The Game Animation Reel

This is a post I’ve been waiting years to write as whenever I’m knee-deep in demo reels I’m invariably too busy hiring, but all that changes this week. After sifting through hundreds of examples while creating this Vimeo group of Game Anim Demo Reels, here are my thoughts on creating the perfect demo reel with the specific intent of landing a videogame animation job. Greater length, quality and variety is expected from someone with industry experience behind them, whereas a student need mostly show potential, passion and imagination that can be nurtured. Admittedly, these are only my opinions so I’d be interested to hear what other developers think, and please also add your reel or others you know of to the group – it’s open to everyone.

Ten steps to a great game animation demo reel

01. Show really strong work

It may sound obvious, but this is so important above everything else that it’s worth putting as number one. This brief list won’t tell you how to do that as it takes years and years of hard work and practice, but it will help you sell what you have in the best possible light to stand out from the increasingly talented crowd while avoiding many of the pitfalls that can detract from otherwise good animation. Making a strong demo reel is the single most important way to get my attention and make me want to work with you, so take your time and approach it with the same level of creativity and polish that you would any other project with your name on it.

02. Best foot forward

It’s quite commonly known already, but always start your reel with your best work and generally go backwards from there. Importantly however, that doesn’t mean that you should show weak work at the end. If it doesn’t help to have it, then don’t include it. This rule is important not only to instantly grab my attention, but because it tells me what YOU think is your best work. Often in an interview I want to know what you are most proud of and where you feel you need to improve to establish how clued-in you are to reality.

03. Choose your music well

I would never pass on a reel because the music was not to my taste, just ensure it is not incongruous with the visuals on show. If it’s action, choose energetic music. If it’s subtle character acting, ease off on the death metal. Editing to this tells me whether your art skills extend to the enhancement of drama and your handle on pacing and rhythm. I recommend repetitive instrumental music that you can better edit to fit your needs, and try to match the pacing in your music to best stick to the recommendations of #2.

04. Show a range

Include Actions, Cycles, Acting, Camerwork… whatever you can do. This will stand you in the best stead for landing a job over someone who can only do one facet of videogames. When adding dialogue/lipsync, don’t feel the need to include the entire scene – just the best bits. A two-character interaction with a progression in emotion beats a monologue anyday. Bear in mind the flow of your entire reel when inserting dialogue vs action and how it will affect the pacing. (Note: Save model turnarounds for another reel, and keep drawings for your portfolio – I don’t want to see that padding out a demo).

05. Contact info

I don’t need your address or phone number – just your name, email, and a website if you have one (you should have one). I will then immediately look you up on LinkedIn (you should have a LinkedIn profile) to get a better context on how many years experience etc. Start and end your reel with your details to better stay in my head. DO NOT create a lavishly animated title. If you spent that much time animating your name, it would have been better spent elsewhere.

06. Explain yourself

Provide a shot breakdown in the video description if your reel contains anything other than 100% your own work. I highly recommend using the timecode to denote which shot you’re referring to as it’s the simplest method I can think of. Don’t leave me guessing when scenes contain multiple elements. Importantly, never, EVER, pass off someone else’s work as your own. The industry is very small and you will be found out as soon as you can’t cut it on the job, (if not before), and that dishonesty will follow you around forever.

07. Make it pretty

No quick playblasts – take time to render your animations out, and ideally show cutscenes in-engine. I spend enough time looking at a grey 3D package so ensure your reel doesn’t look like one. Radiosity is the simplest and cleanest look. We don’t animate with skeletons only so I don’t want to see only a biped skeleton in a reel, regardless of how much character you’e infused it with. (Note: If the animation is AMAZING this is irrelevant, as are most things on this list. but it tells me how much you care about presentation).

08. Minimise details

I’ll assume you didn’t model/rig things so there’s no need to credit your colleagues/classmates. If you did, and your animation is anything less than stellar, then my first thought is that you should have spent more time animating. No need to specify what is and isn’t mocap unless you really think I’ll be confused by how incredibly realistic your keyframe animation is. Try to keep all unnecessary info for the accompanying video description and breakdown.

09. Keep it punchy

A 1-minute reel of pure awesome beats a 3 minute reel of lackluster. Try to keep overall length to between 1 minute (fine for a student – not for a professional – any less and I’ll think you don’t work hard) and 3 minutes in length (any more and I won’t watch, and you’ll just be padding it out). As with #2, weak work will detract from rather than add to my overall impression of your reel, so be ruthless with what you include.

10. Ask for help

As with everything in game development, your reel should be a collaborative process. Ask for constructive feedback. Do several revisions. See your reel as a living document that you constantly add to before AND after sending it out into the wild if you don’t instantly land a job. There’s nothing stopping you doing personal projects at home where you can take the time to polish. And most of all, have fun with it – you should enjoy animating after all. Good luck!