Jean-Denis brought up an extremely valuable series of points in one of his recent posts that I feel compelled to riff off of, notably that of the value of practice exercises.
I think there's a difference between an exercise and a demo reel piece, and as a student, or even a professional, there's times when you just need to just let an animation be a practice exercise. As a student, it's sometimes more preferable just to do a lot of practice exercises and later on, turn those good ones into more refined pieces.
It's a tricky thing...you want to approach each animation with a certain amount of gravity (and not just the physics) - part of becoming a better animator, and something that never ends, is the process of honing your eye, which comes from doing a LOT of animation, as well as watching movies, critiquing your peers as well as those leaps in learning we all periodically make that push us a bit higher.
So, here's a quick listing of examples of animations that I'd suggest doing with the goal of not putting on your reel. To have fun with, push without pressure, and to refine your skills. Like intellectual push ups.
- The bouncing ball. It never gets old, and is a pretty accurate litmus of weight, timing, spacing. If you're bored with it, do a heavy ball..a light ball, balls on a pool table, a ping pong ball and a bowling ball. I'm not sure if it's possible to master this exercise - I do a lot of these in 2d on my tablet pc and feel like I learn something every time I do them, but you won't see one on my reel..
- the weight shift. One of the more problematic areas for student.Video youself, draw from this. observe the subtle interaction of the pelvis to the feet as well as curve of the spine. a good one is to have a character idle for a bit, then turn and walk away in the opposite direction they're standing. You could punch it up...maybe have someone waiting for a bus and has to run to catch it once they notice. I've seen more reels get killed for bad weight shifts than anything else.
- weight exercises. lift, throw, catch - anything you want. how characters pick things up is essential, and always needed. you could go subtle..have a character pick up an envelope, or broad, and have someone use a sledgehammer, or chop wood on a stump.