Tips for a better showreel

ocean wireframe preview from my CG/VFX reel 2013
3D/VFX Showreel 2013 is coming
I have recently finished my fourth demoreel  and it crossed my mind to share what I’ve learned about compiling showreels for computer graphics artists (and often even postproduction studios). It is nothing new of course - just my summary, tried out and struggled through. My older reels are intended to serve as illustrations for both some concepts and mistakes, as I’m going to share them in the following posts.

I noticed different people have preference for either a word “demoreel” or “showreel”. In general, those seem to be interchangeable with more flavor of a finished work being showcased as implied by “showreel”, and “demoreel” stressing rather a demonstration of certain skills or techniques as discussed here. But if you’re struggling to pick a particular word - don’t struggle, do pick - any.

And follow the main rule:

Keep it short. Really. Looking at the big houses' reels I used to feel bad showing less than 3 (at the very least 2) minutes of material. Well, these days I'd say 2 minutes is the absolute maximum for a demoreel. I remember reading that it's the worst shot in the reel you're going to be judged for, and I believe it to be true. So the longer the video – the lower you'll have to put this worst shot threshold. And when it's even the greatest and coolest stuff you're watching for too long you're starting to get tired of it, and great shots do not look so great compared to too many other great shots – pieces of work start competing with each other. The idea of a 3D or VFX showreel as I see it – is to tease, to intrigue, to make an impression. It's not even the first date – it's asking out. Let those people interested ask you for additional examples if they'd need it, but to make it happen – impress first.

In 90% of the cases I saw (way more often than I would've guessed) there was a need for the reel to sell more than there actually is (like when your skills are higher than the shots on your hands), so I tend to consider it a normal situation unless you're an ILM or something. But the cool and funny part of it is that it’s perfectly doable usually. Through edit, music and ...keeping it short. The professional slang expression I've heard for this is “killing your babies” - cutting out the material which you really love for the sake of improving the final result as a whole. It is hard, but it is a skill to acquire and it works. And one way to get there is to keep showing your demoreel to other people and LISTENING to their feedback. If more than one person had the same remark independently – chances are it's more correct than what you think.

Best work first! Good if it's your latest work as well, if not – ignore the latest rule – go with the best. I'm trying to stress the last shot as well, but without sacrificing this rule. What's the sense in postponing the cool stuff, if the viewer will never see it only because she'd turn off your reel since the beginning was not exciting enough?

For the music, I believe in fast, dynamic tracks rather than slow, lyrical and artsy. It helps to involve the audience imho. Fast rhythm also gives more flexibility for cutting. The main thing is not to irritate the viewer though, thus instrumental tracks should be preferred and genre extremes with clich├ęs avoided. Editing the reel is a perfect time to ignore your musical preferences and rather think of what works best with the visual. I found it helpful choosing the music first, otherwise trying to cut at the modular lengths helps picking the sound later. It's also interesting how often it is stated that music is irrelevant for a CG artist's reel since everyone is watching it mute anyway, and at the same time when I tried showing a mute reel to people, the most frequent comment was: “But where is the music?”

Don’t try to tell the story - it usually doesn’t work. If it does - great, but do not let this false goal to limit you and put good work aside. Rather focus on smoother flow between the cuts - visual unity of some sort for neighbouring shots like grouping by technique or color.

And of course the contact data – both at the beginning and the end. Personally, I also like making the reel loopable, although perfectly aware that no one is going to play it on and on except for myself:)

Hope that helps someone and please share any thoughts or useful links you have on the subject.

Here are few from my older researches:

UPDATE: looks rather hacked than functioning at the moment, so I adjusted 2 URLs below to preserve them in case it will resurrect, but to make them inactive at least - use at your own risk.

Some forum threads on the matter:


And a couple of galleries to start


Next week I plan to start the aforementioned retrospective of demoreels which served me in the past.

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