Some basic animation reel advice

First of all, hi everybody. I’m inching my way back to the site. So much clean up, dusting off and re-learning how to do things around here but that’s for me to worry about, not you. Here’s a baby step in the right direction.

I received an email this week asking for some advice on what would help someone get into the animation trainee program at Disney. My answer applies to any level of animator. Of course, I think this advice would help many people, so here is my brief, but fairly complete, answer.*

Four things that make a reel work, in order of importance:

Believable performance. Not necessarily “realistic” but believable for the style of animation and situation. This is the part that is hardest to teach. Do your characters show that they are thinking, making decisions, judgments, choices on their own. Do the expression, body posture and dialog shapes accurately reflect what is being said (or what isn’t being said)? Over acting, bad acting, unbelievable acting, and acting that does not fit the situation – those are the the biggest turn offs.

Convincing physics. Do you know how to move characters? Do they have weight? Will I believe they exist in a reality that has gravity? Do they feel like they are built of flesh and bone and not just filled with empty space? Are movements motivated by internal forces – both mental and physical?

Entertainment. Do you have original ideas and ways of solving problems that aren’t typical? Show us how you think that’s different from the crowd. Do you pass over the obvious and make choices that are surprising AND appropriate for the situation?

Polish. This is the bonus round. All of the above are most important but if you can do them along with great polish – spacing, arcs, timing, slow-ins/outs, no pops or wonkiness, obvious care in the details – then your work will stand above the rest.

You may look at your body of work and think that you’re missing some of these things. Well, what is stopping you? You have the tools to animate. You can carve out some time. Do it and animate something new that gives us all of these things and your chances of getting the position you want will greatly improve!

*Of course, this is my own opinion and I am not attempting to represent Walt Disney Animation Studios. With that said, I have worked there forever and I’ve seen thousands of reels and hired scores of people.

Here’s a follow up post.

14 Comments on “Some basic animation reel advice

  1. Thanks for the tips, Clay. Looking to hearing more from you in the future!

  2. HA!
    Clay is back!

    Im so happy about this!

    Your podcasts are one of the best resources to listen to while animating, and i was hoping you would return someday.

    And thanks for those tips as well…! 🙂

  3. So you’re back to doing podcasts again? If so, awesome.

  4. Thanks for that Clay and great to hear from you on here again.

    Met you a little while ago when you reviewed my reel and you mentioned the above to me. Great to have this as a check list type copy to refer back to from time to time.

    Hope you have more Animation Podcasts for us.

  5. Hey Clay,

    Can you elaborate on “#4 entertainment: unexpected but appropriate solutions”?

    It seems to be the hardest to train. How do you build this skill? In most shots there usually seems to be a clear emotion,subtext, and situation that needs to be conveyed, so your answer possibilities are already pretty constricted, especially if clarity of idea is priority.

    The cliche answer is “Don’t take your first idea. Act it out a lot and explore”. The more elaborate answer tends to be “incorporate your emotional history, recreate a time when you felt the same” Which makes the request seem more “make it emotionally authentic” instead of ” make it ‘unexpected'”. 11secondclub seems to bear this out, the top 10 are often not that conceptionally different then all the rest, just more emotionally believable.

    any light you can shed?


  6. Hey great to see you’re back, Clay. I’ve been listening to the podcasts while I work on my animation homework. Great show – thanks for the interviews and animation tips.

  7. So happy to see you’re back on the site. I’ve listened to each of your interviews well over ten times each, and every time I learn something new. Thank you so much, and I definitely look forward to more!

  8. I am really happy to see that Animation Podcast is getting back in action. Each interview is such a golden nugget!

    Thank a lot Clay for taking the time to create this much valuable content. Please keep on.

  9. welcome back Clay!,

    we have missed you…. looking forward to you doing more podcasts, especially on Tangled [ either your work and or other animators on the film ]

    who animated Maximus” the horse [steals the show!}
    thanks again for all your work, brilliant resource.

  10. I just recently found the Animation Podcast only to discover there were no more shows. And I was sad. But it looks like you’re going to bring it all back! And that’s awesome!
    I’m really looking forward to it!