7 Essential Tips to Spruce Up Your Demo Reel (2020)

Business January 3, 2019 4 min read

Chances are, most people reading this will have some experience in throwing together a demo reel. But as your body of work continues to evolve, so too should the 90-second video compilation you use to represent it. And what better time to go back and breathe new life into your demo reel that with the dawn of a brand-spanking new year!

Not sure where to begin? All good… we’ve got you covered! Here are our seven demo reel tips that will help you land your next video, film, or animation project!

How to Improve Your Demo Reel

1. Cut the Fat

Assuming a few months have passed since you last made or edited your demo reel, it’s definitely worth going back and having a look where you might be able to cut the fat. And by fat, we’re obviously referring to all those amateurish clips that don’t do your new and improved circa 2019 skills any justice. As a general rule, if it’s grainy, shaky, or poorly lit, get it out of there!

Also set yourself a rule that for any new clip that gets added into the reel, one stale old one makes its way out.

2. Brevity is Key

Demo Reel Brevity

Keeping your demo reel brief is a tip you’ve no doubt heard a million times before. But regardless of how long it is, set yourself a goal of going back and trying to reduce it by at least 10%. Trim that 90 seconds down to 81. And that 60 seconds down to 54.

Think that’s too short? Then just take a peek at Leo Romanski’s motion graphics demo reel. It’s everything a client needs to know, see, and experience in 44 seconds flat.

3. Play Up Your Niche

Throughout your career, you’ve no doubt taken on a bunch of gigs that fall into one, two, maybe even three different specialties. For video editors, this may be documentaries, music videos, or comedic web series. For animators, perhaps it’s visual effects or 3D.

No matter which niche(s) your skills lean towards, it’s high time you started tailoring your demo reels to demonstrate your abilities in these specific areas. (Just FYI, when applying for a particular job—like videographer, 2D animator, director, etc.—you should always be doing this no matter what).

As any freelancer knows, the more niche you go, the more work you get. So don’t hold back on really narrowing your demo reels to a specific skill set. And if you think it will play in your favor, you can even build your demo reel around a particular theme just like John Liebler’s done with his 3D medical animation reel.

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Show Your Process

There’s an unofficial rule of thumb that demo reels should only showcase our finest, finished products. But for some artists, taking a step back and showcasing their process can have major benefits too.

For example, graphic/broadcast designers, compositors, and colorists can all add extra oomph to their demo reels by including “before” and “after” shots of their work using a split screen shots or time-lapse video.

Not only does this help emphasize an artist’s ability, but it also makes for an insanely captivating watch. To see what we mean, look no further than Kshitij Khanna’s 2017 compositing showreel.

Any 3D modelers out there? You guys might also want to check out Adam Saccos’ 3D demo reel.

5. Reconsider Your Music

If, when you made your original demo reel, you opted for a quick audio fix in the form of some super catchy copyrighted song, then this may be a good time to rethink that. Not only is copyrighted music illegal, but a lot of prospective employers will discard your application for showing poor judgement in using it in the first place.

Alternatives? Opt for royalty free music from a subscription-based service, such as Motion Array. And for all you editors out there, why not set yourself the challenge of cutting your reel to the music you’ve chosen to overlay. This helps show off your sense of pacing and adds a great flow to your reel.

6. Chase Those Views!

Demo Reel Views

How many views did your demo reel get last year? Not as many as you would have liked? Let’s change that.  

First off, consider where you’re demo reel is currently housed. Is it on Vimeo hiding behind a protected password? Or maybe it’s wasting away on a seldom-visited website you set up years ago? It’s time to bring that thing out into the public and splash it around on YouTube, Motion Exchange, and any other accessible streaming platform that your peers and clients are likely to visit.

And if it’s work you’re after (…naturally), then you’ll definitely want to get your reel up on one of the many creative job boards out there like Creative Cow or Carbonmade.

7. Get a Second Opinion

Since your first attempt at making a demo reel, you should be feeling less emotionally attached to the content by now and more ready to start receiving some constructive feedback.

Once you’re done giving your video portfolio a new year’s makeover, share it with a few trusted peers and clients to get their opinion. Be sure to quiz them on what they liked and didn’t like, where their attention waned and spiked, and whether they found the music or any transitions to be particularly jarring or awkward.

Yes, this will likely mean having to go back and make even more edits afterward but… we’re sure you’d rather get feedback from a friend rather than discovering a mistake later after losing out on a handful of job opportunities.

The process of making an engaging demo reel shouldn’t be a chore. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can often feel that way. For anyone in need of more tips on how to create a kick-ass portfolio, be sure to check out our these tips which cover all of the basics you need to know!