Alexander Schmid aka Sinistergrief has recently asked me to do a review of his 2018 showreel. I thought it would be a great opportunity to share the process and my thoughts here on the blog, rather than hoarding it behind closed doors.

Alex is a Freelance 3D Artist with 3+ years of experience and produces key visuals, animations, product and explainer videos.

What I see in Alex’s work is potential for being truly great. At the same time I also see a lot of the same mistakes I would do when creating showcases in the past.

General Overview

The showreel has a good length, it keeps it under 1 minute and is to the point. According to any metric I ever looked at, around the one minute mark seems to be the magical number when most people tune out.

Unfortunately the structure of the video is a mixed bag. It has truly great shots, mediocre shots and bad ones which I would not show at all. Its un-curated content, a hodgepodge of all projects done that were serviceable. Its in dire need of selective editing.

Secondly it lacks rhythm, something to get the viewer (reviewer, client, customer) hyped about what they are watching. The music unfortunately doesn’t help in this regard and while its perfectly fine, it doesn’t build or change tempo, which quickly grows monotonous.

Lets contrast it with the 2017 Showreel by Weltenwandler Design

The execution and technical detail aside (this is a studio after all, not an individual freelancer), the music itself, the transitions and motion all work in harmony to get the viewer hyped about what they are watching. The music builds, the shots ramp, its very dynamic in a pleasant way.

I find this curious, because Alex’s first showreel from 2013 follows this schema nicely. It has a rhythm and beat to it, something that keeps the viewer engaged throughout, even if it is technically speaking weaker than his 2018 reel.

Going in Deep

The video starts off with a title sequence with closeups and hard cuts between perspectives. This is quite pleasant and builds interest. However the final shot saying “Showreel 2018” is on screen too short for it to be completely readable.

Next we transition into an insectoid robot, which doesn’t match the title slide in quality. Its a nice model, don’t get me wrong, but the materials, camera-work, lighting, and animation speaks “amateur” more than “professional”. Its also without context, and hard to pin down what it really is or tries to be. It stays on screen for around 2-3 seconds and we aren’t able to take in what it is.

The same can be said about the next shot, which is qualitatively better than the robot. But the sequence is barley 2 seconds long. In general the cuts are too short, as most of the sequences are less than 3 seconds, if you blink you miss them.

Then there are 3 short sequences which are not clearly readable to me, one seems like a product explainer, but its hard to tell what it is, the other is a shot of stylized VR goggles (?) and then we have whirring tablets that spell something out (I think) but we never get to see what it says.

The impression I’m getting here is that this is content for contents sake, not because it deserves to be in the showcase or is a particularly great work. A showreel or portfolio should only contain the absolutely best work that you can show, everything else should be left on the cutting floor.

Now the next sequences are something I like to see, its the ones that should have been led with in the beginning. Theres a beautiful render of an aged film reel still-life, kind of flexing those modeling, material and composition muscles. A good motion graphic of a logo. And a clean, contemporary product showcase (but again too short).

And just as I got hyped that we are now seeing the “good stuff” I get hit with this really low quality spinning coin.

I don’t like to be harsh, but this is a graphic I expect to find on Shutterstock in the refuse bin of things nobody buys.

It’s like a rollercoaster of emotions here, because the next shot is a really good origami-motion logo animation!

You can’t be playing with my emotions like that man!

So we go through another set of good stuff. Product feature & showcase, intro graphics, explainer video. Good stuff, though the red star could use a re-render with more samples, because it’s quite noisy.

And then again we hit a sequence that seems like its from a completely different reel.

I don’t really understand showcasing the wireframe on the train model. It’s neither an impressive model, nor is the render realistic enough to highlight that this is 3D. And I also understand, that’s just simply how the Popcorn TV logo looks, and that’s fine, but nevertheless it feels dated, low quality and clashes with all of the other work. Remember this is your showreel, you control what you show in it. If it doesn’t make the cut, too bad.

But at the very least we finish with a bang of a very nice product explosion of a cardboard VR headset.

How to Improve

Play to your strengths

Curate the content. Picking projects that are objectively of the highest quality increases the likelihood of creating a successful reel. Its okay to only have like 5 projects in 30 seconds, do not try to cram everything into the showreel. And honestly its not like there is a lack of works that are deserving here.

My suggestion would be to focus on these projects as the showcase:

Change the sequence

Start with the strongest project first to hook the viewer. In this case it would be the cardboard headset and then the boxing gloves.

Here is a suggested sequence:

This will also keep the sequences in tune with the colors. You go dark -> light -> blue -> red.

Change up the pace

Find better, less monotonous music that gets people hyped. Something that has an intro sequence around 10 seconds long that builds into a some kind of drop.

I get it, we are all poor and buying music is expensive, but investing into our portfolio is important. If we want to show our best side as artists and designers, we will have to invest some money.

A last resort could be the Free Music Archive.

Additionally extend the sequence length, don’t be afraid to show more. If you have to re-render some scenes to make them longer, do that, not everything has to be true to life and how it was delivered to the client. Use motion transitions between the sequences, together with the natural transitions already present in the works you show, tracked to the music.

Up your social game

Ain’t nobody got time to type links into their browser. We have to make it as easy for clients as humanly possible to reach out and connect with us.

Use annotations, cards or at the very least put the links in the description.

Additionally the last slide of your reel shouldn’t just be an afterthought. It should have just as much craft put into it as the rest of the showreel. It needs to be a closer, a bookend, that entices the viewer to connect with you as a professional.

Closing Thoughts

The transition from amateur to professional isn’t easy and it’s a lot of work to pull off.

It also requires us to shed some of our amateur thinking.

Our showcases aren’t mom’s fridge, where we can hang anything and everything we do, and get a gold star. We are judged harshly and constantly on everything we do, especially on the internet and social media. We are professionals and we must present that way.

Sure, successful designers and artists don’t just produce stunning work, they produce bad work too. However we only ever see the highlights; what they allow us to see. Within this space we have to be selective about what we show too.

For every great project the designers have 10 weak or mediocre ones that teach them how to be great.

The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.

Stephen McCranie

Highlight your success, but don’t be afraid to fail.

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