7 Rules to Make a Killer Animation Reel

    Kevin Richards discusses below how to craft a killer animation reel who is currently working as a Lead Animator at the new Aardman Animation TV Series “Pop Paper City”.  As a production lead, Kevin spends a good deal of time reviewing animation reels and making hiring decisions on new talent.  

    Kevin offers his tips on how to put together a great demo reel that will ensure you land that crucial first job in the animation industry.

    “I have spent a little time compiling this advice on demo reels, based on my own experiences of both hiring and also looking for work in the industry. This comes from my six years both looking for and being in work in CGI animation, and also my time as a 2d animator before that.

    Animation Reel Tips

    Rule 1 – Start Strong

    Always open your demo reel with your strongest piece.

    Rule 2 – Don’t Show Weakness

    Take out any weak pieces. 

    Rule 3 – Keep it Short

    Keep it short: Your reel should be no more than a minute long.

    Rule 4 – Display Your Skills

    Your reel should display skills in body mechanics, lips sync and acting.

    Rule 5 – Be Inventive

    Your reel should display completely original work that recruiters have not seen before.  Recruiters can recognise college animation exercises – because we have all done them at some point.  Walk cycles should have original touches/flourishes and should be one small component of your reel.  When a recruiter sees a reel made up of just college exercises, they know that the animation tutor has walked or talked you through the exercise, but they do not know whether you can do original animation from scratch to order.

    Rule 6 – Be Original

    Aardman look for originality

    Try to do an original piece of lip sync that no one has ever heard before. If you take a famous line from a famous film it shows a lack of originality.  What usually happens when I see a student CGI piece taken from a famous film is that I think I’d much rather be watching the film.

    Rule 7 – Include Professional Work
    If you happen to have any professional pieces of animation in your animation reel – this will be a massive plus for you.

    Animation Reel Weakness to Avoid:

    These are the weaknesses that we look for in a reel to weed out applicants. If you have left one of these things in a animation reel, it is unlikely you will get an interview with an animation studio.

    1. Intersections 

    If you leave intersections in your reel (ie, intersection of geometry) we will envisage a time when we are having to waste time telling you to correct this basic mistake (the irony of course is that intersections get missed all the time in the professional environment).

    2. IK Pops 

    If we see any pops that have not been ironed out – especially in things like knees – we will probably not follow up.

    3. Floaty animation 

    If your poses are nice but your animation floats between them – this is a problem you need to know how to fix before you become professional.  Learn how to hold a key pose, and stay in it.

    4. Symmetry 

    If you don’t know how to offset poses and use “contra posture”  this is a major red flag.  I have seen reels that have very good timing between quite boring key poses that don’t make good, readable silhouettes.

    5. “Shovel” Hands

    If you have not bothered to put hands in natural, aesthetically pleasing positions and have the fingers react when they are relaxed.

    6. Lack of Originality

    A reel just composed of college exercises and no original work (See above) All recruiters will spot an animation reel like this a mile off because we have all done the same exercises in college courses ourselves. Some college exercises – such as walk cycles- are fine.

    7. Missed Accents

    If you have done a lip sync piece and you don’t hit the accents accurately this will be another red flag.

    8: No Overlap

    Lack of overlapping action on arms and hands as a character walks.

    Include a CV – But Understand it’s the Demo Reel That Matters

    When we are considering applicants, we don’t read the CVs, at least not at first. What we do is we look at all the reels to see if anything grabs us. If we don’t like the reel we don’t bother reading the CV. If we are really excited by a animation reel we are then curious and we want to find out where our applicant has been before – then we go back and read the CV.

    So, it all hinges on the reel. Only if that half a minute to a minute is impressive will a recruiter consider you.

    We will respond well an animation reel with this kind of work:
    1. Exciting and original lip sync pieces that display great acting choices.
    2. A comprehensive understanding of body mechanics – timing and spacing.

    Render -v- Playblast

    You can get away with Play Blast animation – but it’s really best to put as many fully rendered pieces in your reel as possible. 

    If your animation reel passes with a recruiter then you will be asked for an interview – most likely via Zoom or Google Meet.”

    —- Kevin Richards

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