How to Make Your Demo Reel! Part 2: Editing

Editing your Demo Reel (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons) - Pyragraph

This is the second installment of a three-part advice column to help you make your demo reel. If you’ve already prepped for your demo reel, it’s time to move on to editing. If you’ve already edited, you can skip right to promoting.

The Demo Reel Formula

Starting out, you might feel lost as to what order to show things. While there is no right way to do it, this is the formula that most commonly seen around the biz. I find it a great place to start.

  1. Open with your name and contact info. This might be the only thing they see, so you may as well put your website in front of them.
  2. Open with your best piece of work. Not what you think is your best, but what your most-trusted professional mentors tell you is your best. If your best is three seconds of animation in a seven-second shot, only show those three seconds. This is it: your moment! Let it shine, baby!
  3. Then go in with your third-best. That’s right, your third. Again, if it’s only a couple seconds of something larger, only use that little bit. It’s quality, not quantity.
  4. The middle of the reel is for the shots relevant to the job. For example, if you are sending to a company looking for someone to animate the faces of realistic characters, drop your realistic animation material here. Be brutal; the middle is where you’re most likely to lose your audience, so keep it sharp.
  5. Finish with your second best. This is your closer.
  6. Land that name and website again. You’re done with your first pass!

Logos

There are two scenarios to cut for:

Your reel is targeted to larger agencies, studios and commercial shops.

These tend to evaluate people for a single, very specific skill. They don’t really care if your reel opens with a logo; they are more interested in putting your skills to a specific use.

Your reel is floating around, reaching a diverse mix of leads, agencies and shops.

It needs to sell you as much as possible. A great logo will add personality and make you more memorable, and that is entirely worth the work.

Sound

Some recruiters have told me they watch everything with the sound off. For the larger shops, a silent reel is appropriate.

For the personalized reel, I would argue that sound is 50% of the experience, and used effectively can make you look good. If you have a great track that complements your work and edit pacing, use it.

Be warned!

It’s very hard to choose an appropriate soundtrack. Make sure your track is unique and not currently trending on the tubes. Student reels notoriously blast out the hit of the day.

If you can swing it, find a sound guy/gal. Their consultation about levels, tracks and editing will really help your reel stand out.

Spit and Polish

After you’ve rendered your first pass, see what you can do to clean it up. Polishing an edit is more of a “gut-feeling” endeavor, so trust your instincts. Pay attention to how engaged you are when you watch it.

Make a note of any time you feel like you are losing interest, and try to figure out why. Here are some other pointers that I use.

  • If you are debating more or less, always go with less.
  • Don’t make the viewer have to chase your subjects around the screen. Try to maintain elements in similar parts of the frame, especially if you are cutting very quickly.
  • Sloppy edits will make you look unprofessional. Go through each edit point and make sure there aren’t any pops or black frames.
  • Even if you don’t think the viewer will see it, they might feel it.
  • If you feel you have something, walk away for a while to reset your eyes. When you are too close you start to miss things.
  • During that break, send out a work-in-progress to a group of peers who can give you honest reflections.

With some luck, and a few iterations, you should have a MOV of your current demo reel.

But now what? What do you do with this reel you have so carefully crafted? Stay tuned for Part 3, when we’ll talk about getting it out there.

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About Nye Warburton

Nye Warburton is a game designer and animator based in Venice, California. He has balanced his life as an independent content creator with contract work at companies such as Electronic Arts, 20th Century Fox, Sony Imageworks, Blur, Digital Domain and The Third Floor. He now focuses on game development for mobile. He also teaches animation at the Art Institute of Santa Monica.

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