3D Artist

How to create your best ever showreel

News & Features

Commercial director Chris Hill reveals how to create a showreel that will get you noticed and demonstrate the skills to make future employers want to hire you


For the past 25 or so years I’ve been working in the videogame, TV and film industries, creating graphics and animations, directing commercials and leading art teams. While working at various studios I have hired many artists and seen various showreels drop through the letterbox – some very memorable, if only for all the wrong reasons. However, there were a few that have certainly made me sit up and want more.

This feature aims to guide you through creating and preparing your showreel to the standard needed to wow your potential clients or employers. Make them want to choose you for their next project. We will be looking at industry-standard Non-Linear Editing (NLE) tools and I will outline tips, tricks and the hard-and-fast rules that will help you get the best out of your work.

We’ll look at the importance of choosing the right music for your reel and how to create a soundbed using freely downloadable audio tools. We’ll explore how you can edit tracks using the timeline to accentuate your reel. I’ll also be giving my advice on how to promote your showreel; who you should be showing it to and which online websites you should use to get the maximum exposure for your self-promotion.

If all this is done well, your reel will become an extension of your talent, rather than just a list of clips edited together to a tedious techno track.

How to create your best ever showreel

Start strong

The opening of your showreel has the biggest impact on the client, so it should be the most impressive part. Show the work you are most proud of and that represents your talents. Starting off strong will captivate your audience, draw them in and set the tone for the rest of what’s to come.

As an employer, when I press Play I expect to see a title, the name of the artist and what the showreel represents. Mine, for example, opens with ‘Chris Hill, Character Animation Showreel 2013’. Keep it short and use a simple, clear font with a backplate that won’t detract from the information you’re giving. Using a short, punchy title sequence can also give your showreel the edge, as it’s this sort of attention to detail that will get you noticed.

Create your showreel at the highest possible resolution with the largest bit-rate, so you can flexibly downsize if needed. I use full HD 1,920 x 1,080 pixels at 25fps wherever possible. If you have to scale your clips, make sure you maintain the aspect ratio or your clips will become stretched.

How to create your best ever showreel

Keep it short

Keeping your showreel brief will help to focus the viewer on your particular strengths. Make it no longer than three minutes and no shorter that 30 seconds. A client will be able to get a feel for your skills quickly, so show diversity but don’t feel you need to explain your life story. Around one minute and 30 seconds is generally considered the optimum length for a successful showreel.

If you have an extensive amount of work over a number of fields, break the reels up and have one for each discipline; for example animation, effects and so on. This will enable you to apply for specific jobs.

Never repeat clips in your reel and if you only have one or two projects to show, it could be worth showing them in full, rather than cutting two together. Showing narrative rather than chopping back and forth in a jumbled mess would be the better option in a situation such as this.

How to create your best ever showreel

Good pacing

Keeping people interested in your work is the main goal of a showreel. If you pace the reel too slow your viewer will very likely get bored – they may be inclined to skip forward or even hit Stop. If you time it too fast you will fail to show off your talents – another recipe for a quick exit. These rules can be pushed a little in either direction; if you’re editing a motion-graphics reel it can be pushed a little quicker, whereas character animation reels might be a little slower to enable a better read for your viewers.

Caption where needed

Captions will help the viewer understand what they are looking at. Keep captions simple and use a bare minimum number of words. I recommend captioning a shot with the role you played in creating it; for example ‘Character animation’, ‘Effects animation’ and so on. When you create a caption, keep the font simple and the size large enough to read, but not so large it overpowers the clip. Use a complementary colour – usually a simple white or a muted yellow that’s easy on the eyes. Be sure to keep your captions positioned consistently throughout the reel so your viewer learns where they are placed and can therefore read them quickly.

How to create your best ever showreel

Stay in tune

Most people create a reel for personal promotion and think its okay to use copyrighted music. It’s really not okay. If the music is copyrighted then you should get explicit permission to use it. It’s much easier to find music that’s copyright-free from websites like www.jamendo.com, which hosts thousands of tracks to choose from. Just remember to credit any music you use and read any terms and conditions before adding it to your reel.

Using the right soundtrack will set the pace and speed of your cuts. You can cut on a beat or at key moments in the musical piece. Choose your track wisely and don’t pick a tune that’s offensive or difficult for the uninitiated to listen to. Using a track that’s too isolating will guarantee the soundtrack is turned down. You may think it’s the coolest music on Earth, but if it’s muted it will fail to serve its purpose.

Choose something that enhances your particular style of reel. If you’re creating an effects reel with particles and explosions, think about using music that’s punchy to help accentuate events. A fluid simulation reel might benefit from music that has a serene feel to it – something that flows along and complements the beauty of the simulations. Also, select music that has many facets to it rather than just a monotonous beat, as this will enable you to cut at interesting musical events. For example, if we have a clip where a large creature jumps off a tall building and lands heavily on the ground, we could align the landing with a key moment in the music or edit the clip so the creature lands on a beat to accentuate the animation.

How to create your best ever showreel

Use sound effects

If adding sound effects seems like your kind of thing, check out www.soungle.com, www.freesound.org, or even www. soundjay.com for tons of free effects that can help add atmosphere to your reel. If you’re feeling really creative, why not write your own track that can be tailored specifically to your needs? You can find a collection of royalty-free tracks supplied with this issue’s disc (unfortunately unavailable for digital readers).

If applicable, lip-syncing should be demonstrated, but this is something you will have to consider when choosing your audio track. Put the speech into the edit, if at all possible, then add a new audio layer for the dialogue to the audio track and lower the music levels so the client can check your lip-syncing skills. It’s at this point you may find you haven’t used a soundtrack with vocals running throughout, so also consider this when choosing your music and placing your lip-sync clips.

There are lots of tools out there for editing audio, but one excellent piece of software that will help you edit sound effects or tracks is Audacity, which can be downloaded for free at http://audacity. sourceforge.net. Try to work with WAV files rather than MP3 if possible. MP3 files are compressed and suffer a loss of quality. Also use files that are stereo 16-bit 44.1kHz (CD quality). When you finally come to encode your reel, the audio and video will get compressed.

Once you’ve edited your audio clips, bring them into your editing software and layer them up in the timeline. You can then sync them to key events in the showreel. This process may take some time, but the impact it will have on your reel is huge.

How to create your best ever showreel

Link your clips for the best effect

During the edit you will transition from clip to clip, but you shouldn’t just dump one clip after another. While this gets the work in front of the client, it pays to give every transition some thought. Good transitions create a nice, smooth flow throughout.

Simple five-frame blends can soften between clips and reduce the jolt from an abrupt cut. Quick fades also soften edits: simple take your first clip down to black for three frames and then fade your second clip for two frames. Try to use the shots to drive wipes and fades; for example if you have a camera move from left to right, create a five-frame wipe from left to right that follows the speed of the camera. This five-frame wipe adds detail to show you’re thinking on a creative level about every shot. Try not to use too many standard wipes and transitions often found in editing software, as they can be very cheesy and dull.

When putting together a reel it’s also good to show shot progression. A modelling reel should start with the wire cage to show how clean the model is, then transition to a shaded view and again to a textured model. If you have a compositing reel, then show the clean plate, add each layer and ultimately the complete shot.

How to create your best ever showreel

Go out with a bang

The start and finish of your showreel will be the most memorable to your audience, so it’s vital it opens and closes on strong pieces. You need to make an impact and you want to leave them desiring more, so pick your very best piece to end of a high.

After the final clip has played out, add your credits and contact details – primarily your name, email address and telephone number – again in a clean, legible font. Leave contact information up long enough for it to be read slowly and then end the reel. Try not to fade out at the end, as some players will leave the last frame up on the screen.

Be flexible

You should always be prepared to refresh your reel on a regular basis, so consider updating it and sending it out at least every six months. Remove weaker clips and reorder your reel to cover new and better work. This is where you may need to adjust transitions and possibly tweak the cuts to fit in the new clips. Good luck!