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Top 15 Portfolio & Demo Reel Tips

Top 15 Portfolio & Demo Reel Tips

Top 15 Portfolio & Demo Reel Tips

30-Sep-2014
Dave Scotland
Dave Scotland
Preparing your demo reel and portfolio is not as simple as it once was. The landscape is more crowded and the creative options are vast. So what can you do to separate your work form the masses and land that job in the industry?

Well the most important thing is to realize the presentation of your work is as imperative as the quality of the work itself. Some might even suggest it is more important, as it sends a strong message about you as a professional artist. Your artwork will illustrate your skills, but the presentation of this artwork will illustrate your professionalism and suitability for working in a studio or organisation. Your demo reel and portfolio is a brand statement, full of many smaller statements. The trick is to only say the right things and to avoid accidently making the wrong statements.

The following tips have been formulated from vast amounts research and experience and represent current advice and information, which will benefit your efforts to secure a position in the CG, VFX, Animation and Games industries.


Jacob Rowlands
Jacob Rowlands


1. Use Only Your Best Work...

Employers will always assume the work you have submitted is your best, so never use anything less than your absolute best, phenomenal, jaw-dropping stuff. Or it might be a one-way trip to the trash for your reel. Never, under any circumstances, should you use anyone else’s work in your reel. You can certainly collaborate, in fact it is considered a positive, but contributions must be clearly stated. This is taken very seriously and it is a potential career-ender!!

2. Keep It Short...

Fight the overwhelming urge to include every piece of work you’ve ever created. Nobody cares about bouncing balls. Employers want to see that you have ideas and an appreciation of narrative. They also want to see an understanding of composition, physicality and appeal. It is better to have less, well-polished work than more less-polished work. Treat your reel like a TV commercial, designed to get the viewer to go check out your full portfolio.

3. Keep It Simple...

This tip relates to the presentation of your reel or portfolio, and not the projects contained within. By keeping the presentation of your material simple, you will keep the viewer’s attention on the right thing… your work. Bells and whistles won’t translate to a job. Spend the effort on polishing the content. Place your name and e-details at the beginning and end. Also, never use music which upstages or drowns-out your work, it should always compliment your content.


Ivan Beven
Ivan Beven


4. Show Personal Work...

You might not have the range or depth of client work to show all of your talents. This is where personal projects can be used to fill in the gaps. You can also use personal projects to illustrate your speciality or to bring focus to your understanding of a specific production process. But remember, any personal projects used for self-marketing, need to be finished and polished to a high-quality, production-level standard.

5. One Size Definitely Does Not Fit All...

A reel should be tailored to the position or organisation you are targeting. Blizzard Entertainment tends to make science fiction and fantasy video games, so they’ll go nuts over a demo reel which includes medieval castles and spaceships. Having a generic, catch-all reel can water down the content for specific employers or positions. Your portfolio can include a wider variety of content, that your reel, but you might consider breaking it into sub-sections, more relevant to specific goals.

6. Follow Instructions...

This point can’t be emphasised enough!!! Various companies or studios have specific instructions for submitting a demo. Overlook or underestimate the importance of following these guidelines at your own peril. You are sending a clear message, “I can’t follow simple instructions”. For example, Pixar has a list of 11 things that you have to include in your reel. Do your research and make sure there are no special requests associated.

7. Showcase What You Did & How You Did It...

Employers don’t just want to see a finished product, they want to know how you created it. This will aide in establishing your ownership of the work and it also helps to illustrate your process, which is important information to an employer. It can bring focus to your “Attention to Detail” and can help to clarify your thought process. Breakdowns are commonly used and should always be presented in a polished and entertaining manner. The use of breakdowns, in a reel, will suite some positions and not others, but if not included, breakdowns should at least be contained within your portfolio.


Rebecca Lyons Wright

8. Start Strong & End Special...

The old saying “save your best to last” may be true in most situations, but for a demo reel this is simply not the case. You must always lead with your strongest work. How long does it take you to decide to watch a full You Tube video…? It is measured in seconds. Remember your demo could be one of hundreds, so to get past the short-listing process, your reel must have hooking power. The best formula is “Start big and end on something with emotional punch”. Don’t underestimate the power of creating an emotional connection with the viewer.

9. Be Original...

No doubt you’ve heard the term “Think outside the box”. Great advice but how do you achieve this if you don’t know what is in the box. You must research your competition, only then can you start to create original content. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel, sometimes a solution, presented from a unique perspective, can provide an original flavour. Remember a great concept can add huge bonus points to an already strong product. And never forget the importance of placing your work into some kind of narrative context. Reference-posed turnarounds are no longer good enough.

10. Challenge Yourself...

Set the bar high when considering a portfolio piece. It says a lot about your work ethic, technical abilities and your attitude toward a challenge. Employers will notice when you add extra depth and detail. Never shy away from the big or difficult tasks. In fact, by setting yourself a demanding and challenging personal project, you send a strong message about who you are as an artist. Important: Cherry pickers don’t last in this game.

11. Make Sure It Functions...

How your portfolio and demo reel functions is a major statement about you as a professional. That’s right, potential employers will judge you on how well the presentation of your artwork functions. Online portfolios should load fast and operate with ease. Demo reels should always open and play on any platform, from anywhere in the world. Your product should be high resolution but never at the cost of function or operation. You can actually cast a negative light on your brilliant work by simply not recognising the importance of this fact.

12. Presentation Is Part Of The Content...

You will be judged on the aesthetic presentation of your demo reel and portfolio. If you research other peoples work, you will find a lot of commonalities and much of the content is similar. So how do you rise above the crowd? Well the easiest way, and one which most artists underestimate, is by paying more attention to the presentation of the material. You must brand yourself in the most professional and consistent manner possible. You must also pay close attention to not making unwanted statements, by including grammar and spelling mistakes, technical errors, glitches, noise, audio issues, etc. An error-riddled portfolio will be destined for the trash, as it shows a lack of attention to detail.


Adam Newman, Nicholas Williams and Rhys Smith
Adam Newman, Nicholas Williams and Rhys Smith


13. Review, Revise, Edit & Repeat...

Your demo reel and portfolio should be online, live and up-to-date at all times. These are living, dynamic documents which need to always showcase your latest and best work. Keep moving your best work into the prime position. Don’t expect to nail it on the first try. It’s going to take a lot of dedication and effort to create a truly polished, well thought-out product. And remember, your portfolio should never be out of date. Try to treat these documents like pieces of art and bring some passion and pride to the process.

14. Seek Help...

Once you have a product to show, target knowledgeable people in the industry and ask for their feedback. Never send out a blanket email or forum post, asking everyone to evaluate your reel/portfolio. If you do and if it still needs work, it just became too late. You can also ask your peers to evaluate your demo and portfolio, and get them to offer feedback, which they might deem useful. Try to always seek educated advice, by people who have experience and an appreciation of the craft. There is a time and place for Nanna's feedback. And once you have received feedback, always show your gratitude. Finally, be willing to implement changes, if the advice you have received is sound.

15. Expose Your Work…

When, and only when, you are confident your demo and portfolio are tight, release it to the world. Try to create as much web traffic as possible. It’s not the amount of hits which creates a strong web presence, it is spikes in traffic. So use forums, join societies, enter competitions and festivals and get your brand out there. Always accompany your correspondence with links to your work. Start presenting yourself to the world as a professional, skilled, creative, well-polished entity. Always use your full and correct name and never use a joke or meaningless alias or domain name. Remember your future employer or manager will also be in this space, so represent your brand in the most positive light at all times.