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The Rise of Indie Animations

(Figure 1: Charlie from Hazbin Hotel (Left), Pomni from The Amazing Digital Circus (Middle), and ENA (Right))

In the internet landscape, many independent animations with varying styles and stories have been uploaded online. Many of these shows have received huge praise online and a sizable fanbase. Those interested in animation and art view it as a golden age for those wanting to present their creativity. For me, I want to talk about how these indie animations came to be and how important they are.

(Figure 2: Homestar Runner and Strong Bad from Homestar Runner)

Contrary to popular belief, indie animations didn’t begin until the late 1990s and early 2000s with the creation of video-sharing websites such as YouTube and Newgrounds. These websites gave animators and artists the chance to pitch and show their projects to a wide audience without the involvement of studios. Many of these shows would become hugely popular online, even getting the attention of news outlets and corporations, such as Homestar Runner, Eddsworld, Salad Fingers, Hellbenders, etc. Even the animators themselves were starting to get more recognition and love online to that of a celebrity, like Arin Hanson, Chris O’Neil, David Firth, and more. I feel that this is a great opportunity for those who want to present their ideas, even if they’re not good at first glance. This also helps those who want to build up a portfolio and demo reel to get a position at an actual animation studio, such as Zach Hadel, who would go on to become a storyboard artist at Nickelodeon. He was able to create his own show with Michael Cusack at Adult Swim called Smiling Friends.

The best part was when YouTube introduced AdSense to their platform, meaning that creators’ shows could be monetized and could make a profit. However, the boom of indie animation would slowly start to dwindle around 2014, YouTube changed its guidelines where money could be made from how long the video is, and not how many views it can get. For many animators, this became a great challenge since much of their content takes a lot of time, also considering that many started as kids or college students. This was the case of Arin Hanson and another YouTuber, Jon Jafari, who created a gaming channel around the same time to make revenue called the Game Grumps. Nowadays, Arin Hanson doesn’t create any more animations, let alone artwork. 

Many animators began to become more integrated into the genre of storytime animations, in which the animators talk about an experience that’s happened to them in a comedic manner while an animated representation accompanies them. While this helped many animators build up careers, such as TheOdd1sOut and Jaiden Animations, this would ultimately slowly decrease the number of indie animations over the coming years. 

(Figure 3: Pomni from The Amazing Digital Circus)

However, there would be a sudden boom of indie animations around the late 2010s. One of the earliest examples was an animated series called Hazbin Hotel, which Vivienne Medrano created with the help of her indie studio, Spindelhorse. While the show faced a long production for about four years, it was eventually released in 2019 with tons of praise from the audience.

While there were some small controversies about the series, its impact on the indie animation scene was big enough to inspire other artists, with a spin-off series being created called Helluva Boss and Hazbin Hotel getting picked up for its first season by A24. In the coming years, we began to see a growth of indie animations made by small groups and individual animators. Around 2017, Glitch Productions was founded. It was made by Luke and Kevin Lerdwichagul from the YouTube channel SMG4. They would soon release projects by other YouTube animators that received critical acclaim, such as Murder Drones and The Amazing Digital Circus. Not only have we had small studios creating animations, but we’ve also had individual animators given the chance to show off their ideas online. These creators include David “Sr Pelo” Casanova (the creator of Spooky Month), Tracy Butler (creator of LackaDaisy), and Joel Guerra (creator of ENA). They and these series also received huge praise online. 

I feel the reason why this is so important is because it helps creators express their ideas without any interference from any company or higher-ups. I feel that animators should be able to communicate any ideas they want and shouldn’t be faced with executives changing the meaning of their ideas and more or less ruining what they imagined. One example of this is how Cartoon Network wanted to censor LGBTQ+ representation in Steven Universe to release it to other countries. However, the show’s creator, Rebecca Sugar, fought with the network. While Rebecca eventually got her way, this still shows how difficult it is to approve your ideas by executives.

(Figure 4: Thumbnail of Skid (Left) and Pump (Right) from Spooky Month)

This can also be said for platforms like YouTube, which have been heavily criticized for their vague but strict content guidelines on their website that can leave a creator’s channel demonetized and sometimes, at worse, terminated. I think there are multiple ways for creators online to get around these inconveniences. The best two ways are for animators to create a small studio or to get some kind of crowdfunding. Some animators, both who’ve worked in the industry and have been online, have found small studios, such as Spindelhorse and Glitch Productions. Work can be created faster, and money can be made back quicker through this process. With solely independent creators, they can use other websites to make money from donations. Websites like Kickstarter, Patreon, and GoFundMe have been used and have helped many creators make a living on YouTube. 

In conclusion, I feel this is a great time for the indie animation community, and I hope this can encourage other animators or people in the creative field to consider entering the indie scene.

Work cited: 


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