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How “Pencilmation” became a YouTube sensation

When Ross Bollinger posted an animated stickman video online in 2004, YouTube didn’t exist and the 16-year-old artist didn’t anticipate a web show.

Today, Bollinger’s stick figure (named Pencilmate, who has the naughty energy of Curious George) is a star in the YouTube series with 19 million subscribers. YouTube’s Pencilmation channel has more subscribers than Pixar (6.24 million) and Walt Disney Animation Studios (4.83 million) combined. YouTube doesn’t publish viewer aggregates for animation channels, but Animation Magazine editor-in-chief Ramin Zahed says he believes Pencilmation is the platform’s most popular animation series. When YouTube announced the world’s most viewed creators in 2019 (the latest number), “Pencilmation” was third, at 2.8 billion.

Ross Bollinger wasn’t aiming to create a series that would be a hit on YouTube. “I just make things and hope they find an audience,” he said.


Photo:

Emily Soto

Bollinger, a 33-year-old father living in Montclair, NJ, has never tried to reach a non-YouTube audience.He barely has 200

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He is a believer and recently hired a spokesperson. He and the show are almost fully supported by YouTube ads. “I just make things and hope they find an audience,” he says.

Although “Pencilmation” has contributed little to sponsorship, representatives have stated that licensing and distribution agreements are 2021 priorities. Industry analysts say YouTube advertising revenue varies, with Pencilmation’s 2020 revenues ranging from $ 4.8 million to $ 10 million, with YouTube maintaining 45%. I presume that

“Pencilmation” releases two episodes of about 3 minutes each week. Bollinger has created series with over 100 writers, animators and storyboard artists from around the world, from Canada and Australia to the United Kingdom, the Philippines, Mexico and Brazil. They are independent contractors, not employees. “Because YouTube itself is a pretty volatile environment for a business to exist, in the sense that everything is constantly changing,” Bollinger said.

Like many web-based shows with wide reach, “Pencilmation” is little known to anyone but followers. Many professional animators contacted for this article have never heard of it. Los Angeles writer Rachel Van Ness, who works on “Pencilmation,” says she didn’t know about the series until her friends started working on it.

Zahed says it’s common in web-based anime series. “These shows are rarely widely known outside the YouTube community without major commercialization and promotional campaigns,” he says. “But in recent years, there has been a lot of interest in these online brands. Overall desire for animation Overall. “

The first “Pencilmation” video was popularized by word of mouth in 2004, but the second video didn’t go anywhere, Bollinger says. He was still a teenager and didn’t have the resources to do more elaborate things, so he stuck to a simple form (stickman without conversation). He shelved the character until he entered the School of Visual Arts in New York and turned him into a series of senior projects. Thanks to the stick figures, the task of drawing the entire series has become easier.

As “pencilmation” became popular, Bollinger realized that without conversation, he could proceed with the series without language barriers, such as Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. Representatives of “Pencilmation” said that the United States, Brazil and India are the largest markets, each accounting for about 10% of the audience.

“I like to see it every day,” says six-year-old Zakai Chibwe, who lives in Livingston, Zambia, in “Pencilmation.” Zakai speaks English and is a fan of “Cars” and “Paup Patrol”. His mother, Mwansa Chibwe, says he doesn’t think the lack of conversation made his son crazy about “pencilmation.” “It’s a good show,” she says. “When something is interesting, it’s just interesting. It’s really well done.”

Bollinger says he tries to work with the same artists as much as possible. “I strongly believe that creative products aren’t just about’this guy, this guy, this guy get together and want me to be this’,” he says. “There is something like an incubation process in which a group of the same creative people work together for a long time, and they grow together in a way and mature together in a way.

Among his collaborators is Brett May, who lives in Wikwemikong, Ontario. His parents were worried he couldn’t find a job in the arts, but May now says he animates about five episodes a year, about 1,400 each. He estimates that he needs to draw a still image of the, and it will take three months to complete.

“People in the area I live in aren’t very interested in animation,” says May. “I started with stick figures, but now I make a living from stick figures. I feel really good.”

For over a year, Bollinger has been developing animated series with his wife, Ama, Ms. Vannes, and other Pencilmation collaborators. Called the “Gill Next Door,” it follows two brothers (frogs and tadpoles) who lived for desolate pets in New York in the 1970s. Bollinger has funded the first 10 episodes and plans to purchase the series on other streaming platforms in the hope of reducing his reliance on YouTube and advertising revenue. The “Gill Next Door” has a dialogue, which means it may not move as seamlessly as the “Pencilmation”. “It’s just a creative desire, something I want to explore,” he says.

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How “Pencilmation” became a YouTube sensation

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