originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/691687...
Hiiii everyone, it’s Animation Night!
And tonight! We’re returning to the world of independent web animators - the subculture very dear to my heart. One we’ve visited a few times…
- Animation Night 9 surveyed some of my favourite web animators and classic Newgrounds stuff,
- Animation Night 48 caught us up on some more brilliant animators whomst I’d learned about….
- on Animation Night 69, as part of our grand exploration of sexuality in animation, we looked at the end - if only briefly - into the vast world of nsfw web animation
- Animation Night 89 caught us up on Don Hertzfeldt, who took a surprising turn from cynical absurdist humour to devastating existentialist sagas of the far future!
- Animation Night 90 zoomed in on the amazing work of Jonni Phillips, with her new film Barber Westchester
- Animation Night 102 introduced us to wildly popular Chinese web series The Legend of Hei, featuring a tiny adorable cat that’s secretly a powerful spirit…
- Animation Night 108 showed the fascinating ‘gekimation’ animator Ujicha, with his delightful body horror film Burning Buddha Man.
- Animation Night 109 showed the bumper crop of CalArts short films, caught the latest from vewn, Felix Colgrave et al., and added a couple more I’d discovered…
- Animation Night 112 showed some of the work of the legend Bill Plympton, who was doing the independent animator thing before there was a web to be independent on
Now, most of the creators we’ve looked into here are solo animators, which is definitely the most independent you can be, but there’s another level that’s worth looking into here - the world of the crowdfunded animation project! Something that’s not quite the work of a regular animation studio, but is large enough to bring on multiple professional animators.
The idea of a traditionally animated web series on sites like Youtube and Newgrounds is not entirely new, but it’s had a bit of a rocky history. Frederator’s show Bravest Warriors, very much in the post-Adventure Time milieu, came to an unfortunate end when Youtube cut its funding program and the showrunners couldn’t quite figure out how to save it without unwise exclusivity deals with new streaming platforms; Rooster Teeth’s RWBY was more successful on a subscribe-for-early-release model. Outside of that… there wasn’t a lot.
But! eventually Patreon came along! And that seems to have changed the game a bit…
The occasion for tonight is the release of the pilot of a new series called Monkey Wrench directed by Zeurel (Joshua Palmer), a fun action comedy about space mercenaries with some seriously impressive traditional 2D animation. Zeurel’s been at this for at least 12 years going by his youtube history, and it’s interesting to see his evolution from TF2 videos like this one with a big emphasis on extreme poses and squash and stretch to the slightly more naturalistic animation in Monkey Wrench.
Anyway, here’s the video! (For future readers, of course; we’ll be watching this live shortly…)
So the story behind this as expressed on Zeurel’s patreon is that these were OCs he’s been sitting on for a while, and he wanted to tell a story with them. You can definitely feel a certain influence of Cowboy Bebop, particularly in the design of Beebs, but it’s very much its own manner of stylisation. The roster of colorful mercenaries reminds me a little of @gooseworx‘s Elaine the Bounty Hunter setting (and she was in fact the sound designer for this one!), and among illustrators, @lil-tachyon and @tredlocity. It’s a flexible premise, and it’s used well here.
Production-wise, anyway, it seems the Zeurel led a team of some 18 rough animators and three cleanup animators (including himself in both pools), whose process looks pretty traditional. I can only conclude so much from the brief clips of rough animation shown at the end of the film, but it looks like - contra, say, the anime process - the inbetweens were generally all done at the rough stage, rather than during cleanup. Their effort paid off handsomely!
Of course, the giant in this arena is Vivziepop (Vivienne Madrano), who leapt into prominence in 2019 with the wild success of her web series Hazbin Hotel and Helluva Boss. Prior to that point, Vivziepop was a webcomic artist trained at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She ran the webcomic Zoophobia from 2012 to 2016, in which she established many of the characters who’d later feature in her animations - most of her early Youtube uploads are speedpaints from this period.
Madrano started animating during her time at art school, with a short film called The Son of 666…
…which suggests her interest in images of hell and demons goes a looong way back. She graduated with another short film, Timber. Upon graduating she seems to have basically lived on patreon money working on the webcomic… until 2016, when she ended the comic to focus on animating Hazbin Hotel. Throughout this period she continued to animate, making mostly short musical films close to the ‘fan animatic’ tradition, e.g. this FNAF one. Most of these were animated in Flash taking full advantage of its automated inbetweening.
But with Hazbin Hotel, she had the Patreon income to quite drastically step things up, bringing in a lot more animators. The animation process on the pilot episode seems to have taken about three years, with the 30-minute pilot finally dropping in 2019 (which Tumblr won’t let me embed for some reason!), where it became a major viral hit. It’s got a slightly convoluted premise: a demon, fed up of the demons of Hell being routinely culled to prevent overpopulation, opens a hotel where she wishes to redeem sinners so they can go to heaven. Gooseworx did the sound design, btw. She seems to be the constant thread for all of these tonight.
Millions and millions of views later, Vivziepop followed this up the next year with a 12-minute musical short Bad News Jack based on the webcomic, with Gooseworx providing the music. There she is again!
Now, Hazbin Hotel has so far yet to receive its planned sequel, but its success led to the funding of a spinoff, Helluva Boss, also released on Youtube. This one follows an assassination company, also in Hell with a lot of crossover characters, and has received nine episodes so far including the pilot. Some of these episodes include quite elaborate traditional action animation, but the general approach to character animation is I believe making a very effective use of puppet animation, with digital easing functions making the transitions between poses feel very snappy and energetic.
OK, so, what to say of Vivziepop? As is probably apparent from the rather dry way I’m writing, I am not actually at all familiar with her work. It’s going to be an interesting night to find out a bit.
So rather than comment on the content - which I’ll be sure to do later - let me instead briefly comment on the dynamics. The structure of user-generated content/‘platform capitalism’ sites like Patreon is that there is a tiny core of people who do very well, and a much larger ‘long tail’ of people who earn a small amount. And who ends up in which group is… well, it’s not totally random, there is no question that someone like Vivziepop works very hard to produce the sheer amount of material she has in the last decade, but it is also a matter of chance to catch the right feedback loops, and acumen to exploit them when you get the chance…
Which means… you have to work very hard, and yet whether your efforts will be rewarded with the dream of ‘living off your art’ is far from certain. But I suppose that’s always how it’s been, it’s just more visible now.
Who’s next? I think I may have talked about them before, but another webcomic attempting to make the transition to animated series is Lackadaisy Cats. The webcomic is one of the semi-old guard, the point where webcomic creators with art training started to become a thing - it’s a beautifully drawn story about cat people in the Prohibition era. Their pilot episode is still in progress, because they seem to be going absolutely all out on achieving Disney levels of traditional ‘full animation’. But there is a steady stream of previews coming out on their Youtube - a variety of animatics, pencil tests and completed shots. I have no idea how long they’ll take, but I’m excited to see what comes out the other end.
As our final Patreon-backed pilot, we have a CG one, Murder Drones. I heard about like an hour ago from a comment on Monkey Wrench and don’t know the first thing about it, but it looks cool so let’s go find out together.
That’s the new school stuff, but what about some of the classics? Well, one I’m excited to show is Savage Death Valley by W-P-S, a fascinating short film I saw on Newgrounds about two cavewomen that features an astonishing variety of animation styles. (There aren’t any gifs on Tumblr but the above is fanart someone made.)
Another is by request of an animator who came across Animation Night recently, who’s working on a series titled Rip the Falcon, about a bird (not anthropomorphic!) who fights monsters.
The animation is rough but it has a ton of charm and I’m looking forward to seeing Rip’s talents develop. They’re going to be dropping by tonight so please tell them what you like about this! ^^
Also on the docket is ‘mintsyrup’ or ‘ribboncutter’, the collab of Mentha Nolana (illustrator) & Ibis Sunrosa (writer), who have a delightfully atmospheric style accentuated by the computer generated autotune voice…
And finally on the list (until I think of some more, I’ll do a followup if we come up with others during the night!) is Remarin, a concept artist who recently turned to animation with this stunning short Vestiges about a ghost floating through a bombed out ruin…
I’ve gone way over time with the writeup, so please head over to Picarto.tv/canmom as soon as you can so we can make a start on Animation Night! We’ll be watching everything mentioned above, and possibly more if I can think of any. I gotta like, make a playlist or something…