What makes a good portfolio or showreel in the creative industries?

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In this blog post I plan to educate you on portfolios, showreels and the various aspects that go into them that can further your employment within the creative industries if done right. I’m going to tackle this from the bottom up, so first I must define a variety of terms, explaining why they are important as I go along.

What’s a portfolio?

A portfolio is a showcase of your work and personal projects that is usually digitally represented although this can depend on the area of industry, for example an art or literacy based portfolio may be physical, as well as digital. It is meant to put across the best of your work while at the same time showcasing your skill set and professionality. It gives potential employers a quick glance at what you may be capable of bringing to the table, as well as a good insight into your personal work ethic and passion to improve and further hone your skills. Shown below are some images of my current portfolio that is hosted on ArtStation.

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What’s a showreel?

A showreel is much of the same although it is presented as a short video that showcases the work and projects. It usually better caters towards the games development and animation industries, with most of their respective projects rarely being a still image or scene. They are a good way to showcase the more stylistic and fluid aspects of your capabilities as you can showcase a variety of different art styles or animation techniques, giving the potential employers a broad overview of your skills. Shown below is a showreel for Ammonite Animation, an animation company.

Is a portfolio or showreel necessary for employment?

No, it is entirely possible to be employed within the creative industries while having neither a portfolio or showreel, however as the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words” and although somewhat loosely applied, this also fits the topic of a portfolio or showreel. Having neither will ultimately make things more difficult for you as I personally believe you should be striving beyond where you currently are — You may be employed and happy at your position, but being able to advertise yourself to a wider potential employment audience can only be a good thing.

A portfolio or showreel is always a step in the right direction for overall employability as a whole, for example, if an employer has two candidates that are straight out of University, one has a way to visibly showcase their work and the other can only give their word on their abilities. The latter candidate may be better suited for the job with more experience and a greater desire to get the job, however the employer will always usually go with the safe option and choose the former candidate based off the visible evidence that can back up what they say. This same scenario can appear tenfold, as there will probably be many candidates applying for this position, and the best portfolios/showreels in this scenario will stand out the most.

How can I make my portfolio stand out?

This is highly dependant on the content and which area of the creative industries you strive to be in, but some good advice is to adopt the quote below and see it as “quality over quantity”.

Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.

Steve Jobs

Although utilizing what is probably some lesser known (at least in the UK) baseball terminology, I believe the above quote is words to abide by when either first creating or editing a portfolio. The goal is to show off the best of your projects in a concise and neat manner, no employer is going to go through fifty or so projects just to get a few things that are eye openers, they want to constantly be shocked and dazzled. Some quick advice I can give is shown below.

  • Quality over quantity — As discussed you want to showcase your best and most polished work, not a lot of unpolished and unfinished prototypes.
  • Open strong — Try to have what you believe is your crown jewel front and center, being impressed initially may cloud the judgement of what may be some lesser established projects.
  • Try not to specialise completely — This is probably lesser told advice, but as told to me by a public speaker at my University from Ammonite Animation, Glen Johnston, most employers would much rather employ one person with many skills, as opposed to one that specialises in each skill. This ends up saving the employer money, so it’s a win-win.

How can I make my showreel stand out?

Making a stand out and memorable showreel is much easier in comparison, contrary to what you may think, video editing knowledge isn’t that much of an important factor. You want your showreel to simply be short and sweet, and some quick advice shown below can help you accomplish just that.

  • Engaging duration — Your showreel should be at most a minute long, but not too short either, try to aim for thirty seconds to a minute or so.
  • Open strong, exit stronger — Try to have some of your best work to open with, but also to end the video with. The exit is especially important as it will be what the viewer will be more likely to remember.
  • Simplistic editing — You don’t have to be good at video editing to make a showreel, no fancy transitions or cuts are really necessary. What’s important is the content.
  • Smiles or laughs — If you’re able to make the viewer smile or laugh, you’ve not only made a good showreel, but made a lasting opinion on the viewer as they will be more likely to recall it.

Written by

Avid programmer currently studying Games Development at the University of the West of Scotland.

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