“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”Pablo Picasso, Artist
The world has changed, and most would argue for the better. This fact is no different in the animation industry as the world of digital media consumption continues to change the rules by which we as animators operate.
While some of the most recognizable animation artists in the industry over the years, such as Walt Disney, Hayao Miyazaki, and Matt Groening, are still to this day riding the big title wave of animation, some newcomers over the years are falling into the category of “revolutionaries” with their animation styles and digital artwork skills.
In this blog post, we’re going to provide you with some of the animation artists who are rewriting the rules of animation in the 21st century and give a little insight into where you can find them.
Animation Artists Who Have Changed The World
Over the many years that animation artists have been working in the entertainment industry, in their respective forms, we’ve seen so many incredible changes both in the animation industry and the respective entertainment sectors.
For example: in 1924 the brothers, Max and Dave Fleischer managed to release the first animated short with synchronized sound and dialogue called “Oh Mabel”. This took place four years before Walt Disney released the world-famous Steamboat Willie cartoon, introducing the world to Mickie Mouse.
Then followed Walt Disney’s Multiplane Camera, the world’s first feature-length Cel-Animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, Xerography, and now we find ourselves with CGI revolutionaries like James Cameron and his box-office-breaking “Avatar” sequels.
As you can see, when there’s a will - and a need - there’s a way. A way to change how people make and view animated entertainment.
Animation artists have always been looking to push the boundaries of what is considered standard, and if the years have shown us anything it’s that we’re not even close to being done yet.
How Do Animation Artists Break Or Change The Rules?
There are a few ways animation artists can break or rewrite the rules of animation and it works in pretty much the way you’d expect.
Essentially, someone discovers something about the industry, or about the mechanics and/or limitations of the technology available, or even just starts abandoning certain design standards, and runs with that idea until it either works or doesn't.
What we’re seeing more and more these days is a generation of new animation artists utilizing the digital media at their disposal to incredible lengths, pushing the limits of what we understand possible with the software we have.
Let’s use the aforementioned example of Xerography to showcase technology rule-changing in the animation industry.
Xerography is essentially the process by which animators photocopy their hand-drawn animations forgoing the need to use stencils and tracings with ink.
The surface is electrically charged and then exposed to light to bring out the drawings and the image is then copied onto the surface.
One of Disney’s Nine Old Men, Ub Iwerks, was the first to effectively utilize this technology in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, essentially revolutionizing the animation industry forever.
Top 6 Animation Artists Who Are Rewriting The Rules
Let’s now give you some examples of fantastic animation artists who are right now rewriting the rules of animation and changing the way we think not just about the art, but also the technology and tools within the animation industry.
- Justin and Chris Copeland
Not to be confused with Aaron Copland - the North American composer famous for his Fanfare for the Common Man - the Copeland brothers, Justin and Chris, are Detroit-born artists, directors, and most importantly, animators.
Although not necessarily newcomers in the animation industry - their first animated work debuted in 2010 - they have most certainly made a mark on the industry working as animation artists in various forms for companies like Warner Brothers, Disney, Dreamworks, and more.
Their unique artistic style is derived from their observations of the world around them, and also make sure to stay up to date with what other animation artists in the world are up to.
They are notable for pushing the boundaries of storytelling and hope to continue to do so in the years to come.
“A lot of the time in animation is spent getting the story right – that’s something you can’t rush.” - Jennifer Yuh Nelson, American storyboard artist
- Science Akbar A.K.A King Science
TikTok is changing the way we think about social media, for sure. And creatives all around the world in every sphere of art are finding unique ways to capitalize on this insurgence of change in the digital world.
You need only look to none other than Science Akbar, or King Science, for inspiration on how to do just that. He is one of the top animators on TikTok and is one of the app's most followed content creators.
He has such a unique art style and an animation delivery that incorporates both deadpan humor and pop-culture/meme references that makes relating to his content that much easier for those who frequent the apps he posts to.
- Rebecca Sugar
After working on the critically acclaimed Cartoon Network animated series “Adventure Time” for 5 seasons, Rebecca Sugar was offered a spot on the development team for a new series that would become “Steven Universe”.
Steven Universe is noted as being TV’s “Most Empathetic Cartoon” and is praised for showcasing incredible emotional intelligence and nuanced character development.
Rebecca became the first non-binary person to have created an animated series for Cartoon Network, creating a standard for acceptance and representation in the animation industry.
Their animation style is of course unique, but it’s their personality portrayed in all their work that really pushes the boundaries of what we as animation artists and animation studios are putting forward into the world of animation entertainment.
- Cat Frazier
Someone who is notorious in this day and age for creating an almost excessive number of gifs is Cat Frazier, who has been named “the woman responsible for the greatest gifs on the internet.
Her rebellion from standard art design and animations is as inspiring as it is hilarious. She is even quoted as saying “Design in the real world can be expressive, too. It can have an attitude.”
So much praise can get you far, and there’s no exception here as Cat’s gifs have been sourced by and used for a sitcom by the name of “Broad City”.
If you’re into memes, almost self-help, and to a certain extent hallucinogenics, then Cat’s gifs are for you.
While the self-help comment might be a joke, there is a very serious message and intention behind her work, and that is that social media can be, and is very much, addictive. And much like every other addictive substance, it can harm you mentally in excess.
- John McLaughlin
Uniqueness and creativity are the hallmarks of revolution. At least, in the world of arts. And it’s safe to say that John McLaughlin has an incredibly unique art style and aesthetic.
John makes fuzzy guys. Or dudes. People. They’re essentially unapologetically fuzzy people with massive eyes and triangle heads.
What started out with simple drawings extended to varied activities and motions brought on by random scenarios in his mind’s eye. These can include, but are not limited to: busting moves and cartwheeling. A true visual cacophony of fuzz.
But he derives his inspiration not just from himself, but from the world around him as well. From overheard conversations on the New York subway to clothing and furniture textiles, his hyper-awareness of his surroundings is enough to inspire every animator.
His aspirations extend beyond traditional animations though, hoping to further explore his fuzzy dudes in their fuzzy world, both in the real and digital worlds. These ideas will extend hopefully to books, a TV show, and potentially even a virtual reality experience.
Fuzzy fun for all!
- Domee Shi
Finally, let’s look at one of the most influential female animators out there, and the first woman to have directed both a Pixar short and a solo feature with Pixar Studios, Domee Shi.
Starting out similarly to most animators, she worked on her art to the point of being accepted into a college, catapulting her into the animation industry where she knew she belonged.
After contributing to works such as “Inside Out” and “Toy Story 4” she began pitching for her own works, most notably the Academy Award-winning film “Bao”. And if that wasn’t enough, she then produced the incredibly authentic and captivating film, “Turning Red”.
It’s not just her hard work and determination that truly inspires us, but her authenticity too. She is now a massive voice in the Asian and Asian-American communities in Hollywood and is truly one of the frontrunners of the ‘Representation-Revolution’ in animation.
Where To Find More Unique Animation Artists
There are so many animation artists doing so many incredible and unique things, and to attempt to list them all would be an exercise in futility, but thanks to the digital age of social media, we don’t have to!
Instagram is one of the largest social media platforms and continues to combine so many media concepts into one place.
Simply search “animation” and work on your thumb exercises so as to better scroll till eternity.
There’s also a fantastic insurgence of apps made specifically to assist in animating your stories and reels.
Much the same as Instagram, TikTok continues a truly endless supply of content from which to learn and be entertained and inspired.
Similarly, people, and in this case, Adobe, continue to make fantastic apps to assist in creating and sharing animations on TikTok.
Gif via Giphy
Open-source sites like Giphy and Tenor which have been around for years are fantastic places to both share animations and animated gifs and follow accounts and artists away from social media - perfect for if you’re taking a break from that world of media.
Much like DeviantArt and the early days of Newgrounds, you can utilize these sites extremely effectively to anonymously post and receive critique from like-minded individuals if you’re shy and wary of posting your content on massive social sites.
Animation Artists Are Changing The World Of Animation
The animation industry is changing, and the rules are being rewritten. From acceptance of representation, to focus on revolutionary technologies, to some of the most unique and incredible artistic designs, animation artists are leading a cultural revolution.
We are spoiled for choice in the animation industry for artistic, stylistic, and even work ethic inspiration and we really couldn’t be happier with where the industry is taking us.
For more info about animation artists new and old, as well as answers to any other questions you might have, be sure to follow our blogs, check out our free masterclass, and our Animation Business Accelerator Program, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!