How Do I Make A Great Demo Reel?

That is probably the top question I get asked by students. It’s not easy, that’s for sure. It takes mainly perseverance, but a great eye is most helpful. When I get asked this question I usually give the following answer. It’s pretty much word-for-word since I have recited it about a thousand times:

Make sure you only put only your very best work on your reel. Only great work if you can manage it. Don’t listen to people who say you ‘need’ two or three minutes of material on your reel. That’s total crap. It takes years for professional artists to accumulate that much great footage. How could a student possibly do it in one year?

Now imagine a recruiter sitting there hour after hour going through a stack of reels most of which are complete garbage. Finally they get to your reel. You have seven pieces on your reel. One piece is excellent. Two more are quite good. The remaining four are dodgy, but show that you have some other skills. Here is what will go through the recruiter’s mind: “Hey, that’s nice!….Oh yeah, that’s not bad….Ummm, really?….Oh no, not again.” So the recruiter will either toss your reel immediately or put you in a pile with a bunch of “maybe” candidates. If they don’t fill up with the “Call for Interview” pile, they might get to you. Maybe. Or maybe the maybe pile will get lost.

Now imagine you had chosen only to put the one great item and one good item on your reel. Here is the recruiter’s response: “Hey, that’s nice! Oh yeah, that’s not bad either. What?… a little short, but nice work for a junior artist. Call for interview.”

Well that makes sense, doesn’t it?

Huh? Another question? How do you know what “great” work is?

Well first of all, understanding what great work is isn’t the same as knowing how to make it. But here is how you know what great work is: OK, forget about reels and renders and recruiters for a moment. Imagine you are on a hot, sandy beach. It’s a spectacular day. There’s a light breeze and a deep blue sky and you are leaning back against a big log watching the people walk by. You are with your spouse/partner/other so you have to be careful not to watch too closely. Then someone walks past who is spectacularly attractive…the kind of good looking that makes you want to shout “Holy Shit!”; so appealing, in fact, that you involuntarily turn your head to watch him/her walk by even though you will almost certainly get into trouble for it. You turn your head anyway. “Holy Shit!” you think to yourself. You know what I mean. Something like this has happened to everybody. I call this a ‘Holy Shit’ moment.
Now I presume, because you are reading this, that you have looked at some digital imagery, and that you have formed some opinions about good artwork vs. bad artwork. And I presume that at some point in time, you have found an image or two that fired your imagination, made your blood race and made you think to yourself something like ‘holy shit!’

Well that’s how you know what great work is. Great work is great not only because of the technical prowess of the artist, but also because it elicited a strong emotional response. That’s the tricky bit. That’s the bit that takes long study of composition using colour, point of view, subject matter light and shadow each of which is a powerful tool. Master these and you can create pictures that wrap people around your little finger. Master these and you will find yourself on the “Holy Shit, call right now! Pile”.

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