The Deal on Reels

What should be on my reel?

To apply to MPC Academy, you need a demo reel that demonstrates your skill in a focused area. For the Academies in Montreal and Vancouver, it should be in one of the following areas: compositing, FX, 3D digital matte painting, lighting or animation.

For the Bangalore Academies, we are looking for roto and matchmove artists.

Below you will see compilations of demo reels, organised by discipline. These are all compiled from the demo reels of those who have successfully been hired into MPC Academy.

What do you look for in a compositing reel?

‪MPC Compositing Academy applicants need to show us their potential for creating good, photorealistic images in a showreel made up of composited shots. Try to show us shots that are at least made in part from live action source material, rather than from material that is entirely CGI. Aim to show us realism and 'invisible' compositing.

‪You may have created CGI objects or used green screen clips, worked with Photoshop manipulated images or taken clips from old films to work with. All are possible sources of material. Your reel will probably last between 1 and 2 minutes and should show only your best work.

‪Use our list below as a guide, but don't forget that we are looking for some underlying attributes to show that you have a high level of attention to detail, that you are discerning about your own work and you are motivated to get things right. If you've worked on group projects – make sure to show us your contribution to the project as a compositor.

‪*    Breakdowns: show off your skills in invisible compositing. Show us your final shot, break it down, then show us the final shot again. Use simple wipes, freezes or scale ups to show us the work that you put into creating some of your invisible shots.

‪*    Horizon line height, the effect of two point perspective and the relative scale of objects should make sense between elements in the composite shot you are building.

‪*    Keying: we look for hair detail and subtle spill suppression.

‪*    Accurate roto work, without wobbly or extended edges.

‪*    Tracking: we look to see objects not slipping and sliding.

‪*    Colour and tonal manipulation, so that your elements/objects look like they belong in the shot in terms of colour and light interaction.

‪*    As well as adding elements, show us that you can take them out too. Removing people or  objects and filling the gap they leave, invisibly and believably goes a long way to showing us that you have the right blend of skills to begin with.

‪*    Keep it simple and don’t overdo the CGI passes. A shot with the main render pass graded to sit into the background with the edge quality matched to the plate can have greater success in showing us what we are looking for than just wiping or cutting on umpteen cgi passes.

‪*    We expect applicants to have proficiency in using Nuke.

What do you look for in a lighting reel?

A good lighting reel should primarily show CG elements integrated into live-action environments with matching lighting, shadows and reflections.

Stills are acceptable to include, but consider adding a subtle camera pan/zoom.  Including moving objects like curtains, tree branches, or moving clock can bring a shot to life.

Demonstration of an ability to light and render a variety of surfaces including hard surface, organic, fur, FX, particles, volumetrics, etc.

Some of our software is not easily accessible to the average user (Katana) but, when possible, we would like to see that a candidate has some understanding of a software that is available such as Maya, Renderman, V-Ray, Nuke.

Keep your reel short and simple.  It's better to have a good reel that is shorter rather than contains work that does not reflect your best ability.

Create a breakdown showing a good understanding of rendering in passes and how they can be used in the compositing process.

Include a build-up of your lighting during a breakdown.  For example: you could show off your dome light, then add the key, then add the fill, and so on.  This allows whoever is watching your reel to better understand your lighting setup and choices.

What do you look for in an FX reel?

Scale, timing, attention to detail and realism are key to make an FX element look good. FX Academy applicants should have a reel demonstrating these qualities. Show us a simple render on a black background of an incredibly realistic simulation or, some technical playblasts of great research and development work. Keep the reel short but sweet, and put only what you deem the best of your work. It’s better to have a very short impressive reel rather than a long reel that starts strongly but has a poor end.

Here are things we're on the lookout in an FX reel:

- Strong understanding of the laws of physics - correct scale, correct gravity. However, make sure that things still feel right. Don’t rely on the default values that the software gives you. Those things are very dependent on your world scale and camera.

- FX composition & design. Make the FX look good. This could mean adding a nice looking magic effect, or some cleverly placed trails in an explosion or even just adding layers of FX to add in complexity.

- FX timing. The FX needs to be able to tell a story. When does the effect start, when does it finish, how quickly does it dissipate, does everything happen all in one go or are there steps to the effect? For example, a multiple stage explosion would start off with an initial small bang, then pause, then the big explosion taken over by a shockwave. Consider what you are trying to achieve overall before you begin.

- FX variety. It’s always good to show as much variety as possible in a reel. Viewing 20 shots of explosions will not tell us what else you can do. Can you do liquid simulations or rigid body dynamics? Try and show us the tools you have in your ‘kit’.

- FX rendering. It's always good to render your simulations. The render doesn't have to be too fancy, it can even be on a black screen, although, it would be better to show it in a comp, if the comp looks good. If not, keep it on black. 

- Finally, scripting in any language is a very good bonus, even more so if it's MEL, VEX or Python. This can be demonstrated either through a little screen capture of the script in action or the rendered result of the what the script helped you accomplish. FX is a technical discipline and scripting will most certainly help you.

What do you look for in a roto demo reel?

Shot Complexity like motion blur, hair roto, and cloth roto will definitely have a better edge over the common ones which come with basic character or object roto.
We would prefer you use Silhouette software to roto your shapes.
Make your alpha channel and roto layer with a gray background.
You don't have to show us the plates, you can straight away start off with the roto layers in your reel.
Keep your reel specific to roto and don't combine it with other disciplines.
Your demo reel should include your name, your email, and your phone number.

What do you look for in a matchmove demo reel?

Shot complexity like fast camera movement and motion blur will definitely have a better edge over the common ones which come with basic camera moves.  
Three simple test like cone, perspective and checker board test are good enough for us to see the perfection you achieve in those shots.
In addition to matchmove, you can also include animation on your demo reel if you have any. We would prefer to see character reference animation done and shown in both camera view and the perspective view. This will be a definite plus to your overall reel.
Keep it specific to matchmove and animation only.
Tracking Software are not the most imported qualifier, but a good knowledge in 3D Equalizer and Maya is a bonus.
Your demo reel should include your name, email, and phone number.

What do you look for in a animation reel?

The key to your vfx animation reel is realism: convincing the audience that whatever's moving really exists because it moves with the correct speed and weight.

The ideal demo reel will show a mixture of both bipedal and quadruped characters; a variety of creature types such as a human, animals, birds, etc. and within that selection, showing different physical sizes and motions; small creatures such as a mouse or cat as well as larger animals like horses or elephants.

Don't be overwhelmed by the paragraph above - a reel doesn't have to be long, it just has to be great.  VFX animation is a time-consuming process demanding passion and an extreme attention to detail: if you nail 15 seconds of gold with just one or two creatures then you'll have a great platform to start.

You don't need to show muscle movement, or an x-ray effect of the skeleton, rig controls or textures.  A simple grey shaded model works great.  Video reference is always crucial, especially with these sorts of motion studies, and it’s very helpful to include your reference as picture-in-picture.

Cycling animation is fine, but taking it a step further and adapting that cycle to lead into a different action - i.e. a 2 – 5 second animation of an animal running over uneven ground and coming to a stop, or jumping down and walking away, or even just an idle animation of a creature in a natural, relaxed state can tell us a lot of how well observed that creature is.

We're looking for pure key-frame based animation; motion-capture or clean-up work doesn't tell us that much.  Non-organic animation such as vehicles, robots, etc. can be included but its best they take up no more than 25% of your overall reel length.  Mythological creatures such as dragons, dinosaurs, etc. can certainly be included provided that their animation is 'real world believable'.

Whilst exaggerated / cartoon animation can demonstrate an understanding of many of the same principles in vfx animation, try and build the confidence of someone looking to employ you in vfx by supporting that with predominantly vfx type animation on your reel.  Realistic facial animation is great, but make sure it doesn't take up more than about 25% of your reel as we're looking for well-rounded animators who can demonstrate a thorough understanding of all types of real world physicality and performance.

When putting your demo together don't worry too much about sound, most of the time we watch reels with it turned off in order to focus on the merits of the motion alone.

Finally... staying true to yourself will ultimately get you further in this industry, so it goes without saying to only include your work on your reel; for shots where you have worked as a team, showing your work in colour and any other artists' work in black and white is an effective solution.  Just be clear, whatever approach you use.