How to create the perfect 3D, VFX or games art showreel

"Your ten-second chance". That’s what Will Cook, animation director at Blue Zoo, calls your showreel. That sounds brutal, but the reality is studios are inundated with submissions from new hopefuls on a daily basis – and their time is limited.

It’s therefore crucial to get your showreel right. To have any chance of a big break, you must grab the viewer’s interest – and keep it. Escape Studios has spent 15 years turning students’ passion into studio-ready skills. This experience has been condensed into REEL TALK, a free guide packed with advice from industry partners. It’ll help you up your game – and a taster is provided below.

Tailor made

Your showreel should be optimised for the area you wish to work in. For 3D, Escape Studios 3D VFX tutor Jonathan McFall says industry partners look for people with a “keen eye for detail, whether that’s in modelling, texturing, shaders or look development”. Chris Cook, lead modeller at Framestore adds that a good understanding of the VFX pipeline is equally vital: “This demonstrates you grasp how models will be textured and shaded further down the pipeline, and that you can work with other departments in mind.”

Stirling Archibald, head of Nuke at Rushes, says those working on 2D VFX should concentrate on fundamentals: rotoscoping, clean-up, and compositing. If you’re into animation, Will Cook reveals the main thing he looks for is body mechanics: “Nail that in a showreel and you’re a pretty good animator. All the rest, a studio can teach you.”

Playing the game

In gaming, the rules are rather different. Bithell Games founder Mike Bithell says a common mistake with showreels is to forget they’re about establishing you can make visuals for games: “There’s a big difference between being able to make something that looks brilliant in a render and something that looks good in a game – and will work at the correct frame rate and on the hardware we need it to.”

He therefore recommends showing you can produce low-poly work, and to render showreel content in a real-time game engine: “This demonstrates you understand the pipeline, and that you can take what you’ve made in Maya or 3ds Max into a games context”.

Break it down

Whichever discipline you favour, some tips work for every showreel. Where possible, show a breakdown of how you’ve put work together, so viewers can understand the process and production. State what you did, and credit others where relevant.

Garreth Gaydon, recruitment manager at The Mill, says “we need to know an artist can handle anything we throw at them”, and so if you’ve a diverse range of skills, show them off. But also ensure the showreel is focused. Recognise less can be more – it distracts from your best work if you try to cram in everything you’ve ever made.

In short, start and finish strongly, only include your most relevant highlights, and don’t leave your best work waiting at the end. As Will Cook reiterates, your showreel is “your one chance to make an impression”. Make yours count.

For your copy of REEL TALK, with exclusive video interviews, example showreels, and an indispensable showreels checklist, click here.

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