No ideas for a portfolio piece? Or perhaps you don’t know what an FX Supervisor is looking out for? I share the essential elements that make an outstanding VFX/Effects portfolio project piece.
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This is really the secret sauce to a beginner’s demo reel that is outstanding and gets noticed.
This week’s video we are going to be talking about what does an effects supervisor want to see in a beginner’s demo reel piece so let’s get into it.
Hey hi, I’m Nelson Lim. I’m a digital artist and technologist. If you don’t know me, some of the projects, games and films that I’ve worked on include Pacific Rim Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean and Fortnite.
In this channel, I help CG VFX artists level up their skills and mindset, so they can create more earn more and live more. So welcome to the channel.
What is a demo reel piece or sometimes known as a portfolio piece?
What a portfolio piece is not.
To begin with let’s talk about what it is not. It is not a tutorial exercise. So it’s not something that you just follow a tutorial and then you just produce the same results as a tutorial.
It is not just another school assignment. This one’s popular I see it a lot in demo reels where you went through a course taught you something. There was an assignment in there and you included an assignment in your demo reel. A portfolio piece is not an assignment piece.
It is not a research exercise either so you decided that you wanted to learn a little bit more about vellum or grains and you did a little simple exercise research into it and created something really simple and you want to include that in your demo reel. That is not a portfolio piece.
So what is a portfolio piece?
A portfolio piece is a effects heavy personal work. So it’s personal work because you’ve never had production experience and it’s got to be effects heavy. The effects has got to be the main thing in the shot. The whole idea is you want multiple effects elements coming together as a possible production shot. So you want to hit that high level of quality as much as possible.
A good gauge of how long it should take for you to create a portfolio piece if you’re working on it full time is probably a good two to three months working on it all the time to create a piece that is of as high a quality as you can possibly get.
The end goal is to be able to create say two to three of these portfolio pieces that you can then use to cut into an effects demo reel.
At the end of this video, I’m gonna share with you a little secret on how you can choose a good idea for an effects demo reel piece so make sure to stick to the end.
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So here are seven things that an effect supervisor wants to see in a beginner demo reel or portfolio piece.
Essential #1 – Keep it short. Three to six seconds.
At 24 frames per second is really sufficient most movie shots are under one second. But why you want at least three seconds is so you want to give sufficient time for us to see your effects sort of evolved and just have sufficient screen time for us to see the quality of your work you work so hard on it you want to make sure that it’s seen now you don’t want to exceed six seconds again it’s not necessarily a rule of thumb but just kind of a good measure it’s because you want to reduce the scope so that you can push the quality never try to do a 10 second shot if it’s going to affect the quality of the outcome that you can produce and naturally it would because you have to render so much more alright
Essential #2 – Focus your work on the effects.
It’s an effects demo real piece so you really want to focus your time and effort on the effects now if you can do something that doesn’t need to be animated fantastic if you can purchase rigs off the shelf great you can purchase assets they’re already textured and shaded that’s fantastic so you want to reduce the amount of work that you’re doing that is not effects related because you want to push the quality of your effects to as high a bar as you can now sometimes that means that if you’re in an art school and you can find other people who are talented in other areas you can collaborate with them and create this amazing piece together or maybe you’re in an online community of some sort and you can find people to collaborate together on a portfolio piece that’s fantastic if you can leverage the strengths of others but remember focus on the effects
Essential #3 – Not a tutorial/ assignment or exercise
Earlier we talked about a portfolio piece is not an assignment. It’s not a tutorial. So let’s talk a little bit about why you shouldn’t have that in there an effects supervisor wants to know that you can do the work and doing the work means that you’re going to be given a shot that you’re probably going to have to create an effect from scratch clients don’t order tutorial pieces so you’ve got to be able to show that you can troubleshoot you can you know how to create an effect you know how to approach creating an effect for a shot from scratch starting out so that’s what we want to see and that’s the reason why we don’t think that you should put your tutorial work into your demo reel piece alright
Essential #4 – Composite against a photoreal background
I see this mistake happen all the time. Don’t show your elements against black.
In fact, the tip would be try to composite your elements against a photoreal background because that’s exactly the way your elements are going to be used in a production,
In fact, the effect supervisor wants to see that you know how to create elements that can be used in a production. Elements that will look good composited against a photoreal background. Not just black. Because everything looks great against black.
I can’t even tell if you are able to distinguish rendering something out with an alpha, if you just composite it against black. Because I won’t be able to tell at all so that’s why we want you to exhibit those skills go learn new show that you can composite your effects against a photoreal background. Super helpful tip!
Before we move on to the next thing, I just wanted to let you know that I’ve created a 10 page effects demo reel guide. It’s a free pdf and inside I have collected many of these tips and tricks and talked about them in a little bit more detail. It’s got two checklists in there that’s really helpful as you’re creating your demo reel. So be sure to check it out in the description below and we should be able to send it to you via email.
Effects Demo Reel Guide
Essential #5 – Layer your effects.
Okay number five this is a big one that affects supervisors want to see that we don’t see very often layer your effects show us that you know pause and effect there’s no smoke without fire so if you have fire show me the smoke if you fire show me the embers if your fire show me all the other things that are associated with it maybe burning ash all of that i want you to be able to show me that you understand the causality and effects of all how one primary effect can create all this other stuff but also show me that you know how to use multiple effects elements to layer on top of each other to achieve a high level of quality and fidelity and realism in your effects renders so do that super helpful in creating an outstanding portfolio piece
Essential #6 – Pick something that excites you.
This is not really something that a fx supervisor wants to see necessarily but do note if you’re going to be working on this for two to three months we’re talking about probably iterations up to maybe about 100 or more iterations to get it to the quality level that it should be you need to make sure that you’re excited about this you like this effect that you’re trying to create so pick something that you really like and enjoy doing and won’t get sick of by the 20th iteration
Essential #7 – Match a reference.
Number seven this is really the secret sauce to a beginner’s demo reel that is outstanding and gets noticed and if i wouldn’t in fact supervisor that’s what i really want to see beginner effects artists do when they create their demo real pieces and that is to use matching references like match a reference from a high quality feature film where you know the effects is going to be outstanding and or actual stock footage so what you want is to be able to train your eye have this reference all over the place that this is the effect that you’re trying to match or surpass it’s really important that you do that because as a beginner you are trying to train your aesthetic you don’t necessarily have an effect supervisor unless you have a mentor who is able to guide you through give you critique about the work that you are creating as you iterate through that but if you have a reference that you can match then you can know with each iteration that you push does this look as good as my reference or better and so it’s going to help you train that aesthetic eye of yours which is really hard it’s something that’s really difficult for beginners is being able to train your eye and nothing beats that compared to like real live footage reference or reference from some of your favorite movies that have high quality effects in it so the goal is you want to match or surpass that reference
Choosing your idea
As promised I’m going to talk about how do you choose an idea for a beginner effects demo real piece here is it and I think this is the way that you really need to understand what effect supervisors want to see in a beginner’s effects reel i want to see that you can do the types of work that i would assign a beginner effects td so what that means any sensible vfx or effects supervisor is not going to be giving the junior artist that massive water shot that large-scale building destruction shot because that’s just going to produce a really stressed out junior effects artist and I do want to see my artists be in the industry for a while so you’re not gonna get those shots.
So what kind of shots are you gonna get? You’re gonna get shots that’s really the bread and butter effects. You know – the thing that we do the most of.
It’s not necessarily the most glamorous thing but there is a lot of meaty things and exciting things to learn and to do even in these type of effects.
So what type of effects are we talking about? A lot of the effects that we’re talking about is going to be environment effects.
Let me give you a couple of examples of environment effects here. Rain, fog, haze plankton, dust, breaking or falling glass, dirt, debris, leaves, flying leaves, smoke, hit impacts, muzzle flashes, ground interactions (very common even mid and senior TDs do that because it’s just very very common stuff that we do), falling paper, ash snow, background fires, flying embers. Those are the types of things that are the bread and butter of effects and every effects td especially a junior fx td ought to be really acquainted with.
So those are the types of effects that you can expect to get as a junior effects artist or junior fx td and those are the types of effects that you want to make sure that you show that you have mastered to a high level of quality that when I look at your reel I know that I’m going to be able to put this guy to work on all of this effects elements that need to be done. And he understands it and he knows how to push it to the level of quality that is needed and so I think that is key to understanding what an effects supervisor wants to see in your portfolio piece and key to helping you decide what ideas you should pick in your effects demo real portfolio piece.
Now that said you don’t have to have all of these effects elements in your demo reel – that’s actually quite a lot of effects. But you should have few of these inside.
Pick your favorite VFX heavy feature film look at certain shots as you watch through those movies you know pics and shots that have a lot more environment effects and choose something that you feel is achievable. Something that is a little bit of a challenge for you but still achievable. Something that you think that if you spent two to three months of dedicated time learning and iterating and producing that effect you’re going to get something that is of the same quality as that shot or if not more.
On top of that, you want to make sure that it’s a shot that has multiple layers of effects elements so it really shows off the range of elements you can create the range and diversity of techniques that you know.
As well as mentioned earlier, your ability to just know how to layer effects to generate detail and realism.
So other things you could potentially consider in a hero shot is maybe a an explosion a simple explosion of some sort or something.
Metal bending, possibly concrete, you know some sort of concrete structure breaking and fracturing. Maybe a statue, a sculpture? Something that’s a little bit more within scope and something that’s going to be a little bit more easier to tackle.
Something that you can imagine a sensible effects supervisor assigning to you as a junior effects artist.
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Once again remember to pick the free effects demo reel guide that’s provided in the description below and I will see you guys next week!