ren and stimpy animation documentary

Crowdfunding Animation Campaigns Worth Backing

There are a number of large-scale crowdfunding efforts underway that benefit the animation community, and I couldn’t help but want to highlight them all in a post. Maybe in the future this will become a series. But for now, please consider checking out these different campaigns. Each title links to that project’s Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.


19th Annual Animation Show of Shows (Attempt #2)

The Animation Show of Shows (ASOS) is an annual film festival that tours in theaters around North America and showcases animated short films. Curated and run by Ron Diamond, the organization recently became a non-profit and has gotten involved in helping to restore old films while hosting these screenings to help further the art. While this program is family-friendly, it aims at showing a more nuanced side of animated filmmaking than what many audiences (especially in the US) are used to. The films, which are from all over the world, range from the light-hearted to a few MA shorts (shown at the end with a disclaimer), and range from student works, independent artists, to big studio pieces from staples like Pixar.

A few days ago, the ASOS’s Kickstarted ended just short of their $100K goal, but I’m happy to see that Ron, undeterred, has launched a new one with a smaller goal that has quickly been surpassed. While the goal this time around is unrealistically small, I know that Ron is depending on all of us to help get as close to that initial $100K as possible–so don’t let the success of this smaller goal fool you. It costs an arm and a leg to do what Ron does, and we’re all better off for it. I personally have been fortunate to see the ASOS for the last six years, and I’ve even helped him out by working at the table he sets up where he sells boxed collections of the works on DVD. You can also get DVDs with a few shorts on them, as well as a few other DVDs. When I was an animation student trying to think of a short film, it was invaluable to watch through these award-winning films (my school had the box-sets in their resource library) and see how so many different creators told their stories.

What I appreciate the most about this larger and ambitious campaign is the fact that more than a quarter of the funding goes towards securing the rights from the filmmakers, as most of the films will then be distributed on DVD. While this should be the norm, I imagine it can be tough to earn money from short films. This program offers lots of people the chance to see animation that they normally wouldn’t get a chance to, and that in itself enough to get my support.

18th Annual Animation Show of Shows

Some of the films from last year’s festival. A mix of student films, larger studio works, teams, individual creators, and all mediums. We also saw our first VR entry into the festival’s 18 year history.

The Kickstarter for the Animation Show of Shows only has 4 more days, so back soon!


Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation Documentary

Full disclosure: I was super unfamiliar with this festival until a couple weeks before this crowdfunding campaign to make a documentary about it. I found out about this effort through an email from a co-worker who knows someone on this project, and spoke highly of the cause:

“I fell in love with this festival while I was working on Nightmare Before Christmas, when you still had to go to the theater to see cool, non-commercial animation… Spike and Mike are two very cool guys who have devoted their lives to sharing amazing animation with the world and their story deserves to be heard and preserved.”

Good enough for me.

The team plans on using classic 2D cel animation, stop motion animation and computer generated animation to set the scene for a 90 minute documentary about the impact of two very unlikely heroes of animation. Though, to be honest, having each of the three acts of this documentary told via a different art style sounds cool in theory but tough to pull off. I’d have liked to have seen some tests footage from each act, especially the CG at the end. While I appreciate and love that they want to use different animation mediums for this documentary, I hope that it doesn’t become a distraction, since, although the IndiGoGo is only for $100,000, the description budgets the entire film at $550,000 with no mention of where the rest will come from. The interviews, which will likely be the tentpoles of the doc,  will ideally include all different kinds of participants of the festival since 1977, from directors to the flyer and poster artists, fans and film critics. Seems they got quite a few interviews at San Diego Comic Con last week!

Another co-worker who has attended past screenings added:

“They show weird stuff.”

Also good enough for me. One quick look at their website confirms this, of course. This fest seems perfect for fans who grew up loving the kookier, oft-forgotten underbelly of animation. For an American animation festival to have been around as long as this one (over 30 years) it has to have some interesting stories, apart from the animated ones that they showed. And it sounds like they’ve helped some big names get their earlier work out there. So I would love to learn about how this festival grew into the strange, strange event that it is remembered as.


Happy Happy, Joy Joy – The Ren and Stimpy Story

Speaking of kooky and underbelly, we have what may be our most mainstream example: Ren & Stimpy. Despite the fact that Ren & Stimpy absolutely GROSSED ME OUT as a kid, I’ve come to appreciate that strange, strange show for what it is, what it did, and what it continues to do. For so many people, Ren & Stimpy was a gateway drug to more subversive, often independent animation. It’s also one of the first shows where I, as someone interested in the physical production of animation, heard not-so great stories, and vastly different takes depending on if you hear a story from Nickelodeon, show creator John Kricfalusi (or simply John K), or anyone on the crew or voice talent. Regardless of whose (if any) side you’re on, Ren & Stimpy and creator John K, much like Walt Disney and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit serve as a cautionary tale to creators who lose their characters to studios (for one reason or another).

I’m curious how this tail will be spun, as I’ve heard some horror stories from a co-worker who worked on the production. It’s also just common knowledge in the industry that this was an at-times tumultuous work experience. Similarly, a 2013 book on the very subject–one of those “unauthorized” matter was re-released a few days ago and I’m excited to get my hands on that to get the dirt on what sounds like roller-coaster production in every way.

I was happy to read that the documentary would focus on the artists who brought this ground-breaking and controversial show into existence, and expand on its lasting impact on TV animation in the United States. So many of the artists involved in the show will be back to be in and help out on this film, including with some of the perks, like a private lesson with Jim Smith, one of the artists largely responsible to the stylization of the show.

It’s worth noting that while John K has turned down interviews for this doc, he has okay’d several people close to him for interviews. It’s also worth noting that while Nickelodeon is not backing this film, they did grant the filmmakers permission to use the characters (available at the $150 tier).


Hair Love (Animated Short Film)

There’s always a slight risk when going in on a short film or game where the creator doesn’t have previous experience in the area they are working in. But a very quick glimpse at this campaign removes any doubts: writer and director Matthew A. Cherry, an experienced live-action director, certainly did his homework when it came to finding a team to support him and his existing team, including bringing on a co-director, Jason Marino, who’s animated short film Tamara, caught Cherry’s eye.

Two other notable names in animation that Cherry has brought onto the project are Peter Ramsey and Frank Abney, who will serve as executive producers!! Peter Ramsey became the first African American director of  a feature animated film when he made DreamWorks Animation’s Rise of the Guardians. He’s also currently co-directing Sony’s new feature-length animated Miles Morales (finally!) Spider-Man film. Frank Abney, one of Variety’s 2016 10 Animators to Watch, is an animator who has worked at Disney, DreamWorks, and Pixar.

Cherry’s efforts to seek out experienced artists–particularly artists of color–is a responsible and fantastic display of good leadership. I’ve seen enough attempts at crowdfunding animation, video games, comics and more amount to nothing, so starting off on the right foot will do wonders for Hair Love.

The Kickstarter does a great job of breaking down this project, including a summary of it:

Hair Love, is a 5 minute animated short film that centers around the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri and her hair. Despite having long locks, Stephen has been used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair, so when she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen will have to figure it out on his own. This sounds simple enough, but we soon come to find that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

This story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.

The short initially was seeking $75k but now are shooting for $200,000 in the hopes of making a Pixar-quality short, with the budgets for most steps in the pipeline ranging from $5-15k, with the largest chunks going to administrative/auxiliary services. It also looks like they are partnering with Nimble Collective, which will hopefully remove much of the guess-work out of their pipeline. It’s always wonderful to see animated short films being used to showcase underserved stories and groups of people.


The Animation Show of Shows has been operating under this crowdfunding method for a few years now, and since the show is annual, I know that I will be seeing it soon. I’m curious when the other three projects will deliver. As long as the creators supply consistent updates to backers, I don’t mind the occasional hiccups that come with production. Best of luck to all the projects! I encourage you to lend them your support if possible. And if you can’t, I’m sure even a retweet would be appreciated by them.

Welcome to Animation Complex

Welcome to Animation Complex. This is a newly created site intended to be a resource for people who want to learn more about animation in  historical and cultural context. Animation is an amazing medium–it can tackle literally any subject matter, be targeted at any age group or type of person, and convey any type of emotion. It can be a powerful tool for education and instruction, to inform and to entertain. But it often doesn’t get that type of credit. More often than not, animation is seen as a genre. Fodder to distract children with, or toilet humor targeted predominantly at adult men. Animation has received little serious attention over the years. There have been valid attempts, with more books available now, and more offerings to the public in the form of talks with film scholars and dedicated museum exhibitions. But it’s still something that goes largely unnoticed in the larger film community.

That’s where Animation Complex hopes to bridge a gap. It is my sincere intention to introduce a more critical and educational perspective on the animation we know and love, while also keeping things entertaining and accessible. Although we will get into deeper topics, we hope to present them in a way that people who aren’t steeped in cinema studies can digest and enjoy. Through articles on this site, videos on our YouTube channel, and a podcast, we aim to shed light on animation culture. Additionally, we also look forward to diving into other related forms of sequential art, like video games and graphic novels!

To learn more about our goals, please listen to our introductory podcast:


A lot can be learned from a cartoon, starting with the actual production of it itself: was is mass-produced in the studio system? Created with a grant from a supportive government? Toiled away at for decades? Was it done with resources the creator invented themselves, or used with open-source technology? Who made it? How was it funded? Why was it made? Then of course, there’s the content of the film, which can of course be affected by all of the above questions, and more: how was it exhibited and distributed? How was the story conveyed? Who was the target audience? And beyond: what does the film say about race, gender, and class?

We sometimes ignore the deeper questions when it comes to animation, but it’s important, just as it is important to analyze any other piece of art. Viewed through an academic lens, animation can help us understand more about the intersection of politics, education, and entertainment. It is especially important because animation is so often one of the earliest forms of media we expose children to. We want to know what is being reflected in these films and shows, we want to understand how our current culture–how race, gender, sexuality, and so many other topics are being introduced, and we also enjoy seeing how it is presented or critiqued in animated films meant for older people.

Not only do I think it’s important to view ALL of the media we consume with a critical eye, but for me, it’s just fun. I honestly enjoy it. Some times of course, the information is depressing or angering, or sobering, but it’s amazing to be able to look at this amazing and beautiful and constantly evolving artform and want to see and expect more out of it.

So please feel free to stick around and join me on this journey. We’re just getting started!  : )

You can check out our first podcast here, or our first YouTube video here.