DePaul University Career Center's Blog

Building a Demo Reel for Animation

If you’re pursuing a career in animation, the demo reel is the single most important element of your job application. Without examples to show what you’re capable of creating, you’ll have very little success getting your foot in the door for an interview.

Knowing this, you may be asking yourself: how do I decide what work to include? How should I arrange my reel? What site should I use to host my work? Consider these guidelines as you navigate these questions and start building your reel.

What to Include

You want to present your very best work. Look at the pieces you have—do you have a project you’ve completed that you aren’t entirely in love with? If your mind is gravitating toward a yes, decide whether to continue to refine the project and get it demo-reel ready, or toss it. Never include subpar work. Rather, create new things. The more work you generate, the more high quality work you will have to show off.

One complaint employers often make is that applicants fail to make their inspirations and processes known in their demo reels. Consider including process pieces:

  • Include a base mesh along with your final sculpt.
  • Show your wireframes and textures.

This doesn’t need to be done for every piece, but a well-placed process piece can give an employer a lot of insight into your workflow.

Adding written breakdowns of every piece—including the tools you used to create it—is also a smart move. If you have pieces that were part of a group effort, make sure you let it be known what your part of the project was.

You may also want to try tailoring your reel to the employer. Again, the more work you have, the easier this will be to do. When putting together your reel, create a list of a few companies you’d like to work for. Look at the pieces you have and figure out which ones match with those companies’ styles. Gritty hyper-realism may not work for Pixar, but it might be a good fit for ILM. Always remember who your audience is.

How to Arrange

Include your best work first. Don’t save the best for last, because an impatient employer might have lost interest by that point. Your demo reel should be no more than three minutes. As a student, you may only have enough great work for 2 minutes, and that’s perfectly fine. In fact, if you only have 30 seconds of amazing work, it’s better to just show that rather than add another 90 seconds of filler or subpar work.

Be careful with the inclusion of music. Consider these tips:

  • You don’t want music that will be distracting or take away from your work.
  • Avoid anything with vocals.
  • If you decide to use music, make it as unobtrusive as possible.

Overall, when it comes to arranging, present each shot or piece separately, make sure you are allowing each piece some room to breathe, and consider using a title card prior to each shot.

What Platform to Use

The final piece of the puzzle is figuring out what site you should use to host your demo reel. The two main contenders, Youtube and Vimeo, both have pros and cons. Youtube is more widely used and can offer a way to have your work seen by more people. The downside is that it’s plagued by pop-up ads and will have a lower streaming quality. Vimeo offers a cleaner presentation and higher video quality. It also offers more detailed analytics to give you greater insight into who is viewing your reel. However, Vimeo has far less traffic than Youtube, which means far fewer people will stumble across your work.

Vimeo is currently the more generally accepted platform for hosting demo reels. You’ll be giving up some potential views for the sake of a stronger presentation, but most industry professionals believe it’s worth the trade-off.

Remember, the key to a successful demo reel is tailoring your best work to fit the interests of your audience. If you need added guidance on demo reels, be sure to stop by the Career Center to chat!

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