Got a special treat for you. I don't know why it's taken me this long to finally post all this, but here we are.

First up, is my demo montage from 2000. I was working at Click 3X at the time as key animator for two directors, John Ryan and Robert Pope. Just three of us in the back corner of a boutique production company. It was tight quarters, with me inches away from John's right elbow. No privacy, no room to spread out. Looking back, I can't imagine how we made it day to day without one of us ripping at each other's throats. But somehow we managed. Doing mostly agency work, it was industry standard to have a separate demo reel for each director. Since I was a regular animator, I didn't need to have one made. No problem, I thought early on. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing: animatin'. But then, as time rolled on, I began to get the urge to branch out. I approached John and Robert to see if there were any chances that I might be able to direct -- anything, really. I was desperate. I did direct, so to speak, a "tag" for some live action Little Debbie spot. The last 5 seconds of a commercial. The tail end. It was of a mouth turning into a smile which then morphed into the logo. Not much, but it was a start. I then directed the animation for these animal characters for some Pedialyte-like product for South America. Again, not much, but it was something.

But it wasn't enough. I felt that if I was to be the third director, I needed to work on my own demo tape. So I went through all my past jobs at Click to find footage I felt was worthy for inclusion in my montage. There wasn't much. And I needed at least 2 minutes worth. Good thing I had two animated shorts to pull from, but I didn't want to overdo it, or else it would become monotonous. I then decided to create some "filler" animation to pad out the montage, giving it some substance and variety.

I then had my good friend Ann Husani do the editing. Ann was the Avid editor at Click who was about my age and knew me well enough to figure out what exactly I wanted. I gave her some direction, giving her some tent pole key moments that I wanted in the montage (mostly some visual cues that would correspond to the audio beats). For instance, near the end, I wanted a mad barrage of images that went along with the frenzied build up of drums. I also wanted the very end to fade out, pulsing. Everything Ann did on this montage far exceeded my expectations. She did an amazing job.

Ladies and gentlemen, my demo reel montage from 2000:

Guess what? It was never used. At least not through Click. It sat on the shelf until I got a call from Steve at Primal Screen. "Do you have a demo tape to show?" Why yes. Yes, I do.

Fast forward to 2006. I'm listening to Tom Knott on the phone tell me about the possibility of a 2D animator spot open at LAIKA. He then says something to the tune of "Yeah, just bring your demo tape to Ottawa, and we'll go from there." Of course, my demo tape was a wee bit outdated. I had two weeks to get a new demo together. Two weeks? And basically, I had to start from scratch. I didn't want to use ANYTHING from my previous demo. Don't ask me why, I just didn't. I know it would've been easier for me to tack on some clips from my older demo montage, but I didn't really feel that that was the true "me" anymore. That was 6 years ago. An eon, in animation years, if you think of it. I'm so over all that, I thought to myself. I know that I had plenty of work from Primal to cull from for my new demo montage (6 years worth, for pete's sake), but where to find it all? Luckily, I found them. And good thing I know After Effects, because I don't think I could've asked anyone at Primal to help me out with the editing. It would've been crazy to try and work around someone else's schedule, let alone my own. So I went in on a weekend and busted out as much as I could, then worked on it here and there, at home and at work (after hours, of course), until I had something that I felt was LAIKA-worthy. And you know the rest of the story.

So, here's what I made for LAIKA. My demo reel montage of 2006 (I would suggest that you allow time for it to load or else you'll miss out on some of the timing cues):

As you can see, music is an important key element to my montages. I feel that if you can hit a nice visual cue at the same time as a musical one, you're going to get a nice reaction. There's something about watching a character respond to what's happening in the audio track. That's why I made sure that Nate, Andrea's brother who's the DJ for Mars ILL, give me some nice breaks in the track for my '06 montage, offering me a chance to work off them. His work is phenomenal. I was so happy that he allowed me to use the instrumental version of one of his songs. Loved that gritty guitar sound -- it felt right up against the super hot rod & mod chick with the hair in the beginning. There are certain points in the song where there's a nice punch -- I made sure that there was some sort of hit or kick going on visually to marry the audio with the visuals. I think it works for the most part. I tried to maintain a certain flow throughout the montage.

That's DJ Shadow's "Mutual Slump" for the '00 montage. I was a big fan of Shadow during the '90's, so it seemed only fitting to use that song. I re-edited it in order to fit within the short timeframe.

Demo reels are a funny thing. It's like you're creating your own little movie, but you're trying to sell yourself at the same time. This is when I feel at ease, allowing only my work to speak for itself. Never was good at the interview thing. Most artists aren't. But when given the chance to put together a short clip of recent work, it offers me a chance to shine.

My advice to those who are making their demo reels (and this is my own personal thoughts and opinions here; not etched in stone, mind you):

1. Keep them short. Don't go over 3 minutes for your montage.

2. Edit to the music. It'll make a big difference.

3. Be sure to itemize what you've done for each commercial, ID, etc. that you show (animated frog in scene 2, did clean-up for all of the human characters, did rigging for the little girl, etc.). Don't forget to include the list with your reel!

4. Gear your portfolio/demo to the company you're trying to get a job from. Showing your character design skills is nice if you're trying to get a job doing just that, but it's probably not necessary when you're trying to get a job as an animator at a commercial/broadcast studio. Most of the characters that those studios work on are already established: TV shows (like Foster's) and ad campaigns (like Cocoa Puffs). Rare is the opportunity to create new & original characters.

5. Just give us the goods: if you're an animator, I just want to see you animate. I want to see if you "get it."

6. Keep it simple and to the point. Like #5, if you're trying to get a job in the industry, focus on your forté. Don't do the shotgun approach by showcasing a wide variety of things. Some might feel that this can be an advantage in trying to get a job by showing that you can do anything and everything at a particular studio. I don't. I feel that it hinders the potential hire. Sometimes I can't figure a guy out if he's showing me animation AND character design AND modeling AND background paintings AND lighting, etc. Make up your mind! Animation is a specialized industry. Find out what you do really, really well and focus on that one thing 'til you feel that you're the best at it. You'll get hired quickly if you have the knowledge and capability to do good work, and do it quickly. THEN you can showcase your other skills once you're hired. But if you try to show that you can do everything, more often than not you probably can't. You're probably spreading yourself out too thin and your work and talent will suffer. I've seen this scenario played out many, many times.

When I first got into the biz eleven years ago, animation was my thing. Once I got my first job freelancing I focused on animation only, finessing my timing, my pacing, my inbetweens. It wasn't until several years later when I branched out and started working on a "style". And it took me even more years later to actually showcase this particular look and style into jobs that we bid on at Primal. Luckily for me, we were able to snag some jobs that allowed me to direct in this style. What a rush! But it wasn't until I paid my dues first.

Like I said, these points for demos are my own opinion, not industry standard. Just some thoughts on the subject that have been rolling around in my brain for some time now.

Man, the quality of those demos on YouTube really suck. I might have to put these together on a DVD and sell them. (I'm kidding.) And maybe I'll add my two short films as a bonus. How's that sound? And maybe I'll talk about those two films on a later post. That sounds good. With high-quality images. Yes, that sounds very good.


  1. Hey Ward...

    Definitely write about/show us your movies! Would love to see that.

    What you wrote about spreading yourself too thin definitely resonated. That's exactly what I've done and it's hurt my marketability. Still, I can't help it. I'm interested in learning and doing new things.

    I've got quite a bit of experience now compositing and editing and am now trying to learn 3D character animation... would you suggest I just put my 3D spec work on a reel, and leave out all of my professional stuff?

    Here's my site by the way:


    Love the blog!

  2. Oh... boy. I remember creating my first reel in 1999. I had no clue what to put on it (I had never worked for a studio before). I scoured the AWN forums daily for guidance. Thank gord for the internets.

    When I started reviewing portfolios and reels later on, I thought back to my old stuff. It was hard not to see the desperate animator on the other side of the screen and identify with that. Then you have to decide what's best for the studio and the project, which isn't always the choice your deeply sensitive soul wants to make. (SIGH)

    Even with all the hindsight, putting together a reel isn't easy. But somehow it's always been fun. My kids love to see them from time to time and it's cool to have them say, "Can I make a movie?"

  3. Long time reader first time commenter. Thanks for the advice Mr. Jenkins. Yeah, I made the mistake of spreading myself a little to thin. Spent my last year of school focusing on animation instead of improving my Graphic Design work. Although, I learned a lot during that year probably would have been better served working more towards Graphic Design and approaching the field of animation after graduation.

  4. I NEVER wanted to rip at anyone's throat! I just wanted to KILL! KILL!! KILL!!! Uh...*cough*..forget I said anything...swingin' post and great advice for young and old alike, baby.

  5. Slick new reel, Ward. I really like it. Nate's track has such a slinky, sinister feel which goes perfectly with your rock chick and slam kid.

    It's cool to see how "the master" represents himself. :)

    That reel advice is great, too. I think sometimes I fall into the category of being difficult to pin down as far as my focus goes. I gotta' work on that.

  6. Been meaning to tell ya that I've always dug the title seq. for that HGTV show (My wife watches the channel religiously). The show itself sucks, so I would always complain "Why can't the show be as cool as the opening animation?!?!?" As usual, my Mrs. just rolls her eyes.

  7. Oh, cool that you actually caught that show, Chris! It was my impression that they used that opening sequence (we also did all design elements throughout the show as well) for the first season only, dropping it for a more watered-down dull opening and logo later on. Are they still using it? That's cool if they are.

    wagster, there's definitely nothing wrong in wanting to learn and do new things. I'm guilty of that many times over. I guess what I was trying to say is that I've seen most students do this sort of thing: try to hit as many targets as possible right out of the gate after graduation, in order to snag a job, any job. If you are wanting to do 3D and ONLY 3D, then by all means work on nothing but that until you feel that you've got it down. But it's okay to mention that you're versitale in various things that are similar for the most part, like compositing and editing. In this case, it should help you once you get a 3D gig and you already know all the language in how to handle the post stuff. Does that make sense? I hope so. I might've trailed off there...

    Robert, I knew something was up when I caught you with a dagger in your hand that one day...

  8. I was very liberal about showing around my flatbook during my years in school to visiting artists and recruiters or at conventions. I always received so much positive feedback about having a diverse portfolio. Most people, frankly, encouraged more of it.

    But having finished school this year, I'm finding great discrepancy between theory and practice. What you said is dead on. It seems like ultimately an employer wants to glean a certain "identity" from the work you show them. Not stylistically, per se, but some thread that ties it all together, solidifies things, reflects confidence or experience in that area. When it's all over the place, it seems to be doubt that fills in all the gaps.

    I guess you get the job based on ability, and keep it for your flexibility. Maybe best to save the versatility card for after the hire....

  9. Wow, love to see your work, Ward! Also interesting to see the progression from '00 to '06. Very cool!

  10. awesome ward. thanks for sharing your reel. It's fun to see some of the animated stuff in your style. It animates well. Congrats on the front page of the paper too..how cool!

  11. forgot to give you the site

  12. Hi Ward, Nice demo!

    I'm also a big fan of your Retro Kid pics. I've got a question for you...Can you recommend a good book that provides an overview of mid-century illustration? I’m looking for something with lots of pictures by lots of different mid-century illustrators. Does such a book exist?


  13. Hey Ward,

    Nice reel, and lots of variety, which given your position I'd come to expect. Thanks for posting it.

    It kinda feels like stepping out naked into a crowd showing your reel to your peers. You're never quite sure what sort of reaction you're going to get, and tend to feel like you're going to get cut down or exposed as a fraud. Our artistic insecurities I s'pose.

    You made some great points, with keeping it short, simple and focused. My first reel back in '99 was originally about 2-3 minutes long and a couple of others suggested adding more to it which regretfully I did. I always felt too long after, even tho' it was nice to have a record of the work. That's the danger you face when putting it together. When I was finishing up at Disney last year, I took the strictly 2 minute approach and trimmed most of the scenes. My two cents- only show your best stuff even if it means a 30 second reel. Keep it punchy- you don't want the viewer to get bored, they'll turn it off. Start with one of your best scenes and finish with another(three of my best are in the first 30 seconds of mine and it finishes on another). I also went for a varied pace to the types of scenes I included, planned it out and arranged them to create the 'feel' I wanted. Music is a funny one- some like it, others don't- I put it down to personal taste and how you want to represent yourself. I chose music.

    I used Premiere to edit mine, haven't tried after effects.

    Hopefully, mine's not part of your hall of shame.

    Keep up the great work!


  14. Hey Ward!
    Awesome reel! Very inspired work.

  15. 1st video: Mutual Slump - Dj Shadow

    glad to see that you appreciate that track