How to Make a Successful Demo Reel for 3D Artists

Finding a job in the CG industry

A man editing videos on a Mac computer

Lucia Lambriex / Blake Guthrie / Getty Images 

When getting started in 3D modeling and animation, you need to create a demo reel to convince potential employers that your style and personality will be a good fit for the company aesthetic. Here are some tips for putting together a killer artist demo reel to help you land your dream job.

Edit Yourself Thoroughly

Potential employers don't want to see every model or animation you've ever created; they only want to see your best work. A rule of thumb is that you want your pieces to convey a consistent level of polish and expertise. If you've got a piece that's noticeably a cut below your best work, you should either rework it until it's up to par or leave it off the reel altogether.

Get to the Point

If your work is good, then you don't need an animated 3D text effect to introduce it. If you insist on including some sort of introduction clip, make it short. Instead of getting fancy, display your name, website, email address, and a personal logo for a few seconds. Include the information again at the end of the reel and leave it up as long as you think is necessary for the hiring directors to take down the information.

Don't save the best work for last. First impressions are the most memorable, so always put your best work first.

Let Your Process Show Through

The biggest mistake a lot of artists make with their demo reel is that they fail to provide any insight into their inspiration, workflow, and process. If you worked from concept art, show the concept art. If you're as proud of your base topology as you are of your final product, show off your wireframes. Don't go overboard, but try to elegantly include as much information about your workflow as possible.

You should also provide a simple breakdown with every image or shot. For example, you might introduce an image by displaying the following text for a few seconds:

  • "Dragon Model"
  • Zbrush sculpt from Zspheres base
  • Rendered in Maya + Mental Ray
  • 10,000 quads / 20,000 tris
  • Compositing in NUKE

If you're including images that were completed as part of a team, it's also very important to indicate which aspects of the production pipeline were your responsibility.

Presentation Matters

Make sure you display your work in a way that's consistent, aesthetically pleasing, and easy to watch. Be mindful of the way you edit, especially if you're making an animation reel. Employers don't want a high-paced montage that needs to be paused every two seconds. They'd rather see a reel that tells them as much as possible about you as an artist.

Play to Your Specialties

If you're shipping off your reel to a major animation studio like Dreamworks or Bioware, then you're going to want to show off some sort of specialty. Being really good at one thing is what will get you in the door because it means you'll be able to add value immediately.

For example, if texture mapping isn't your strongest suit, then you might be better off showcasing your 3D models without any surfacing. Large studios tend to hire specialists for virtually every role, so you might not ever have to work with textures. That said, all employers prefer well-rounded artists who have a firm understanding of the CG pipeline in its entirety.

Get involved with the online CG community and seek out 3D training programs online to improve your craft and keep up with developing trends.

Tailor Your Reel to the Employer

When you're developing your reel, have a few "dream employers" in mind and try to think about what types of pieces will help you get a job there. For example, if you want to eventually apply at Epic, then you should show off that you've used the Unreal Engine. If you're applying at Dreamworks, you need to show that you can do stylized realism. If you've got a reel full of snarling, gritty, hyper-realistic monsters, then you're probably a better fit for a place like WETA, ILM, or Legacy than somewhere that exclusively does cartoon-style animation.

Many employers have specific demo reel requirements (length, format, etc.) listed on their website. Spend some time poking around studio websites to get a better idea of what sort of work to include.