Written by Angie Jones, Animator, Oddworld
You should be able to scrap work you do now (not just on your reel) and start over without a second thought. I cant tell you how many times I start with an idea for a scene and it just isnt working (no matter how much I think it is, or want it to be) and I scrap it, only to start clean and finish the scene much quicker and with a much more effective motion.
As far as demo reels go, I dumped all school work after my first job. In fact after each job I took, rarely did I keep any previous work on my reel. This included 4 month contract jobs where the reel was only that 4 months old. Less is more…quality is good…and you have to have a critical eye when it comes to your own work. I know this costs money and its hard when you first start out. I used to work at a lot of video production houses and traded an animation opening for a new, young editor’s reel for his assistance on editing an updating my reel. This was a great trade off. Sometimes, I found editors that were so new they just wanted to edit my reel for free to get the experience. Most post houses have some time at night that no one is using the equipment. Also, editing animators demo reels are usually more fun than the stuff most houses edit.
I tend to represent any work I no longer have on my reel—that might not be worthy of the reel but still holds a place in my heart– for my portfolio book. I dont spend alot of money on this, simple color copies from digital files in a 8 1/2 x 11 book. This way if people wonder about all the production experience I have, I have it represented in the book with stills. However, I have yet to have someone who has hired me ask to see the book. Frankly, if you have a lot of time under your belt, it will show through one animation alone on your reel (your best piece, usually your most recent piece)and the people hiring do not need to see a chronological record of where you’ve been and where you are going.
[In regards to school projects & duplicating what’s been done] I have seen remakes of both luxo and toy story characters on reels and the bottom line for me is no matter what, the viewer will always compare it to the original. These reels I speak of were fair, but fell so far short of the originals I couldnt see past that fact. So, unless those animations are not incredible! Dont use them. Animators who work in 2D are equally discouraged from redoing a scene from a Warner/Disney animation and so, it should be the same for 3D. Originality is important. It shows you have initiative and fresh ideas. Most art directors will find valuable. This doesnt mean you have to recreate an entire world and character an story. Keep it simple. Make sure the animations you are creating show what the prospective employer is looking for. If you dont know, call an ask what they are looking for. : )