• Staying Fresh: Keeping Yourself, Your Demo Reel, and Your Portfolio Up to Date

  • With the rapid advancements in computer animation software, technology, and techniques, it can start to feel as if by the time we move into a career in animation, everything that we'd previously learned has become obsolete. New versions of software come complete with plugins that can, with a few clicks and tweaks, automatically do what we learned as a process of painstaking labor and careful steps. More powerful computers can produce images of such detail and complexity that they completely put to the pale things that we might have created just a short year before on lesser machines. So how do we keep up, without becoming as obsolete as last year's versions of software?
    The key is to never stop learning. It's easy to fall out of the loop, and become too focused on your current position to explore what's going on beyond the screen in front of you; you end up standing still, while the world of computer animation moves forward in leaps and bounds.

    Do the research; read the latest press releases, download the software patches, learn how to use the new tools. Just because you're not in school anymore doesn't mean that the lessons are over. If you want to keep up, you have to be one step ahead: anticipate change, and be ready to adjust to it.
    As you learn more, don't forget to apply that to your presentation pieces as well. Animation software is changing so rapidly that it's quite easy, now, for products of past years and past software versions to look "dated" because of the techniques applied. If you find that now you can produce something better, don't hesitate to revamp your demo reel; if you don't have time to create full-detailed animations to replace some of the older clips on your reel, then generate a few stills to print out and include in your portfolio.

    That doesn't mean that you should throw out the good with the bad, though. Some things just can't be dated, and that could apply to many of your demo reel clips and portfolio pieces. Also, it's good to display a balance of the old with the new; while it's important to stay on top of new innovations in the industry, the foundations of computer animation are equally important, and employers look for both. Much of the "dirty work" behind the scenes of the final production is still done through careful, precise labor and technique rather than using any new plugins that generate cookie-cutter material at the push of a button; that's what makes productions stand out, when they attain a level of individuality that shows the work that went into them. Don't ever abandon the roots of your education, for they will always be the most useful part of your career.

    It sounds like more work than it really is. In truth, just keeping one ear open will help to keep you informed enough to stay up to date. If anything, you can join in the latest water cooler gossip over Pixar's latest version of RenderMan, even if you're not quite finished learning how to use it.

    Adrien-Luc Sanders
    About.com Animation Guide