Welcome to the first part of a four part editorial on how to represent yourself when trying to attain that all important position in the industry. Initially it wasn’t intended to speak on this subject as there’s quite a bit of literature out there already pertaining to the process, but due to the fact that I’m still seeing a lot of confusion out there on just want to put on your reel, and how to best present it to a potential employer, that I then decided to put this together.
I would like to forewarn you that the articles in this series are focused more on the graphical end of the spectrum, and to those who are a bit green to the process. More experienced folks can follow along, but I’m positive you already have a handle on things.
Over my time running Rustik Studios, I’ve received many unsolicited reels from recent graduates seeking ways to get their foot in the door to begin their career. And although this article isn’t much on the schooling part of the process, one has to wonder just want they’re teaching these kids when they send them out into the ‘real’ world with reel in hand. I can’t begin to tell you the countless times I’ve chucked reels and seen them chucked while in this industry.
In all honesty, I’m usually a bit worried after sorting through reels or having seen a bin full of rejected reels on their way out to the trash bin. Well let’s put an end to this here and now shall we?
Getting ready for the reel world
Ok so you’ve completed your intense three year program or condensed 8-12 month curriculum and you now have some potential material to stitch together into a reel. Yes I said potential, because you need to be absolutely certain it’s the best work you can muster at your current level, mediocre and less are not allowed here. What is your current level? Well it can be hard to say for yourself due to lack of inexperience, but at this stage of the game it’s always best to seek out those who’ve gone before you and got that job you’re hoping for, and try your best to match or even exceed what they’ve shown themselves. One of the most critical things is learning to self assess yourself, and although it takes time to learn this skill there’s no better time than the present to get started.
One of the first things to consider is to be absolutely sure that you’re focusing on your strengths and not just some random pieces just to fill out your reel. Fifteen seconds can make or break your reel, so always be sure that your reel represents what you want to do in this industry. Don’t try to be the jack of all trades when you’re starting out, because chances are you just don’t have enough material/experience to back it all up. And there’s even less chance that you’ll be doing it all once you do land that job. Keep it tight and focused and you’ll be fine.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you know the requirements needed to land a position in the studio/s you’re soliciting. Different disciplines require unique approaches when placing material on your reel. For example if you want to be a modeler and texture artist, you won’t put animation on your reel unless of course one of your models is animated by an animator to showcase that your polys and texture skills are up to the task. Further if the studio predominately caters to the RTS genre, you wouldn’t necessarily want to put cars and cartoony character models on your reel. The goal here is to get them to consider you for the position.
In accordance to what was previously mentioned, try your best to restrain yourself from ‘blanketing’ your reel across the board. Make sure you know who you’re sending your reel to and take the necessary time to change the details in your cover letter or email so you’re not sending some generic information to each an every employer. It’s honestly very easy to spot these types of generic goodies. Yes it’s more work, but small things like that count.
Short and sweet
Keeping your reel short, impactful and to the point is always best, because chances are with a 100 more reels scattered before them, interviewers will seldom have the time to sit for a 6 min marathon of randomness. You can honestly be considered for hire after the first 10 secs (give or take) of your reel if it takes the interviewer by storm. And believe me; it has happened more than once. So it is of utmost importance that you put your best piece up front and center. As an example of this, I would like to direct your attention to two pieces of such merit and let me know what you think;
Recommended reel lengths are currently set at 1-2mins. So you see why there’s no room for mediocre work.
Keep it tasteful
One thing you should always remember is that your reel represents who you are, there’s no other evidence of that beyond what is in a potential employers hands. When packaging your reel it doesn’t need to be covered in rhinestones and rubies (though it may make a potential eBay auctioneer happy), glitter dust and what have you, it basically just needs to have your pertinent information easily accessible and legible. There’s no need to go crazy with customized DVD labels and jackets, I know it’s in your greatest desire to get the most attention, but you do run the chance of setting off the cheese-o-meter that could potentially jar their experience even before watching your reel.
Another point is in music choice, yes you want to include something you’re into, but please be sure it’s meant for general consumption. I know, I know, freedom of expression and all that jazz, but truth be told I don’t want to be subjected to the latest Acid Rocker strumming away on a solo! And yes instrumentals are recommended but don’t beat my head in with said instruments! Further to that, it is important to find music without lyrics, sometimes it maybe difficult, but it is best because it centers the focus on what matters most’ the visuals. Unless of course you’re a sound designer, then everything needs to play in concert with each other.
Remember you’re looking for a job, not your employers.
It may seem obvious right? But it’s funny how many candidates expect potential employers to seek out information and portfolio pieces of their work. Be sure that everything is accounted for, this includes all your documentation such as your resume, reel breakdowns (Vitally important if you’ve worked with others), additional portfolio pieces and of course your reel. Keep everything in one place if using the web as your portfolio, and never make the employer have to hunt for further information, they simply don’t have the time.
Also worth mentioning is that you adhere to the most common formats out there to display your work. Try to stick to quicktime, flash and maybe an alternative link to divx format. Using ambiguous formats and codecs for both your reel and/or website will only deter or worst frustrate your potential employer.
Is your reel on the level?
This unfortunately is were it gets tough, one of the general rules of thumb is see what quality the potential studios on your list are and push yourself to match their quality and style, you maybe a far ways off, but at least you would at this point, have set a high enough bar for yourself and they will notice it. But also equal importance lies on the fact that you have a style of your own, and that you demonstrate diversity.
Here’s the most famous case I can think of that really drives this point home. Artist Fausto De Martini dreamt of one day having a job at Blizzard Entertainment, so he set out to recreate a character that would fit into their Star Craft Universe The character considering it’s 4 years old now was stunning enough for me to plug it, but I just didn’t plug it, I added a caption to the image stating that Blizzard should take a look at his work and guess what? That’s correct they did “Blizzard employee first response“, and based off that one particular image, he was recruited by Blizzard. Currently he’s now their Lead Modeler in their Cinematic Department.
One final thing to keep in mind is remember to always keep your reel fresh, keep it updated every six months or so. Also remember never to send the same reel more than once to an employer, because they will remember it. Once you’ve made a substantial update to your reel feel free to send it off again, because by that time the safe mark for resending your reel should be safely passed, which by today’s standards is roughly six months.
So there you have it, if you’ve read all the way up to this point, I hope this has been of some help to you.
I would like you now to take a peek at some of the related links below and study what each artists has included in their presentation. Things such as texture sheets, proper information spelling out to potential employers what a particular model is consisted of and so on.
Good luck and I hope to see you back here for part II
Tito A. Belgrave
Related Links & Inspiration:
Professional Reels and portfolios