Demo Reel Presentation

The Art Of Presentation For
Artists, Animators, Filmmakers:

Things To Consider
Before Building Your Portfolio

23 November 2002


You’re an artist, and you want the job.

You have visual content for your portfolio. But how do you get your work noticed so you get the job?

There are several parts to the answer: originality, intent, function, organization and presentation.

Since you’re probably just looking for tips on presentation, that’s threaded throughout this article to make sure you get the rest. Only then do you get the magic cookie.

Want It Your Way?

Want to do things your way? Understand and appreciate the rules before you break them.

Both are important. Understanding something includes knowing its boundaries and limitations. This clues you in on where to look when it’s time to do your own thing.

Appreciating what has come before means that you can see various sides of a debate. Agreeing with what you find is something else entirely.

Think of maturity as being synonymous with appreciation. Accept that the established way might serve a purpose and be useful to someone, even if it’s not your cup of tea.

Only then will breaking the rules show originality rather than demonstrating difficulty playing with others.

Know That You Want It

Some basics: Learn from the mantra of the largest 3D Users Group in the US.

Major Pixel, frontman for XYZ&You ( based in the Seattle area, is often espousing three lines to live by:

  1. Do what you love!
  2. Get paid for what you do!
  3. And if working freelance, have the job pay for your cool tools!

You want to create art, do your craft and enjoy the process. What’s new to many artists is the professionalism that it’s alright to get paid well for honest work.

Having a comfortable life has nothing to do with selling-out.

Many of history’s finest artists and most respected talent were masters of commerce.

Feeling even a little shame that getting paid for this is somehow bad, as some artists do, will only undermine yourself and weaken your position when seeking opportunities.

Be comfortable in knowing what you want and having the desire to go after it.

Your intentions must be honest and clear to you before beginning because they’ll become obvious to someone with more life experience than you.

The Game Of Getting The Job

Depending upon where you’ve hung out and whom you’ve learned from, you might have heard, “Demo Or Die.”

Showing your work is part of the game. You didn’t build the city in which you live, so understand the rules if you want to participate in the culture.

Without the portfolio, others have difficulty envisioning how you fit into their world.

And you do want them to see how you would benefit them, don’t you? Otherwise, they may ask you to perform in ways outside of your skill set. So unless you intended that, it rarely leads to a beneficial outcome for either party.

Demonstrate that you understand them.

Then they’ll understand that you understand, and that’s the basis for you getting the job.

Part of this means showing how diverse your talents are. You might want to work for a game company designing a principal character. But your foot in the door might be making flora or fauna for the scene.

Consider unused advertisement spaces in printed newspapers, billboards and Web sites. They fill the void with the message: Your Ad Here.

That’s they’re way of saying, “No matter how large or small your message, we have a place for it.”

Your role in developing a portfolio or demo reel is to create the equivalent of that ad. That’s the function of the portfolio.

Got Something To Say?

Organization is structure for the way in which you say it.

Depending on whom you’re to show your wares to that day, rearrange your portfolio pages or demo reel scenes for them.

That is, if you have renderings of a tree, a human figure and a robot, which would be most appropriate to be seen first by the producer of television show about ghosts? Lead modeler of game company with a future technology theme?

Think they’ll find it sooner or later? Think again.

You have three seconds to catch their attention. Usually, they will see your work without seeing you.

Especially with a demo reel, they have to see something of significance to them in those three seconds but without anyone point it out.

That’s the significance of organization in your presentation.

One Degree Of Separation

For a demo reel, show an overview– a table of contents, if you will. Incorporate this feature into the styling of your presentation.

Always be within three seconds of your title and content card. Start, end and between every clip or still, return to your title frame.

Audiences of DVDs are familiar with the general idea of returning to a common menu, as that’s become standard practice for content authoring on interactive discs. (Not interactive? Fake it! Think: guided tour.)

Here, we take that one step further by introducing the time limit for scenes and presentation of still images.

Regarding style in a demo reel, try a panel with multiple frames.

Alternate animation, video clips and stills. Use asymmetry rather than sequential repetition.

See Figure 1. It’s a 3x3 grid. Pick one panel to show your name and contact information and others for your artwork. Always be consistent by keeping each item in the same panel throughout the entire demo reel or portfolio.

Using a printed portfolio? This also works well for the traditional paper based presentation as your table of contents. (And it’s useful in the front, back and middle.)

But that’s only half of presentation.

Simple And Direct

Keep it clean and to the point. Keep your audience involved without taking them on any wild rides, wandering off with tangents or wasting their time.

Regarding transitions between clips and scenes on a video tape or disc: Consider movie trailers for foreign films, as shown in the US. Often, there is no dialog and clips are brief. Various styles are applied on top of this standard such as using fades or blends.

Avoid elaborate transition sequences– with the sole exception of programmers and video engineers who have created custom transition sequences. That is, unless your intent is to claim the transition as your work, eliminate it!

Using anything other than a jump cut, fade or blend comes across as gaudy and wasting their time. And when using fades or blends, the transition should be less than a second– a quick, quarter second is recommended.

That brings us to 99% of presentation.

Golden Rule

The golden rule– if there is such a thing– would be ensuring your message is clear. And your message, of course, is telling a potential client or employer what you can do for him/her/them.

Conveying such a message well is the essence of presentation in a portfolio or demo reel.


If you’ve read through this far, my gift to you is how to attain that 110% level.

Beyond originality, intent, function, organization or presentation is delivering a sense of story.

Use story as a vehicle.

Entice them to see it all through subtlety of delivery.

But do this without annoying them! You may dangle a carrot, but give a clue well in advance so they know it will be worth the ride.

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About The Author:

Having created his first art portfolio in 1986 when applying to traditional art schools, Daniel had examples of pen & ink illustrations, 2D & 3D CADD work, architectural and mechanical drafting, furniture design, corporate image work (logos and letterhead) and hand-drawn perspective renderings. It was widely considered a solid portfolio: student or professional! His portfolio opened doors at top art schools and premier engineering schools on the East Coast of the US. He instead pursued computer science and created his own 3D modeling software when the Macintosh II was introduced because no vertex-based drawing package yet existed for that platform.

Copyright © 2002 Daniel Joseph Pezely
May be licensed via Creative Commons Attribution.