Professional Advice on making Video Game Industry DEMO REELS?

October 13, 2006 — 2 Comments

The recurring comments from the judges seem to be:
(1) If you want a job at a certain company, don’t send them anything that’s not better than what they’re already doing today. They’re generally looking for people to help them get better and will be drawn to reels that inspire them. (This is key, so I’ll repeat this again later.)
(2) Remember that you’ve got no restrictions, so don’t limit your textures or polys, (or frames if you’re an animator.) Show your artwork at it’s absolute best! On the other hand, if you do have some sensibly sized assets, then go ahead and show wireframes, poly-counts, texture use etc. Also point out which tools you used to make the demos, this can make a good intro slide to a section of the reel. (So before we see it, we know what you used to make it.)
(3) Consider speaking on your reel. It’s great to have fantastic music, but it’s also not a bad thing for you to describe how you did some of the bits you’re most proud of, say why you’re proud of it, and what we should pay close attention to. This is also key if you are a programmer and are using a programmer demo reel, showing an engine, or AI, or a Tool you’ve programmed. Tell us what’s going on and what you’ve accomplished that’s cool.
(4) Don’t let the reel be too long. (If you put 100 things in the reel, at some point the viewer will find SOMETHING they don’t like, then you’re in the trashcan. So ONLY put the good stuff on there.) If that means it’s 60 seconds, then so be it. The ideal length seems to be about 3 minutes. You show enough in 3 minutes to get invited to the company for a real interview, but you don’t show enough for them to dismiss you.
(5) Contact your local IGDA chapter, and show them this posting. Tell them you want your reel reviewed by professionals before you start mailing it out. Remind them that many HR staff now keep databases, so you will only be considered once. You can’t keep re-sending your reel with revisions later. So get it right first time (with the help of your local IGDA chapter.) If everyone refuses to help you, then email me your reel via or send me a link to it. (
(6) So I believe the IGDA does not insist you’re a member for you to attend these events. (Check with them on this.) The reality is, for students, it’s not expensive to join, but I do think they let you attend for free. (Hoping you will join down the road.) So GO AND WATCH other people demonstrate their reels, see what works, take notes. Maybe you’re a year out from applying, that’s GREAT! So you have time to do recon.
(7) If you don’t have good video editing skills, or DVD making skills, then find someone to help that does, and buy them lunch/dinner, whatever. There’s a big difference when a DVD reel feels slick, vs choppy. We had a reel last night at a IGDA meeting that felt choppy, but the content was good. So bring in help. You’re not getting hired for video editing, so it’s OK to seek help.
(8) Be honest with yourself. If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you know that people think they can sing, even when it’s bloody obvious they’re tone deaf. That means looking at the content of the reel and asking yourself, “Is this fully polished and ready to go?” If not, keep working on it. Then ask yourself, “Is this as good or better than the work I see from this company I want to work for?” If not, then this is the wrong company for you, or you need to aim higher with your demo. Then ask yourself “Is this the kind of stuff they are going to want to see?” Meaning don’t send Brutal Orc Models when applying to join the FIFA soccer team. Make Soccer Players, or at least sports characters.
(9) Don’t address your demo to HR department (human resources) even if they tell you too. *Accidentally* address it to the head of the department you want to work for. “Art Director”, “Programming Director” etc. Then mark it “PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL”. In 9/10 companies, this will make it to them. Better still, google or call the company to find out the name of the Art Director, and put his/her name instead of “Art Director”. Then send it off. Try not to make it look like a demo DVD. (Plain envelope.) A decent amount of Art Directors will pop the DVD in to check it out. The trick to get them to do this is not to include a cover letter and only print your name and phone number on the DVD â?? DON’T WRITE “DEMO REEL” ON IT! (This way they now just got a MYSTERY DVD in the mail.) Many will pop it into their drive to check it out and that’s the right guy to see it. (No need to rot on a giant pile in the HR office.) If they like they reel you will get a call asking where you resume is, make sure that’s ready to email or fax.
(9a) There’s a TON of sites on the web that teach you how to write a professional resume. Some will even write it for you! Do it! That resume needs to be as slick as your Reel. How much will it suck if they love your work, but fail you on a resume. That resume would have to say something pretty bad, but yep, they sometimes do. The most common mistake is too much information. Meaning they detail every job they ever had. Some say incredbly dumb things like “I have fought with employees in the past, but we ALWAYS take it outside”. Yep, I had a guy tell me that once in the interview. That’s it over. A professional resume is EASY, so do your homework!
(9a) It’s mean to say this, but I’m going to anyway, as for a small percentage of very talented people, this does happen. Sometimes the Director you mail your reel too (if they’re not great) they sometimes block reels from people that are better than themselves. Sounds dumb, but indeed, it gives them job security and there’s at least a few dumb people out there doing the hiring. (I’ve seen it happen.) So what to do when you know you’re demo is equal or better than anything the team is currently producing, and you mailed the Art Director and heard nothing back? Then try one more time and this time mail the same way to the EXECUTIVE PRODUCER for the company. Work out their name also. They tend to not be biased in any way and do have the power to get you hired.
(10) Last night we had problems with file formats like DIVX for the movie files. You MUST just make a DVD. If for some reason you can’t make a DVD, and you can’t find anyone that can… Then burn a CD and put the movie files on there. NEVER EVER use any funky codecs to encode video with. It must be a Windows Standard .WMV file. (Use the Windows Media Encoder, it’s free.) I love DIVX, but last night at our IGDA meeting we had a delay caused by a laptop having problems with projecting a DIVX movie. You can never guarantee the person will have DIVX or any other codec you want to use. So only go with Standards. JUST IN CASE they use a MAC (highly unlikely, but possible) it’s worth putting an Apple QuickTime .MOV version on there too. This has all your bases covered.
(11) If impressed they will probably Google you, if they find your homepage, they will look for more evidence of your skills. If they see weird stuff on there, like you’re selling crack pipes in your spare time, that’s bad. So avoid posting images that didn’t deserve to be on a reel, but someone made it onto your site. MANY times, I’ve liked the reel, then gone to the homepage and found plenty of reasons not to hire someone. (Many many times.)
(12) Remember that there’s lots of jobs now. Not just “Artist’. You can be a “Background Artist” a “Concept Artist” a “Matte Painter” a “Lighting Artist” a “Texture Artist” a “3D Character Modeler” a “3D Object Modeler” etc… Lots of jobs, each one has a slightly different set of skills. So make sure to NAIL the job you want. Sending a mix of demos for all jobs in a category tends not to be so smart, as you can’t be great at them all. I commonly see good Character modeling, then they also include concept art that’s poor or sometimes terrible. That worries the person doing the hiring. If you want concept work, then show nothing but killer concept work. You want to do matte paintings, then show nothing but jaw-dropping matte paintings. That’s how to nail this part of the job process.
This list can go on…. I’ve posted it here so I can keep refreshing it over time.
If you hire professional developers and you have tips to share, please email them to me. (
If you’re making a reel and have questions to share with others, please email them to me. (
Anyway, I hope this helps.

2 responses to Professional Advice on making Video Game Industry DEMO REELS?


    dp, i thnik this would be great to put in the wiki and backlink here.


    Advice well shared. Thank you.

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