The guest speaker was Cinesite’s head of animation, Eamonn Butler, who came to talk about Cinesite's expanding animation pipeline - developing and producing their own slate of animated films.
Of particular interest to our student animators was what Eamonn had to say on the subject of animation demo reels: what to do – and what not to do.
So what then does Eamonn look for in an animation demo reel?
The answer, he says, is that he is “searching for entertainment”. Or, rather, he is looking for animators who can “create entertainment”. It’s all well and good to know the principles of animation, but “there has got to be a reason for everything”. In other words, good animators are “not just technicians – you must communicate something”. For example, there “must be a reason for a walk cycle”, to make it interesting. A walk cycle “should not be just a technical exercise”, because Eamonn “won’t be impressed by that”. The shot needs “tone, mood and atmosphere”. And, “if you don’t have that, I can’t give it to you”.
How long should a reel be?
Demo reels should be short. For a student or recent graduate, “30 seconds is plenty”. What Eamonn does with junior animators is “look for potential”. Animators should “show a range”, ie some realistic work and some cartoony work.
Eamonn also needs to know “what is your name” and also “how to contact you”. Animation doesn’t need to be beautifully lit. “Grey shade is fine”. In recent years, reels have got a lot better, “probably because of the internet” - nowadays, you can “see other people’s reels online”, and you can “see what the standard is”. It’s important to be selective – and don’t put everything on your reel. You are “not showing your Mum”. Get your colleagues “to be brutally honest”, and weed out the weaker work.
Eamon also looks for personal skills – in particular: “maturity”. Can you take notes from the team? At the interview stage, “you are almost there” - Eamonn already likes your work. At this stage, he is now “trying to protect the team”. And the question he is asking is: “can you fit in to the team?”. As an animator, you are “basically passing something on to something else”, so you need to know how to work well with the rest of the team. This can be hard for a recent graduate – so Eamonn looks for a certain maturity to pull this off.
Don’t forget, before the interview, to do your homework. Find out what the company does. You’d be surprised how many applicants don’t bother to find out what kind of work the company has actually done.
How many demo reels?
One audience question was "Do you need two reels – one for cartoony work, and one for more realistic VFX work?" The answer is “yes, and no”. You don’t necessarily need separate reels. But you should “not send a VFX reel to a company that does cartoony animation”. Make sure you “do your research”, and re-edit your reel to suit the company you are applying for.