Real tips for your reel


VFX experts share what should and shouldn’t go on a reel.

#gettingavfxjob week is brought to you by Escape Studios.

It’s something that aspiring VFX artists tend to always ask: what should go on my reel? Remember, recruiters and visual effects pros responsible for reviewing reels and hiring artists watch A LOT of them.

So how do you make yours stand out? To find out, I actually hosted a panel with a bunch of VFX pros at SIGGRAPH 2017 as part of a SideFX Houdini panel. I’ve extracted their thoughts on reels as part of #gettingavfxjob week.

Now, even though these pros are predominantly involved in effects supervision, their observations about reels are universal. Check them out below, and you can watch the full panel video at the bottom of the article.

Tip #1 – Don’t necessarily try to do everything yourself

What you can do is get a model from a friend and say, ‘Okay, this model came from my friend who modeled this.’ That’s totally fine. And then you take that model and then you destroy it! But in a beautiful way. You’re both going to get recognition because of that, and you’re working together with somebody else’s assets.
– Peter Claes, FX supervisor, The Mill

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Tip #2 – Narrow down what you did in the footage

So many people will touch the same shot that we’ll get reels and it’s literally the exact same reel over and over and over and over and over. Each individual candidate doesn’t break down exactly their contribution on that work. But, if you can, if you can narrow it down very specifically what you did, that can work to your benefit. If it’s the hero part of that shot, that’s great to know that you were the one who contributed to that.
– Vincent Serritella, effects supervisor, Pixar

Tip #3 – Story doesn’t always matter

I don’t actually care about a story in a reel. I’m looking for people that are specialized, that have high attention to detail and that are into effects. Maybe they have a second reel in a previous career where they were a modeler or they were a texture artist. Put that into a second reel. Put your primary work at the beginning of your reel, it should be focused on the specialty that you’re going into.
– Peter Claes, FX supervisor, The Mill

Tip #4 – Put the breakdown of the shots in the actual reel

I want to see the breakdown in the reel. So, my favorite reel is a reel that’s got black bars and somewhere in there is the software used and what you did on that. Say, ‘Smoke element done in Houdini’, ’Did the water in Blender.’ It should be really obvious: okay, Houdini person and they did this element. But it looks good because they worked with a team that put it into a plate or even just with a model from your friend.
– Peter Bowmar, FX supervisor, DNEG

Tip #5 – Don’t be afraid to iterate

Give the reel a little polish that it needs. But when we do our work in the studios, you’re presenting the work five times before it goes through. And that’s where having someone who can look at it, giving you critical feedback as you’re doing the work, means that maybe you will get something that’s a lot better. So try and build enough time into whatever project you’re doing to actually give it that polish and make sure it can be lifted up the final quality that might be needed.
– Gavin Graham, general manager, DNEG Montreal

Tip #6 – Make your reel the best it can be (in order to get the job interview)

The reel never gets you a job. The interview gets you a job. So the reel gets you the interview and so you want to make sure that the reel is the correct length, two minutes or less. You want to make sure that your best work is always the very first thing on the reel, it doesn’t matter what it is. A lot of Houdini people will put like their OTL in the reel – cool – put it after the images, we make images, we don’t hire you to make tools. We do want to see it, I’m not saying don’t put it on the reel, but put it at the end of the reel, where your breakdown is. The reel is there to get you the interview. Basically if it looks great and it avoids annoying me, then I’ll probably give you an interview because we talk to way more people than we ever hired.
– Peter Bowmar, FX supervisor, DNEG

Tip #7 – Don’t be afraid to keep the reel short

You might feel like, oh, there’s not enough stuff, I need to just pile on more content to make it look like a now more stuff. But really you can do as much damage by piling in too much unnecessary stuff. So keep it focused, make sure that everything you’re showing on there is great, don’t overblow it by having two minutes of breakdowns for 10 seconds of shots if it’s kind of fairly obvious from the shots exactly how you did it. So I would say aim for maybe only like a third of it to be breakdowns and two thirds of it to be shots and depending on how much stuff you’ve got to show.
– Gavin Graham, general manager, DNEG Montreal

Tip #8 – Review your reel before finalizing it

Get someone else to look at your reel – who maybe dislikes you and will be very critical – no, I’m kidding. But get someone that you trust that will be honest with you. And then take it off if it’s not good enough. One thing can get you a job. When you’re coming out of school and if you did a group project and there’s just one thing that you did, but it looks amazing, we’ll talk to you. As long as I’m not annoyed by the lack of a breakdown.
– Peter Bowmar, FX supervisor, DNEG

Tip #9 – The definitive way to submit a reel

There’s only one way to submit your reel. On Vimeo with a password. Don’t use YouTube – ads popping up at the bottom, it just distracts. And for the love of God, don’t mail us something, because who uses physical media anymore?
– Peter Bowmar, FX supervisor, DNEG

This week at befores & afters is #gettingavfxjob week. Explore various tips and tricks for searching for, applying and landing your next VFX job.

One Reply to “Real tips for your reel”

  1. Thanks Ian. Helpful as always.
    What I really want to know is, what about the R&D guys? Those who have a background in science and engineering and wanna join the R&D dept. These people often get left out in the vfx industry and treated like outsiders!
    Appreciate any comments!

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