View Full Version : short film as a demo reel?

12 December 2004, 11:25 PM
Here's my dillema. I studied mostly filmmaking and philosophy in college. My shorts won eight awards in three years, and nearly got me a Fulbright to go study at Weta in New Zealand, but that fell through. The experimental nature of my work, while being very succesful in the "experimental" circles, hasn't been able to get me a job at a studio. I'm starting the computer animation program at RISD with the hopes that I will be able to find work in the future. My question is thus: Is a short narrative film a good idea for a demo reel? I don't know if there are any people in charge of hiring reading this thread, or any people with experience in that area. But I'm wondering if I end up in somebody's office, is it a good idea to have a ten minute short action/sci-fi film in hand? What are people really looking for? I'd probably add in some of my other more experimental things, just to show my range.

Any thoughts?


12 December 2004, 02:59 PM
I've talked to several people from Dreamworks, and they say 2-3 min for a demo reel. And, put the best at the begining. So preferably it's a demo. But if you're good at film making, that is also acceptable, only, try to make it as short as possible, and as intense as possible. Those guys receive thousands of videos like this and if there's a part which gets a bit borring, theyll stop it and play the next. So make sure it's not too slowly paced.
Now, if they end up seeing you're whole movie, that is another matter, but there is more chance they view your demo than a 15 minute movie.

EDIT: I forgot something, what people also do is make a 15 minute movie, and include on the DVD a 3 minute version of their movie in a more Demoish form. So, if they like it, they can watch the full thing.

12 December 2004, 05:42 PM
I'd agree with Al-x. If a short is all you have and you don't have time to produce more material, then quickly edit a teaser or trailer with the most interesting shots, concentrating more on visuals rather than story. Then let the full film follow. There are tons of movie trailers available through Apple's website ( to get you inspired.


12 December 2004, 10:23 PM
Thanks for the advice guys. Apparently there's a whole thread about this elsewhere on cgtalk. I also found a couple of websites. I guess the first rule is: no spaceships, no robots, and no starwars references. Right now I'm leaning more towards a spoof of the American television show COPS where they send camera men along with real police officers to tape them chasing criminals through neighboorhoods. There's also the random vice-squad episode but those might be a little more innapropriate for a demo reel. My idea is to take each character playing out the action silently from a full shot, profile view, so you can easily see the actions making, sort of like a very energetic walk cycle, but with each character jumping over fences. I'm thinking also about even having the camera man, so you can see him trying to balance the camera, and focus, and not trip or anything. I think there's a lot of material there to play with, to show some skill in animating characters.

After each character is shown against the grey background, I'd show the short film, with fully textured and lit environments to show how it all goes together, and also to reveal some skill in texturing, lighting, and directing.

Hopefully this works.

Thanks for the advice.


12 December 2004, 08:09 AM
One thing to keep in mind for a demo reel is to have a pretty good bead on what kind of position you want to fill within a given studio. Most demo reels that are successful in gaining employment in the upper levels of the industry are focused to specific tasks. A modeling reel, a lighting reel, an animaton reel, an FX reel, a rigging reel, a layout/camera reel, etc. If your reel lacks focus then the reviewers often don't know what position to assess you for. For lower level work in smaller studios a general 3d/CG reel is actually a good thing. A good idea is to cut two reels- one specific and one general and be sure to send them to the appropriate studio in your job search.

Second, if you make a film, take your best scenes and make a short 2-3min reel from those best scenes. Best as in the best executed, not the most important to the narrative. If you want your film to be seen then include it after your 2-3 min reel on the tape. That way if the reviewer wants to watch it they can. The few times a film works as the demo reel proper is when the film is very short (under 3min) and it's very well executed from start to finish- no weak spots and no sloppy scenes. It's a brutal meritocracy this business- you're only as good as your worst piece on your reel.


01 January 2005, 09:48 PM
Confirming what Keith said - if you apply to a big studio like DWA, Pixar, Sony etc they will be looking to hire you for a specific role eg lighter, animator, layout artist etc. So whatever it is that you want to be hired for - focus on it in the reel & make it amazing.

BTW if you want to be an animator then think of yourself as an actor doing an audition for a lead role. Actors applying for lead roles don't get hired if their reels consist of wide shots of them jumping fences & balancing stuff. They get hired because of the emotion they can communicate - make us laugh, make us cry. The assumption is that they can walk, run & jump without falling over or looking unintentionally bizarre.

If you see yourself as a great narrative film maker and you make a great short film, with strong, clear storytelling using great cinematography/directing: staging, lens choices, composition, camera choreography & cutting....then your reel will come to the attention of layout and we don't give a damn about texturing, modelling etc (although clear character staging/posing helps as well as representation of any lighting that drives narrative).

If the layout is good, the movie is done - everything else is post. ;)
(Uh oh! Do I see flames approaching??)

Regarding "experimental" films from a studio perspective...
A lot of people in the studios enjoy watching them, but the bottom line is that they may not necessarily see how the experimental film maker helps them get 10 million more Mid-West bums on theatre seats for their mainstream, commercial, popcorn & soda, narrative feature.

Don't forget, in the world of the commercial moviemaking, in the end, every question boils down to - "How much will person-X/resource-Y/cost-Z add to our opening weekend box office?"

Your mileage may vary...


01 January 2005, 08:26 AM
If you see yourself as a great narrative film maker and you make a great short film [...] then your reel will come to the attention of layout and we don't give a damn about texturing [...] After I finished my first short and then a music video I thought: How can I ever edit a demo reel from these, geared at a specific task in the pipeline? Modeling, texturing, animation all looked ok, yet far from great.
But from what you're writing, Layout may be what I was looking for, being the department where most of the "traditional" film-making skills are needed, right?
Did you apply with a short film? Or just with some spectacular shots?


01 January 2005, 03:04 PM
This is a great thread. Thanks for opening it.

01 January 2005, 10:55 PM
Hi Marcboy,

Definitely in layout we see ourselves as filmakers more than specialists in doing "layout". I'm pretty sure that's true of all the big studios, but it's best to check with the place you're thinking of applying to. Also, like any project, depending on the nature of the project itself, director, producer and other key personnel sometimes there will be more creative filmaking input expected from layout other times not so much...

I'm always interested in seeing someone's short film on a reel - if it's good.
If it's real good & we have positions available then I want to talk.
If it's at least "interesting" and I can see similarties in the type of filmaking to a project I'm going to be working on then I may want to talk to the person some more.
I don't have to agree with every filmaking choice (because we all may shoot something differently) BUT I do want to know "why?" they made that decision. For every shot, every move, every angle, every cut you need to be able to answer "why did you choose that angle/cut/move etc? what were you trying to achieve?". Whether it succeeds or not, in one person's view is not necessarily that important.
It the answers to these questions that are important.
If the short film is muddy, unclear, confusing or just plain boring then I'll probably never get to see it anyway.

Personally I've come from a varied background & done lots of different stuff over the years in CG, from early days supervising & doing *everything* in CG commercials then moving on to CG series & films & moving up through more specialised positions like char animator, layout/previz artist, head of animation, head of layout, director and supervising director. So when I came here they could see shots that I did boards for, layout for, directed or supervised.

BTW I did spend 2 years working & living not far from you, in Babelsberg, but the old UFA studios. Berlin rocks, but the CG companies seem soooo unstable. Shame, wish I was still there. I loved it. Have a beer down by the lakes in Wansee for me!

- B

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