What I/Studios look for in a reel

Many people seem to wonder what to put in a reel, so I figured I’d try to answer from the other point of view. What do I look for in a reel when hiring? Disclaimer: I haven’t made a reel of my own for many years… I have reviewed a lot of them though.

A reel is meant to do two things. First of all it should show that you’ve got the skills we are looking for. If you get called to an interview, it will also act as an interview tool. You’ll be asked to step through it and explain how you did the pieces in it, why you did it that way etc. From there on out, your reel is moot. Make sure you nail the interview (should I write some tips for this too?), and deliver a kickass art test if needed.

The top three things to keep in mind when editing your reel:

1. Keep it relevant. On a high level this means that you need to make sure you know what you are applying for. A VFX reel consisting only of compositing may get through the HR screening (yeah…) but it will get shot down instantly when it gets to me. I am also not interested in seeing the cool barrel and crate scene you modeled unless it is filled with atmospherics or explode. You are expected to be able to model to some degree, but it’s not something you need to put in your reel.
Make sure you are showing effects relevant to the company you are applying to. If the company makes realistic shooter games, a reel that only showcases moba spells will get shot down incredibly quickly.

2. Keep it short. Your reel is not the only one we review so keep it snappy. If your reel gets boring in the middle, I will close it down and check out the next one instead. Keep in mind, that often when we are looking for people, we are already some way up $hitcreek and super busy. That may be why we are looking in the first place.
Make sure only your very best work is in there. If you are unsure, leave it out.

3. Make sure it plays. Don’t upload it to an obscure website we can’t find the playbutton on. Don’t compress it with a magic codec that only you have. That’s the fast track to the bin. The best is when it’s an attached MP4 (or in a cloud service somewhere) so we can download it. This allows us to framestep it if we are interested. Oh yes… we framestep… :smiley:

So what are we actually looking for?

1. Timing is everything. If the timing and animation of your effects are spot on we can forgive dodgy textures and wonky coloring. When you start at the company, you’ll probably use the textures already in place.

2. Effort. Show that you can handle the big picture. If I’m looking at a rainscene I don’t want to see just vertical raindrops. I want to see wind influencing the drops, Splashes on surfaces, wetness running down walls, bright drops near lightsources, sweeping rain patterns on the ground, drops on the camera. The whole nine yards. If you only made “the token effect” don’t put it in your reel.

3. Technical skill. Is there a lot of clipping (on what should be a console effect)? Are there well executed shaders? Is looping nicely obfuscated? Are there ribbon flipping? Is the effect optimized? Are the effects fading smoothly, or is the alpha borked? Are there things that look cool that I can’t even tell how it was made?!

4. Artistic eye. How do the textures look? How well are the colors balanced? Does your explosion have details like varying colors on the smoke, different scales of debris, lingering effects and so on.

Other things to keep in mind:

Should I include the textures I used? No. The reel is not an art test.

Should I include performance values? No. The reel is not an art test. Just make sure it’s a plausible effect. Otherwise you’ll probably get called out on it.

Should I include the fluid sim explosions I made? Unless you made a perfect conversion into a game effect, make a separate reel for it. But by all means, send that too!

Does it matter what music I put on it? No, I’ll probably be listening to Meshuggah when I look at it anyway. (Don’t make my mistake of doing weird edits to match it to the music shudder)

Should I include a personal letter targeted to the company I’m applying to with the reel? YES.

If you have further questions, drop them in the thread and I’ll try to answer them.


Part 2: What I don’t want to see.

More often than you think reels contain things that will instantly make me shut it down and ignore the application. Here are some of the things you shouldn’t include.

Plagiarism. Stealing someones work and calling it your own. This may not only get your application shut down but it could blacklist you. I understand that in many projects it’s very hard to say who touched what last, so who does the effect belong to? That’s not what I’m talking about here. That situation is easy to fix by writing something along the lines of “I was responsible for the lookdev and implementation. John Doe did the final pass and optimization”. When I say a piece is stolen, I mean simply downloaded from youtube and edited into your reel.

Completed Tutorials. Tutorials are a great way to learn techniques. However, use them to create your own thing. When I see a scene that is clearly just the endresult of using ImbueFXs tutorials down to the values, I immediately believe the rest of the shots are also just tutorials that I haven’t seen yet. Use the knowledge, make something of your own!

Don’t disrespect other peoples work. This is more common in cover letters than the reel. Don’t try to prove how good you are by pointing out all the flaws in another game. It may be that the game has many flaws, but it does not reflect well on you.

No 30 second intros please. Unless, it’s your way of showing off your motiongraphics chops, don’t add a overly long intro. It’s fine to add your name and contact up front, but get to the good part quickly. If we are interested in contacting you, we can always go back to the contact slide and pause.


If you are working at a studio with a library of textures, should you say that textures or vector fields were made by someone else?

It it’s a super unique thing like a swirl or a tornado that is super dependant on the vector field. Sure. If it’s just turbulence, don’t bother.
It’s not something I look for in the reel, but it could come up in an interview.

When you say “we” do you mean your personal company or EA in general or a specific studio within EA?

We, as in the group of VFX artist that reviews the reels sent over from HR. I haven’t hired anyone in my own company but I’ve been in a reviewing position fora couple of companies. Obviously all of these opinions are my own and may not reflect company guidelines.
See this as more of a firsthand account of what usually happens.