How to Avoid Common VFX Reel Mistakes

How to Avoid Common VFX Reel Mistakes

February 28, 2024
David Lugo

Looking for a job in VFX? Here are eight ways to avoid common mistakes when creating your VFX demo reel.

If you’re looking for a creative job in the VFX industry, you probably know the importance of a VFX reel. Regardless of your highest level of education, the courses you took, or the companies you worked for, what matters to your potential employers is that you are a great artist. Most of the time, hiring managers are only going to review your CV if your reel looks good enough, so it’s critical that you have a great VFX demo reel! 

Here are eight ways to avoid common mistakes when crafting your showreel.

1. Make a Strong First Impression

Humans don’t have a long attention span. We have things to do, places to be, and, if you’re a VFX artist, movies to make! Hiring managers are no different, so make sure the first 10 seconds of your VFX reel are absolutely killer. While some recommend saving your best shots for last, your viewers probably aren’t going to stay long if the beginning isn’t engaging. Here’s what we recommend:

  1. Start off with a banger (your best or second best shot).
  2. Follow that with another top shot.
  3. Your concluding shot should be your second or third best shot.

Think of the first seconds of your reel as a movie trailer opening—it’s there to grab your viewer’s attention. If they enjoy the trailer, they’ll want to see more.

Here’s a great example of a powerful opening from one of Alexandre Belbari’s animation reels. Notice how he starts off with an eye-catching comp and ends with an iconic scene from Guardians of the Galaxy.

2. Clear and Concise Contact Information

Ensure that your contact information is prominently displayed and concise. A brief self-introduction card in the first 3-5 seconds can be effective, but keep it clear and to the point. Include only essential contact details, like your email and your phone number, or a LinkedIn or ArtStation link. Prioritize contact methods you check regularly to avoid missing opportunities. 

Overloading this section with unnecessary information or links to seldom-checked social media can lead to missed connections, potentially costing you your dream job. Whatever you do, keep it clean! I would recommend placing your contact information at the beginning and end of the reel for easy reference.

3. Emphasize Quality Over Quantity

No matter how many times you’ve heard this, we’re going to emphasize it once again—there’s no room for mediocre shots in your reel. Don’t worry if you can’t make it exactly 2 minutes long. If you end up having around 1 minute of top-quality work, that’s just fine. Make sure every piece you add to your reel falls into the ‘my very best’ category. Don’t give your potential employer an excuse to question your skills!

If you can’t decide which of your shots deserve to be a part of the finest selection, ask your fellow artists for help. Every shot in your reel should make the person reviewing your application want to contact you right away.

4. Detail Your Contributions

For each project featured in your reel, include captions or a brief description that highlights your specific contributions, especially if you worked as part of a team. You probably have a few shots in your reel that you created with the help of other artists. When adding footage to your reel, remember to always give credit. This clarifies your role and skills to potential employers.

If you were part of a large production team, it's not essential to name every contributor. Focus instead on detailing your specific tasks within the project, such as "Stranger Things 3: water simulation, lightning FX, lookdev."

5. Keep Content Relevant and Recent

As we’ve already said before, it’s not a disaster if your reel is not 2 minutes long. Sure, it’s cool to see your progress and watch how your style evolved, but the hiring manager wants to see what you can offer right here and now. Focus on including recent work that best represents your current skill level and style. Outdated or irrelevant work can detract from your reel’s impact.

6. Don’t Overemphasize Music

While a good soundtrack can enhance your reel, remember that the primary focus should be on the visual content. Choose music that complements your work without overshadowing it, and keep in mind that many viewers (including the hiring manager!) may watch with the sound off to focus on the visuals. So, don’t sweat the soundtrack too much. Luckily, there are numerous websites where you can find music under the Creative Commons license. With royalty-free music, you will also be able to upload your reel on YouTube, Vimeo, or any other website without the risk of getting a copyright strike.

7. Include Breakdowns

Even though it’s not mandatory, adding a quick scene breakdown for each shot can make your reel stand out by demonstrating your technical skills and understanding of the VFX process. This is especially beneficial when you have complex visual effects and compositing pieces. You can even insert concept arts for the scenes and effects you developed entirely by yourself. 

Our friend Nick Chamberlain’s reel is a great example of this:

8. Tailor Your Reel to the Job

You might be a multi-talented digital artist who does animation, VFX, compositing, lighting, and everything in between. That’s great! But unless you’re applying for the role of a CG generalist or a CG supervisor, there’s no need to make your reel an all-in-one. Instead, customize your reel to highlight the skills that are most relevant to the position you are applying for.

When the employer is looking for a candidate with a particular skill, they don’t need to see everything else you are capable of—they want to know if you are excellent at that one thing they would need from you. So if the job opening says ‘Senior FX artist’, focus on your VFX shots, not on character rigging, asset modeling, lighting, etc.

Additionally, including information about the software you used for a shot can be a great way to highlight your relevant skills. For example, if you know a company is looking for Houdini artists and 90% of your work was made in Houdini, you should probably include that in the shot description!

Additional Tips for Your VFX Reel

Feedback: Before finalizing your reel, get feedback from peers or mentors within the industry. Fresh eyes can offer valuable insights and suggestions for improvement.

Presentation: Pay attention to the overall flow and pacing of your reel. It should be engaging from start to finish, with a good balance between showcasing your technical skills and your creative flair.

Technical Quality: Ensure your reel is of the highest technical quality, with no compression artifacts or editing issues. This reflects your professionalism and attention to detail.

Resources for Your VFX Reel

Looking for high-quality background plates and VFX for your showreel? Look no further!

If you're looking for background plates for your reel, our Practice Footage Library is a great place to start! It includes over 500 free, professional-quality practice footage clips filmed with compositors in mind.

Our library of over 10,000 VFX assets is considered the best in the world by the world's top VFX artists and studios. Explore our VFX library or join AVFX+ today.