Build your animation portfolio

If you are interested in any roles in the animation industry, then there are some fundamental tips that you can follow and that apply to everyone. 

When sending any correspondence to potential employers or tutors, please check your spelling and grammar; take particular care to spell the names of the person and the studio you are writing to correctly. It is also important to be polite and professional in your tone (do not use text abbreviations), show your enthusiasm and passion for animation and mention any work that you admire. Remember to comment on work the studio that you are writing to has done, as this shows that you have done your research.

Production, coordination and administrative roles may not require a visual portfolio, but you can still include examples of the animation you have worked on, with explanations of your involvement. A production assistant is still required to understand the animation process.

If you want to get a creative role in the animation industry, you need to be able to show admissions tutors and employers a portfolio, which is a collection and showcase of your best work.

Animation portfolios can be in the form of a website or video showreel that shows a selection of your work, which can be still or moving images, or a combination of both, depending on the type of role you are going for.

You should also include a CV and covering letter in any application you make, and include a link to your portfolio in the CV. Please remember to include your up-to-date contact details on your CV and in your portfolio in case the employer or tutor wants to get hold of you.

Your portfolio will show off what you can do and make you stand out from other applicants, so it’s important to allow plenty of time to get it right.

What should an animation portfolio have in it?

A showreel.

A showreel is a short video full of various clips of your best work. Most showreels are between one and three minutes long. As well as completed work, it is important to show any shot breakdowns or processes you used, such as rigging, composites or design work.

  • Only include your best work. Put the very best first. Every employer or admissions tutor is familiar with portfolios and reviewing work, so you need to grab their attention within the first 30 seconds of the showreel. Don’t leave the best to last, as the person looking at it may move on before they get to the end
  • Imagine how it will look to someone else watching it, we call this curation and making sure it starts and ends well and is engaging for the people watching it. Show it to some trusted peers to get their opinion on if they understood what was shown
  • Research the art style and genres of the studio or production you’re applying for. Match this to the work you show. It’s better to have a shorter portfolio of relevant work than a larger one that doesn’t reflect what they’re looking for. For example, don’t put violent anime style shots in a showreel if you are applying to a pre-school production
  • Match the work on your portfolio to the role. If the role is for a rigging artist, put that work upfront
  • If you’re showing group work, be clear about your contribution. This can be as simple as a line of text on the graphic, video or screenshot so that the reviewer knows what bit to look at
  • It’s highly likely that the person looking at your portfolio may be looking at it without you, so use text to explain what tools or software you used
  • Don’t be tempted to put in work that isn’t yours as you will get found out
  • Don’t use inappropriate or distracting music. Employers are likely to turn the sound off and if you use copyrighted music, your showreel may be removed from sites like YouTube and Vimeo anyway
  • Include your up-to-date contact details, your phone number, email and town
  • Ensure your portfolio works on a variety of screen sizes, devices and browsers. If you’ve made it on a desktop, check it still looks good on other devices and operating systems too
  • Keep it up to date. Refresh it with new work and adapt it for each different job
  • Some people keep different showreels that show off different aspects of their talents; this is perfectly acceptable and wise

In addition to a showreel you may also want to customise your portfolio with additional artwork and examples.

Tips for creating a pre-production art portfolio

Pre-production refers to the stage of production where the ideas are visualised and designed. This includes concept art, art direction, character design, background and prop design.

A pre-production art reel needs to demonstrate excellent drawing and visualization skills, versatility and a solid understanding of storytelling.

Depending on your creative process, for design roles you might show the progression from pen and ink to final colour. Each step would show a development in detail of a character, artefact or environment. If you’ve used real-world reference, show how it has influenced your work. If your concept has been used in a finished project, include that too.

For character design, include model sheets (versions of the same character from different angles and with different expressions.)

For background, prop or layout roles, you should include plenty of observational drawings, colour studies, perspective studies, landscapes, cityscapes and studies of light.

In any art portfolio, you should also include examples of your own character drawing, life drawings, sketches from observation, and personal work to show your own style.

Tips for creating a storyboard or layout portfolio

For story-related art roles such as storyboarding or layout artist your work should demonstrate a number of examples of how you can visualise a story from the script to an illustrated sequence of shots, which demonstrate your understanding of film language and storytelling.

You can include these either as animatics or as single panels that the viewer can click through. It is OK to have rough drawings for storyboards at it will be the storytelling skill you show off that will be of interest to the viewer rather than the quality of the drawing.

You should try to include examples of storyboards from different genres, showing you can produce work for comedy, action and drama, but remember to showcase your strengths first.

As with the art portfolio above, you should include examples of life drawing and drawings from your sketchbook, but limit this as not to take over from the storyboards.

Tips for creating a rigging portfolio

Rigging is a critical stage of most digital animation in 2D or 3D CGI (computer-generated imagery) and involves the creation of a digital puppet that the animator can use to make the character come to life. A rigger must have an excellent understanding of animation principles so the portfolio should demonstrate both creative and technical skills.

A good rigging showreel shows off your best rig building ability and might include a speeded-up demo of one of your rigs, showing the positions and expressions achievable as well as the functionality and demo of the controllers. Also include some of the best animation (usually done by an animator) which will really show off your rigged character.

Tips for creating a stop-motion model making portfolio

Model making in stop-motion animation covers three areas, character puppets or armatures, props and sets.

Props and puppets must be functional and robust enough to endure the repetitive movement and handling of the animators, so models should be built with this in mind. The model maker will work closely with the animator and art director to ensure that they get what they need so evidence that you are a good communicator and have knowledge of the animation process is also important.

Your portfolio can include a range of models, photographed in the best way to show them off, with close ups of any special features or innovations you have incorporate into the model. Also include any video clips where your models have been used in a final shot, to show how thy look when lit for the camera.

You should also include any design work, technical drawings and sketchbooks to show your process of design and final build.

Tips for creating an animator portfolio

Whether you are applying for an animator position in stop-motion, CGI or 2D, most employers will be looking for the same thing, great acting, timing and versatility.

Chose a selection of clips that show you have a good grasp of the principles of animation and have strong craft skills in things like lip synchronisation, body language and composition.

Your acting skills should be the key here, so select some scenes that demonstrate you can control a character’s movement, emotions and interaction with other characters. You may also want to include a range of genres to show that you can work with simpler preschool characters as well as more complex characters typical of more mature and feature film quality animation.

The general rules of a showreel still apply, so keep it short, and put your best work first. Avoid long, dark scenes and make it as polished as possible. It needs to have that ‘wow’ factor, so ask the advice of an editor to help you make the reel flow nicely.

You should also include examples of life drawings and observations from life, particularly drawings that show human expression, anatomy and gesture. Keep attending life drawing classes if you can and it may also be worth taking acting classes too.

Tips for creating a CG (computer-generated) art portfolio

Aspiring CG artists looking for opportunities in animation studios face a challenge; how to show off their knowledge and skills for a range of job roles, yet not appear to be a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. The entry level roles often have overlapping skills or happen alongside each other. In smaller studios, for instance, modelling and texturing are sometimes advertised as one job. However, the general advice for the creative roles listed above will also apply for a CG art portfolio.

Tips for creating a technical portfolio

All animation studios have roles for more technically-orientated artists, whether these are animation or effects (FX) technical directors (TDs), pipeline managers, render wranglers or general problem-solvers. If you’re looking for an entry level role such as assistant technical director, creating a portfolio that includes a video might seem daunting at first. But one of the skills that employers will be looking for is an ability to communicate and come up with solutions, and that’s where a technical reel can make you stand out from the crowd.

For example, if you’ve written a tool, a script or you’ve automated a task (like renaming files using command line), a short video of a screen recording of the code in operation with your voiceover (or picture insert) explaining what you are doing will demonstrate both your competence and ability to communicate. As an alternative to a voiceover, you can use captions as headers to help the viewer follow the process or tool that you are demonstrating.

Roles like rigger or creature technical directors can demonstrate details of rigging controls and simulations like fur or cloth. Think about examples to include where you’ve encountered a problem and solved it, or where you’ve responded to feedback and made iterations to your work.

A good technical portfolio will show competence (at beginner, intermediate or experienced levels) and communicate a process and a solution to a problem or brief.

Tips for creating an animation compositing portfolio

An animation compositing portfolio is slightly different to a visual effects (VFX) compositor's reel, although there will be many areas where skills overlap.

As a compositor is responsible for layering the many animation ‘assets’ that go into the final shot composition, they need to show a strong eye for composition, an excellent understanding of light and film terminology such as to do with cameras and lenses, focal length and exposure. The role is also highly technical, so a grasp of some of the most widely used software and tools is an advantage.

In a compositing portfolio, the breakdown demo reel, or ‘show and tell’, is how you can quickly communicate the breadth and depth of your skills. Obviously, a demo reel should only contain your best work.

Once you’ve established yourself as a compositor, you’ll find it easy to select work for your demo reel. But when you’re starting out, you will need to highlight the most appropriate parts of your portfolio.

The standard way to show before and after on any shot is a simple wipe between the ‘raw’ shot and final shot. The final shot will have the colour correction, shadows, lighting and composition tweaks all polished to show off your abilities.

An animation compositor’s portfolio might contain examples of a range of creative abilities, such as illustration or photography. But short-length video reels containing work you’re proud of, with breakdowns that communicate well, will catch the eyes of recruiters.

Animation software used in the industry

There is some free animation software available, but these tools are not used by industry. Most of the software below is available for a free trial and subsidised rates for students, emerging talent and beginners.

Adobe Creative Cloud
The suite of tools produced by Adobe include Photoshop, Illustrator, Animate, (still referred to as Flash by some) After Effects and Premiere, all widely used by studios and freelancers.

ToonBoom
Are the creators of Storyboard Pro for storyboards and animatics, and Harmony for 2D animation in all styles in series, commercials and feature films.

Celaction
Is used on cut out animation series and commercials.

TV Paint
Hand-drawn animation tool.

DragonFrame
Stop-motion animation software.

Nuke
Industry-standard software with dynamic 3D compositing, 3D particle effects and tracking.

Maya
3D animation, modelling, simulations and rendering software.

Free animation software

Autodesk software
Operating system: All
Educational institutions can access a range of software for 3D modelling, animation and rendering. Free trials are available.

Synfig
Operating system: All
Vector based 2D animation suite, use the tools to move to different drawings.

Three.Js
Operating system: Web-based
Create animated 3D computer graphics on a web browser using HTML.

Blender
Operating system: All
Easy to use software to create 3D models, environments and animated films. Can be used for VFX and games.

DaVinci Resolve
Operating system: All
Advance node-based software for 2D and 3D compositing, rotoscoping, colour grading. Can be used for animation.

Stop Motion Studio
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, 
Stop-motion animation app with in-app purchases.

iMovie
Operating system: macOS and iOS
Easy-to-use editing software that supports 4K video resolution.

Storyboarder
Operating system: All
Storyboarding software that allows you to plot and create the animatics of a story.

Where should I host my animation portfolio?

You can build your portfolio website using the following free platforms:

Adobe Portfolio
Showcase your work in a full portfolio website or create a single-page website as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription plan.

ArtStation
Host your portfolio and showreel on the site, which also has a jobs listings board including from major games companies. Free to use.

WordPress
There’s a free version with up to 3GB of storage space. Other paid plans are available.

Cargo
A creative web hosting service. All Cargo sites are free to try or build. To make a site public there are a range of payment options.

Behance
Is a social media platform owned by Adobe which aims “to showcase and discover creative work”.

You can host your showreel on the following sites:

Vimeo
A video hosting site and video player. Offers a free package called “Vimeo Basic”.

YouTube
Free video sharing platform. (Less of a professional sheen or reputation than Vimeo, but widely used).

How should I share my portfolio?

Link to your portfolio or showreel from your CV and covering letters to employers or admissions tutors. You can also share it from your professional social media sites.

Also include a link to your online portfolio in the bio of any social media accounts that you use strictly for professional purposes. Social media sites that you may use for professional purposes include LinkedInTwitter and Instagram, to name a few.

Please make sure all your links work, the videos play, your spelling and grammar is checked and checked again and is grammatically correct and free of typos, the contact details are correct, and avoid using unprofessional sounding email addresses and URLs. A portfolio is about making a good impression right from the outset.

You may also want to include the name of a professional who can provide a reference for you but check with that person beforehand.