What is a portfolio? : Business of Motion Graphics

Simply said: Your portfolio is your way of getting work.

I say that as opposed to a body of work or showcase, because that concept doesn’t really help you get your foot in the door. The way I view it, your main reason for building a portfolio is to get work. Now this might change as you do more work and your goals change and you do cool side projects that you want to showcase, but for most people starting out it’s pretty simple, your portfolio is your way of getting work.

*(side note) Even just a few years ago, having a DVD of your reel was important. Nowadays it’s all about having your work up online. Should you have a DVD copy of your reel? Sure. But honestly, 80-90% of people will strictly be looking at your work online.

Mechanics of a portfolio/reel

If you’re a designer you will be showcasing Design boards.

Design boards: These will be a natural progression of what is happening in the piece. The goal is to show how things move, the vibe, color and style of the what is taking place. There isn’t a set amount of how many boards to present, but typically people will have anywhere from 3-8 frames per piece. Again, it’s all about how many you need to tell the story of the piece.

If you’re an animator (2d/3d) or compositor you will be showcasing a reel, selected works, or both

1. Selected works: These will show different projects or sections of projects that you’ve worked on.

2. Reel: This is an edited compilation of your projects.


Because most people will not sit through and look at all your pieces. It’s your very own sizzle reel, where you put the pieces, projects and snippets of your work that will grab the most attention and create interest around you. This leads me to my next point, the importance of editorial. A good cut and music are important. Most people tend to try and put everything including the kitchen sink in their reel. In the process, they put in a lot of “filler” or repeat the same projects over and over again, thinking that people won’t notice these “filler” shots in the grand scheme of the reel. If you know you have shots like that in your reel, take them out, they will kill your reel. Only show your best stuff. For example lets say you have a killer reel, but need to fill in some time because of the audio track, so you throw in a couple extra shot of some class assignment you did that isn’t as polished as everything else, but you think at least it will show variety. What you don’t realize is that if it’s weaker than everything else, the weaker stuff will ALWAYS bring the rest of your work down. It’s not worth it, be creative, figure out another solution, or if you don’t have enough work to make a solid reel, just show your selected works and don’t worry about having a montage for now.

What to show?

When you’re trying to make these decisions, it’s always tough to know where to start or what to show. I suggest you start thinking about who you are showing your work to and find out what they are looking for.

As a producer I personally look for the following characteristics:

* Professionalism: Does it have the technique and polish needed to win a job, or go on air? Does it look amateurish?
* Engagement: Does this artist make good choices, have good taste? Make me want to watch more? Storytelling?
* Originality: Maybe the work isn’t sexy with reflections and lens flare all over the place, but is it original? Does it have an interesting perspective?

If you can do those 3 things well, it will most likely create a WOW factor. It’s that wow factor that will draw interest to you and make them want to reach out to you.

If you don’t have the wow factor, will you not get hired? Not necessarily. There a lot of people working in this industry, some with awesome reels, some with good reels, some with ok or outdated reels, and some with not so good reels. But the real question is how many people with WOW reels can’t get hired? I think you know the answer to that question.

An artist’s portfolio is a constantly evolving thing. As soon as you start working and doing more projects your job becomes less about filling in the holes and more about curating a good portfolio. Remember only keep the good stuff!

Keep doing good work.