Independent animation

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The term independent animation refers to animated shorts and feature films produced outside a major national animation industry.

A good portion of the work is viewed in animation festivals and private screen rooms along with schools that produce animation through instruction. The significance of independent animation is as important as studio fare.

United States[edit]

In America, working independent animators included Mary Ellen Bute, John Whitney, Harry Everett Smith[1] and Oskar Fischinger alongside earlier efforts of what would become UPA.[2]

In 1959, the first independent animated film to win an Oscar with John Hubley's Moonbird which was also produced by wife and collaborator Faith Hubley using limited animation to tell their own personal stories.[3]

Jordan Belson,[2] Robert Breer[4] and Stan Vanderbeek made experimental animation during this time.[3]

Ralph Bakshi tried to establish an alternative to mainstream animation through independent and adult-oriented productions in the 1970s.

In the late 1960s, animator Ralph Bakshi and producer Steve Krantz founded Bakshi Productions,[5] establishing the studio as an alternative to mainstream animation by producing animation his own way and accelerating the advancement of female and minority animators. He also paid his employees a higher salary than any other studio at that time.[6] In 1969, Ralph's Spot was founded as a division of Bakshi Productions to produce commercials for Coca-Cola and Max, the 2000-Year-Old Mouse, a series of educational shorts paid for by Encyclopædia Britannica.[7][8] However, Bakshi was uninterested in the kind of animation he was producing, and wanted to produce something personal. Bakshi soon developed Heavy Traffic, a tale of inner-city street life. However, Krantz told Bakshi that studio executives would be unwilling to fund the film because of its content and Bakshi's lack of film experience.[8] While browsing the East Side Book Store on St. Mark's Place, Bakshi came across a copy of R. Crumb's Fritz the Cat. Impressed by Crumb's sharp satire, Bakshi purchased the book and suggested to Krantz that it would work as a film.[8]

Fritz the Cat (1972) was the first animated film to receive an X rating from the MPAA, and the highest grossing independent animated film of all time.[8] Bakshi then simultaneously directed a number of animated films, starting with Heavy Traffic a year later. Ralph Bakshi became the first person in the animation industry since Walt Disney to have two financially successful films released back-to-back.[9]

Alongside Bakshi came other independent animated features of this era (some made by former Disney animators) such as John David Wilson's Shinbone Alley (1971), Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH (1982) and Jerry Rees's cult classic The Brave Little Toaster (1987).[10][11]

Avant-garde animator Carmen D'Avino's Oscar-nominated Pianissimo (1963)[12] was distributed by none other than Amos Vogel's legendary Cinema 16.[13]

Other independent animators during this time included Charles Braverman,[2] Gene Deitch,[2] Marv Newland, Fred Mogubgub,[14] Fred Wolf[15] and Will Vinton.[16] The latter two would go on to win Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film along with the works of the Hubleys and Ernest Pintoff starting in the late 1950s-early 1960s.

Notable award-winning films included Dale Case and Bob Mitchell's The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam (1970), Ted Petok's The Crunch Bird (1971),[17] Frank Mouris's Frank Film (1973)[18] and Jimmy Picker's Sundae in New York (1983).[19]

Animation historians John Canemaker[20] and Michael Sporn[21] also made independent animation in New York, both earning Oscar nods for their work (only Canemaker won in 2005).

Other animators like Candy Kugel,[22] Jeff Scher,[23] Joanna Priestley, Kathy Rose, Suzan Pitt, Robert Swarthe, Vince Collins, Barrie Nelson, Eli Noyes, Sky David (aka Dennis Pies), Steve Segal, Mike Jittlov, Paul Fierlinger,[24] Adam Beckett, Lillian Schwartz, Larry Cuba and George Griffin also made experimental and personal animation during the mid- to late 1970s through the early- to mid-1980s.[2][25]

In the 1970s, independent animators like Sally Cruikshank continued to explore independent and D.I.Y. distribution options, but were still largely met with rejection even though their work is now considered ground breaking.[26]

Collections of independent films have been gathered for theatrical viewing, and video release, under such titles as the International Tournee of Animation (which existed between about 1965[27] and ended in the late 1990s), Spike and Mike's Classic Festival of Animation (1977 to 1990) and Spike and Mike's Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation since 1990. Contemporary independent animators, including Steven Subotnick, Bill Plympton,[28] Don Hertzfeldt, Nina Paley[28] and PES have also made work outside of the studio system.

Later independent animation[edit]

The rise of the Internet in the 1990s and 2000s saw an exponential increase in the production of independent animation which included personal independent works by Timothy Hittle,[29] Janie Geiser, John R. Dilworth, Lewis Klahr[30][31] and John Schnall.[32] Personal computer power increased to the point where it was possible for a single person to produce an animated cartoon on a home computer, using software such as Flash, and distribute these short films over the World Wide Web. Independently produced Internet cartoons flourished as the popularity of the Web grew, and a number of strange, often hilarious short cartoons were produced for the Web.

In the late 1990s, an independent animated short film called The Spirit of Christmas was produced for under $2,000 by two artists, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. This film was widely distributed on the Internet as a pirated cartoon, and its phenomenal popularity gave rise to the popular television animated series South Park.[33] Limited 1990s bandwidth made streaming difficult, if not impossible. While some animators like Spümcø's John K. opted to use Flash, it still required a plug-in making it unviewable in many early web browsers. Other early online animators like M. Wartella opted to use the Animated GIF to overcome these limitations and create early web-based animation viewable through all browsers.[34]

Continued success for independent animation occurred in the 2000s with animated shorts such as Making Fiends. Both shorts garnered enough support to be turned into full-length TV series, airing on Nicktoons Network and Big TV, respectively.

By the mid-to-late 2000s YouTube and the Internet and like-minded online video distribution, in addition to independent broadcasting sites that followed, proved to be a dominant form of independently distributed, broadcast, edited, and produced animation TV shows, anime, feature films, music videos, retro animation, commercials, trailers, original online animation content, and web exclusives[35] (which would otherwise not stand a chance of seeing airtime on more normal and expensive forms of mainstream broadcasting on most television networks, which still continue to function on a more traditional distribution matrix). The Annoying Orange, which started off as a series of viral quasi-CGI animated comedy shorts on YouTube, quickly gained a cult following and an excess of 100 million views online. It is an example of an animated web series to transition between Internet and television distribution successfully, as an animated series on Cartoon Network.[33]

Recent independent animations released on YouTube include the adult animated web series Helluva Boss, and pilots for Hazbin Hotel and Long Gone Gulch. While Helluva Boss and Hazbin Hotel are made by independent animator Vivienne Medrano,[36][37] Long Gone Gulch was written and produced by Tara Billinger and Zach Bellissimo, who had worked on animations for Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, and Disney+.[38] At the same time, the all-ages web series, Sherwood, also released all 12 episodes on YouTube Originals, made freely available in April 2020.[39]

Alternative comics artist turned animator Dash Shaw's Cryptozoo (2021) enjoyed critical success at the Sundance Film Festival to the point of winning the NEXT Innovator Award while it was also nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards a year afterwards.[40][41][42]

Independent animation outside the United States[edit]


One of the earliest feature-length animated films was The Adventures of Prince Achmed, made in 1926 by Lotte Reiniger, a German artist who made silhouette animation using intricate cut-out figures and back-lighting. She made another feature, Dr. Dolittle, in 1928.[43]

The United Kingdom[edit]

The BFI funded around thirty pieces of experimental animation between the mid-fifties to mid-nineties (notable examples: The Quay Brothers).[44] Another major contributor to independent animation in Britain was Channel 4, which gained an international reputation as one of the most adventurous broadcasters of animation featuring works from Joanna Quinn (Girls' Night Out), Paul Barry (The Sandman), Mark Baker (The Village) and former National Film Board of Canada animator Paul Driessen (3 Misses).[45][46]

Another British animated milestone, the 1978 adaptation of Watership Down by American filmmaker Martin Rosen, was also made independently as well.[47]


Examples of French independent efforts include René Laloux's Cannes-winning Fantastic Planet (1973)[48] and Jérémy Clapin's Annecy Film Festival winner I Lost My Body (2019).[49]


Kōji Yamamura, Yoji Kuri and Kihachiro Kawamoto have been prominently acclaimed Japanese independent animators known for their artistic qualities.[50][51][52][53][54]


Pato Escala's 2014 debut short film, Bear Story, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short.[55] As a result, many animators such as Fernanda Frick (Here's the Plan), who worked on Bear Story, and Hugo Covarrubias (the Oscar-nominated Bestia)[56] made their own animated shorts in Chile.[57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 100 Greatest Animated Shorts/Film #3: Interwoven / Harry Smith - Skwigly Animation Magazine
  2. ^ a b c d e "The Unnatural History of Independent Animated Films on 16mm".
  3. ^ a b "MoMA | An Auteurist History of Film: Independent Animation, 1947–60".
  4. ^ "Film Notes -Independent Short Films".
  5. ^ Gibson, Jon M.; McDonnell, Chris (2008). "First Gigs". Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. Universe Publishing. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-7893-1684-4.
  6. ^ Sito, Tom (2006). "Suits". Drawing the Line: The Untold Story of the Animation Unions from Bosko to Bart Simpson. University Press of Kentucky. p. 50. ISBN 0-8131-2407-7.
  7. ^ Television/radio Age. Television Editorial Corp. 1969. p. 13.
  8. ^ a b c d Gibson, Jon M.; McDonnell, Chris (2008). "Fritz the Cat". Unfiltered: The Complete Ralph Bakshi. Universe Publishing. pp. 58, 62–63, 80–81. ISBN 978-0-7893-1684-4.
  9. ^ Solomon, Charles (1989). Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 275. ISBN 0-394-54684-9.
  10. ^ THE BRAVE LITTLE TOASTER (1987) (***)|Animation World Network
  11. ^ Don Bluth Goes Independent -
  12. ^ The Films of Carmen D'Avino - Cartoon Brew
  13. ^ "Cartoons Considered For the Academy Award – 1963 -".
  14. ^ This Is How Film Fundraising Worked Before Kickstarter-Cartoon Brew
  15. ^ 50 Years Of Harry Nilsson's The Point - Aquarium Drunkard
  16. ^ Will Vinton, Oscar winner and pioneering Portland animator, dies at 70 -
  17. ^ The Dog Days of Summer, Detroit – and “The Crunch Bird” (1971)-Cartoon Research
  18. ^ New York State Writers Institute - Frank Film and Frankly Caroline
  19. ^ The Real Indies: A Close Look at Orphan
  20. ^ Declaration Of Independents Independent Animation is Alive and Well in New York by Melissa Chimovitz -
  21. ^ Animator Michael Sporn, an Oscar Nominee, Dies at 67 – Chicago Tribune
  22. ^ Buzzco - Candy Kugel
  23. ^ "The Creativity of Pre-Digital Animation in the 1970s and '80s". Hyperallergic. February 2, 2018.
  24. ^ CTW and MTV: Shorts of Influence - Animated World Network
  25. ^ Independent Frames: American Experimental Animation in the 1970s-1980s - Tate
  26. ^ Landekic, Lola (May 20, 2015). Will Perkins (ed.). "Sally Cruikshank: A Career Retrospective, Part 1".
  27. ^ "Milestones Of The Animation Industry In The 20th Century". Animation World Network.
  28. ^ a b Independent Animation episode 4 - Indie Animated Features
  29. ^ "A Rare Treat: Bay Area Animation". KQED. August 23, 2011.
  30. ^ "Re-Animation: An Evening with Lewis Klahr". Redcat. September 2, 2009.
  31. ^ Experimental Animation Gems by Suzan Pitt, Walerian Borowczyk, and More - Hyperallergic
  32. ^ "Death Laughs Among Us: The Films of John Schnall". Animation World Network.
  33. ^ a b Ehrlich, Brenna (April 15, 2011). "Popular YouTube Series Annoying Orange Moves to TV". Mashable. Retrieved 2016-01-02.
  34. ^ "Animator Pursues a Minimal Approach to His Art".
  35. ^ Ribes, Xavier (2020-12-16). "Is the YouTube Animation Algorithm-Friendly? How YouTube's Algorithm Influences the Evolution of Animation Production on the Internet". Animation. 15 (3): 229–245. doi:10.1177/1746847720969990. S2CID 229305003.
  36. ^ Field, Matthew (December 5, 2019). "'Hazbin Hotel' a bold step in indie animation". Go! & Express. Archived from the original on May 12, 2020. Retrieved February 29, 2020.
  37. ^ Troup, Margaret (November 2, 2020). "'Hazbin Hotel' creator releases new episode of spinoff series 'Helluva Boss'". Iowa State Daily. Archived from the original on November 3, 2020. Retrieved November 3, 2020.
  38. ^ Perkins, Christ (August 11, 2016). "KickStart This: 'Long Gone Gulch'". Animation for Adults. Archived from the original on September 26, 2020. Retrieved January 14, 2021.
  39. ^ Franks, Nico (April 10, 2020). "YouTube brings down paywall". C21Media. Archived from the original on April 13, 2020. Retrieved October 15, 2020.
  40. ^ Cryptozoo Trailer: Dash Shaw's Animated Sundance Winner for Adults|IndieWire
  41. ^ Cryptozoo (2021)|MUBI
  42. ^ Long, Brent; Tangcay, Jazz (December 14, 2021). "Indie Spirit Awards 2022: Full List of Nominations". Variety. Retrieved December 14, 2021.
  43. ^ "Lotte Reiniger", William Moritz, Animation World Magazine, Issue 1.3
  44. ^ "The BFI and Animation - Screenonline". Retrieved 2011-04-30.
  45. ^ "Channel 4 and Animation - Screenonline". Retrieved 2011-04-30.
  46. ^ "With Channel 4 Television Corporation (Sorted by Popularity Ascending)". IMDb.
  47. ^ Schlock & Awe: WATERSHIP DOWN —— Nerdist
  48. ^ Don Bluth Goes Independent -
  49. ^ The 20 Best Indie Animation Features of the 2010s - Zippy Frames
  50. ^ Independence in Japan|Animation World Network
  51. ^ Other Independent Japanese Animation – Indiana University Cinema
  52. ^ Kawamoto Kihachiro, 1925-2010|Obituary|Sight & Sound|BFI
  53. ^ Anime - Google Books (pg.87)
  54. ^ The Anime Encyclopedia, 3rd Revised Edition - Google Books
  55. ^ Watch The Trailer Premiere of 'Here's the Plan,' A Sweet Film About Relationships|Cartoon Brew
  56. ^ ""Bestia", el premiado corto chileno, se instala en la carrera de los Oscar"
  57. ^ CB Fest Premiere: Here's The Plan by Fernanda Frick|Cartoon Brew

External links[edit]