Creating a great personal showreel

Creating a showreel is a must for all creatives, but even when you have some great work to display it is still tricky to get it right. Even the best designers need help and direction when cutting a good reel – hopefully these tips will help.

Not too long

A common mistake, especially if you have a lot of good work or high profile clients that you want to show off, is to make your reel too long. I would say the ideal length of a showreel is between 1 to 1½ minutes. You should remember that most people who will be looking at it will be seeing many, many other reels and will want to see them all in small bitesize chunks. It may even put somebody off clicking play if they see that it is a 3 minute marathon.

No repetition

Once the viewer has noted that you have done a certain piece in a certain style for a certain client, why would they want to see the same piece again later on in the reel? Unless it shows a different discipline or has a radically different visual style it just feels like filler – if you don’t have a good reason to, don’t repeat content. Even if you have a series of stings that you are quite proud of you may be tempted to space them out and keep returning to them as separate pieces, but consider editing them together as one quick package, it will have much more impact that way.

Good content first

It is very important to start the piece well, most people will decide whether they like it in the first 10 – 15 seconds and make the decision to keep watching based on that. I think that a short, defined intro to a reel is a good idea – not necessarily your name and ‘showreel 2012’ but perhaps apply some of your personal branding, a logo or perhaps even an additional graphic element that ties the whole reel together. So if you have succeeded in getting the viewers attention for the whole piece it is also important to end strongly, if you have a good exciting ending it will mean that people will be motivated to share.


Music is a very important part of a showreel – although you can see how good a designers skills are from just the visuals, the main emotion and engagement comes through the music and editing choices made. If you choose your track from the outset, make it interesting and punchy and animate to the audio then the end result will be much, much better than just sticking a beat over the top. Having said this, it is important to note that a lot of people will watch a reel on mute for this reason. They want to judge the work without being distracted by the audio, or maybe they’re just listening to some kick ass punk rock and don’t want anything to get in the way. Personally though I feel that to get the full experience a showreel needs all of my attention. If it’s good.

Play to your strengths

When making your reel, you should bear in mind which direction you want to head in, which is the area that you want to impress in. You obviously want to show off all of the things you can do, but there are very few people who are amazing at everything. I suggest playing to your strengths and putting your best and most relevant content near the beginning. For example if you’re not too hot on the 3D side of things but still feel it needs to be represented in your reel, just work on making a custom 5-10 second clip that has had a lot of TLC applied to it, rather than simply insert a section of a bigger earlier project that could look better.


Shabello Reel 2011 - Animated perfectly to music and focussing on her main strengths - illustration and animation before demonstrating 3D skills

Rocketpanda Reel 2010 - An older reel but a good example, perfect music choice that gets the viewer excited coupled with dynamic visuals. Could remove some repeat clips, however.

Universal Everything Reel 2011 - An example of a poor showreel, showcasing mainly projection work is much harder, but at almost 8 minutes with poor sound, this could have been executed much more effectively

Define your skills and roles

If I ever view a new showreel by a designer I don’t know I always wonder how much of it actually is their own work. Whether it is a note in the accompanying description or a small ‘credits’ list at the end it is always helpful to know exactly what their role in production was. It is nice to see a mention in the description of the others that were involved on projects, if nothing at all is said then it could be assumed that all you have done is cut other people’s work to music to pass it off as your own. By defining your specific role and software used in production you are using the opportunity to highlight your skills and strengths and enabling your audience to focus on them, rather than leaving people guessing your potential weaknesses.

Keep it current

Ensure that the main feature of the showreel is your latest work, and beware of following standard trends. Obviously you need to make it look current and there is nothing wrong with taking influence from styles that are getting a lot of attention, but beware that often these can look outdated very quickly and may cause your good work to attract negative attention. The same goes for work copied from tutorials, the projects that you made while following someone’s video tutorial should never be used in a showreel under any circumstances – it will instantly be recognised as a copy and it will be all the viewer will take from watching it. Obviously using techniques learnt from tutorials should be encouraged, but taken in a whole new direction and not used in the same way.

Consider being original

Almost all showreels are just previous work cut together, as most people are happy with the fact that they have done the hard work already and are simply showing their best bits in a bitesize video clip. There is nothing wrong with this at all, especially when just looking to maintain an online presence but when you know your work is going to be scrutinised against hundreds of other applicants for a specific role and you have the time to do so, what’s stopping you from making something completely different that really stands out? Don’t be afraid to make custom content to make it flow better. For example, if you know a bit of flash , then why not make an interactive piece that combines all of your skills? The same with HTML5 or WebGL on Chrome. If you are applying for a creative role then quite often employers will want to know a bit about your personality and ideas so maybe you could think of it as a playable CV that tells a story about yourself and your background as well as your latest work. This approach could be hugely beneficial to recent graduates who don’t necessarily have the experience, but want to show something a bit different to the standard reel that companies will receive on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid to create custom content to make it flow better – show all your skills off with how you cut the reel, not just editing


Look at other designers showreels, make a note of what you like and what you dislike – if you spend half a day watching reels you will quickly get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. A good place to start is – here you will find a broad spectrum of skill levels, and also you’ll be able to view others works in progress and the related feedback.

Get it out there

Upload your showreel everywhere that it will get the right attention, put it on vimeo, reelroulette and tweet about it to start getting hits. Make a post on the relevant section on to not only get hits, but also gain valuable (sometimes harsh but constructive) feedback on it. If you think that it’s good enough to get featured, why not send a link to the various design blogs out there. Often one extra outlet will mean hundreds or maybe thousands of additional hits.

Big thanks to Rocketpanda and Shabello for letting me use their showreels. Rocketpanda now has a new showreel for 2012, that you can view here

By: Jonny
Posted: Tue 17th Jan 2012

Tags: Articles, edit, motion graphics, reel, self promotion, showreels


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