Via Twitter, Kimberlee asked:
"Any tips on what should be on a character animation reel?"
It would be a simple task to answer this common question with a smugly facile answer - one ultimately not really that helpful at all. I will do my best to avoid that, and think it would be best to take a look at the overall situation before talking about the specifics of reel creation.
On the applicant's end this person wants to be considered for a character animation position at a company. They have some or no industry experience or higher education qualifications and want money in return for moving characters around a bit. This is a good time, and, as a result, these fun jobs are in high demand with other people also wanting that money for moving characters around a bit. Our one applicant will have to stand apart from the others applying and impress those assessing our applicant's suitability for any open positions. We will also assume that our applicant doesn't have any friends/contacts already at the company, to whom they can submit stuff.
I don't have a ton of experience in the recruiting side of things, but I will assume a probable scenario on the studio end in how applicants are spotted and ultimately brought in. I am also assuming we are talking about one of the larger studios in Feature Animation or Visual Effects, though I expect it's the same for most companies out there looking to hire animators.
A studio is full of very clever people, some of whom whose job it is to find excellent candidates for open slots based on the needs of production. Applicants send in reels and CV's/resumes which are looked at by these Recruiting peeps. This is the first test a reel has to pass. Many are weeded out at this stage for there are lots of applicants.
The possibles are passed on to the Anim department for review by those high up in the chain of command. They are usually super busy which full schedules and maybe fiery swords of power. The recruiters have made their lives easier because they now don't have to see so many reels - the possibles. The sword-wielders will closely examine each submission, discuss the work and ultimately make the decision to interview or pass. I believe some places may also have a watch list, going so far as to keep an eye on candidates with potential that aren't there yet.
At this point let's recap. SpiffyA has an animation reel and wants a job. StudioB needs to hire but is very busy; has people whose job it is to separate the possibles from the rest before passing them laterally to the creative and production superiors who are the decision makers.
What can SpiffyA do to ensure the best possible chance of making it through the process? Now that we have our context, this is where we actually try to help answer Kimberlee's question.
I would imagine that a reel of content coming in cold has probably 60 seconds to impress, and with maybe another 60 seconds to seal the deal if you're doing well and those watching like the first 60s. The animation has to stand out so putting best work on first is a must. Being honest and brutal with your own work will allow you to judiciously place stuff in the timeline for maximum effect. Hit hard with your faves, keep the quality up whilst demonstrating acting and physical animation ability and then end on a high note. The reel is better being short and sweet than longer with work you are unsure of.
Think about the intended reactions to your work - you want to direct them as well as you can. I would think that "Wow", followed by, "Great" followed by, "This person is consistent and multi-talented!" is probably the ideal over a 1-2 minute reel.
The work needs to be finished animation, but the rigs or models don't necessarily need to be high quality polished examples of computer graphics or its traditional analogues. Good work shines regardless.
While it is always important to be original and unique your work, these days it is doubly so (if that is possible) because many people use standard rigs like those given out by AM. Stand out from the rest and hammer through rig fatigue with tip-top animation!
For the material, keep it simple. A clean title frame with name, phone number and email should bookend the animation.
I would expect that most reels are still reviewed via physical media, most notably DVDs. Keeping things as simple as possible will allow the disk to be played easily at the studio end. Before submission check that the DVD works on a number of stand alone players and computers, since authoring disks is still a somewhat unreliable task.
If I were submitting work now, I would also post a copy of the reel online on something like vimeo or youTube and include a link in the DVD case. If the disk fails to play then it is a good fall-back option for those about to review the work. Candidates can help the process by being prepared!
Designing nice cover art for physical media is always fun, and shows you put effort in to the submission, but I wouldn't say it is a necessity. Again, simple and clean is fine - it is the work that is the important thing.
CV's/Resumes should be similarly clear and easy to read. This is a separate skill to that of the animation stuff so I won't go in to it here. Don't forget to put your nationality (and visa status, if applicable) on it when applying internationally. Immigration stuff is a big issue and I would imagine that knowing as much as possible early on is a good idea.
Phew! This is a very long-winded answer to a one sentence question, but I believe that giving the process some context will help make things more successful for everyone. In my imagined scenario SpiffyA did all of the above and went off in to the sunset hand-in-hand with StudioB. Probably doing a double bounce walk or something. I hope this helps.