Written by Mark Mahler, Rainbow Studios
It is very important to focus on what you are best at on a demo reel. If you are the best at modeling, the more sophisticated the model the better. Add a great deal of detail so the craft of you work really stands out. If you are not good at animating then leave the object stationary, but don’t move the camera in a non-traditional Hollywood manner. Showcase the object with a dolly forward, and a cut to another angle while not crossing the line. Alternatively, a slower 180-degree rotation is better then a fast 360-degree rotation. Especially if the object is symmetrical.
If you focus on Texturing (we do have a few specialized talent for textures) then focus on creating very detailed textures. Spend time creating your own, or customizing a stock texture so it doesn’t look perfectly tiled. Spend enough time on the .bmp and displacement maps, to add the needed level of 3D and quality to your object. Every object has a varying surface in real life as it should in the computer generated world. The most important thing is everything has to be high quality and consistent. I can’t express how many reels I have seen where there was a great deal of variation of quality between the textures, models etc.
If your focus is character animation, then a great deal of effort needs to be spent making the animation not only life like but also emote expression. All aspects of the character must be consistently good. It is not enough to have a lifelike face if the rest of the body is to stiff and not expressive. Great upper body motion is not enough if the legs don’t move accordingly to maintain weight and balance.
Most of all, if your modeling and texturing abilities are very weak, and your character animation abilities shine, then your best bet would be to make a very simplistic model with procedural textures. That way it is your animation that stands out, but the model doesn’t draw from the performance. I have seen some excellent character work created with just a wood mannequin.
Finally only include your best work, that you don’t have to make excuses for. If you have created something and a client or boss changed it, then create the second version exactly like you wish it to look (your own director’s cut). There is no excuse to put something on a reel that is not exactly like you would have wished it to be. Often times it doesn’t take that much additional time to rework the original and make it stand out.
Advice: Don’t watch films, study feature films! Muting the sound of a film will allow you to concentrate on film making instead of the dialogue (story).
This is a brief description of how to improve your abilities and take the 3D world by storm.
In regards to tips, follow Hollywood’s cinematic style. All work you create will be judged on that style of cinema. This is unfair, because to be a great animator you have to be a great director, camera man, lighter, set designer and cinematographer all at the same time.
Modeling: Your models must not be simplistic. After you have created your object or objects, it is important to add depth to the models. This can be done through .bmp maps, lighting, texturing, and just adding miscellaneous detail to it that may or may not belong there in real life, but looks cool anyway. Textures are very important. Textures can make an ok model look great, and a great model look terrible.
Lighting: Watch films without sound and focus on just the lighting. For example watch a movie with great lighting such as Bladerunner. Just watch how objects are light in both the foreground and the background. See the colors of different light sources that cast a contrast to background and foreground objects. Reds and blues are the most commonly used colors to create a hot (red) and a cool (blue) feel. Notice where bright ambient lights are used and when dimly lit spots are used on objects and characters. There is no better way to learn then through concentrated observation. In each scene observe the sources of light accenting the main character. Where are the shadows initially, and how did they change during the scene.
Duration of Shots: The average shot in a movie is about 4-6 seconds long. Some are much shorter and others much longer. Watch Bladerunner a second time to just get a feel for the duration of different shots. Count 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand… for each shot and you will see what I mean about duration. Mirror the same shot flow in your demo reel and it will add a level of professionalism and awareness of the Hollywood rules.
Shot composition: Most shots in demo reels are one long first person point of view. These animations will be improved by breaking up the long shot. For example start with a 4 sec establishing shot, cut to a shot from another angle closer in on the key object, and then focus even closer in on the main object. Follow the camera movement, shot composition, and narrative told through the eye of the camera.
Consistency is key when creating a demo reel. Great texturing in one place mediocre texturing in most other places will not cut it. The same goes for good lighting and camera work. Spend a couple of hours each week focusing your attention on movies. Choose one aspect of the above for an entire hour, then move on to another. Awareness is what you are shooting for. Through observation your abilities will explode and be realized.
Best of luck, and I look forward to seeing the results.