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Independent animation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The term independent animation refers to animated shorts, web series, 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. "Independent" initially implied amateurs and unknowns. However, following the implosion of the entertainment industry and mass layoffs of animators, "indie" now almost exclusively refers to industry veterans with connections producing content on their own time.

United States[edit]

In America, working independent animators included Mary Ellen Bute,[1] John Whitney,[1] Harry Everett Smith[2] and Oskar Fischinger[1] alongside earlier efforts of what would later become UPA.[3][4]

In 1959, The Academy Awards witnessed 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.[5][6]

Jordan Belson,[3] Robert Breer[7] and Stan Vanderbeek[1] made groundbreaking experimental animation during this time.[5]

Avant-garde animator Carmen D'Avino's Oscar-nominated Pianissimo (1963)[8][9][10] was distributed by none other than Amos Vogel's legendary Cinema 16.[11]

Other independent animators during this time included Charles Braverman,[3] Gene Deitch,[3] Fred Mogubgub,[12] Fred Wolf[13] and Will Vinton.[14][15] 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.[16]

Ralph Bakshi tried and succeeded to establish an alternative to mainstream animation through independent[17] and adult-oriented productions in the 1970s.

In the late 1960s, animator Ralph Bakshi and producer Steve Krantz founded Bakshi Productions,[18] 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.[19] 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.[20][21] 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.[21] 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.[21]

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.[21] 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.[22]

Alongside Bakshi came other independent animated features of the 70s and 80s (some made by former Disney animators) such as John David Wilson's Shinbone Alley (1971), Don Bluth's The Secret of NIMH (1982), Vinton's The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985) and Jerry Rees's cult classic The Brave Little Toaster (1987).[23][24][25][26]

Notable award-winning films also from the 70s and 80s included Dale Case and Bob Mitchell's The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam (1970),[27] Ted Petok's The Crunch Bird (1971),[28] Frank Mouris's Frank Film (1973)[29] and Jimmy Picker's Sundae in New York (1983).[30]

Animation historians John Canemaker[31] and Michael Sporn[32] also made independent animation in New York, both earning Oscar nods for their work (only Canemaker won in 2005).

Other animators like Candy Kugel,[33] Jeff Scher,[34] Joanna Priestley, Kathy Rose, Suzan Pitt, Robert Swarthe, Vince Collins, Barrie Nelson, Eli Noyes, Sky David (aka Dennis Pies),[10] Steve Segal, Mike Jittlov, Paul Fierlinger,[35] 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.[3][36][10][37]

In the 1970s, independent animator Sally Cruikshank (known for the 1975 cult short Quasi at the Quackadero alongside animated segments for Sesame Street[38]) continued to explore independent and D.I.Y. distribution options, but were still largely met with rejection even though her work is now considered ground breaking.[39]

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[40] 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,[41] Bill Plympton,[42][43] Don Hertzfeldt,[44] Nina Paley[42] and PES[44] 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,[45] Janie Geiser,[46] John R. Dilworth, Lewis Klahr[47][48] and John Schnall.[49][50] 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.[51] 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.[52]

Independent animation in the 2000s included animated features such as Paley's Sita Sings The Blues, the CGI-animated features Hoodwinked! and Barnyard[53] and Indiewood director Wes Anderson's first foray into animation territory: his 2009 stop motion adaptation of Roland Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox.[54]

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[55] (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.[51]

Recent independent animations released on YouTube include the adult animated web series Helluva Boss, and pilots for Hazbin Hotel, Long Gone Gulch, Murder Drones and Lackadaisy.[56] While Helluva Boss and Hazbin Hotel are made by independent animator Vivienne Medrano,[57][58] 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+.[59] At the same time, the all-ages web series, Sherwood, also released all 12 episodes on YouTube Originals, made freely available in April 2020.[60]

Alternative comics artist turned animator Dash Shaw's Cryptozoo 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.[61][62][63]

Oscar-nominated animator Andrew Chesworth formerly worked at Disney (being animator on Wreck It Ralph, Frozen, Get a Horse!, Big Hero 6, Feast, Zootopia and Moana)[64][65] and Netflix (on the 2019 Annie Award for Best Animated Feature winner Klaus)[66] while working independently on his passion projects including his 2023 Oscar-qualifying[67][68] The Brave Locomotive, a love letter to the Andrews Sisters and 1940s animation. First conceived in 2008, he released online in 2015 the opening sequence that was in progress before shelving it after being hired by Disney in 2011.[69]

Other notable animated indie efforts of the 2020s include Marcel the Shell with Shoes On,[70][71][72][73] Ninety-Five Senses,[74] War Is Over![75] and My Year of Dicks.[76]


LGBT representation in independent animation has increased over the years, as many series have featured LGBTQ characters. Lizzy the Lezzy, which premiered on Myspace in 2006, included LGBTQ+ characters like Lizzy, a lesbian.[77] Plum, a bisexual character, first appeared in the animated series, Bravest Warriors, a show which aired on Cartoon Hangover's YouTube channel from 2012 to 2018, as confirmed by her crushes and by writer Kate Leth.[78][79][80] The show was made by Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward and featuring Ian Jones-Quartey, who voiced the character, Wallow, while he directed his own show, OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes which featured multiple LGBTQ+ characters. Although Plum had a crush on Chris, kissing him multiple times during the show, she is also madly in love with her doppelganger as shown in the comics.

The Rooster Teeth animated web series, RWBY, which began in 2013, features lesbian characters,[81][82][83] and a trans woman named May Marigold, voiced by Kdin Jenzen.[84][85] Nomad of Nowhere, another RoosterTeeth show, released in 2018, featured a lesbian protagonist named Skout, who had a crush on Captain Toth, her superior.[86][87] In addition, Hazbin Hotel, by Vivienne Medrano, centers around a bisexual princess of Hell named Charlie, with a girlfriend named Vaggie,[88][89] with the series also featuring an asexual character named Alastor,[88][90] and a gay pornstar named Angel Dust.[91][89][92] Medrano's other series, Helluva Boss, featured various bisexual characters, such as a demon named Moxxie,[93] and a pansexual demon named Blitzo.[94]

My Pride: The Series, which premiered in February 2020 on YouTube, follows a "queer, disabled lioness" named Nothing who is trying to heal the world.[95][96] Yssa Badiola of Recorded by Arizal hosted a RTX panel, on September 21, 2020, and stated that there would be LGBTQ characters if a full season was ordered.[97][98] Nico Colaleo's animated web series, Too Loud, the first season which ran from July to August 2017, and the second season which aired from September to November 2019, includes an LGBTQ character. In the episode "Slumber Party Sneak-In," Desiree plots with her sister, Sara, to dress up as a girl in order to go to a slumber party. The rest of the girls find this out, then console her, accepting, and deciding they like her no matter whether she is a trans girl named Desiree or as a closeted boy.[99] In September 2019, Colaleo later described the episode as important, described it as his favorite episode of the show's second season, and a "pro-transgender episode."[100]

Angakusajaujuq: The Shaman's Apprentice (2020), featuring Canadian Inuit characters, won Best Independent Short Film at the Festival Stop Montreal.[101][102][103]

African American animator/filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira is known for the 1984 satirical animated short Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyhead People, which was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2018.[104][105][106] Another example of independent African-American animation is Bruce W. Smith's 2019 Academy Award-winning short film Hair Love.[107]

The 2016 autobiographical stop-motion short Deer Flower, made by Los Angeles-based filmmaker Kangmin Kim, mines his childhood in South Korea for themes.[108]

Independent animation outside the United States[edit]


Independent Italian animators include Ursula Ferrara (who used techniques similar to animation pioneers like Emile Cohl on her 1986 film Lucidi Folli), Alberto D'Amico, Saul Saguatti (known for his 1995 series Short Splatter Collection)[109] and Bruno Bozzetto, known for the 1976 feature Allegro Non Troppo and the 1990 Academy Award-nominated Grasshoppers.[110]


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.[111]

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).[112] 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),[113] Alison de Vere (Mr. Pascal)[114] Paul Barry (The Sandman), Mark Baker (The Village), Barry Purves (Next)[113] and former National Film Board of Canada animator Paul Driessen (3 Misses).[115][116]

Another British animated milestone, the 1978 adaptation of Watership Down by American filmmaker Martin Rosen, was also made independently as well.[117]


Examples of French independent efforts include René Laloux's Cannes-winning Fantastic Planet (1973)[26] and Marjane Satrapi's own 2007 adaptation of her graphic novel Persepolis.[118]


Kōji Yamamura,[119] Masaaki Yuasa,[120][121] Yoji Kuri and Kihachiro Kawamoto have been prominently acclaimed Japanese independent animators known for their artistic qualities.[122][123][124][125][126]


Animation director Liu Jian is known for his independently-produced features Piercing I (2010)[127] and Art College 1994 (2023).[128][129]

South Korea[edit]

Independent cel animation made in South Korea during the 1980s-90s included Lee Yong-bae's award-winning tale of Sleeping Buddha Wa-Bull (1994) and powerfully political efforts from Choe Jeong-hyeon.[130]


In 2016, Alê Abreu's Boy and the World (released in 2013) won the first Annie Award for Best Animated Feature – Independent at the 43rd Annie Awards.[131] Two years later, Tito and the Birds would be nominated in the same category.[132][133]


Pato Escala's 2014 debut short film, Bear Story, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short.[134] 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)[135] made their own animated shorts in Chile.[136]


Michaela Pavlátová is known for making independent efforts[137][138] such as the 2021 feature My Sunny Maad,[139][140] which was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Animated Feature Film.[141]

Other legendary Czech independent animators include Jiri Trnka and Jan Svankmajer.[37]


Estonian animator Priit Pärn is known for his crude drawings, dark humor and satirical absurdist tone on such films as Breakfast on the Grass (1988) and 1895 (1995; the latter spoofing cinema's impact on perceptions of history, identity and nationality filled with cinematic references, cultural stereotypes and inside jokes).[142]


Jonas Poher Rasmussen's 2021 animated documentary Flee[143][144] was nominated for three Oscars: Best Documentary Feature, Best International Feature Film (the second Non-English-language animated film after Ari Folman's 2008 Israeli war documentary Waltz with Bashir[118]) and Best Animated Feature (becoming the first animated film ever to be nominated in all three of those categories).


Bill Kroyer's 1992 feature debut Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, featuring the voice of comedian Robin Williams as Batty, was also made independently (under his own studio Kroyer Films, which also made the 1988 Academy Award-nominated Technological Threat) as an Australian-American co-production later to be distributed by 20th Century Fox.[145]

Independent animation entirely from down under includes the works of Felix Colgrave[146] and acclaimed stop motion animator Adam Elliot,[44] known for the Oscar winner Harvie Krumpet (2003) and his feature film Mary and Max (2009).[120][118]


Outside of NFB, independent animation entirely from Canada also includes Marv Newland, who is best known for his 1969 cult animated short Bambi Meets Godzilla, Danny Antonucci, known for his 1987 short Lupo the Butcher, and the collage works of Winston Hacking.[147][148][149]


Independent animated efforts from Israel include the aforementioned Waltz with Bashir[118] and Tal Kantor's 2023 Oscar-nominated short Letter to a Pig.[150]

Notable animated independent films from other countries[edit]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]