Episode 152 – More Than One Kind of Demo Reel


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Episode 152 – More Than One Kind of Demo Reel

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 152: Going through the evolution of your demo reel and all the different types of reels you’re going to build over the course of your career! This Episode will be really fun. You might have noticed that my Podcasts have been about career-related subjects, like getting a job and building your demo reel.

I’ve had a lot of feedback from you about my solo Episodes. I am still doing interviews: My next one will be with director Ryan Connolly: www.allanmckay.com/153. I have some other amazing interviews coming up. Interviews are easier to do than these solo Episodes (which take days to produce). But I want you to make the most out of this content. I will be grouping my solo Episodes by subjects as well.

When you stitch these Episodes together, you will find the step-by-step plan of action for a successful career. So many artists just rely on their demo reel and they don’t know how to sell themselves as a business. I will be focusing on that — and on how to make this content apply to different businesses.

All that being said:

Let’s dive in!



[4:27] I will be working on new training pretty soon around Venom. I’ve got some really cool stuff related to that movie coming up!



I wanted to quickly build this video about the evolution of your reel. I didn’t want this to be too complicated. I wanted to quickly talk about the types of reels you will have over the course of your career:

  • Student reel;
  • Generalist reel;
  • Studio reel.

But they all have a specific purpose. I want you to understand the different types of reels and when to use them.


Your Student Reel

In the beginning, we all start out with a Student Reel. That’s the one that will land us the first job. It’s mostly about our personal work, not so much about team collaboration. It emphasizes our potential.

There are a lot of rules about reels. Please check them out in my Ultimate Demo Reel Book: www.allanmckay.com/myreel/. This book is available for purchase on Amazon. It’s available on my website for free, at: www.allanmckay.com/myreel/. It goes through all the recipes to make a reel that lands you the job — told from a perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. I definitely have a lot of experience in hiring.

[6:39] Your reel in the beginning is always going to be a bit crude. But you want to keep it as short as possible and include just a couple of your best shots that demonstrate one thing: That you can sit down tomorrow and do the job! By the way, when I say a “Student Reel”, I don’t mean that you’re a student. It can also mean that you’re 40 years old and transitioning into a new career in Visual Effects. Your “Student Reel” means your “First Reel’.

[7:51] Once you get your first job, you must put away that Student Reel into your archives and you never touch it again. Your first reel should be a throwaway. You never want its content to land on any other future reel. You never use that stuff to fill in your other reels. One of the biggest myths I also want to address here is that “Your reel should tell the story.” NO! Your reel needs to demonstrate one thing: That you can sit down tomorrow and do the job. If you want to tell a story — go shoot a short film. A short film can get you a lot of recognition. Do it right! You don’t need your reel to tell a story. That’s the key thing I want to bring up. Demonstrate the task you are getting hired to do! Keep it simple! Focus on something you can make look amazing and polished!


Your First Production Reel

[10:45] Once you get that job — your Student Reel is a throwaway! When you get into the industry, I recommend that you start freelancing on commercials. I say that because if you want to work on video games, their turnaround is typically 3 years. If you’re just starting out, you’re probably not going to get much responsibility on those projects. The same goes for feature films. At the end of the three years of working on a feature film or a game, you don’t have much to show for it or not much you’ve gotten exposure to. You’re not getting challenged and pushed.

[11:35] That’s why I recommend going to commercials. Commercials typically have a 2-3 week turnaround. On top of that, certain studios you go to, you’re going to work on different tasks. I always recommend starting out as a Generalist and becoming a Specialist later (www.allanmckay.com/149/). More importantly, when you’re starting out, it’s the easiest thing to do to get pushed in as many directions as you can. The most important thing is that you have the opportunities to do things you wouldn’t have had exposure to before — and it makes you a more well-rounded artist. You can model, render, do animation. Later, you can specialize.

[12:45] The cool thing is that by the end of the first year, you would’ve worked on 20-30 commercials. Even after 10 projects, you will have plenty of material for your first Production Reel; but most importantly, you will have plenty of exposure. After that year, you can cut a reel and start looking for work in a specific discipline. You can cut a new reel and start representing yourself as a stronger artist and you can also renegotiate your rate.

[13:30] The cool thing is that it’s a fresh new reel with all production work. You have a team of professionals who have chipped in on making a commercial look amazing. So your reel is going to look amazing. And that’s why your Student Reel — is a throwaway. So when we review your new reel — so that we can hire you — and among that cool looking production work, you still have that one shot from your Student Reel, it takes that one shot for us to reconsider you. That’s when we grab your resume and realize it’s your first year in the industry. So I repeat: Your first reel — is your throwaway reel! Your next reel is a Production Reel. You will be a better artist and have better understanding of your place in the pipeline.


Your Specialist Reel

[15:19] Beyond that, some people become Specialists. (Some people stay Generalists.) If you want to specialize, you can brand yourself and communicate that one service you can provide. It’s a lot easier to stand out from a crowd. Your Specialist Reel will take time to accumulate: “I’m a Water Effects Artist”, etc. And your reel should be able to communicate the laser focused thing you do well. (It doesn’t mean that your reel cannot include other stuff you do. It means that you start to eliminate all the other production stuff.)


Your Supervisor Reel

[16:44] From there, a lot of us move into a Supervisor role. It takes 5+ years to become a Lead in your department (which means you will build your Lead Reel). But then you become a Supervisor and you build a Supervisor Reel. For me, I tend to have several reels. I usually communicate what I can do with my VFX Reel because that’s the stuff I’ve done myself. A Supervisor Reel takes time to build. You usually get knighted into being a Supervisor in a way. You can call yourself a Technical Director, but you can’t call yourself a Supervisor because you need someone to give you that opportunity and say, “I knight thee! You’re a Supervisor now!” From there, you can start getting more of that work IF you enjoy it. Some people don’t like being Supervisors because there are pros and cons to being a Sup. The first few jobs you get may not give you enough to give you enough for your reel. So keep that in mind.

[18:35] Eventually, you will have enough to put on a Supervisor Reel. And it’s usually your work and other people’s work as well. You can say that you’ve managed these artists. At this point, some people can decide to go into being a CG Supervisor, or go to the client side. You can go to agencies and ask them to rep you. That’s one direction you can build toward. In that case, you can build a sample reel of everything you can do.


Your Studio Reel

[20:03] The other flip side, you may want to become your own studio. At that point, you would begin to create your Studio Reel which will demonstrate all the services you can provide to clients or other studios. You may need to start to outsource at this point. That’s a good way to start getting into feature films: You can reach out to studios and take over the work that’s outside of their bandwidth. Eventually, you will become confident enough to pitch to feature films.

[20:52] Usually, my Reel is at 60-90 seconds. You want to keep your Reel short and sweet. But when it comes to my Studio Reel, it’s more of a sample reel [so it can be longer than 60 seconds]. It has to demonstrate things that you can do. Eventually, you do want to start specializing as a studio as well. You may start doing more character animation or crowds reel, a car reel, a game cinematics reel. That way, it will qualify you over anyone else. It’s really captivating and laser focused.


Your Custom Reel

[22:22] I sometimes will cut a specific reel focusing on what a client is looking to do, to communicated what I can do for them. If I know they do Marvel stuff, I will cut a reel with magical and superhero looking stuff. You have different reels for different jobs.


Further Resources

[22:54] You can go even further, but the general idea is you start from a Student to Generalist, to Specialist Reels. The evolution of your reel depends on where you want to go. I wanted to give you a birds-eye view of your potential reels throughout the course of your career.

I’ve mostly scratched the surface here, but you’re welcome to check out the Ultimate Demo Reel book at www.allanmckay.com/myreel/. Everything is much more thoroughly explained there. It’s free right now — as well as the 2-hour Masterclass.


I hope you enjoyed this Episode. My next Podcast is with film director Ryan Connolly on his new short film BALLiSTIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cm-K8uQchMQ. Feel free to check out the film before the next Episode.

Please feel free to review this Episode on iTunes.

Until then —

Rock on!

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