myself in a few days and then I was like, "Okay, here's a great idea for something that we can use," and the Biden campaign was very welcoming of different ideas and different perspectives, and they're like, "Yeah, that's great. Let's use those, we can totally do it," but that's certainly not the same for every single campaign, but that's how it was in the Biden campaign.
Ryan Summers: So are you saying that you actually pitched using AR filters to the team? Like you had the ability to say, "Hey, I know you're doing these types of initiatives, but what about this," and you had a test or something. That's pretty amazing.
Laura Porat: Yeah, I mean, I also ... I would say I was a motion graphics designer but I also had a producer role as well. So I was helping like pitch ideas and come up with ideas. So yeah, we had like weekly meetings where we just brainstormed stuff and I was like, "Hey, this could be cool," and everyone's like, "Yeah, let's go for it."
Ryan Summers: That's pretty amazing. I feel like that's actually maybe something that ... I think a demo reel that's nearly perfect. Like I said it at the beginning, I love your demo reel. I think it has such a great sense of your personality along with "your clients' needs" which I think is really rare. A lot of times, a demo reel is just like, "Here's all the work I did," but I don't have a sense of who the person is at all. But I think the thing that maybe that I missed from this from looking at it the first time is that yes, you're a great motion designer and it sounds like you were doing some producing, but it feels like you're also acting as like an art director. In a typical motion design studio, like that's the role of somebody that's at a higher level than just like, "I can animate really well and I can do some drawings." Like I think that that's probably something people don't realize can be a part of a job like this.
Laura Porat: Yeah. I mean, for working on the Biden campaign, I think you really had to be self-initiated because it was so easy to get things lost in the mix because the team I was working with was really big, the digital team was like the largest in the ... The biggest team in the campaign, so -
Ryan Summers: Wow.
Laura Porat: We were working on so many videos every single day so it would have been impossible for like, let's say an actual art director to keep tabs on all of us so we very much had to be like our own mini-bosses in order to keep things on track.
Ryan Summers: That's awesome. Was that the first time in your career that you had that level of responsibility or opportunity?
Laura Porat: Yeah, definitely. Other places, I was very much like a cog in the machine kind of. So this definitely gave me the chance to like ... Gave me a lot of freedom.
Ryan Summers: Can you ... I think that's awesome. Can you just give me a little bit of context I guess for the audience. Like what's the structure of the team actually like? Was it fairly flat and there's just a lot of people like you that are motion designers, but are also really responsible as a producer and having a lot of kind of creative concepts or were there just a lot of people who also were just like, "Give me the assignment, I'll get it done and give me the next assignment."
Laura Porat: I think it was like the latter. It definitely depended on your personality type. Like some of the people on the campaign were very much like, "Hey, I need to be assigned a producer to help me write a script for me and then I'll just edit the video." And then other people I think were more self-initiated like me in the campaign. It was very much like you have to choose your own path, so since I am very motivated myself, that's the role that I took on.
Ryan Summers: It's amazing. I'm so glad we're talking to you about this because I think for a lot of people, myself included, it's kind of a black box, these types of jobs or these types of options and I think ... I don't know how you feel, but I know I definitely felt like ... Even though there's all these tools and there's all these things we can do, motion design sometimes can get to feel like a little of a rat race, like capital M capital D motion design, like trying to get into those big shops or trying to work on those big client jobs but I think the thing that we're all starting to learn, hopefully this class can help people learn too is that there's so many more opportunities. If you know how to design and you know how to animate and you have a technical background, that can take you to so many different places, but your reel needs to tell people that you want to do that. Do you feel that excited about motion design, like where it can go, or do you still feel a little bit when you're talking about when you're in the entertainment side of it, that there's still limitations.
Laura Porat: I'm definitely excited about where things can go. Like I'm really interested in like seeing where augmented reality can go and I notice other motion graphic studios have also started to play with it like Buck for example. So I think, and like you said, we have so many technical skills as being motion designers or graphic designers or video editors or sound effects artists, et cetera. So I think maybe if you're feeling like maybe one aspect of motion design is feeling stale or boring, you could explore a different aspect that also incorporates motion design capabilities.
Ryan Summers: Yeah. No, I think that's super exciting. I'd love to ask you how ... This reel is wonderful and I'm sure you're getting a really good response, but like you said, there's probably not another major campaign like this for another four years. How are you going to take this reel or some of the work that's in this reel and go back out into the world to show people what you can do? Because I think your 2019 demo reel is good and there's a lot of good work in there, but I feel like if I didn't know you and I watched this reel, the Biden campaign reel and your 2019 reel, I would almost think that they're two separate different artists. How do you feel like you're going to ... Like maybe it's just a case of confidence, like the voice that you project with this reel, even if I just watch it on Instagram, just let it loop a couple of times, compared to kind of a standard regular everyday demo reel of just a collection of work, it feels so night and day different. How do you go back now and maybe look at making your 2021 demo reel? How are you going to approach that?
Laura Porat: Yeah, that's an interesting question. I made this reel very much keeping in mind people not in the motion graphics industry who maybe want to hire a motion designer, but they don't really know what motion designers are capable of or what I'm capable of so I really wanted to make a reel that will say, "Hey, I have a bunch of great ideas. I know how to do a bunch of different things. You should hire me," and also, "This is like my personality," and like you said it was different from my older reel because my older reel, I was freelancing at studios so maybe I was just jumping on a project but I wasn't really involved with like the pre-production of things. Maybe I was just an animator or just an illustrator, so I didn't really have that much autonomy over the work. So maybe that reflected in my reel, but the Biden reel that I did, I was very much in charge of the work that I did, like everything you saw is by me and I was involved in it every step of the way. So I think that was a difference.
Ryan Summers: Yeah. That's a huge difference. So do you think, I mean I think there's a lot of people probably in a similar situation with you where they have a body of work that they know and they trust and they probably can get a job or get some attention from it, but then they have these other pieces and maybe they have two or three pieces that were totally self-motivated or they're an opportunity to stretch, like you stretched with the Biden campaign. How do you go forward with that? Do you think your previous reels work in this new body of work? Do you think they can sit together in a demo reel or do you think it would be better for you to take some time and actually create new work with that newfound confidence and the skill sets like AR? Do you think you want to go and do some more work to expand on that and then come back in a few months with a new reel, or do you think you can kind of just smush those two together and it will still show what you can do?
Laura Porat: Yeah, that's a good question. I think my current reel should exist independently of my older reel so I think my older reel doesn't reflect the work that I do anymore and it's not really the work I want to do anymore. So I think my current reel is a much better indicator of what I want to do. Like I want to be more involved in the creative process, but I also want to animate but I also want to come up with ideas and execute those ideas and like you said go into different areas of motion graphics such as AR. Like there's other things I want to do
Ryan Summers: That is such a scary but at the same time extremely exciting time to be in your career, right? That you can actually say, "You know what? Everything that got me here, I don't need to show it anymore. I can let it go, and I don't have to be subservient to just saying, "Hey, whatever you need me to do, please hire me."" You can start saying, "No, this is what I want to do and this is how I'm better than some of the other people who might be looking at it. This is why you want to hire me." I think that's such a powerful place to be as an artist at the point in your career where you're at
I also have to say just totally separate from demo reels, I love the fact that the next thing on your Instagram right after that is you actually exploring using Blender. Can you just talk to the people who may be doing 3D, if you don't do 3D, maybe skip past this, but I'd love to hear because I'm super interested in this because I do think it also is something that you can demonstrate to people that you are on the edge of technology and you're pushing forward. What brought you to starting to play around with Blender and what do you find exciting about it and why do you want to keep on kind of demonstrating that you're starting to learn this new tool?
Laura Porat: Yeah, so a few years ago I had tried using Blender but I found the UI very unintuitive so I mostly just stuck with Cinema 4D but since ... I think it was like last year, Blender came out with Blender 2.8 which completely like overhauled its UI system and introduced a bunch of new elements that are really exciting, such as Grease Pencil which you can do like 2D in a 3D environment. Blender is just constantly coming out with new stuff and they are constantly innovating themselves and it just runs better on my computer than Cinema 4D so I always want to be learning new technologies and learning things that I think will be beneficial and Blender just seems to be the right software for that.
Ryan Summers: I love it. I will honestly say I'm very envious of you because I have not had time to play with it, but the more I see more people playing with that and playing with Unreal and merging those worlds together, like I love 2D animation and if I could actually do everything I love in the same app and dedicate time to one app instead of like a patchwork quilt of 12 apps, I think you have a really good instinct, Laura, in terms of where to go with your career and I am so glad that you're taking the time to talk to people because there's probably a lot of people who don't trust their instincts, but the fact that you left L.A. and that you kind of took this position, doing something that it seems like your head and your heart were both aligned together, and you could do really good art that could actually help change the world and also help you push yourself into new fields.
If I look at that and I look at the fact that you're trying new tools, I mean, I have to say, I've been looking at your Instagram. I love your avatar, the character.
Laura Porat: Thank you.
Ryan Summers: It's awesome. Then also I love the fact that we talk a lot about positioning and branding and marketing in this course, because I think it's something that ... It's really important, if you're going to take all this time to show your work off, getting it to the right people and getting people to very quickly understand who you are and what you're about. I love the fact that even like on your Instagram, that it says Laura - Memes expert, GIF creator, motion designer. Like that plus like a little bit of your work and seeing kind of like who you are and then getting a chance to talk to you. I think you're a great example for people to understand that like it's okay to be who you are and emphasize that, and not just be the next person doing the same thing that Man versus Machine or Oddfellows or Buck does and you can have your own path and you can have your own style and you can have your own voice.
I just want to ask one more question. That was just me waxing poetic about ... I think you're a great example for a lot of our listeners, but I want to ask you one question and it could be anything, right? It could be software, it could be you personally, what you'd like to see, what do you think in the bigger picture, but if you could change one part of the motion design industry tomorrow, no costs, no time constraints, what would you like to see be done differently?
Laura Porat: That's a good question. I mean, there's a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in motion graphics and that's definitely important, but I also want to talk about the lack of accessibility in motion graphics, because I am a disabled woman. I'm deaf, so my disability does play a big part in the work I do. Like for example, I design videos not really thinking about the audio so that's why a lot of my work is more visually driven than say like audio driven, for example. So motion graphics can be a little bit inaccessible for people like me because it's trendy to create typography that has like really small text and everything but if you're visually impaired, that can be very difficult for someone to read and if you're designing an explainer video but you don't have subtitles or captions, or you don't make room for subtitles and captions and they overlap on the important elements, then you're kind of alienating a part of your audience. So I think that's definitely something that motion designers should take into consideration when doing more commercial work. I mean, as a personal project like no, I understand [inaudible] but if you're creating stuff for clients, I think that's something that you should keep in the back of your head.
Ryan Summers: Thank you so much for that answer, because I feel like until we have more people who have this life experience, I feel like it's always on the artist's shoulders to push back or push up to clients, to agencies, to brands because there aren't those people in their rooms, but hopefully there can be in ours. Again I think that that's why ... I really hope you do think of yourself as a leader in a lot of different ways. This demo reel is great. I think the path that you're trying to explore to kind of trailblazer in terms of not just thinking that the Nike job or the big studio is the only one true way. I think that's a great moment of leadership, but this is another thing that ... It doesn't come up enough in the room when you're talking to a client, like these are things that are ... They're not just something to tick at the end of a list of deliverables, they're something that has to be designed from the beginning, from the onset and until there's actually people in the room that have experienced that and seen what it's like when it's not there for them, it's not going to change. So I love that answer. It's something that we should be seeing more and more often.
Laura Porat: Well said. I completely agree with you.
Ryan Summers: Well Laura, this is coming to the end, but I just want to say thank you so much. Thank you for putting this reel out. I cannot wait to see what your next demo reel looks like.
Laura Porat: Me too. Thank you so much for having me.