Nexus Studios on how to make the perfect animation showreel and portfolio

Showreel? Website? Get on your bike to animation success with tips from talent and headhunters from one of our favourite studios.

Finding success in animation can be a fraught endeavour, whether working in the field of GIF, motion or cartoon narratives. The journey can be made more difficult in trying to work out how to pitch your work to studios and clients.

Perhaps you're a graduate or a few years into your career, and may have a mixture of static illustration work and animated to your name. Maybe you're an animator with a decent portfolio and now want to move into animation direction. Do studios therefore want to see a website or showreel? And do they want finished products or progress showreels to show your skills, and if both, what's the best way to combine the two?

When in doubt, we find it's best to speak to the best in the industry, and for this tips feature we've spoken to one of the US/UK studios you'd best be reaching out to with your work: Nexus, a BAFTA and Cannes Lion-winning leader in film, interactive and animation who've worked with Google, Childish Gambino and more.

Nexus Studios directors Jack Cunningham, Manshen Lo and Nicolas Ménard give us their opinions from the veteran talent side of the spectrum, while head of resourcing at Nexus Studios Natalie Busuttil gives us the headhunter's view on what she looks for when recruiting talent to the studio.

Showreel or online portfolio?

Manshen Lo (whose beautiful signal film for GLAS Animation Festival features the above scene) explains how the format you use depends on the position in question.

"These two methods of showreel and website were designed to suit different needs and different roles in the animation landscape. As a director I prefer website portfolios. They’re a good tool to present a coherent and contextual body of work.

"For animators on the other hand, I feel that showreels are great tools to show off technical skills, which is what producers and directors are looking for. I like seeing every step of WIP (work in progress) in a showreel (e.g. for 2D animation: keys-sketches-cleanups/concept artwork then finished product) accompanied by a chill track."

Natalie Busuttil agrees showreels are a must for animators.

"For moving image, obviously a showreel is the best. Even if you are a 3D modeller it’s nice to see turnaround of your model and possibly the animated version of it.

"For a director, animator or mixed-media illustrator, do think about what you want to do and how your website conveys that.

"Put the best work up front and curate it well, don't put everything you've ever done all in one place. Organise it so that the viewer can easily navigate round the bits they want to see."

Nicolas Ménard, director of the above film for Corona, on why he prefers the website format.

"As I'm a director opposed to an animator, for me the context, music, edit and tone of a film is as important as the way it looks, and these get lost in a showreel.

"But when I'm looking to hire an animator, watching a showreel is the most efficient way to get a sense of someone's experience, and if one's sensibility fits the job."

Jack Cunningham, who made the below AR app '1600' for Google and The White House (yes, that White House), agrees a showreel is better for animators.

"Showreels are generally more suited to freelance crew positions. It's the best way to clearly see the strengths and style of a potential collaborator's work."

What to show – and how

"When I started publishing work online," says Nicolas, "I was in the middle of my studies. I was keen to show every single project I did as I hoped to get my hands on as many opportunities as possible.

"I quickly realised that the downside to that approach was that not everything I explored was something I wanted to pursue in the long term. With time, I learned to curate my work more ruthlessly to direct my career in the desired direction."

"I’ve always been stubborn about what’s worthy of showing because I care about the integrity of every image I make and want to maintain a coherent body of work for my audience," Manshen adds.

"The biggest lesson I've learnt over my career is that individual projects sometimes clash with the overall vision, even when I’m meticulous in every detail.

"It takes me a little bit of courage to leave a project out when I’ve shed my fair share of sweat and tears on it, but in return I find clarity in my portfolio and that makes it worthwhile."

"For animators specifically," Natalie advises, "their reel should demonstrate diversity where possible, especially if they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves in one particular style. It’s nice to see a range of movements and a real understanding of performance.

"For 3D, don’t get too hung up about included rendered shots. For 2D, nicely cleaned up-shots are preferable. Keep the whole thing precise and entertaining for the viewer; think about your edit and avoid lingering on shots unnecessarily."

"Finally, make it easy for the viewer - whatever link you send make sure it takes me straight to what I’m looking for (and include passwords if you are using them). We get hundreds of emails a week at Nexus so our time is precious!"

Scouting and social

"Things have evolved since I graduated in 2010 and social media, particularly Instagram, has been a driving force," says Jack.

"I personally have a love/hate relationship with Instagram (as I’m sure most do). It’s the best medium to launch work but the amount of content that most people share and the speed at which it all moves almost makes the work disposable. It can get lost before it reaches your desired audience.

"That’s why I’ll always maintain a slick personal website, a place to curate and immortalise my best work, and even expand on a project with behind-the-scenes content."

"Social links that I find useful for talent searches are Instagram and LinkedIn," reveals Natalie. "Others are too personal and aren’t necessarily relevant."

"At Nexus we have an extensive database of people that we are constantly maintaining," she continues on the topic of talent searching. "We are lucky that we are established enough and have gained a reputation for producing a high standard of work, so many young artists contact us directly. However, we start talking to artists from the time they graduate, visiting many schools and attending grad film screenings to identify the stars of the future as early as possible. 

"For more established artists, we keep our finger on the pulse within the industry. If we see a good bit of work, we find out who did it and get in touch via LinkedIn or their websites. Also we get a lot of recommendations from artists who are already in the studio. We’ll always go with a tried and trusted person where possible."

Read next: 13 tips for creating the best animation showreel

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