Demo Reel Scope


Greetings all!

Alright… so straight to the brass tacks. I am - FINALLY - able to make a modern demo reel. So now I’m sitting down and salivating at all the potential things I could make. This is the first time I’ve ever made something strictly on my own. In the past I had access to TAs and Industry Pros who could sit next to me and point things out to me. Plus… My enthusiasm can sometimes get the best of me.

I have a generalist background, particularly around the environment arts, so naturally that is where I am currently the most comfortable. Name it, and I can probably make it. Mesh, (Moderate) Sculpt, Texture, (Simple) Animate, Light it… so forth.

I also know, because I did look before I clicked “+ New Topic”, that some part of this is already kinda answered in the post What I/Studios look for in a reel by @Partikel (“Keep it relevant”). As implied by my posts title, my questions here are scope. I’m trying to figure out what the most efficient course of action would be, and I don’t want to waste the time that I have.

So with all the overhead out of the way, Question Time! I’m making a VFX reel, hopefully surprising no one here at this forum. :stuck_out_tongue:

When I make my demo reel, would it be a waste of time to show off my other skills? In other words, should I just grey box a space, make an orb, and focus simply on the FX? Or would it be worth it in my demo reel to put in the extra efforts and make a… I don’t know… a Cyberpunk Kowloon Walled City. Something to give added context to all the sparks, flames, smoke, trash and crumble of a space. Would there be any exponential benefit to doing this? Or should I just make sure (as I will anyway, Duh!) that the VFX is top notch stuff.

Thank You!

  • Mez

Portfolio VFX - Background or No?

Hi @Mez and that’s a good question. To try and answer this as best I can, it depends on the type of effect. From the feedback I got when I started making my demo reel, the general consensus was that it’s better to see an effect in a lit, textured environment, as long as it doesn’t distract from the effect itself. Having effects in an environment shows you can account for the scene’s color and lighting, and with more games using lit particles and normals for things like dust and smoke, it can create additional challenges and workarounds. The environment’s lighting will almost always take precedent over your effects :confused: I would highly recommend having a full environment if you are showing off environmental effects like rain, fire, looping smoke, etc. Magic spells and other things like material effects you can get away with doing in a “test room” if it comes down to time and you don’t have a generic environment at your disposal; the effect is always more important to focus on.

This doesn’t mean you need to make the whole environment yourself. Unreal, and I believe Unity come with some generic maps, and if there’s nothing you’d like, it may be worth the $$ to buy something decent from their online stores. I used the Infinity Blade maps that came with UDK for a few of my first demo reel effects. I’d recommend saving off a different version of the map and scrap as much as you can to optimize the scene. Some of them can get pretty heavy, or have post process effects that can give you unwanted results for your effects.

I hope some of this helps, and if you have any more questions feel free to ask!


250+ Views and only 1 Comment with 2 likes?! Come on ya’ll, I’m not going to bite*. That said, maybe this answer really hit the nail on the head. Thank you @Travis for your answer.

To make sure I understand, you are suggesting that it is indeed worth the effort to create a fully artistically realized space to show off the effects. That the bonus in doing this, is that this also shows off my skill in taking into account the scene’s color and lighting. That I can make an effect look part of the space or style. Correct?

To add: The effects I’m currently planning on creating for my reel are fire :fire: (of course), earth :fog:, moving dust (wind):tornado:, water :ocean: and electricity :zap:. Classics. Both Realistic & Stylised Vers. Plus some sort of magic effects :boom:, that I have yet to decide to make of.

Yes, that’s alot of effects, I know. As I said In my OP, my enthusiasm can sometimes get the best of me (I still really want to do it), which is why I’m trying to figure out the scope of the space, as I’m going to give my self a hard deadline. I’m figuring out the best approach in my pre-planning. I also may be using this opportunity to prove to my self that I can do this, even through I know I can.

Brains are weird. Artist brains are weird. :smiley:

I am aware of the kitbash environments & Infinity Blade maps. Right now through I’m pretty hard set on making my demo reel 100% stuff I’ve made. This makes the credit where credit is due part of the reel simpler. Thank you again, not only for the suggestion, but your post in whole.

  • Mez

*Your results may vary. /s : P


Don’t kill yourself on the environments, since you acknowledge you get overly ambitious. Having your effects play in a lit & textured scene is good, but don’t forget that the primary effort of your demo reel are the effects themselves. It’s better to have 2-3 really well done effects in test rooms than a bunch of poor quality effects in an environment. Use what you have available to you the best you can. It’s a whole lot faster to add “Environment from Unreal Engine content kit” annotated into the bottom of your reel than to spend all that time making one yourself. Unless you’re an environment artist moving to effects and you can make a good scene efficiently, stick to pre-made scenes or test rooms for your first reel. That saved time can be put towards polishing your effects and applying feedback that people give you on your work, which is more important.

It’s not worth the effort to make an entire scene to show off your effects if the effects don’t look good, or if the scene isn’t complete. Anything wrong in the scene will most likely distract whoever is viewing your reel from the effect, and you now have failed the entire point of making a reel.

Kill as many birds with one stone as you can. You can fit good water, fire and electricity all into one scene and do a slow fly through. Boom you’ve just shown off three effects instead of doing separate cuts between the three.


When I review candidate reels I typically am only interested in evaluating the actual VFX elements without any sound, unless we’re looking specifically for a specialist or an upcoming project demands someone with a secondary set of skills. I’d rather see a really good effect in a grey box environment then an OK effect in a well lit/textured/modeled environment. Your best work should be first, and it should be clear what it is you want me to evaluate (ie. if you’ve got a Battlefield-esque cutscene in your reel, indicate that you did the blood, bullet impacts, etc). If you happen to showcase the VFX in your own environments you can definiately call that out, but unless you are absolutely neck and neck with another candidate and we can’t decide who to go with it probably won’t be considered.