What’s Even Better Than a Dick Figures Episode? A Dick Figures Movie!
Several years ago at CTNX in Burbank, I sat through a session on episodic YouTube animation, my attendance fueled by nagging doubts about my hipness quotient and feelings of being old and out of touch with the latest animated shorts “those damn kids today” were devouring while attending raves or visiting their moms in rehab.
Looking back on that session, only one property shown was even remotely funny. That property was Dick Figures. And while no two people can agree on what “gluten” is, let alone, what “funny” is, suffice to say that from my perspective, the series holds its own against just about anything out there labeled “episodic comedy.” Gluten free or not.
The brainchild of creators Ed Skudder and Zack Keller, friends, co-workers, USC grads, writers, animators, deviants, partners in crime (choose your label) Dick Figures is sophisticated in its simplicity and brilliant in its execution. Like all good humor, it’s not for everyone. Just us cool folk. If you don’t get it, then you don’t get it. Such is life.
At its core, Dick Figures illustrates, with reckless abandon, one of the most fundamental, hurtful, nasty, vicious, funny and rewarding relationships there is in life – the “buddy-buddy” relationship between two guys. Sometimes base, crude and uniquely repugnant, other times infinitely worse, a good buddy-buddy story nevertheless always gives us a reason to smile. And think back to Junior High, the five best years of our lives.
No matter how life’s battles wound us, our best buddies lift us up when we are most vulnerable, look us squarely in the eye, smile, and with surgical precision, carve up our psyche with a succession of insensitive taunts and insults that leave us gasping for the very air we breathe. As we writhe on the ground in emotional agony, they tower over us, gloating, laughing, calling us names. Because we love it. And they know it. Because it’s funny. And when it’s funny, even when it’s at your expense, it’s funny. If you can’t kick a friend when he’s down, what good is friendship?
Dick Figures, in just a few short years, has become one of the most successful episodic animated properties on the Internet, with over 270 million video views across 40 episodes. Chronicling the moronic, often violent exploits of two stick figure buddies, Red and Blue, Dick Figures is produced by Six Point Harness and distributed by Mondo Media, one of the most successful and experienced web-centric media companies, known for edgy, fan favorite shows such as Happy Tree Friends and Deep Space 69.
Launched May 31st of last year, the Dick Figures: The Movie Kickstarter campaign raised $313,411 from 5,616 backers. At that time, (not sure about now), it was the most successful fundraising effort for an animated project in Kickstarter’s history. The film, just completed and soon to be released, first to Kickstarter backers and then to the general public through some manner of download, streaming and DVD formats, is a shining example of how a small studio can fund its own animated projects solely through the support of its fan base. I recently had a chance to talk to Ed and Zack about the film, the success of the series and the dynamic of taking their alter-egos, Red and Blue, to the “big” little screen.
Dan Sarto: Two or three years ago at CTNX, Aaron Simpson led a session on YouTube animation success. You guys were there I believe. Aaron showed a number of episodes from some of most “popular” animated series on YouTube. To be honest, the only one I thought was really well done was Dick Figures.
Zack Keller: Thank you!
DS: Congratulations on the success of the Kickstarter campaign. It’s really a testament to the promise and potential of today’s new entertainment media dynamics. You’ve hit on most if not all of them – grass roots growth of a small animated property, organic growth of a huge fan base, crowdfunding of an animated feature. There’re so many examples when it doesn’t work, it’s really nice to see when it does.
ZK: I guess we lucked out. Thank you.
DS: Well I don’t think its luck. Sustaining what you guys have done for four seasons is not luck so…
Ed Skudder: Thank you very much.
DS: How did Dick Figures start? How did you guys come together? What was the genesis of the idea and what made you choose the web as the venue for your storytelling?
ES: Dick Figures was born within Six Point [Harness, the studio at which they work]. In 2010, they gave us all two days to work on whatever we wanted, to come up with new ideas and pitches to show the studio. I ended up doing a little one and a half minute short about Red and Blue, who back then were way different. They had different voices. Actually, the tone was a whole lot different. But Six Point liked it enough that they showed it to Mondo Media who also liked it enough to greenlight one episode.
Zack and I had been working together for a couple of years. We met at USC in the film production program and had been doing projects together ever since. So he and I naturally just teamed up. In the first episode, Mondo said that if we got 100,000 views in a week, they’d greenlight the rest of the season. We got that many views in the first couple of days, which was really exciting. We’ve been making them ever since. It wasn’t a conscious decision to go to the web. We just kind of landed there and found ourselves figuring it out as it went along.
DS: When you were making the pilot, what were your thoughts about the viability of the idea as an ongoing series?
ES: We didn’t think about it that far forward because when we did the pilot, what we made was so weird compared to the rest of the projects we’ve done together, we didn’t really know if it was going to take off or be popular. We were very nervous. We figured no one would like our stupid little cartoon. Then, when they greenlit the next one, and then the next one, and the next one, we started to consider we actually had something cool and that we had to figure out the tone of the show, where to take it, what to do with it. We started coming up with new ideas, adding new characters, almost accidentally, just rolling with it as we went along.
ZK: Creating Dick Figures has been a really organic process. We started by making just one, not knowing it would go any further. Then we started looking to the fans and they started talking about a line of music, a movie eventually, toys, shirts, music. Whatever they were curious about, we just went for it. It’s been a series of organically evolving projects since day one.