Andrew Gordon worked as Pixar's directing animator for seven years, and is now co-director at Illumination McGuff and head of animation at Double Negative. He's worked on films such as The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc, so it's safe to say he's seen a few demo reels in his time.
Here, Gordon walks through some stand-out demo reels from the last decade, explaining why each one won its creator either an internship or a job at Pixar…
01. Stefan Schumacher: Demo reel 2010
“This one was done by Stefan Schumacher, who was one of my interns a few years back,” explains Gordon. “All of the scenes are based on a simple rig that has been modified to be a character. Also, he put sets in and, in general, shows really great acting ideas. Especially in the scene at 00:30…”
02. Allison Rutland: 2009 animation demo reel
“Another reel that I remember being wonderful was this one from Allison Rutland. It’s a professional reel that showed great potential at the time,” Gordon explains.
“She didn’t have much feature work on her reel, but she did two personal tests that got her a job. The last one on the reel [at 00:50] I think really closed it for her. It’s a great example of believable acting,” he says. Rutland went on to win an Annie for best character animation for her work on 2015 animated film, Inside Out.
You can watch her 2017 animation showreel here (opens in new tab).
03. Cesar Tafova: Animation reel 2016
“There are many rigs out there – many are attached to schools that ‘give them away’ for free as a marketing tool,” says Gordon. “Just know that when you see the same rig over and over from hundreds and hundreds of students, it’s very hard to separate yourself from the pack.
“This example [at 00:17] shows a good use of changing the scene and character. It has a good hook. It’s the Malclom rig,” he adds. “I see lot of demo reels with this guy. If you’re going to use a rig from a school, come up with a really original design and test.
“Look at the rig as the actor, and you as the director who needs to put him in a costume. Make the scenery and direct the acting to tell a story.”
04: Carlo Vogele: For Sock’s Sake
“Once you get past the work from schools that teach animation by using stock rigs and running you through animation exercises, the stuff that really stands out is the student films from other schools in the world,” says Gordon. “When you see a film that’s well-crafted, it means a lot. This film by Carlo Vogele was one of those you see and, right off the bat, you say: ‘That’s a great idea – using clothing to animate.”
“It’s so important to remember to be a film-maker and not just try to do exercises that you think will get you into this or that studio – especially when you’re a student. Now’s your time to make films, because not many people out there are going to give you the money to make a film.
“I was personally hired out of school on a two-minute Flour Sack test that turned into a little story. I saw another student get an internship based off his Flour Sack film and go on to Pixar, then Disney feature animation,” he continues. “You don’t need complex rigs to get noticed. Just great ideas. Many times it’s the story telling, the entertainment value, what you bring to the work… Don’t fall into the trap of being a shot animator. Try to be a storyteller.”