Although the specifics for each artistic discipline can trip you up if you aren't
aware of them, there are many guidelines for designing and developing that all reels
share. In this chapter, I explore what makes a good portfolio demo reel, how to tweak
reel basics for your own type of content, and how to avoid the things that guarantee
your reel a home in the circular file.
Unlike other portfolio artifacts, the reel is sequential, just like the tape reel
(and then the VHS cassette) from which it takes its name. A viewer might fast for-
ward, but usually won't skip back and forth. The linear format offers much more
opportunity for control—and showmanship—than other digital portfolio forms.
The reel format can also be the proverbial rope long enough to hang its maker.
The standard of excellence has risen steeply with the move of the portfolio reel to a
digital format. If the reel presentation is just adequate, it will devalue all but the
most extraordinary work because it will be up against reels that actively support their
individual project clips.
The single most important thing to remember as you build it is that the
demo reel is not just a nice collection of clips. It is an exercise in personal branding.
Here's where your soul-searching from Chapter 1, “Assessment and Adaptation,” must
A trained graphic designer may specialize in corporate identity, but can express
that specialization in more than one medium, as great portfolios containing both
print and online projects prove. But in the moving image professions, there is much
more granular skill specialization.
Particularly when it comes to animation and gaming, technology has taken
what was already a highly-segmented set of jobs and sliced them even thinner into
hundreds of niche production jobs. If you're a 3D animator, you'll first be confronted
with a selection of major job categories: character animator, modeler, compositor.
From there, you may have to parse finer, into some combination like 3D modeling
and lighting, or lighting, texturing, and rigging. The game world is even more com-
plicated, since it encompasses not just game artists, but game designers and game
developers who may be visually talented as well.
But the irony of these narrow job descriptions is that all but the biggest
studios use them to specify what they need in a freelancer for a single project. For a
full-time position, the most desirable person is the generalist—someone who can wear