Debris from Dot Com Crash Hits Animators

by Michael Hurwicz

Exit 109, part of JibJab's toon line-up that makes use of the Internet integrating simple game playing along with the presentation. © JibJab Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

The dot com crash has killed many Internet-focused business ventures, massacred stock prices, vaporized investors. Fortunes have been lost, careers mauled.

Like other Internet sectors (and animation sectors for that matter), online entertainment overbuilt and suffered the wrecking ball. As recently as early 2000, there was a voracious market for short, attention-grabbing Flash animations for the Web. Today, opportunities are largely drying up, along with the flow of venture capital. The mood of euphoria has been replaced by one of caution.

Still, there is some good news: major competitors biting the dust (at least temporarily) leave the field clearer for those who remain. In addition, both the continued advance of technology and the increasing sophistication of Internet users, favor the growth of multimedia in the medium and for the long term. There are and will continue to be significant opportunities on the Internet for independent animators.'s successful original series Creamburg. © 1999-2000, Inc. All rights reserved. Mark Brooks and Peter Gilstrap, series creators of Creamburg and Lil' Pimp. © 1999-2000, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tales from the Golden Age
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear: late 1999 and early 2000. Investors are pouring money into dot coms, including online entertainment companies. Companies like AtomFilms, iFilm and MediaTrip, who are dedicated to distributing visual entertainment over the Internet, scour the world for material to fill their sites. Each is trying to get bigger and better, faster than its competitors. Content acquisition executives are particularly looking for short animations, which offer quick downloads and viewing for impatient Netizens. In particular, online entertainment sites favor animations in the Flash format, because of the wide support for Flash in browsers. Animators capable of producing short, entertaining Flash animations find sky-high demand for their skills and product.

In March, 1999, unknown independent animators Mark Brooks and Peter Gilstrap submitted a 23-minute pilot Creamburg to HBO. Brooks did the animation, and Gilstrap much of the writing. "I did it in Flash, just because it was cheap," says Brooks. That turned out to be a fortunate choice. Although they had not submitted the tape to MediaTrip, someone there saw the pilot. MediaTrip quickly made an offer to fund it. The creators couldn't accept the offer though, because HBO was still considering Creamburg. Instead, Brooks and Gilstrap conceived another animation, Li'l Pimp, for which MediaTrip funded production. Eventually, HBO passed on Creamburg and MediaTrip took that as well. From that exposure, Brooks and Gilstrap got work doing two-minute Creamburg interstitials for the etelevision cable channel. They were also hired to do Flash animation for The Slim Shady Show for rapper Eminem. In August, 2000, Revolution Studios, which is closely linked with MediaTrip, announced a full length Li'l Pimp feature film for 2001. Brooks' and Gilstrap's Creative Men Productions will produce, script and manage the creative aspects of the movie. In addition, they have majority ownership of the project.

JibJab founders, Gregg ("Jib," right) and Evan ("Jab," left) Spiridellis. © JibJab Media, Inc. All rights reserved.

Brooklyn, New York-based JibJab Media was formed late in 1999 by Gregg and Evan Spiridellis. Neither of the founders were in the animation industry, nor were any of the half dozen or so artists they eventually hired. They were illustrators, photographers, painters. But, seeing an opportunity in the Web, they learned Flash and turned out some short, funny animations, such as rap parodies of the founding fathers. In short order, JibJab cut a deal with AtomFilms, who put the animations on their site and ultimately licensed them to the history channel to promote a miniseries on the founding fathers. Another piece was sub-licensed to Mad TV. All in all, JibJab did three deals with AtomFilms, as well as deals with Yahoo and Shockwave. One of their animations, Capitol Ill, a Bush/Gore rap, was used in an Altoids commercial.

Another Net winner is New York-based independent animator Bill Plympton. Already an established cartoonist, he contacted AtomFilms late in 1999. They bought exclusive rights to his entire library for two years. In addition to sharing banner ad revenue, the material is licensed to airlines and TV stations, as well as other dot coms.

Xeth Feinberg, also based in New York City, got his first paid work on the Net at the end of 1999, doing a series of animations based on his Bulbo character for the Hotwired Animation Express. He also got hired to do animations for, a site connected with the science-fiction cable channel.

JibJab's Capitol Ill, a political rap spoof teaming Al Gore and George W. Bush, has proven to bring back viewers. © JibJab Media, Inc. All rights reserved. Icebox's Hard Drinkin' Lincoln presents Abraham Lincoln: statesman, leader, beloved President -- and America's favorite boozehound! © 2000 Mishmash Media/Icebox, Inc.

Pay was originally low, says Feinberg, but it was okay because he could produce the content quickly (he draws directly in Flash using only a mouse), and with a staff of "one and a half" -- himself plus a part-time assistant.


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